(photo credit: REUTERS)
US officials on Tuesday said that the first formal meeting involving US and Taliban representatives is scheduled to be held next week in Doha.
A senior Taliban official said on Tuesday no date had been agreed for talks in Qatar on ending Afghanistan's 12-year-long war, after US officials said they would meet representatives of the Islamist insurgency next week in the Gulf state.
Asked by a reporter whether a date had been set, Tayeb Agha replied: "There are no scheduled dates". The remark by Agha, the former chief of staff to the Taliban's reclusive leader, Mullah Mohammed Omar, was carried live on al Jazeera television.
The top US and NATO commander in Afghanistan cast doubt on Tuesday over whether insurgents with the Haqqani network could make peace, as the United States prepares to meet the Taliban in Doha for peace talks.
"All I've seen of the Haqqani would make it hard for me to believe they were reconcilable," General Joseph Dunford told Pentagon reporters, speaking by phone from Kabul.
The United States is right to decide to hold peace talks with the Taliban on Afghanistan, although the process will be difficult, British Prime Minister David Cameron said on Tuesday.
Earlier on Tuesday, a senior US official said the Haqqanis - widely considered the most dangerous US foe in Afghanistan - would be represented by the Taliban delegation in Doha.
The Taliban is also willing to consider peace talks with the Afghan state following secret discussions, a senior Afghan official said on Tuesday, in what may be the first significant step towards an end to the long-running war.
"Peace talks will certainly take place between the Taliban and the High Peace Council," said the senior official, referring to the body created by Afghan President Hamid Karzai in 2010 to broker peace with the insurgency.
The Taliban has until now said it would not countenance peace talks with the Karzai government, it calls a "stooge" of the United States and other Western nations.
The peace talks, if they go ahead, could also lead to a reduction in fighting across Afghanistan, the official said.
"We hope that the attacks carried out by the Taliban in Afghanistan will reduce while we talk peace; there is no point in talking if the bombs continue to kill civilians," he said.
The announcement came on the same day that the Taliban opened their long-delayed office in the Qatari capital of Doha.
Taliban official Mohammed Naeem announced the opening of the office in a press conference in Doha.
In a move that may anger the Afghan government, the white Taliban flag was at his side, and a large sign behind him proclaimed the office of the "Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan", the name the Taliban used during their brief national rule in the 1990s.
Both events may have been timed to coincide with a ceremony on Tuesday to mark the beginning of the final phase of security transition from the US-led coalition to the Afghan state.
Fear is mounting that Afghanistan could fall into chaos following the pullout of most NATO combat troops by the end of 2014. A presidential election is also due that year.
NATO and its partners are training Afghanistan's 352,000-strong security forces, though questions remain over how ready they are to tackle the insurgency on their own.
In late April, the Taliban vowed to start a new campaign of suicide attacks on foreign military bases and diplomatic areas as well as the "Karzai regime" as part of their so-called spring offensive.