Qatar will host Afghan peace negotiations starting Saturday, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced on Thursday.

The ministry said in a statement that the vitally important direct negotiations between different Afghan parties represent a step forward in bringing lasting peace to Afghanistan.

This opportunity is made possible by agreement signed between the United States and Taliban in Doha earlier this year.

Commenting on the announcement, HE the Minister of Foreign Affairs' Special Envoy for Counterterrorism and Mediation in Conflict Resolution, Dr Mutlaq bin Majed al-Qahtani, said: "Qatar has always placed great value in the power of diplomacy and direct dialogue to resolve disputes. We will continue our role to create stability in the region.

"We are thankful for the work and co-operation of all parties and international partners involved and their support in bringing about this historic moment."

AFP adds from Washington: US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will travel to Doha for the start of long-delayed peace talks between the Taliban and Afghan government negotiators, President Donald Trump announced on Thursday.

"Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will be departing this evening on a historic trip to Doha, Qatar, for the beginning of intra-Afghan peace negotiations," Trump told a press conference.

Earlier, Pompeo welcomed the announcement of talks between Afghanistan's government and the Taliban, urging them not to squander the "historic opportunity."

"The start of these talks marks a historic opportunity for Afghanistan to bring an end to four decades of war and bloodshed," Pompeo said in a statement.

"This opportunity must not be squandered."

According to Aljazeera, a Taliban delegation returned to Qatar last week, paving the way for the start of peace talks with the Afghan government.

Washington has ramped up pressure on Afghans on both sides of the conflict to get started with their negotiations.

Relentless delays over the exchange of prisoners - 5,000 held by the Afghan government and 1,000 by the Taliban - have hindered efforts to get intra-Afghan talks started.

Washington's February agreement with the Taliban was reached to allow the exit of US troops after nearly 20 years at war in keeping with a promise President Donald Trump made during the 2016 US election campaign.

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