Negotiators try to restart Afghan peace talks

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Representatives from the United States, Afghanistan, Pakistan and China met Monday in Islamabad as a first step to restarting the stalled Afghan peace talks.

“All four countries underscored the importance of bringing an end to the conflict in Afghanistan that continues to inflict senseless violence on the Afghan people and also breeds insecurity throughout the region,” according to a joint statement released after the meeting. “The participants emphasized the immediate need for direct talks between representatives of the government of Afghanistan and representatives from Taliban groups in a peace process that aims to preserve Afghanistan’s unity, sovereignty and territorial integrity.”

The meeting comes as the situation in Afghanistan looks increasingly grim. A U.S. soldier was killed last week during a firefight with the Taliban and six U.S. airmen died in a suicide bombing in December.

A Pentagon report released in December found the “overall security situation in Afghanistan deteriorated” in the second half of 2015.

U.S. officials have said a peace deal between the Taliban and Afghan government is the best way to end the conflict.

“In the meeting, Ambassador [Richard] Olson expressed U.S. support for an Afghan-led, Afghan-owned peace and reconciliation process as the surest way to end violence and ensure lasting stability in Afghanistan and the region,” the State Department said in a written statement Monday.

Peace talks between Afghanistan’s government and the Taliban stalled over the summer after the revelation that Taliban leader Mullah Omar died in 2013.

Monday’s meeting, to which the Taliban was not invited, was meant to create a “roadmap” for a peace process.

“The discussions focused on undertaking a clear and realistic assessment of the opportunities for peace and reconciliation in Afghanistan, anticipated obstacles and measures that would help create conducive environment for peace talks with the shared goal of reducing violence and establishing lasting peace in Afghanistan,” according to the joint statement.

The group agreed to meet again Jan. 18 in Kabul.

An official for the Taliban told The Associated Press the insurgent group would not talk with the Afghan government until it gets direct talks with the United States.

But a splinter group that formed after a leadership fight following Mullah Omar's death scoffed at the involvement of the United States, China and Pakistan.

"We have a very clear-cut stance about peace talks: all the foreign occupying forces would need to be withdrawn," Mullah Abdul Manan Niazi, deputy for splinter group leader Mullah Mohammad Rasool Akhund, told Reuters on Monday. "The issue is between the Afghans, and only the Afghans can resolve it. We would not allow any third force to mediate."