US hails Afghan peace talks with Taliban

The US peace envoy to Afghanistan says he can for the first time report "substantive" progress on all four issues key to a peace agreement in the country's 17-year war.

Zalmay Khalilzad has called the latest round of talks with the Taliban the "most productive" so far.

He said talks with the Taliban had been exclusively about troop withdrawal and anti-terrorism guarantees, but the discussions have broadened to include a timeline for both intra-Afghan negotiations as well as a ceasefire.

He declined to give details on Saturday. The talks are set to resume on Tuesday.

Khalilzad said it will ultimately be up to Afghans to decide among themselves the agenda for negotiations as well as the terms of a ceasefire.

So far, the Taliban have refused to talk directly with the current Afghan government, considering it a US puppet.

The insurgents, however, have consistently said they will sit down with any Afghan, even a government official, but as an ordinary citizen and not as a government representative.

The Taliban currently control nearly half of Afghanistan and are more powerful than at any time since the October 2001 US-led invasion.

More than 2400 US service personnel have died in Afghanistan since the coalition invaded to oust the Taliban and hunt down al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden after the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States.

In a press briefing in Doha, Khalilzad said he hoped that all-Afghan talks that begin on Sunday - also in Doha - will be a precursor to negotiations to hammer out the framework for Afghanistan's post-war future.

He said Washington's "aspiration" is to have that framework in place by September 1 and ahead of the Afghan presidential election scheduled for September 28.

Khalilzad refused to be drawn into specifics but said an agreement on the framework for Afghanistan's future would be akin to a blueprint that would lay out issues important to all sides in the conflict.

These include constitutional revisions, interim government versus elections, the fate of militias, a ceasefire and even whether the country should be named the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan or the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.

Khalilzad said the atmosphere during recent talks was the best yet, with both sides finding shared humour.

This was opposed to previous talks which had on occasion ended in acrimony, shouting and the occasional walkout.