KABUL -- Long-delayed peace talks between Taliban and Afghan government negotiators are set to kick off in Qatar on September 12, officials and the militant group say.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo welcomed the September 10 announcement and urged the sides not to squander the "historic opportunity for Afghanistan to bring an end to four decades of war and bloodshed."
U.S. President Donald Trump later said that Pompeo would travel to the Qatari capital, Doha, to attend the intra-Afghan peace talks.
Earlier in the day, Fawzia Koofi, a member of the Afghan government’s negotiating team, told RFE/RL that they will travel to Doha on September 11 and that the opening ceremony for the negotiations was planned for the next day.
The Taliban said in a statement it was ready to take part in the inauguration ceremony.
The Qatari Foreign Ministry confirmed that it will host the peace negotiations starting on September 12, calling the talks “a serious and important step towards establishing sustainable peace” in the country.
The negotiations are part of a landmark deal signed between the United States and the Taliban in February.
Talks were initially supposed to start the following month but were delayed as the Taliban and the Afghan government completed a prisoner exchange.
Under the U.S.-Taliban agreement signed in Doha in February, international forces should withdraw from Afghanistan by May 2021 in exchange for counterterrorism guarantees from the militant group, which pledged to negotiate a permanent cease-fire and power-sharing deal with the Afghan government.
The deal promised 5,000 Taliban prisoners would be set free by the Afghan government ahead of the negotiations, in return for 1,000 members of the security forces held by the militants.
The last Taliban prisoners were released last week, except the six who left Kabul on a flight to Doha on September 10, Afghan officials said, paving the way for the Doha talks to begin.
The six prisoners, whose release was objected to by France and Australia because of their links to the murders of French and Australian civilians and troops in Afghanistan, are to be kept under supervision in Doha.
"The six will remain in Qatar until the end of November and could be transferred back to Kabul," a government source told Reuters.
In a statement, France's Foreign Ministry reiterated its "firmest opposition to the release of individuals convicted of having committed crimes against French nationals, in particular soldiers and humanitarian workers."
The Taliban has blamed Kabul for delaying the negotiations, but presidential spokesman Sediq Sediqqi on September 10 accused the Taliban of stalling for time.
"Reshuffling their peace negotiating team at the last minute indicates that they are still not prepared for the talks," Sediqqi said.
In his statement, Pompeo urged the negotiators to “demonstrate the pragmatism, restraint, and flexibility this process will require to succeed.”
“The United States recalls the commitment by the Afghan government and the Taliban that terrorists can never again use Afghan soil to threaten the United States or its allies,” he also said. “Now is the time for peace for Afghanistan.”