Representatives of the Taliban will take part in talks in Moscow next month on the future of Afghanistan, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Tuesday.
“The initial response is positive - they plan to take part in this meeting. I hope it will be productive,” he told reporters in the southern Russian city of Sochi.
Moscow has taken an increasingly active role in efforts to persuade the Taliban to enter into a political settlement with the US-backed Afghan government, with which it has been in a lengthy conflict with.
Last week, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani offered a month long ceasefire with the Taliban, as officials in Kabul and Washington push for an end to the war which has stretched on since the US invasion in 2001.
“We remain ready to support, facilitate, and participate in direct negotiations between the Afghan government and the Taliban. There are no obstacles to talks. It is time for peace,” US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said after Ghani’s comments.
The Taliban has yet to respond to the ceasefire offer, nor is there any guarantee that such a ceasefire would stop attacks. On Tuesday, mortars were fired at the green zone area, located close to the Presidential Palace in Kabul as Ghani was holding a ceremony to mark the start of Eid.
Those attacks were linked to the Afghan wing of the so-called Islamic State, which has increased activity in the country in recent months and claimed credit for a string of deadly attacks.
Russia shares no border with Afghanistan, but Moscow in recent months has stepped up contact with the Taliban, which is formally banned in Russia.
The Taliban grew out of the US and Saudi-backed mujahideen movement which fought a bloody guerrilla war against the Soviet Union after that country invaded and occupied Afghanistan in 1979.
“We never concealed that we maintain contacts with the Taliban – it is part of Afghan society,” Lavrov said. “We support these contacts, primarily in the interests of ensuring the safety of Russian citizens in Afghanistan, Russian institutions, but also to encourage the Taliban to abandon the armed struggle and enter into a nationwide dialogue with the government.”
Zamir Kabulov, the Russian government’s diplomatic point man on Afghanistan, said in an interview published Tuesday in the daily newspaper Izvestia that the Moscow meeting would take place on September 4.
Nathan Hodge reported from Moscow, Ehsan Popalzai reported from Kabul, Afghanistan. CNN’s Zahra Ullah and James Griffiths contributed to this report from Hong Kong.