When President Obama and Afghan President Hamid Karzai announced Jan. 11 that a negotiating office for the Taliban was about to open in the Persian Gulf emirate of Qatar, optimism soared within the administration that peace talks would soon be back on track.

But January’s optimism has become February’s reality check: There is still no agreement to open the office, and Karzai, back in Kabul after his Washington visit, says there will be no deal until Qatar meets his conditions in writing…

But Karzai himself is the biggest cause of U.S. teeth-gnashing, and not for the first time, according to several administration officials who agreed to discuss the rocky road to withdrawal on the condition of anonymity because of its sensitivity.

The crux of the latest disagreement is Karzai’s demand that Qatar produce a written memorandum of understanding agreeing to his preconditions for the Taliban office in Doha, the Qatari capital. The demands include assurances that the office would not be used for any “political purpose” other than direct negotiations with Afghanistan, that it have a fixed time frame and be closed if talks do not take place, and that all Taliban negotiators provide “documentation” proving they are legitimate representatives.