U.S. speeding up direct talks with Taliban

The administration has accelerated direct talks with the Taliban, initiated several months ago, that U.S. officials say they hope will enable President Obama to report progress toward a settlement of the Afghanistan war when he announces troop withdrawals in July.

A senior Afghan official said a U.S. representative attended at least three meetings in Qatar and Germany, one as recently as “eight or nine days ago,” with a Taliban official considered close to leader Mohammad Omar…

The talks have proceeded on several tracks, including through nongovernmental intermediaries and Arab and European governments. The Taliban has made clear its preference for direct negotiations with the Americans and has proposed establishing a formal political office, with Qatar under consideration as a venue, according to U.S. officials…

[T]he administration is “getting more sure” that the contacts currently underway are with those who have a direct line to Omar and influence in the Pakistan-based Quetta Shura, or ruling council, he heads, according to one of several senior U.S. officials who discussed the closely held initiative only on the condition of anonymity.