KABUL, Afghanistan • The Trump administration’s special adviser on Afghan peace met this past week with Taliban representatives in Qatar, a spokesman for the insurgent group said Saturday, in talks that included possible paths toward a “peaceful settlement” of the war.

The spokesman, Zabiullah Mujahid, said the presence of foreign troops remains the main hurdle to peace. But he noted that both sides agreed to continue the dialogue — a potentially major step toward opening channels with the Taliban to end the 17-year conflict.

The U.S. Embassy in Kabul said in a statement that U.S. envoy Zalmay Khalilzad held “consultations” this past week in Islamabad, Riyadh and Qatar’s capital, Doha, but it did not confirm the reported meeting with Taliban officials.

The statement said Khalilzad returned to Kabul for follow-up meetings with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and other officials, as well as Afghan political leaders and civic groups, “to hear their views and priorities on a settlement to the conflict.”

The reported talks by Khalilzad would mark another significant outreach to Taliban representatives in Qatar, which has sought to act as a mediator to bring together both sides for meetings.

A first breakthrough meeting was held in July, when a senior State Department official, Alice Wells, traveled to Doha. U.S. officials have never publicly confirmed that meeting.

Khalilzad’s reported meeting came midway through his first mission to the region since being named Washington’s point man on Afghan peace last month.

He first visited Kabul and Islamabad, the Pakistani capital, early last week, then vanished from public view and returned to Kabul on Saturday for meetings with top government officials and other groups.

His published schedule also included visits to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates last week, but U.S. officials also have not commented publicly on those.

A tweet from Ghani’s office Saturday confirmed Khalilzad had returned here to brief him but gave no details.

The possibly encouraging news from Doha came as the latest violent attack targeted Afghan candidates for upcoming parliamentary elections.

An explosion at a campaign rally in northern Takhar province Saturday killed at least 13 people and wounded several dozen more. No group claimed the bombing, but the Taliban warned this month that they would seek to disrupt the elections.

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