Media reports say the Afghan Taliban will travel to Moscow for peace talks next month in a high-profile embrace of public diplomacy that will be a landmark for the group and their Russian hosts after 17 years of war.

“The first reaction was positive, they are planning to take part in the meeting,” the Russian foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, said, adding that he hoped for productive negotiations at the talks, which will bring together a dozen groups including regional heavyweights China, Iran and Pakistan, starting on 4 September.

Moscow has invited delegates from 11 countries, including regional heavyweights China, Iran and Pakistan, which border Afghanistan, to attend the talks in Moscow.  If the Taliban does come, it would mark its first attendance at such an event.

Russian Foreign Ministry's Second Asian Department Director, Zamir Kabulov, told Sputnik news agency on August 20 that Russia expects the Taliban to participate in the upcoming conference.

Russian Foreign Ministry reportedly noted that Moscow maintains contacts with the Taliban only to ensure the safety of Russian citizens in Afghanistan and to encourage this group to join the process of national reconciliation.

The Taliban did not officially comment on the reports from Moscow, but a senior member of the group confirmed to the Associated Press that they would send a delegation “for the sake of finding peace in Afghanistan”.

The official said the group plans to send representatives to other countries in the region, including Pakistan and China, “to take them into confidence and address their concerns”.

The talks in Moscow would mark the Taliban’s first public participation in a regional forum since they were ousted from power in Afghanistan in the wake of the 9/11 attacks on America. They were invited to a previous round of talks in Russia last year but did not attend.

The Washington Post says the United States indicated on August 21 that it would not attend.  “We support Afghan-owned and -led initiatives to advance a peace settlement in Afghanistan,” said a State Department spokesman.  “We believe this initiative is unlikely to yield any progress toward that end.”

The talks will come after a wave of intense violence, but also in the wake of increased diplomatic outreach by the insurgent group and a series of peace overtures from the Afghan government, according to The Guardian.

In recent years the Taliban have made gains in rural areas around Afghanistan and have briefly seized several cities, but US air support and other military backing have ensured they cannot capture and hold urban centers.

American officials fear withdrawing support would allow militant extremists free rein again in the country.  The rise of the regional branch of ISIS has only added to those concerns.

The Taliban militants have refused to negotiate with the Afghan government, which they denounce as a puppet, and insist they will only attempt to broker peace directly with Washington.  The meeting in Moscow could offer a rare public platform for the Afghan government and senior Taliban leaders to interact directly.

The Russian president, Vladimir Putin, supported the US-led invasion of Afghanistan, but recently American officials have accused Moscow of backing and arming the Taliban. The Taliban are banned in Russia as a terrorist organization.  Moscow says it maintains contacts only because of security concerns. It fears that radical groups could use Afghanistan as a base to target Russian interests or build up cells in neighboring countries including Tajikistan, where four cyclists were killed on July 29 in an attack claimed by Islamic State.