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US in talks with Taliban, says Karzai

Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, confirms US involvement in the peace talks at a news conference in Kabul The US and other foreign powers are engaged in preliminary talks with the Taliban about a possible settlement to the war in Afghanistan, the Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, has said. It is the first official confirmation of US involvement in such negotiations.
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Diplomats have already said there have been months of preliminary talks between the two sides, and Karzai, who is a strong advocate of peace talks, has long said that Afghans are in contact with insurgent groups.

“Peace talks are going on with the Taliban. The foreign military and especially the United States itself is going ahead with these negotiations,” Karzai told a news conference in the Afghan capital. The US embassy in Kabul declined to comment on Karzai’s statement.

Karzai was speaking the day after the UN security council split the UN sanctions list for Taliban and al-Qaida figures into two, which envoys said could help induce the Taliban into talks on a peace deal in Afghanistan.

Despite hopes that talks with the Taliban could provide the political underpinning for the US staged withdrawal from Afghanistan, the discussions are still not at the stage where they can be a deciding factor.

So little is known about the exchanges that they have been open to widely different interpretations.

There are also many Afghans, among them women’s and civil society activists, who fear talks with insurgents could undo much of the progress they have made since the Taliban government was ousted in 2001.

The closest anyone in the US establishment has come to publicly acknowledging efforts to kick-start talks was when defense secretary Robert Gates said this month there could be political talks with the Taliban by the end of this year, if Nato’s military advances on the ground were sustained.

Afghanistan’s neighbours are nervous about plans for a strategic partnership with the US, which may include long-term bases on Afghan soil, Karzai also warned.

“The issue of strategic partnership deal has caused tensions with our neighbours,” Karzai said. “When we sign this strategic partnership, at the same time we must have peace in Afghanistan.”

That is unlikely however, as the deal is expected to be concluded in months, and even the most optimistic supporters of talks expect the process to take years. If successful, the deal might ease worries among those Afghans who fear the US will pull out too quickly, leaving a weak, impoverished government to fend off militants, and those who worry the foreign forces they see as occupiers will never leave.

President Barack Obama is expected to announce next month how many troops he plans to withdraw from Afghanistan as part of a commitment to begin reducing the US military presence from July and hand over to Afghan security forces by 2014.

The Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, told PBS Newshour on Friday he was expecting a “substantial” reduction in troop numbers. “There’s going to be a drawdown,” he said. “I am confident that it will be one that’s substantial. I certainly hope so.”

There currently are about 100,000 US troops fighting in Afghanistan, up from about 34,000 when US president Barack Obama took office in 2009.

Filed in: World News

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