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U.S. ‘Supportive’ of Peace Talks as Afghans Meet Former Taliban

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Oct. 7 (Bloomberg) -- The White House repeated U.S. support for Afghan peace talks with the Taliban as an aide to President Hamid Karzai met former leaders of the guerrilla movement.

Education Minister Ghulam Farooq Wardak, a member of a peacemaking council appointed by Karzai, conferred in Kabul this week with ex-officials of the former Taliban regime, Afghanistan’s Pajhwok news agency reported. Pakistani politicians and Arab delegates joined the meeting in the capital, which focused on how best to build a settlement with the insurgency, said a former Taliban official who attended, and who asked not to be named.

Karzai’s deputy spokesman, Siamak Herawy, confirmed the meeting, which took place at Kabul’s Serena Hotel, and declined to give details.

The Afghan president today summoned his peace council for an inaugural formal meeting on the ninth anniversary of the start of a U.S. bombing campaign that helped force the Taliban from power and install Karzai’s government.

The Washington Post reported yesterday that the Taliban have begun secret “high-level talks” with Karzai’s government. Those talks are at a preliminary stage and follow meetings held in Saudi Arabia more than a year ago, the newspaper cited unnamed Afghan and Arab sources as saying.

The Taliban representatives in those talks are believed to have been “fully authorized” by the Quetta Shura, the Taliban’s top council, and its leader, Mohammad Omar, the Post said.

Renounce Violence

For the U.S. to accept peace talks, the Taliban must renounce violence, said White House press secretary Robert Gibbs. The U.S. will not meet directly with Taliban leaders, he told reporters yesterday.

“This is not something that we do with the Taliban,” Gibbs said. “This is something that Afghans -- the Afghan government -- has to do with people in Afghanistan. And we have always been supportive of that reconciliation.”

Gibbs declined to confirm details of the newspaper’s report and would only outline the U.S. policy on such talks.

State Department spokesman Philip J. Crowley declined to confirm knowledge of the talks. Any such discussions would “not contradict U.S. policy,” he said, and “there has to be a political solution to the current challenge.”

Crowley said the U.S. believes some branches of the Taliban “may well be willing to seek a political solution. We recognize that other groups will be holdouts and that’s why we are intensively bringing the fight to them.”

To contact the reporters on this story: Roger Runningen in Washington at rrunningen@blooomberg.net; Eltaf Najafizada in Kabul, Afghanistan at enajafizada1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Bill Austin at billaustin@bloomberg.net.

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