Obama, Karzai Said to Discuss Afghan-Led Taliban Talks

Feb. 20 (Bloomberg) -- U.S. President Barack Obama and Afghan President Hamid Karzai discussed efforts to begin Afghan-led talks with the Taliban, the White House press office said in a statement today outlining a call between the two leaders.

Obama and Karzai “discussed regional support for Afghan-led reconciliation, the Afghanistan-Pakistan-Iran trilateral meetings last week in Islamabad, and other strategic issues,” according to the statement. The two “remain closely aligned” and will speak again soon, it said.

Afghanistan is seeking regional help in peace talks as the U.S. withdraws troops from a decade-old conflict and hands over security responsibilities to the Afghan army and police force. Karzai met last week in Islamabad with Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for talks on regional security and trade.

After repeated public rejections by the Taliban of a role for Karzai’s government in peace negotiations, the insurgents’ negotiators have met with representatives of the U.S. and Afghan governments in Afghanistan and overseas, Karzai’s chief spokesman said in a Feb. 16 interview.

A National Intelligence Estimate completed in December, though, raised questions about the Taliban’s interest in negotiating with the Karzai government, rather than waiting for a U.S. withdrawal, and said the militant group remains intent on reimposing its brand of Islamic rule on Afghanistan.

To contact the reporter on this story: Margaret Talev in Washington at mtalev@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Steven Komarow at skomarow1@bloomberg.net