Aide says Obama backs Karzai government’s peace feelers with Taliban chiefs

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

White House voices support for talks with Taliban

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama supports recent attempts by the Afghan government to open peace talks with Taliban leaders, but still wants the insurgents to renounce violence and their support of al-Qaida, the White House said Wednesday.

However, press secretary Robert Gibbs said the United States was not taking part in any such talks. “This is about Afghanistan,” he said. “It has to be done by the Afghans.”

His comments came on the eve of the war’s ninth anniversary, and as U.S. and NATO forces step up their operations now that Obama’s troop surge has reached its peak.

The Washington Post reported Tuesday that President Hamid Karzai’s government has made contact with senior officials of the Afghan Taliban organization based in Pakistan who represent its leader, Mohammad Omar. However, talks are said to be at a preliminary stage.

Gibbs declined to say how Omar’s possible involvement would affect U.S. attitudes toward any talks.

Karzai has made no secret of his hope to reconcile with some Taliban elements, and last week Gen. David Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, said top-level Taliban officials have made “overtures” to the Kabul government.

But Gibbs stressed Washington is not playing a direct role in any talks.

“This is not something that we do with the Taliban. This is something that the Afghan government has to do with the people of Afghanistan,” he said. “We have always been supportive.”

Obama spoke with Karzai by secure video conference on Monday. The White House said afterward the two discussed recent parliamentary elections in Afghanistan and their “common vision” for the future, but its statement did not mention peace feelers involving the Taliban.

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