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US Considers Talks With Some Afghan Taliban Elements


State Department officials say the United States is considering contacts with elements of Afghanistan's militant Islamic Taliban movement, as part of a broad Bush administration review of the conduct of the Afghan war. The review is expected to be completed after the U.S. presidential election. VOA's David Gollust reports from the State Department.

Officials here say that while no decisions have been made, the policy review could lead to a direct U.S. dialogue with what are termed "reconcilable" elements of the Taliban.

The Bush administration began an urgent review of Afghanistan policy earlier this month, in the face of what U.S. military officials say is a mounting insurgent threat in Afghanistan by the Taliban, elements of al-Qaida, and other Islamic extremists.

The Afghan government of President Hamid Karzai has been engaged in contacts with relatively moderate Taliban elements brokered by Saudi Arabia.

The United States, while supporting the Saudi-led dialogue, has thus far spurned direct talks itself.

But a senior State Department official who spoke to reporters here Tuesday said the idea of U.S contacts with some Taliban factions is "certainly something that has been discussed as part of the review."

The official said American outreach to Sunni tribes in Iraq, initially hostile to the U.S.-led intervention in that country, helped turn them against al-Qaida and to sharply reduce violence in that country.

At a news briefing, State Department Deputy spokesman Robert Wood said a similar U.S. overture - to Taliban elements willing to reconcile with the Kabul government - is a possible outcome of the review:

"I'm not saying that that's not a possibility. What I'm saying is that there is a review ongoing and we're looking at a wide range of aspects of our policy, to try to improve our ability to battle extremism in Afghanistan, and help the Afghans do their jobs as well," said Wood.

Wood said any direct U.S. contact with the Taliban would be in the context of a broader reconciliation process which he said "has to be something that the Afghans themselves take ownership of, and lead."

The senior official who spoke here said any Taliban elements that take part would have to meet the Karzai government's terms, and renounce violence, pledge allegiance to the Afghan constitution and become part of the political process.

It is unclear whether any Taliban factions would be willing to make such commitments, and U.S. officials say they do not envisage talks with the movement's radical senior leadership.

The Wall Street Journal, which reported the potential dialogue Tuesday, quoted one U.S. official as saying the United States will never sit at the table with the fugitive leader of the Taliban, Mullah Omar.

The idea of outreach to less-extreme Taliban elements has been publicly endorsed by U.S. Army General David Petraeus, the former Iraq commander who this week becomes head of the U.S. Central Command which includes responsibility for Afghan operations.

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