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Obama Ponders Outreach to Taliban Moderates

U.S. President Barack Obama says he is looking at all kinds of options in Afghanistan - including reaching out to more moderate elements of the Taliban.

The president is in the midst of a detailed review of U.S. policy on Afghanistan, and he is indicating reconciliation could play an important part in his emerging strategy.

In an interview with the New York Times, he was asked if he would consider reaching out to more moderate elements of the Taliban - mirroring a successful U.S. military tactic in Iraq.

Mr. Obama said it might be possible, noting the outreach program in Iraq helped turn around the course of the war.

He spoke aboard Air Force One and his comments were recorded by a Times reporter.

"If you talk to General Petraeus, I think he would argue that part of the success in Iraq involved reaching out to people that we would consider to be Islamic fundamentalists, but who were willing to work with us because they had been completely alienated by the tactics of al-Qaida in Iraq," Mr. Obama said.

President Obama said there may be comparable opportunities in Afghanistan and the tribal regions of Pakistan along the Afghan border. But he stressed the situation there is much more complicated than in Iraq.

"You have a less-governed region, a history of fierce independence among tribes," Mr. Obama said. "Those tribes are multiple and sometimes operate at cross purposes, so figuring all that out is going to be much more of a challenge."

His comments were welcomed by Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who has long advocated reconciliation with moderate elements of the Taliban. But Mr. Karzai emphasized there could be no dialog with Taliban allied with al-Qaida.

Violence in Afghanistan is at its highest level since the Taliban's ouster in late 2001. President Obama announced last month that an additional 17,000 U.S. troops will be deployed to the country.

When asked by the New York Times if the United States is winning there, he replied no, adding U.S. troops have done an extraordinary job in a very difficult situation. He said conditions have deteriorated over the last year in Afghanistan, the Taliban is bolder, and the Afghan government still lacks the confidence of the people.