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NATO Says It's Ready to Help in Taliban Talks

NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen says the alliance is ready to help in the Afghan government's efforts to pursue peace talks with the Taliban.

At a NATO meeting in Brussels Thursday, Rasmussen said the NATO-led force in Afghanistan is willing to provide "practical assistance" for reconciliation efforts. He did not elaborate but noted the alliance will keep up military pressure on the Taliban.

His comments came a day after a NATO official said the alliance has helped secure passage of Taliban commanders to Kabul, and that such trips would be very difficult without NATO's consent.

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who attended the meeting, said they support Afghan reconciliation efforts. But they cautioned the process may not be successful.

In Kabul, a top adviser to Afghan President Hamid Karzai called for NATO forces to cease military operations in areas where militants are willing to begin talks.

Also in Kabul, the head of Afghanistan's new peace council -- Burhanuddin Rabbani -- said the Taliban is willing to take part in negotiations to end the country's nine-year war.

Rabbani, the former Afghan president, said the insurgent group has never rejected talks completely and instead has set tough conditions for peace.

Earlier this week, President Karzai acknowledged his government has held informal discussions with the Taliban but the group has denied his claim. The militants have demanded all international troops leave Afghanistan before peace negotiations can begin.

U.S. officials have called for Taliban fighters to lay down their arms, cut ties to al-Qaida and support the Afghan constitution.