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US Confirms Talks with Militant Haqqani Network

A 2001 file photo of Jalaluddin Haqqani (R), Leader of the Haqqani Network, pointing to a map of Afghanistan during a visit to Islamabad, Pakistan while his son Naziruddin (L) looks on
A 2001 file photo of Jalaluddin Haqqani (R), Leader of the Haqqani Network, pointing to a map of Afghanistan during a visit to Islamabad, Pakistan while his son Naziruddin (L) looks on

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has confirmed that the United States has reached out to the militant Haqqani network in a bid to end the violence in war-torn Afghanistan.

Clinton said Friday that Pakistani government officials helped set up the preliminary meeting between American officials and the Haqqani network to test the al-Qaida-linked group's willingness and sincerity in joining the peace process. She made the comments to a roundtable of journalists in Islamabad.

Senior U.S. officials later said Pakistan's military spy agency, the ISI, organized the meeting, which was held last summer.

The Haqqani network has launched a number of attacks against U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan. The U.S. has called on Pakistan to do more to crack down on the militant group, which is believed to be based in Pakistan's North Waziristan Tribal region.

Secretary Clinton said Friday that the United States does not see a contradiction in "fighting and talking." She added that the United States is now working with Pakistan and Afghanistan to develop a sequence for peace negotiations to end the conflict in Afghanistan.

Earlier in the day, Clinton met with Pakistani Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar and urged Pakistan to "take strong steps" to deny Afghan insurgents safe havens and encourage the Taliban to enter peace talks in Afghanistan. She said such action should be taken in the next "days and weeks" not "months and years."

Khar admitted Pakistan could do more in cooperating with other countries to clamp down on the militant safe havens along the Afghan border. But Khar noted that there are safe havens on both sides of the Afghan border and that there is "no question of any support" by Pakistan to the militants.

Pakistani officials have so far refused to launch an offensive against the Haqqani network in North Waziristan, saying they want to solidify gains against their own domestic Taliban movement first.

On Friday, the chairman of the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee, Carl Levin, warned that the United States will cut ties with Pakistan if it does not do more to fight the Haqqani network. Senator Levin said the U.S. will take every necessary step to protect U.S. forces in Afghanistan.

Former Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Admiral Mike Mullen told Congress last month that the Haqqani network acts as a “veritable arm” of Pakistan’s ISI.

Clinton was in a second day of meetings with top Pakistani officials in Islamabad. She is traveling with a large U.S. delegation for the talks, including CIA chief David Petraeus and top U.S. military officer General Martin Dempsey.

She arrived in the Pakistan on Thursday after meeting with President Hamid Karzai in Afghanistan.

Despite Pakistani military operations, violence has continued in Pakistan's northwest. Officials say at least 30 militants attacked the house of a prominent anti-Taliban elder's house Friday, killing the elder's two sons and a daughter-in-law. Authorities say the attack took place in the Mohmand tribal area bordering Afghanistan.

Pakistani Taliban commander Maulvi Fazlullah vowed this week to return to Pakistan from Afghanistan to resume his fight against the Pakistani government.

Fazlullah led a Taliban faction in Pakistan's Swat Valley before a 2009 Pakistani army offensive forced him to flee. He pledged to return to the region to fight for the establishment of Sharia law.

Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.