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Turkey Hosts Trust-Building Talks Between Afghanistan, Pakistan

President of Turkey Abdullah Gul, left, and his counterparts Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan, center, and Asif Ali Zardari of Pakistan arrive for a Turkey-Afghanistan-Pakistan summit in Istanbul, Turkey, Friday, Dec. 24, 2010.

Turkey hosted its 5th meeting between heads of state of Afghanistan and Pakistan in Istanbul in an effort to improve relations between the two countries.

There was applause as the presidents of Turkey, Afghanistan and Pakistan signed a series of agreements to improve cooperation on a variety of issues from security to aid relief.

The agreements are all part of Turkish led efforts to build up trust between Pakistan and Afghanistan, which observers say is crucial to ending the Taliban insurgency.

But a a new role for Turkey may be emerging in ending the conflict. A senior Taliban member, in an interview this week in the BritishDaily Telegraph newspaper, said the group wants to open a base in a neutral country for meaningful peace talks. One of the countries mentioned was Turkey.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai, at a press conference after meeting with his Turkish and Pakistan counterparts, said he was open to Turkey hosting the talks. "It has been discussed with me previously by gentlemen, dignitaries close to the Taliban movement . The idea of Turkey serving as place where gatherings take place, where a presentation can be established in order to facilitate a reconciliation and integration, has been discussed. If Turkey can be kind to provide for such a venue we the government of Afghanistan will be pleased and happy to see that facilitation take place by Turkey," he said.

Turkish President Abdullah Gul was taken by surprise by the request, but pledged that Turkey would help in any way. "I am not aware of the Taliban interview , he said, but I would say some general words. We attach great importance to stability, to security of Afghanistan and what ever will serve for the future reconstruction of Afghanistan we will be there," he said.

At Friday's meeting, Turkey, Afghanistan and Pakistan agreed to hold joint military exercises as part of efforts to build trust between Kabul and Islamabad.

Observers say deep suspicions remain between the two countries, particularly over accusations that Pakistan's intelligence forces, the Inter-Services Intelligence, or ISI, are supporting the Taliban - a charge Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari strongly denied at the press conference. "Let me assure you that ISI is not involved in the Taliban, especially as I , the husband of Benazir Bhutto and a victim of terrorism would not allow such an operation or such a support," he said.

Mr. Zardari's wife, former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, was assasinated in a suicide attack in the city of Rawalpindi in December 2007.

Despite tensions, Turkish diplomats are keen to point out when they started their trilateral meetings the then leaders of Pakistan and Afghanistan would not even talk to one another, On Thursday night the Afghan and Pakistan presidents dined together.