US-Taliban Talks 'Exploratory' Says Afghanistan Envoy - Spokane, North Idaho News & Weather KHQ.com

US-Taliban Talks 'Exploratory' Says Afghanistan Envoy

ISLAMABAD, Feb 16 (Reuters) - The Afghan Taliban and the United States have made only exploratory contacts for possible reconciliation which do not involve the Kabul government, the Afghan ambassador to Pakistan said on Thursday.

"I must emphasize that word 'exploratory'. They are not talks," Umar Daudzai told Reuters.

"When there's talks, it's supposed to be between the Afghan government and the Taliban. We have not reached to that stage although we wish to reach to that stage."

The Wall Street Journal earlier reported, based on an interview it conducted with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, that the U.S. and Afghan government had begun secret three-way talks with the Taliban.

The newspaper quoted Karzai as saying the Taliban were "definitively" interested in a peace settlement to end the 10-year war in Afghanistan, and that all three sides were now involved in discussions.

"There have been contacts between the U.S. government and the Taliban, there have been contacts between the Afghan government and the Taliban, and there have been some contacts that we have made, all of us together, including the Taliban," Karzai said in the interview.

The Wall Street Journal said Karzai had declined to specify the location of the talks or go into further detail, saying he feared this could damage the process.

The Afghan Taliban announced last month it would open a political office in Qatar, suggesting the group may be willing to engage in negotiations that could likely give it government positions or official control over much of its historical southern heartland.

"At a high level, (there are) secret talks and American-Taliban talks. I'm not aware of any other than the Qatar process," said Daudzai.

"At a high level, (there are) secret talks and American-Taliban talks. I'm not aware of any other than the Qatar process," said Daudzai.

"The Qatar process is exploratory contacts between Taliban and the United States."

The Afghan ambassador said the Kabul government's contacts with the Taliban were limited to communications between low-level officials and local insurgent commanders.

Washington wants to accelerate contacts with the Taliban so it can announce serious peace negotiations at a NATO summit in May, officials say, in what would be a welcome bright spot in Western efforts to end the war in Afghanistan.

The United States hopes it can declare a start to authentic political negotiations between the Afghan government and the Taliban at the May 20-21 summit in Chicago, after a year of initial, uncertain contacts with militant representatives.

It would be a needed victory for the White House and its NATO partners in Afghanistan as they struggle to contain a resilient insurgency and train a local army while moving to bring their troops home over the next three years. (Additional reporting by Chris Allbritton; Editing by Michael Georgy and Sanjeev Miglani)

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