U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates confirmed on Sunday that preliminary talks had started with the Taliban as part of an effort to end the war in Afghanistan, the New York Times reported.
Appearing on the CNN television program “State of the Union,’’ Gates said there had been “outreach on the part of a number of countries, including the United States. I would say that these contacts are very preliminary at this point,’’ according to the Wall Street Journal.
His comments represented the first time the U.S. has acknowledged such efforts and came a day after Afghan President Hamid Karzai said that the U.S. and Afghan governments had held talks with Taliban emissaries in an effort to end the war, the Associated Press reported. The Taliban have said publicly that there will be no negotiations until foreign troops leave Afghanistan.
Gates said that he didn't believe the talks, which had only been going on for "a few weeks maybe," would produce positive results unless the Taliban continued to feel military pressure through the end of the year, the New York Times said.
Gates also cautioned that the talks were in such early stages that officials weren't sure that the Taliban participants were genuine representatives of the Taliban leader Mullah Omar. According to BBC News, Gates said:
"We don't want to end up having a conversation at some point with somebody who is basically a freelancer."
The talks highlight the growing effort to find a political solution in Afghanistan as foreign combat troops prepare to pull out by 2014 under the current timetable, according to AFP.
On Friday, the U.N. split a sanctions blacklist for the Taliban and al Qaeda, to encourage Taliban members to turn their back on al Qaeda and join reconciliation efforts, BBC News reported. Up until Friday, both organizations had been handled by the same U.N. sanctions committee.
The action sends "a clear message to the Taliban that there is a future for those who separate from al Qaeda, renounce violence and abide by the Afghan constitution," said Susan Rice, the U.S. envoy to the U.N., according to AFP.