Taliban contacts still at embryonic stage: NATO envoy

Tue Sep 28, 2010 9:49pm EDT
 
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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Some senior Taliban leaders appear to be open to reconciliation with Afghan President Hamid Karzai's government, but contacts are in the embryonic stage and not likely to bear fruit soon, NATO's top civilian in Afghanistan said on Tuesday.

Mark Sedwill, who was visiting Washington to prepare for a NATO summit in Lisbon in November, said Karzai's government had been undertaking a "genuine effort" to reach out to insurgents who were willing to renounce violence, accept the constitution and re-enter Afghan society.

"There are significant leaders there who seem to be weary of the fight and seem to be willing to contemplate a future within the mainstream," Sedwill told reporters at a news conference at the National Press Club.

Sedwill, the former British ambassador to Kabul, said it was hard to determine if the Taliban contacts represented individuals or groups of people who might be willing to abandon the struggle.

But he said it was "unlikely the Taliban as a movement is going to enter into a major political negotiation." He also cautioned against overstating "the speed and prospects of that process completing any time soon."

"My sense is ... essentially we're at the embryonic stage," Sedwill said. "The channels of communication are open. I wouldn't at this stage say that we've reached the point of real negotiation."

General David Petraeus, the top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan and Sedwill's military counterpart, has said there have been contacts between Kabul and very senior members of the Taliban. He, too, indicated the contacts were at an early stage and said it was premature to say whether those Taliban were willing to accept Karzai's terms for pursuing reconciliation.

Sedwill was visiting Washington in preparation for a NATO summit in Lisbon at which leaders of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization are expected to consider the way ahead in Afghanistan.

The meeting will set the stage for the U.S. President Barack Obama's strategy review in December, which is likely to look at the scope and scale of U.S. troop reductions the administration has promised beginning in July.

(Reporting by David Alexander, editing )

 
<p>Afghan President Hamid Karzai speaks during an event marking International Literacy Day in Kabul September 28, 2010. REUTERS/Omar Sobhani</p>