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KABUL (Reuters) - The Taliban have rejected Afghan President Hamid Karzai's latest bid to move toward peace talks, dubbing a High Peace Council "failed and impractical" and denying that senior Taliban leaders were in contact with Kabul.
Karzai's government on Tuesday named the members of the council, approved by a peace jirga, or traditional gathering of tribal and community leaders, earlier this year.
It aims to lay the ground for a negotiated end to a war which will soon be heading into its 10th year.
The insurgency is bloodier than it has ever been, despite the presence of 150,000 foreign troops, and there is a growing sense both at home and in some quarters among Afghanistan's allies that talks may be the only route to peace.
But the Taliban have repeatedly dismissed olive branches proffered by Karzai, saying they will not consider talks until all foreign troops have left. The peace council got the same response, even though its members include former Taliban.
"Following the past notorious conspiracies of Americans, the announcement of this council is another failed and impractical process to persuade mujahideen to surrender their arms and themselves to the invaders," a statement posted on a Taliban website (alemara.co.cc) said.
They Taliban also rejected comments made by General David Petraeus, the top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan, acknowledging contacts between Kabul and very senior Taliban. Petraeus had said it was premature to say whether they were willing to accept Karzai's terms for pursuing reconciliation.
In a statement emailed to Reuters, the Taliban said Petraeus's comments were incorrect, and they had had no contact with Karzai.
"How can it be possible for the officials of the Islamic Emirate to initiate clandestine contacts with the powerless and stooge government while they have already turned down the misleading demands and proposals of the weak Kabul Administration for commencement of negotiation?" the Taliban said.
U.S. President Barack Obama, who will conduct a strategy review of the increasingly unpopular war in December, aims to begin a gradual withdrawal of U.S. troops from July 2011 if conditions allow.
Reporting by Sayed Salahuddin; Editing by Emma Graham-Harrison