Afghan President Karzai Admits Seeking Peace Talks With Taliban

Afghan President Hamid Karzai said Sunday his government is working very hard on peace talks with the Taliban that would draw the insurgents and their supporters "back to the fold."

Karzai said the government and an independent national commission have been trying to bring back those Taliban supporters who are not part of Al Qaeda and were "forced or found in a position to leave Afghanistan or to pick up guns."

"It is extremely important that this process will go on," he told reporters after a high-level meeting of 24 of the country's supporters and neighbors, which he co-chaired with U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

Ban said participants in the three-hour private meeting agreed that "there should be more efforts by President Karzai and Afghan leaders in promoting inclusive political dialogue for national reconciliation."

Asked what the government was doing to bring the Taliban into the mainstream, the Afghan leader said: "We are trying very hard to bring them back to the fold, to make them return and participate in the making of the country."

He said identifying who should participate in peace talks is easy.

"Deeds will tell, and deeds do tell," Karzai said. "Those who are willing to come and participate and take part in building a stronger, better, prosperous, democratic Afghanistan, are the good ones. Those who continue to fight are, of course, the bad ones.

"We are already in contact ... with those Taliban who are not part of Al Qaeda and terrorist networks, who are really in the majority ... and we would like to add to this process as the opportunity presents itself."

Karzai said Pakistan's contribution "is very, very important," adding that a four-day "peace jirga" in August which he and Pakistan's President Gen. Pervez Musharraf attended was "an important step in the right direction."

At that meeting, Musharraf said Afghanistan faces a great danger from fringe groups that preach hate and radicalism. He also admitted that Taliban fighters seek safe haven in Pakistan before crossing the border to launch attacks.

Pakistan's U.N. Ambassador Munir Akram said the meeting produced "a reinvigorated commitment" to address the three major challenges facing Afghanistan — security, drugs and governance.

Karzai said a subcommittee of the peace jirga — with 25 members from each side — will meet in a few days "and that will then determine the course that we take towards better cooperation between the two countries in an effective fight against extremism and terrorism."

Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and a former U.S. envoy to Afghanistan, said it has to be seen over time whether the Afghan government can reach out to the Taliban.

There are hard-liners who some would say cannot be reconciled and others who can, he said, "but the question of openness to those who are willing to enter the political process and stop killing each other — that's welcomed."

The meeting included U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki, and the French, Japanese, Italian, Dutch, Norwegian and Turkish foreign ministers.

At a time of heightened tensions between the United States and Iran over its nuclear program and alleged interference in Iraq and Afghanistan, participants said the U.S. and Iranian delegations were seated across the room from each other.

Khalilzad said there was "no discussion, no interactions between the two delegations." Pakistan's Akram said there were no accusations of interference and "the issues that could have been controversial were not raised."