Taliban representatives met with Afghan government officials last month in Saudi Arabia, a former high-level Taliban ambassador said Monday, but he denied the meeting could be construed as peace talks.
Abdul Salam Zaeef, the Taliban's former ambassador to Pakistan, said he was invited by Saudi King Abdullah to share Iftar — the meal that breaks the daily fast during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. Taliban representatives, Afghan government officials and a representative for the powerful warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar were also at the meal, he said.
"This is not new, it's a kind of a guest celebration," Zaeef told The Associated Press, adding that they did not discuss any issue involving Afghanistan with Abdullah.
Zaeef, who spent almost four years in the U.S. military prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, said none of the representatives from the Taliban or Hekmatyar's group was authorized to carry out peace talks.
Taliban spokesman Qari Yousef Ahmadi denied Monday that any peace talks had taken place.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai last week said he has repeatedly asked Saudi Arabia's king to facilitate peace talks with the Taliban. Karzai said Afghan officials have traveled to Saudi Arabia and Pakistan in hopes of ending the country's six-year conflict but that so far there have been no negotiations.
A spokesman for Karzai's office could not immediately be reached for comment Monday.
Karzai's government has long encouraged militants to lay down arms and accept Afghanistan's constitution. The Taliban leadership has largely rebuffed peace overtures.
Zaeef said former Afghan Supreme Court Chief Justice Fazel Hadi Shinwari was among the government representatives present at the Iftar. He also said Bismillah Khan, Afghan army chief of general staff, was in Saudi Arabia, though it wasn't clear if he was part of the group that met with Abdullah.
Saudi Arabia is a leader of the Sunni Muslim world and the home of Islam's two holiest shrines in Mecca and Medina. It was one of a handful of countries that recognized the strictly Islamic Taliban as rulers of Afghanistan in the 1990s.
Even after the Taliban's ouster by a U.S.-led invasion in 2001, Saudi Arabia kept doors open for Taliban members to make the annual hajj, or Muslim pilgrimage.
While al-Qaida leader Osama bin-Laden, a Saudi, has frequently railed against the U.S.-allied kingdom, his sympathizers among the Afghan Taliban have been muted in their criticism.