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Afghan president welcomes US remarks on Taliban

KABUL, Afghanistan - Afghan President Hamid Karzai yesterday welcomed remarks from the Obama administration that the Taliban were not necessarily America’s enemies.

Earlier this month, Vice President Joe Biden said in an interview with Newsweek magazine that the Islamist militants did not represent a threat to US interests unless they continued to shelter al Qaeda.

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“Look, the Taliban per se is not our enemy. That’s critical. There is not a single statement that the president has ever made in any of our policy assertions that the Taliban is our enemy because it threatens US interests,’’ Biden was quoted as saying by Newsweek.

The Obama administration and other governments are trying to establish a peace process with the Taliban to help end the 10-year war.

“I am very happy that the American government has announced that the Taliban are not their enemies,’’ Karzai said. “We hope that this message will help the Afghans reach peace and stability.’’

A senior US official has said Washington plans to continue secret meetings with Taliban representatives in Europe and the Persian Gulf region next year. Outreach by the United States had progressed to the point that there was active discussion of two steps the Taliban seeks as precursors to negotiations, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the issue.

Trust-building measures under discussion involve setting up a Taliban headquarters office and the release from the US military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, of several Afghan prisoners believed to be affiliated with the Taliban.

On Tuesday, Karzai said his government would accept the Taliban establishing a liaison office in Turkey, Qatar, or Saudi Arabia for the purpose of holding peace talks.

Meanwhile, NATO troops yesterday handed over responsibility for security in three districts of the embattled southern Helmand province to Afghan forces.

The Helmand governor’s office said these included Marjah district, the site of a major offensive by coalition forces last year. Coalition operations to rout the Taliban in February 2010 yielded slower than expected returns, but a troop buildup later in the year pushed insurgents out of the center of the district.

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