US Holding Direct, Secret Talks With Taliban
New Yorker: They're preliminary but mark a shift in strategy
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Feb 19, 2011 9:54 AM CST
In this photo taken, Nov. 2, 2010, a veteran member of the Taliban smokes a cigarette as he speaks to The Associated Press in Afghanistan.   (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)
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(Newser) – The US is for the first time holding direct talks with senior Taliban officials in Afghanistan, reports Steve Coll in the New Yorker. He characterizes them as "exploratory" and not as formal peace negotiations, noting that supreme leader Mullar Omar is not a participant. The intent is to pave the way toward more substantive talks later—ones that would bring in Afghan President Hamid Karzai's camp—with the larger goal of getting the group to split with al-Qaeda.

A White House spokesman didn't confirm the talks, but he pointed Coll to Hillary Clinton's speech last week: “I know that reconciling with an adversary that can be as brutal as the Taliban sounds distasteful, even unimaginable," she said. "And diplomacy would be easy if we only had to talk to our friends. But that is not how one makes peace." The initiative is one of the last achievements of late diplomat Richard Holbrooke, notes Coll.