US-Taliban Talks Speed Up
Officials hope Obama will have progress to report by July
By Evann Gastaldo,  Newser Staff
Posted May 17, 2011 6:50 AM CDT
In this photo taken, Nov. 2, 2010, a veteran member of the Taliban speaks to The Associated Press in Afghanistan, Nov 2, 2010.   (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)

(Newser) – The US has accelerated direct talks with the Taliban, a move that predates the killing of Osama bin Laden. US representatives have attended at least three meetings with a Taliban official believed to be close to the group's leader, the most recent of which was just "eight or nine days ago," a senior Afghan official tells the Washington Post. US officials hope President Obama will have made progress by the time he begins withdrawing troops from Afghanistan in July.

Officials say the discussions, first reported in February, are preliminary but have advanced significantly. Though Afghan President Hamid Karzai's opponents have criticized rumors of the talks, US officials say such criticism is just evidence that Afghans are beginning to take the negotiations seriously. "The Afghans have been fully briefed" on the recent talks, while the Pakistanis have been "partially" briefed, says one official. The Taliban, meanwhile, prefers to negotiate directly with the US, and wants a formal political office and role in the Afghan government.