Afghan's President Confirms Taliban Talks

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KABUL - Afghan President Hamid Karzai confirmed that clandestine meetings with Taliban leaders have been taking place "for quite some time" with the hope of ending the nine-year war.

"We have been talking to the Taliban as countryman to countryman - not as a regular official contact with the Taliban with a fixed address, but rather unofficial personal contacts have been going on for quite some time," Karzai said in a taped interview on CNN's Larry King Live.

Excerpts of the show were released on Sunday, with the full interview to be aired on Monday.

Karzai spoke hopefully of the new 68-member High Peace Council - to be led by former President Burhanuddin Rabbani - which will negotiate officially with the Taliban.

"Now that the peace council has come into existence, these talks will go on and will go on officially and more rigorously, I hope," Karzai said, adding that "official contacts" with the Taliban have yet to take place.

"That hasn't happened yet, and we hope we can begin that as soon as possible," Karzai said.

"But contacts of course have been there between various elements of the Afghan government at the level of community and also at the political level," he said.

Karzai said his government did not plan to negotiate with al-Qaeda or other unspecified "terrorist networks."

According to a report last week in the Washington Post, government officials have been holding meetings with representatives of the Quetta Shura, the Afghan Taliban operating out of Pakistan under Mullah Omar.

Up till now, the Taliban has said it will not negotiate until all foreign troops have left the country. It has also insisted that Afghanistan institute sharia (Islamic) law.

In a statement released last Thursday marking the start of the insurgency in 2001, the Taliban said it controls 75 percent of Afghanistan and its jihad ("holy" war) was as strong as it had ever been.

Karzai also said he has a "very good" relationship with President Barack Obama. "We have regular contact," he said.

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AFP contributed to this report

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