French defence minister backs Taliban talks

France`s defence minister on Sunday backed US efforts to open peace talks with the Taliban.

Kabul: France`s defence minister on Sunday backed
US efforts to open peace talks with the Taliban, saying a
proposed Taliban liaison office outside Afghanistan would
provide a venue for those within the radical Islamic movement
who are willing to explain their positions.

The idea of opening a Taliban political office in Doha,
the capital of the Gulf nation of Qatar, has become the
central element of efforts to draw the insurgent movement into
peace talks and end more than a decade of war.

Speaking at the end of a brief visit to French troops,
Gerard Longuet said he had asked Afghan President Hamid Karzai
about the idea.

Karzai "explained the reasons ... for Doha as a venue for
meetings where the Taliban who wish to do so can express
themselves and meet with Afghans or members of the coalition
who wish to talk to them," Longuet said.

"It seems that there is a part among the forces fighting
against the (government), there is a will to explain
themselves, to be understood. We should never close that

Earlier this week, a senior US official told The
Associated Press that Washington plans to continue a series of
secret meetings with Taliban representatives in Europe and the
Persian Gulf region next year.

The US outreach this year 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 about five Afghan
prisoners believed to be affiliated with the Taliban.

Longuet said he was satisfied with the improving
performance of the Afghan security forces and the pace of the
transfer of responsibility for security to them. NATO and the
Afghan government expect the transition to be complete by
2014, when coalition troops are due to end their combat role.

Currently, about 3,600 French soldiers are serving in the
NATO force, mostly in northeastern Afghanistan.

Meanwhile, the death of a NATO service member yesterday in
a noncombat incident brought to 544 the number of NATO troops
who died in Afghanistan in 2011. A NATO statement provided no
further details.


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