June 23, 2011 / 8:22 AM / 8 years ago

Britain says in contact with Taliban

LONDON (Reuters) - Britain is contact with Taliban insurgents to help pave the way to peace in Afghanistan, Foreign Secretary William Hague said on Thursday.

British Foreign Secretary Minister William Hague attends a news conference in Benghazi June 4, 2011. REUTERS/Esam Al-Fetori/Files

“Contacts do take place with the Taliban. I think it is fair for us to say officially that contacts do take place,” Hague told BBC radio.

“Britain, let me put it this way, is connected to that and supportive of that, clearly we have been at the forefront of arguing for reconciliation in Afghanistan.” He said he could not give further details about the contacts.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai publicly confirmed on Saturday that the United States was in contact with the Islamist militant Taliban but said talks had not yet reached a stage where the Afghan government and insurgents were meeting.

Washington has acknowledged here had been contacts between the United States and insurgents in recent weeks although U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said he expected it could take months before any headway could be made.

Britain, which has committed about 9,500 troops to the Afghan campaign, has long argued that only a political settlement could end almost a decade of fighting in Afghanistan.

On Wednesday U.S. President Barack Obama announced a plan to start withdrawing 10,000 troops by the end of the year with a further reduction by the end of next summer.

Prime Minister David Cameron spoke to Obama before his televised address to give his support to the plans and to confirm that British forces would no longer be involved in a combat role in Afghanistan by 2015, Cameron’s spokesman said.

A global poll for the BBC World Service released on Thursday found that negotiating with the Taliban was the public’s preferred strategy for ending the conflict, rather than defeating the insurgents or withdrawing troops immediately.

The survey of 24,000 people in 18 countries, including Britain, the United States, France, Spain, Russia, Pakistan and Egypt, found 40 percent supported negotiations and including the Taliban in the government.

Reporting by Michael Holden; editing by Mark Heinrich

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