Obama, Karzai back Taleban talks in Qatar: White House

WASHINGTON (AFP) - The White House said on Tuesday that President Barack Obama and Afghan President Hamid Karzai support the idea of holding talks with the Taleban in the Islamist group's Qatar office.

In a video call, the two leaders "reaffirmed that an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace and reconciliation process is the surest way to end violence and ensure lasting stability in Afghanistan and the region," it said.

"They reiterated their support for an office in Doha for the purpose of negotiations between the (the Afghan government's) High Peace Council and authorised representatives of the Taleban."

Mr Obama appeared to have persuaded Mr Karzai to renew peace efforts after the Afghan leader's furious response to the Taleban's portrayal of its newly opened Qatar office as the headquarters of a state-in-exile.

US envoy James Dobbins said on Monday that Washington was also "outraged" at how the Taleban opened the office, which had been intended as a first step towards a peace deal to end the decade-long war in Afghanistan.

The Taleban opened the office under the rebel group's white flag and referred to themselves as the "Islamic Emirate Of Afghanistan", the name of their hardline 1996-2001 regime.

The flag and the name were the focus of a diplomatic bust-up that derailed an early stage of efforts to start peace talks as the US-led Nato combat mission winds down 12 years after the Taleban were ousted.

The Afghan government, which has said it is still committed to the peace process, insists the Taleban's office in the Gulf state must only be used for direct negotiations with Mr Karzai's appointed negotiators.

The contentious sign, flag and flagpole unveiled at the opening of the office last Tuesday have now been moved.

Mr Karzai, angered at how the Taleban had been allowed to pull off such a publicity coup, also broke off Afghan-US talks on an agreement that could allow the US to maintain soldiers in Afghanistan after the Nato combat mission ends.

The White House statement said Mr Obama welcomed the June 18 "milestone" at which Afghan security forces take the lead for operations countrywide.

It said the two leaders had discussed the negotiation of a Bilateral Security Agreement but did not say when the talks might be resumed.

About 100,000 foreign combat troops, 68,000 of them American, are due to exit Afghanistan by the end of 2014.

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