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Clinton backs reconciliation with moderate Taliban

Video by Luke SHRAGO , Pauline PACCARD

Text by FRANCE 24 (with wires)

Latest update : 2009-03-31

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton urged fellow leaders at the Conference on Afghanistan in The Hague to offer some "form of reconciliation" to Taliban militants who renounce violence and break with al Qaeda.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton backed reconciliation with Taliban members who abandon extremism, during a conference on Afghanistan in The Hague.

"We must ... support efforts by the government of Afghanistan to separate the extremists of al Qaeda and the Taliban from those who joined their ranks not out of conviction, but out of desperation," Clinton said on Tuesday.

 

"They (Taliban members) should be offered an honourable form of reconciliation and reintegration into a peaceful society, if they are willing to abandon violence, break with al Qaeda, and support the constitution," she added.

 


Representatives from nearly 70 countries, including Iran, are attending the UN-backed conference in a bid to boost reconstruction efforts and tackle the Islamist insurgency in the strife-ridden country.

This is the first international meeting since US President Barack Obama unveiled policy changes for Kabul. Since taking office in January, Obama has ordered 17,000 extra troops to Afghanistan to tackle the violence, and a further 4,000 to help train the army, along with hundreds of civilians to improve basic services.

“Afghans know about the new American strategy in the region,” reports FRANCE 24’s Claire Billet in Kabul. “Obama spoke about an economic and political solution and that’s been appreciated,” she added.

After talks with fellow NATO leaders in Brussels earlier this month, US Vice-President Joe Biden said it would be "worth exploring" possible talks with Taliban moderates as part of a change of strategy in Afghanistan.

'Constructive participation'


Clinton asked participating countries for greater involvement in Afghanistan’s reconstruction and sought their support in Washington’s new war strategy to oust al Qaeda and Taliban fighters.

"I think there are a number of ways that different nations can be constructive in supporting Afghanistan," she told reporters travelling with her to The Netherlands. "There are a number of issues that affect the neighbours (Pakistan, India, China), including terrorism and narcotic trafficking," Clinton added.

In addition, Clinton said the US would contribute $40 million to help prepare for the Afghan elections in August 2009.

"We do not support or oppose any candidate but we want to assure that the elections themselves are going to have legitimacy and credibility," Clinton told reporters on Monday.

Iranian involvement

Iranian Deputy Foreign Affairs Minister Mohammad Mehdi Akhoundzadeh is representing Tehran at the conference.

Upbeat about the Iranian participation, Clinton said she wanted the Islamist republic to cooperate on border security and drugs-peddling in Afghanistan. "I believe there will be an opening by this conference that will enable all the countries, including Iran, to come forward with how they want to participate," Clinton told reporters.

In response, Akhoundzadeh said his country Iran was “fully prepared” to help with projects aimed at fighting drug trafficking and in plans to develop and rebuild Afghanistan.

However he strongly condemned the presence of foreign troops in the region, saying it encouraged radicalism. “The presence of foreign troops cannot bring peace and stability for Afghanistan," Akhoundzadeh said. “The presence of foreign forces has not improved things in the country and it seems that an increase in the number of foreign forces will prove ineffective too," he added in reference to the new US strategy.

According to FRANCE 24’s Billet, Iran’s statement is very close to Afghan public opinion. “Troops increase is unpopular especially among the population in the fighting areas; for them it means more civilian casualties,” she says.

Clinton will be the highest-level official in the Obama administration to sit at the same table with Tehran on Tuesday, but she played down expectations of her first contact with the Iranian administration.

"I have no plans (to meet the Iranians). I can't forecast tomorrow, but we are looking forward to everyone playing a constructive role," she told reporters on Monday.

The Obama administration is trying to reach out to Tehran on issues of mutual concern such as Afghanistan, reversing policies under the previous US administration.

In a video address to Iran earlier in March, Obama said he wanted a new beginning with Tehran. The two countries have been at loggerheads on various issues, including a controversial Iranian nuclear program.


 

Date created : 2009-03-31

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