NEW YORK: US President Barack Obama said Thursday there were signs that the Taliban may be interested in a political settlement critical to stabilizing Afghanistan after US troops come home.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton meanwhile defended what she said was Washington's "very preliminary outreach" to the Taliban as part of a necessary but unpleasant bid for a political solution in Afghanistan.
Obama referred to the dialogue with the Afghan insurgency for the second time in as many days, after announcing that he would bring home 33,000 troops home from Afghanistan by next summer on Wednesday.
"Because of you, we are now taking the fight to the Taliban instead of the Taliban bringing the fight to us," Obama told Afghanistan combat veterans from the US Army's 10th Mountain Division in upstate New York.
"Because of you, there are signs that the Taliban may be interested in figuring out a political settlement that ultimately is going to be critical in consolidating that country."
Obama said in his primetime speech on Wednesday on the Afghan war that there was "reason to believe that progress can be made" in talks with the Taliban.
In testimony to the Senate, Clinton said the United States is backing a diplomatic surge complementing the military surge that Obama has begun to wind down with the planned withdrawal of 10,000 troops this year.
"It is diplomatic efforts in support of an Afghan-led political process that aims to shatter the alliance between the Taliban and al Qaeda and the insurgency, and help to produce more stability," the chief US diplomat said.
She repeated the Taliban insurgents must meet the US "red lines" of renouncing violence, abandoning support for al Qaeda, and supporting the Afghan constitution, which includes protections for women.
"In the last four months, this Afghan-led political process has gained momentum," she said, adding she believed women and civil society were being involved in the process."We believe that a political solution that meets these conditions is possible," Clinton said.
"The United States has a broad range of contacts at many levels across Afghanistan and the region that we are leveraging to support this effort, including very preliminary outreach to members of the Taliban," she said."This is not a pleasant business, but a necessary one because history tells us that a combination of military pressure, economic opportunity and an inclusive political and diplomatic process is the best way to end insurgencies," she said.
"With (Osama) bin Laden dead and al Qaeda's remaining leadership under enormous pressure, the choice facing the Taliban is clear: be part of Afghanistan's future or face unrelenting assault," Clinton said.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates confirmed Sunday that US officials were involved in preliminary talks with the Taliban to seek a political solution to the Afghan war, but said he didn't expect significant progress for months.
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