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Official: U.S. met with Haqqani terror network

By CNN Foreign Affairs Correspondent Jill Dougherty
updated 7:37 PM EDT, Fri October 21, 2011
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Pakistan's intelligence agency requested the meeting, a U.S. official says
  • The Haqqani network is blamed for attacks that have killed over 1,000 in Afghanistan
  • The official says the U.S. made clear Haqqani members must renounce violence
  • Sec. of State Clinton mentioned such contact in a meeting with Pakistani journalists

Dushanbe, Tajikistan (CNN) -- The United States met this summer with the Haqqani terrorist network at the request of Pakistan's intelligence service, a senior U.S. State Department official said Friday.

That official, who is traveling with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Asia, told reporters "it was one meeting in the summer, the ISI asked us to have it, the Afghans also knew about it."

Then chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen said in September that the Haqqani network acted "as a veritable arm of Pakistan's intelligence," also known as the ISI. Pakistani officials vehemently denied that they support the group, even while acknowledging it does main contacts.

Founded in Pakistan to fight against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, Haqqani fighters have been blamed for killing more than 1,000 coalition and Afghan forces, including attacks on the U.S. Embassy and other targets in Kabul.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton first mentioned the contact with the Haqqani network during a roundtable discussion with Pakistani journalists in Islamabad on Thursday.

"We have reached out to the Taliban, we have reached out to the Haqqani network, to test their willingness and their sincerity," she said. "And we are now working among us -- Afghanistan, Pakistan and the United States -- to try to put together a process that would sequence us toward an actual negotiation."

Clinton called it a "preliminary meeting to essentially just see if they would show up for even a preliminary meeting."

"We believe that there is now an opportunity for us to begin talking, but there is no guarantee that the talking will move us toward anything that will result in a peaceful resolution," she added.

Briefing reporters after the roundtable, the senior State Department official -- who was speaking on background because of the diplomatic sensitivity of the issues -- said, "We have had a lot of informal straws in the wind" to support the Afghan process of reconciliation.

In the meeting with the Haqqanis, the official said that the U.S. message was "very clear:" the door is open to those who can meet guidelines set by the Afghans and Americans for any reconciliation. Those include renouncing violence, renouncing al Qaeda and accepting the Afghan constitution's guarantees for the rule of law and women's rights.

"Those who want to keep fighting us and the Afghans, we are prepared to fight," the official said.

The key issue in reconciliation, the official explained, is "how you conduct the dialogue." Pakistan, Afghanistan and the United States all agree on the "red lines" and that it must be an Afghan-led process. Pakistan must "play its part to encourage reconciliation and if the U.S. can play a helpful role," the official said, "then we would be available to do it."

Such discussions are just one part of the newly formulated U.S. strategy in Afghanistan and Pakistan: "fight, talk and build."

During Clinton's trip to Pakistan, the official said, "We talked about the need for steps in days and weeks, not in months and years. We want to inject a sense of urgency in articulating and implementing the squeeze strategy on this side of the border ... The situation is urgent."

That echoed what Clinton herself said at the roundtable: "In order to get to the talking, you have to keep fighting."

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