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U.S. in peace talks with Taliban, Afghan president says

From Fazel Reshad, For CNN
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U.S. in direct talks with Taliban
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: "This is Karzai being Karzai," U.S. source says
  • State Department says it supports reconciliation
  • Afghan President Hamid Karzai tells a youth group about the talks
  • U.S. Defense Secretary Gates has said reconciliation talks are possible
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Kabul, Afghanistan (CNN) -- The United States is involved in peace talks with the Taliban, Afghan President Hamid Karzai told a youth group in Kabul on Saturday.

"Peace negotiations with the Taliban and with other countrymen have been started," Karzai told reporters after his earlier announcement on state TV. "Those who accept the constitution, freedom, democracy and development of Afghanistan can take part in this negotiation."

Representatives of the government and insurgents have been in touch, but there have been no high-level meetings, Karzai said. He added there was no specific agenda.

A senior U.S. source said there were contacts but nothing serious or substantial enough to be considered negotiations. U.S. statements are typically restrained, the source said, plus, "This is Karzai being Karzai." The source could not be named because of the sensitivity of the subject.

The U.S. State Department indicated it would support reconciliation talks in Afghanistan.

"We must help create conditions necessary to enable political settlement among the Afghan people," department spokeswoman Megan Mattson said. "This includes reconciling those insurgents who are willing to renounce al Qaeda, forsake violence and adhere to the Afghan constitution."

The U.N. Security Council split a key sanctions list on al Qaeda and the Taliban on Friday with an eye toward reconciliation in Afghanistan.

The move makes it easier to add and remove people and entities from the sanctions lists. The council also established specific criteria for having an individual delisted. The vote was unanimous.

"It sends a clear signal that now is the time for the Taliban to come forward and join the political process," Mark Lyall Grant, the British ambassador to the United Nations, told the council.

At a news conference with Karzai earlier this month, outgoing U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates talked about making changes in Afghanistan.

"I believe that if we can hold on to the territory that has been recaptured from the Taliban between ourselves and the Afghan forces and perhaps expand that security, that we will be in a position toward the end of this year to perhaps have a successful opening with respect to reconciliation, or at least be in a position where we can say we've turned a corner here in Afghanistan," Gates said, referring to political reconciliation talks.

Gates made the statement during his last visit to Afghanistan as defense secretary. Karzai awarded Gates the Wazir Akbar Khan medal, the highest governmental award.

CNN's Elise Labott contributed to this report.

 
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