Turkey in talks on Taliban office in Istanbul

ANKARA Fri Apr 15, 2011 9:29am EDT

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ANKARA (Reuters) - Turkey is working to open a political office for the Taliban in Istanbul, a close aide to Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan was quoted as saying on Friday, the first explicit comments on the plan.

"It's being negotiated right now," Ibrahim Kalin told the Hurriyet daily, adding the office would be located in Turkey's largest city, Istanbul.

Muslim Turkey, which has hosted talks aimed at building trust between Pakistan and Afghanistan, has said before that it is open to the establishment of a diplomatic presence for the Taliban to help with talks to end the war in Afghanistan.

A Pakistani official, speaking during a visit by Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari to Ankara on Thursday, told Reuters Pakistan would back such a plan.

Analysts say that any solution to the Afghan conflict would probably require the support of Pakistan.

The proposal first surfaced during a trilateral summit in December between Turkey, Afghanistan and Pakistan in Istanbul, in which Afghan President Hamid Karzai said Kabul would welcome any offer by Turkey meant to facilitate talks with the Taliban.

Afghanistan's former president, Burhanuddin Rabbani, who leads a council charged with starting peace talks with Taliban-led insurgents, held talks with Turkish government officials in Turkey in February.

But Abdullah Abdullah, a former foreign minister who came second behind Hamid Karzai in Afghan presidential elections in 2009, told Hurriyet that opening an office for the Taliban would help "legalize a terrorist organization."

"Turkey has a generally constructive role in Afghanistan. However, we recently learned of plans to open a Taliban office in Turkey, which will not help build trust within a majority in Afghanistan who do not support the Taliban," Abdullah said.

Turkey, the largest Muslim country in NATO, has troops in non-combat roles with NATO forces in Afghanistan, and also has well established military-to-military contacts with Pakistan.

(Writing by Ibon Villelabeitia; editing by Tim Pearce)

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