KABUL Reconciliation efforts between the Taliban and the Afghan government lack clarity and need more explanation, U.S. Senator John Kerry said on Sunday, two months before Washington plans to begin a gradual troop drawdown.
Washington and NATO have backed a peace plan by Kabul that includes reintegrating mid-level Taliban fighters and reconciling with some leaders after nearly 10 years of fighting in an increasingly unpopular war.
"Clearly, that reconciliation has to be further defined," Kerry told reporters in Kabul after talks with Afghan President Hamid Karzai and U.S. and Afghan security officials.
His words may signal that Washington -- which cautiously said it would only agree to reconciliation if all conditions were met -- is not entirely ready to accept the scheme.
One of the main conditions in Kabul's peace talks is that insurgents renounce al Qaeda. The Taliban have rejected any peace talks with the Afghan government until all foreign troops have left the country.
U.S. President Barack Obama has said U.S. troops, who make up 100,000 out of around 150,000 foreign forces, will begin to come home from July, with NATO eyeing a full handover of security responsibilities to the Afghans by the end of 2014.
Kerry, a Democrat close to the Obama administration and who is chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said reconciliation also cannot come at the cost of giving up hard-won rights "for women and other sectors of Afghan society."
His words echoed concerns by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and rights groups, who say any deals with the Taliban, who forbade education for girls and forced women to wear a head-to-toe burqa, could undo important progress made on women's rights since the Islamist group was toppled in 2001.
Karzai has not publicly addressed women's rights in his reconciliation plans.
Kerry also said he was assured by Karzai and General David Petraeus, the U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan, that the security situation had improved despite violence being its worst since fighting began 10 years ago.
(Reporting by Amie Ferris-Rotman; Editing by Paul Tait)