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Petraeus sees value in talking to Taliban

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Army Gen. David Petraeus said on Wednesday that negotiations with some members of the Taliban could provide a way to reduce violence in sections of Afghanistan gripped by an intensifying insurgency.

U.S. military commander in Iraq General David Petraeus salutes during a farewell ceremony for him at the Ministry of Defence in Baghdad September 15, 2008. REUTERS/Mahmoud Raouf Mahmoud

“If there are people who are willing to reconcile (with the government), then that would be a positive step in some of these areas that have actually been spiraling downward,” said Petraeus, who will soon take up responsibility for U.S. operations in Afghanistan.

“The key there is making sure that all of that is done in complete coordination, with complete support of the Afghan government,” he told a forum hosted by the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank.

Petraeus, the former commander in Iraq who is credited by U.S. officials with saving Iraq from civil war, is scheduled on October 31 to take over U.S. Central Command, which overseas American military interests across the Middle East and into south and central Asia.

Violence has soared in Afghanistan over the past two years, particularly in provinces along the country’s eastern border with Pakistan, where U.S. troops face a growing insurgency fueled by militant safe havens across the border.

U.S. concern about the violence has prompted the Bush administration to mount a broad review of its strategy in Afghanistan.

Petraeus said negotiations with insurgents willing to consider reconciliation could reduce violence by isolating hard-core militants, which is what occurred in Iraq’s Anbar province when Sunni tribesmen joined U.S. forces against al Qaeda.

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“You’ve got to set things up. You’ve got to know who you’re talking to. You’ve got to have your objectives straight,” the general said.

His remarks followed a flurry of media reports about possible negotiations with the Taliban.

Saudi King Abdullah hosted a meeting last month with representatives of the Taliban and the Afghan government, fanning speculation about a potential dialogue.

The British commander in Afghanistan, Brig. Mark Carleton-Smith, also told the Sunday Times that negotiations with the Taliban could bring needed progress.

Asked about those remarks, Petraeus noted that Britain’s long experience negotiating with adversaries helped reduce violence in Iraq. “They’ve sat down with thugs throughout their history, including us in our early days, I suspect,” he said.

Reporting by David Morgan; Editing by Cynthia Osterman