U.S. not in direct talks with Taliban: Holbrooke

Richard Holbrooke, the U.S. special envoy to Pakistan and Afghanistan, speaks during a discussion with journalists in Kabul January 17, 2010. REUTERS/ Omar Sobhani

MUNICH, Germany (Reuters) - The United States is not in direct talks with the Afghan Taliban, and any eventual discussions would have to go hand in hand with military success, U.S. Special Representative Richard Holbrooke said on Sunday.

Speaking at the Munich Security Conference, he dismissed media speculation since a January 28 Afghanistan conference in London that there had been secret contacts.

“The press since London has been kind of obsessed with the idea there are all sorts of secret talks going on with the Taliban. So I want to state very clearly that our nation is not involved in any direct contacts with the Taliban.”

“Negotiations and military operations, however you define negotiations, can run in parallel...(but) success in military operations will affect whatever the discussions are.”

President Hamid Karzai used the conference in London to repeat a call for reconciliation with his “disenchanted brothers” in the Taliban. He has since traveled to Saudi Arabia to ask its leaders for help reaching out to the militants.

Holbrooke said that in principle negotiations and military operations could run in parallel, citing as examples the efforts to end the Vietnam war and the conflict in the former Yugoslavia.

Holbrooke added: “We appreciate this (reconciliation) issue, we recognize its importance. It’s long been a missing component of our policy.”

“But it must go hand in hand with security success. It is not an alternative to the military campaign. It requires military success to make progress.”

Reporting by William Maclean and Mark Trevelyan, Editing by Myra MacDonald