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Russia open to moderate Taliban contacts - IFAX

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia backs the idea of talks between Afghanistan’s government and moderate elements of the Taliban, a senior Russian diplomat was quoted as saying on Wednesday.

Taliban guerrilla fighters are seen at a secret base in eastern Afghanistan in this February 3, 2007 file photo. Russia backs the idea of talks between Afghanistan's government and moderate elements of the Taliban, a senior Russian diplomat was quoted as saying on Wednesday. REUTERS/Saeed Ali Achakzai/Files

U.S. President Barack Obama told the New York Times earlier this month that he was open to the idea of reaching out to moderate elements of the Taliban in Afghanistan, where insurgent violence is at is highest since U.S.-led forces ousted the militant Islamist movement in late 2001.

Deputy Foreign Minister Alexei Borodavkin, quoted by Interfax news agency, said Moscow was worried that if U.S-led forces lost the battle against the Taliban then Islamist militancy could spread through Central Asia and threaten Russian national security.

But Russia would be ready to back talks between the Afghan government and moderate Taliban people if they laid down their arms, he said.

“The Russian side would not object to this on condition that they lay down their arms, recognise the constitution and the government of Afghanistan and renounce ties with Al-Qaeda,” he said.

Russia is against any talks or agreements with the leaders of active extremist groups in Afghanistan, he said.

Obama has said the United States is not winning in Afghanistan and last month he approved the deployment of 17,000 more troops as part of an effort to stabilise the country.

NO RUSSIAN PRESENCE

Afghanistan’s U.S.-backed administration, which has governed since the Taliban was overthrown following the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks in the United States, has faced a resurgent Taliban ahead of presidential elections due this August.

Some analysts believe the United States must engage in dialogue with Taliban-led insurgents if it is to succeed in Afghanistan. The United States is expected to release a review of its own policy towards Afghanistan on March 27.

The former Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in 1979, pulling out a decade later after losing thousands of troops fighting mostly Western-backed Afghan guerrillas.

Borodavkin said there could be no Russian military presence in Afghanistan but that Russia would assist domestic Afghan and international forces.

“Russia intends to continue to give political support to the international forces,” he was quoted as saying.

“A failure of the international forces in Afghanistan and a growth in the potential for a conflict around our southern borders would create a threat to Russian national security.”

Russia has allowed some NATO members to transit military cargo and personnel through its territory as U.S.-led forces look for alternative supply routes from the north because routes through Pakistan are being attacked by Taliban militants.

But full cooperation between Russia and NATO is complicated by Moscow’s opposition to NATO expansion and U.S. missile defence plans.

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