March 31, 2009 / 10:04 AM / 9 years ago

Clinton offers olive branch to Taliban

THE HAGUE (Reuters) - U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on Tuesday at a U.N. conference on Afghanistan that Taliban members in Afghanistan who abandoned extremism must be granted an “honorable form of reconciliation.”

“We must also support efforts by the government of Afghanistan to separate the extremists of al Qaeda and the Taliban from those who have joined their ranks not out of conviction, but out of desperation,” Clinton said at an international conference on Afghanistan in the Hague.

“This is, in fact, the case for a majority of those fighting with the Taliban,” she told delegates from more than 70 countries at the meeting.

Clinton’s comments echo those of U.S. President Barack Obama who said this month that he was open to the idea of reaching out to moderate elements of the Taliban.

“They should be offered an honorable form of reconciliation and re-integration into a peaceful society, if they are willing to abandon violence, break with al Qaeda, and support the constitution,” Clinton said.

In veiled criticism of Afghanistan’s current leaders, Clinton said there needed to be a government that was “legitimate and respected” and there was no room for corruption.

“Corruption is a cancer -- as dangerous to our long-term success as the Taliban or al Qaeda. A government that cannot deliver for its people is a terrorist’s best recruiting tool,” Clinton said.

She urged an “open, free and fair” election in August and announced $40 million in U.S. funding to help the United Nations prepare for the poll, urging others to do the same.

Clinton was at the conference to give details of the new U.S. war strategy in Afghanistan and Pakistan, which involves a more regional approach to the conflict bringing in neighbors such as Iran.

The Obama administration has also pledged an additional 21,000 troops to the war effort, including some 4,000 forces to help train Afghanistan’s army.

“The international community must meet this challenge as well,” said Clinton, appealing for more international help in stabilizing Afghanistan.

“We should provide every army and police unit in Afghanistan with an international partner that can help with training and build capacity,” she said.

Clinton said the global effort should ultimately stand up an Afghan army of at least 134,000 and a police force of at least 82,000 by 2011.

U.S. foe Iran is also attending the conference along with other neighbors and, without mentioning Tehran, Clinton said Afghanistan’s problems could not be solved without the help of its neighbors.

“Trafficking in narcotics, the spread of violent extremism, economic stagnation, water management, electrification, and irrigation are regional challenges that will require regional solutions,” she said.

Reporting by Sue Pleming; editing by Reed Stevenson

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