KABUL (Reuters) - Afghan President Hamid Karzai discussed prospects of peace with the Taliban in a video phone conversation with U.S. President Barack Obama, Karzai’s office said Tuesday.
Obama speaks to Karzai less frequently than his predecessor, George W. Bush, and has not visited Afghanistan since being elected U.S. president in 2008.
“During the video call, Karzai put Obama in the picture about Afghanistan’s efforts toward the acceleration of peace and national reconciliation, which America’s president welcomed,” the statement said.
Karzai has launched a high profile effort this year to reach out for reconciliation with the Taliban, who have made a comeback more than eight years since their ousting by U.S.-backed Afghan militias.
Washington has so far supported efforts to lure lower- and mid-level Taliban to lay down arms, but has been more guarded about efforts to reach out to their leaders, which it thinks is likely to be successful only after progress on the battlefield.
U.S. General David Petraeus, appearing before a Senate panel on Tuesday, said he shared Defense Secretary Robert Gates’s doubts about the prospects of a reconciliation process with senior-level Taliban leaders at this time.
“Reconciliation at the senior levels, as Secretary Gates has observed, is probably a bit unlikely at the conditions that the Afghan government has established for it if, indeed, they are not feeling a considerably greater amount of pressure than they probably are right now,” said Petraeus, who, as the head of Central Command, oversees wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Obama ordered an extra 30,000 troops to Afghanistan in December in a bid to turn the tide in the war. When they arrive by the end of this year, the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan will have tripled during Obama’s time in office to 100,000, along with more than 40,000 from other NATO countries.
Obama has pledged to begin a gradual withdrawal in mid-2011, setting up the next year as a decisive phase in the war.
The statement from Karzai’s office said both leaders had emphasized that Afghanistan and the international community should follow a “unified stance” on the question of talks.
Karzai also said that Afghans did not want their territory to be used for “proxy wars” between other countries, a statement that could refer either to tensions between Pakistan and India or between the United States and Iran.
Other topics which they discussed included regional cooperation, the strengthening of the Afghan security forces, anti-corruption measures in Afghanistan and the holding of a transparent parliamentary election, slated for September.
U.S. officials have stepped up pressure on Karzai in recent weeks to do more on corruption.
“There have been some actions taken to remove corrupt individuals and there’s no question that there need to be more,” Petraeus said of the president.
Additional reporting by Adam Entous in Washington; Editing by Peter Graff and Jackie Frank