Obama calls Taliban talks ‘important first step’

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President Barack Obama on Tuesday called planned U.S. talks with the Taliban an “important first step” to ending the Afghanistan war but warned of a long and bumpy road ahead.

U.S. officials plan to meet with Taliban representatives in the insurgent group’s newly opened office in Qatar to discuss a more peaceful exit from the decade-long war launched in the wake of the September 11, 2001, attacks.

“An Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace process is the best way to end the violence and to ensure lasting stability in Afghanistan and the region,” Obama said after meeting with French President Francois Hollande on the sidelines of the Group of Eight summit in Northern Ireland.

“This is an important first step towards reconciliation. Although it’s a very early step – we anticipate there will be a lot of bumps in the road – but the fact that the parties have an opportunity to talk and discuss Afghanistan’s future I think is very important.”

Obama insisted that the Taliban would have to “accept an Afghan constitution that renounces ties with Al-Qaeda, ends violence and is committed to the protection of women and minorities in the country.”

He praised Afghan President Hamid Karzai for taking “this courageous step” and said Washington would support the peace process in partnership with Kabul.

“I want to repeat we don’t anticipate this process will be easy or quick, but we must pursue [it] in parallel with our military approach,” Obama said.

In the meantime, U.S.-led forces “remain fully committed to our military efforts to defeat Al-Qaeda and to support the Afghan National Security Forces.”

The announcement of the planned talks coincided with NATO’s formal transfer of responsibility for Afghan security to Karzai’s forces.

The U.S.-led NATO combat mission is due to wind down next year, with Afghanistan still in the grip of fighting.

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