Afghan's Karzai cancels talks with Saudi leaders

Karzai said to have reservations over agenda

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Afghan President Hamid Karzai cancelled on Wednesday a meeting with the world's top Muslim body in Saudi Arabia that was aimed at pushing for dialogue to help reconciliation efforts with the Taliban.

The meeting was called off because Karzai had reservations over the agenda, a senior Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC) official said, without elaborating.

An Afghan diplomat told Reuters that the meeting with the OIC, led by Secretary-General Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, was cancelled because the Afghan delegation wanted to visit Medina, the burial place of the Prophet Mohammad.

Karzai arrived in Saudi Arabia on Tuesday to seek the kingdom's spiritual influence and financial clout to reconcile with the Taliban during talks with King Abdullah, whose country is home to Islam's two most holy sites.

The cancelled meeting would have addressed the OIC's role in containing Afghan tensions and to follow up on an OIC bid to organize a conference for Islamic scholars from different religious authorities on the Afghan issue, the OIC said.

"We understand that Saudi Arabia supports this drive by the OIC for debate among Afghan religious leaders as a means to convince the Taliban to openly abandon al-Qaeda," the senior OIC official told Reuters by telephone from Jeddah.

Karzai has long called on Saudi Arabia to use its influence to persuade the Islamist Taliban rebels to lay down their arms and join a peace initiative.

"To make our program a success we hope that His Majesty King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia will kindly play a role to guide peace and assist the process," he told an international conference in London last week.

"The role of Saudi Arabia is extremely important for Afghanistan," Karzai said. "This role we're seeking is not only for talks with the Taliban. It's a broader role that we're seeking, which is for peace-building in Afghanistan, for improved relations with our nations and for reconstruction and assistance."

Saudi Arabia pledged an additional $150 million in aid to Afghanistan at the London conference.

Karzai won backing for a new peace and reconciliation program with the Taliban at the London conference, which aimed to lay down a roadmap for the war-torn country's future.

The Afghan leader stressed he plans to reconcile with Taliban leaders as much as they are willing, but he made clear his offer of reconciliation did not extend to anyone in al-Qaeda, saying there was no room in Afghanistan for terrorists.

Casualties among Afghan civilians and foreign troops reached record levels last year as Afghan and international forces fought a resurgent Taliban. Western nations, who have more than 110,000 troops in Afghanistan, have said the war cannot be won militarily and talks will have to be held eventually.

We understand that Saudi Arabia supports this drive by the OIC for debate among Afghan religious leaders as a means to convince the Taliban to openly abandon al-Qaeda

Senior OIC official