No back-channel talks with Taliban: Hagel
KABUL (PAN): US defence secretary Chuck Hagel, who met President Hamid Karzai for discussions and dinner at the Presidential Palace late Sunday, said he tried to reassure Karzai that his country had no unilateral back-channel talks with the Taliban.
Karzai has suggested the US and the Taliban were conspiring to keep the level of violence high to ensure the continued presence of foreign troops in Afghanistan beyond 2014.
The meeting between Karzai and Hagal came several hours after Karzai made his remarks. After the meeting, Hagel told reporters he tried to reassure Karzai that the United States had no unilateral back-channel talks with the Taliban.
"The fact is, any prospect for peace or political settlements -- that has to be led by the Afghans. That has to come from the Afghan side," Hagel said. "Obviously, the United States will support efforts if they are led by the Afghans to come to some possible resolution."
Hagel, who took the helm at the Pentagon last month, made his first trip to Afghanistan as defense secretary. His visit has been eventful as his first full day in Kabul was marred by a deadly blast near the defense ministry that killed nine civilians and injured at least 14 others. The Taliban said the suicide attack was a message for Hagel.
Hagel's dinner with Karzai in Kabul came after a scheduled joint news conference between the two was canceled. His planned meetings with Afghan defence and interior ministers at their respective headquarters were shifted to an ISAF installation.
Pentagon spokesman George Little said the schedule had changed "for a variety of reasons, to include decisions related to security in Kabul that were reached in consultation with our Afghan partners."
To a question about Karzai's remarks, Hagel said they discussed those comments. “I told the president it was not true that the United States was unilaterally working with the Taliban in trying to negotiate anything,” the secretary said, adding any negotiation with the Taliban to build peace and political consensus in Afghanistan must come from the Afghan government.
The Presidential Palace issued a statement saying President Karzai renewed his call for the US to respect Afghanistan's sovereignty, referring to the arrest of a student from Kandahar University by US troops.
Issues including US special forces' pullout from central Maidan Wardak province, foreign troops' operations in villages, civilian deaths, the bilateral security agreement, the transfer of the Bagram jail to Afghan control, the peace process and others came under discussion between the two leaders, the statement said.
It said Karzai congratulated Hagel on his appointment as the US defence secretary, calling him the best choice for the position.
The National Security Council has accused 'armed individuals named as US special force' of torturing and murdering innocent people in Wardak. The government demanded members of the elite US military units leave the province west of Kabul.
US military officials said the allegations of misconduct were taken seriously, and that the military was looking into the allegations.
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