By Elise Labott
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Wednesday acknowledged discussions about opening up a Taliban office in Qatar, and transferring some Taliban prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, as part of the U.S. support for Afghan reconciliation efforts.
"Nothing has been concluded," Clinton said at a press conference with Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani. "We are still in the preliminary stages of testing whether this can be successful."
Clinton said she's sending Marc Grossman, the State Department's special representative for the region, to Afghanistan and Qatar next week to work on the details.
Clinton said positive statements made last week from both the Taliban and Afghan President Hamid Karzai suggest "there is support for such discussions, for the (Taliban) political office to open in Qatar." She said the U.S. government was "very grateful for the assistance that the government of Qatar has provided."
The Taliban announced last week that it planned to set up a political office in Qatar's capital city, Doha, to facilitate talks on the Afghan conflict, a move seen as a first step to peace talks with Washington.
It appears to be the first time the Taliban - who ruled Afghanistan from 1996 until 2001, when they were ousted in a U.S.-led invasion - have offered talks without the condition of an American withdrawal from the country.
"Afghanistan, to save the country from war, conspiracies, the killing of innocent Afghans and to reach peace, agrees with the talks between United States of America and Taliban that will end up in establishing an office for Taliban in Qatar," Karzai said in a palace statement.
U.S. officials have said the Taliban has demanded in exchange the United States release Taliban prisoners from Guantanamo Bay.
"We have not made any decisions about releasing any Taliban from Guantanamo," Clinton said when asked about a deal.
But she said the United States did support Afghan-led reconciliation talks provided the Taliban renounces violence, breaks with al Qaeda and support the Afghan constitution, which protects the rights of women and minorities.
"I made it clear to President Karzai that we will work with him, under his leadership," Clinton said.
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