Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai said Sunday he was ready to hold talks with Taliban in an effort to end their insurgency against his US-backed administration.
Karzai however denied his government was already in "formal negotiations" with the Taliban, who were driven from power six years ago in a US-led invasion.
"Peace can't be achieved without negotiations. Any Afghan wanting to come to his country and help Afghanistan in peace, stability and development is welcomed," Karzai told reporters.
"If I could get an address for the Taliban, if I had somewhere to send somebody to and an authority that says publicly they are the Taliban, I would do it," he said at a press conference with Latvian President Valdis Zatlers.
Karzai said he hoped "someone will eventually come up with a telephone number, with an address and with a leadership structure that we can go and talk to."
The president said his administration had asked neighbouring Pakistan to find out how to contact the Taliban leadership to make an offer.
Karzai and most of his government have alleged that Taliban leaders, including their supreme commander Mullah Mohammad Omar, are hiding out in Pakistan, but Islamabad strongly denies this.
The Afghan leader did not say whether Omar, who carries a multi-million-dollar US bounty, was included in the offer of talks. Karzai has suggested negotiations before, but not with the leaders of the uprising.
He said Sunday the Hizbi-i-Islami faction of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar was also welcome to join the peace process. He did not however mention the former prime minister by name.
The president set up a reconciliation commission in 2005 in the hope of persuading rebels to put down their weapons. Several hundred low-level Taliban have signed up, according to officials.
The Taliban as a movement has however repeatedly rejected Karzai's calls for reconciliation and instead redoubled its insurgency, using increasingly sophisticated tactics.
Karzai admitted at the media briefing that security had deteriorated but said Afghanistan was "an entirely different issue than Iraq."
"In Afghanistan the reason extremism was thrown away in less than a month in 2001 is because the Afghan people wanted to be freed.
"We were actually occupied as a country, as a nation, by extremism and by their foreign backers," he said, referring to the Taliban and their Al-Qaeda allies, removed in 2001.
"The security situation has become seriously troubled, yes, but it doesn't mean the people don't want progress, don't want the presence of international community," he said.
Last Mod: 09 Eylül 2007, 18:57