Door still open for talks with Taliban: Clinton

Washington: US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Wednesday said that the door was still open to peace talks with Afghanistan`s Taliban so long as it renounces violence and distances itself from international terrorism.

"Any negotiation must require the Taliban to break ties with al-Qaeda, to renounce violence and to abide by Afghanistan`s constitution, including the protections of women`s and minority rights," Clinton said.

"We`ve also made clear that the steps the Taliban must now take to advance the process – they must make unambiguous statements distancing themselves from international terrorism and committing to a process that includes all Afghans," she told reporters during a joint press availability with the visiting Afghan Foreign Minister Zalmai Rassoul.

"So the Taliban have their own choice to make, but let there be no doubt that the US is prepared to work with all Afghans who are committed to an inclusive reconciliation process that leads toward lasting security," Clinton said.

She said if there are insurgents who have no interest in reconciliation, they will continue to face military pressure. "We are not stopping our efforts to support the security of Afghanistan while we try to see whether there is an opportunity for negotiation. So really, at this point, the choice is up to them," she said.

Clinton said the US is committed to supporting Afghan reconciliation. "Our only goal is to open the door for Afghans to sit down with other Afghans and to work out the future for their country. Our position has been consistent. We have been clear about the necessary outcome," she added.

"Reconciliation is going to be a very long-term process. There`s nothing quick or easy about it, and I think both the minister and I know that you are going to have bumps in the road. But as I said at the outset, our role is to support the Afghans. It`s Afghan-led; it`s Afghan-owned," she said.

Clinton said the two countries are working toward turning over full responsibility for security nationwide to Afghan forces by the end of 2014. "As the Afghans take the lead on security, we will be moving into a supporting role, and we will be discussing this in more detail at the upcoming NATO summit in Chicago and then at follow-on meetings in Kabul and in Tokyo," she said.

Meanwhile, the Pentagon today said the US Army is still continuing with its probe into the killing of 16 Afghan civilians by an American soldier in Kandahar this month.

It said no decision has been taken yet on the timeline of filing the charges against the killer American soldier. "On the issue of charges, I don`t have a specific date or time when they may be filed," Pentagon Press Secretary George Little told reporters at a news conference.

Pentagon spokesman Navy Capt John Kirby said the Department of Defense is closely following the news reports appearing with regard to the incident, but would not like to comment on them.

Responding to questions, Little said Defense Secretary Leon Panetta is fully aware of concerns that have been expressed about stress on the force. "He talked a bit about this last week in Afghanistan. And it`s something that he`s kept his finger on the pulse on for some time. But I`m unaware of any review that has been launched at this time. But it`s something that we`re bearing in mind," he said.