The U.S. is downplaying remarks from over the weekend by President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan in which he offered to provide security to Mullah Omar, the exiled Taliban leader, if he would come to Afghanistan for peace talks.
Karzai's remarks are just the latest sign that government officials both overseas and in the U.S. are increasingly willing to negotiate with certain elements of the Taliban in an attempt to temper the rising flames of violence that have engulfed the region.
State Department spokesman Sean McCormack noted today that Karzai made it quite clear that the Taliban would have to renounce violence before Omar would be given security to come to Afghanistan. While McCormack ruled out a U.S. seat at the table, he did not oppose the idea of peace talks outright.
"This is something that President Karzai thinks is important, trying to lay out the possibility of a reconciliation," said McCormack. "You know, for our part, we certainly are not going to negotiate with the Taliban."
The White House said today there have been no indications that Omar and the Taliban are changing their ways.
"We're not seeing any indication from Mullah Omar that he is ready to renounce violence, break all ties to Al-Qaeda and support the Afghan government and constitution," said Gordon Johndroe, a White House spokesman.
Johndroe said that while "we're hopeful that reconcilable Taliban will lay down their arms and choose to play a productive part in Afghan society ... sadly, so far, they continue to attack innocents civilians and coalition forces on a regular basis," he said.
But President-elect Barack Obama and the new commander of CENTCOM David Petraeus have both indicated they may be willing to appeal to moderate elements within the Taliban.
"I do think you have to talk to enemies," Petraeus said in a recent speech in Washington. "I mean, what we did do in Iraq ultimately was sit down with some of those that were shooting at us."
The Taliban for its part has reportedly rejected Karzai's offer. Mullah Brother, the deputy leader, told Reuters, "We are safe in Afghanistan and we have no need for Hamid Karzai's offer of safety."
Omar remains at-large but is believed to be hiding in Quetta, Pakistan. There is a $10 million bounty on his head by the U.S. for the role his regime played in sheltering Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda in the years prior to the 9-11 attacks.