In our new ABC News poll, almost three-quarters of the Afghan people say they want their government to reach a negotiated settlement with the Taliban. But when I spoke with Gen. David Petraeus, he tamped down talk of a quick deal. As for that Taliban imposter who made it all the way to talks with President Karzai, Petraeus said he was "not surprised.”
Here's our exchange:
George Stephanopoulos: One of the things the poll also shows is that almost three quarters of Afghans support a negotiated settlement with the Taliban. Is that possible, or must they be defeated?
Gen. David Petraeus: Well, it depends what you're talking about. There are already cases of reintegration, of reconcilable elements of the Taliban. In other words, mid-level leaders and below–
George Stephanopoulos: I'm talking about the top level.
Gen. David Petraeus: –two– two– two dozen. Well, you know, in– Iraq, we never reconciled with the top level al-Qaeda in Iraq leaders. What we did is we were able to reconcile with the mid-level leaders and the population that, in some cases, was opposing the new Iraq and either actively or tacitly supporting al-Qaeda in Iraq. So there are different groups that you want to pursue. And in this case– the "we" being the government of Afghanistan. Because it is the government that has to have the lead, clearly– in cases of reintegration of those who are in the country, and then reconciliation with the senior–
George Stephanopoulos: There was that embarrassing– that embarrassing episode a couple of weeks ago, where it turned out– supposedly a top level Taliban who was negotiation with the Afghan government turned out to be an imposter. How could that happen?
Gen. David Petraeus: Well, it was not a surprise, George– that the–
George Stephanopoulos: Not a surprise?
Gen. David Petraeus: Not at all. That's the—
George Stephanopoulos: Well, then why–
Gen. David Petraeus: There was doubt—
George Stephanopoulos: –the person let in?
Gen. David Petraeus: This was– there was enormous doubt about this individual from the very beginning. And decisions were made to go ahead and pursue that just to see where it leads. Partly because it– maybe he actually proves to be who he is. But more than likely, even if he doesn't, you– you see what dynamics that creates– see how it evolves. And there was– there was– healthy skepticism about that individual—
George Stephanopoulos: But you decided to give it a chance?
Gen. David Petraeus: Well, again, this is not our decision. This reconciliation is an action that the Afghan government carries out in some cases with the– some degree of at least knowledge or assistance of international elements.
George Stephanopoulos: Are there any serious talks going on right now?
Gen. David Petraeus: If there were, I wouldn't tell you about them. But I think that observers have noted that there are various strands of outreach that are out there.
George Stephanopoulos: Let's talk about some of the other challenges you face.
Gen. David Petraeus: I'm sorry. Let me actually clarify that.
George Stephanopoulos: Okay.
Gen. David Petraeus: Because what everyone has been very clear to say is that whatever is going out there right now, and there are various, as I said, strands of outreach that– that have– that are out there. These are all pre-preliminary, or– that's– it's arguable that they're even talks about talks, if you will. But there is outreach. There are various efforts from various quarters in this regard.
George Stephanopoulos: But we're not close to a negotiated settlement right now.
Gen. David Petraeus: No. No. I don't think anyone would characterize the situation as that.