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Afghan, Pakistani Leaders Discuss Peace Efforts

Pakistani Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani (right) greets Afghan President Hamid Karzai at the Prime Minister's House in Islamabad.

Pakistani Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani (right) greets Afghan President Hamid Karzai at the Prime Minister's House in Islamabad.

Pakistan's president has publicly backed efforts to seek reconciliation with the Taliban in a bid to end the war in Afghanistan, now in its 11th year.

The pledge came on February 16 as Afghan President Hamid Karzai met with Pakistani leaders for a summit in the Pakistani capital, Islamabad.

A spokesman for the Pakistani president quoted Asif Ali Zardari as reiterating Pakistan's support for the Afghan peace process.

Karzai was quoted as describing such support as "critical to the success" of the process.

Taliban Deny In Talks

Ahead of the summit, Karzai was quoted as saying there have been secret contacts between the U.S. and Afghan governments and the Taliban.

But the Afghan Taliban have since rejected claims by Karzai that the U.S. and Afghan governments have begun three-way talks with the Islamist group aimed at reaching a peace deal to end the 10-year conflict.

Karzai told "The Wall Street Journal" in an interview published on February 16 that the Taliban were "definitively" interested in a peace settlement to end the war and that all three sides were involved in discussions.

According to the newspaper, Karzai declined to specify the location of the talks or go into further detail, saying he feared this could damage the process.

In a statement, Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid strongly rejected Karzai's comments and said that the Taliban "do not have a plan to talk" with Karzai's administration.

Iran Factor

Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad has also flown into Islamabad for a formal summit with the Pakistani and Afghan presidents.

However, correspondents say the summit could be overshadowed by rising tensions between Iran and the West.

Iran was accused this week by Israel of targeting the Jewish state's diplomats in Georgia, India, and Thailand.

On February 15, Ahmadinejad announced new advances in the country's nuclear program, saying Western sanctions had failed to stop the country's program.

At the same time, Iran's Arabic-language Al Alam TV said Tehran had handed a letter to EU foreign-policy chief Catherine Ashton saying Iran was ready to open "constructive" talks on its nuclear program.

The three-way talks were expected to focus on cooperation in counterterrorism and transnational organized crime, including drug and human trafficking, and border and trade issues.

Compiled from agency reports