(RFE/RL) --- Leaders and senior officials from Afghanistan's neighbor countries today expressed support for President Hamid Karzai's plan to offer moderate Taliban elements reconciliation and reintegration into mainstream Afghan society.
The meeting in the Turkish city of Istanbul took place in the diplomatic run-up to a big conference on January 28 in London on the country's future.
The presidents of Afghanistan and Pakistan, Hamid Karzai and Asif Ali Zardari, were present, together with officials from Iran, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and China, all of which share common borders with Afghanistan.
Hosted by Turkish President Abdullah Gul, the meeting included observers representing the United States, Britain, and Russia, as well as the European Union and NATO.
Participants issued a joint statement afterwards, saying they support a process of reconciliation within Afghan society, and reintegration of insurgent elements. It said the reconciliation process must be driven and led by the Afghans themselves.
The statement appears to be a clear endorsement of Karzai's plan to draw low- and mid-ranking Taliban moderates into reconciliation with his government, provided they have not been involved in terrorism.
Karzai said today that there are many thousands of such individuals, whom he called "sons of the Afghan soil."
That same plan was discussed at the January 25 summit
of Karzai, Zardari, and Gul in Istanbul. At that meeting, Karzai's plan to draw moderate Taliban elements into reconciliation with his government was discussed.
Karzai said after the summit that the plan has international and regional support, including "the backing of our partners, particularly the United States and Europe. It also has greater recognition within our neighborhood."
In Washington, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs noted that reconciliation schemes had worked with various factions in Iraq. Gibbs said the United States is open to a similar path in Afghanistan to that in Iraq -- provided that the factions involved accept the Afghan Constitution, renounce violence, and publicly break with groups that advocate violence.
Speaking at the same news conference as Karzai, Zardari spoke in favor of reconciliation as opposed to open-ended military action.
"No democratic government or no democratic party can talk about only war. We have to talk about peace," Zardari said.
"And if there are any people who are reconcilable, or people who want to give up their way of life, democracy always welcomes them back."
An Afghan spokesman said Karzai welcomed the readiness of the United Nations to consider a proposal from his government to remove some Taliban names from its blacklist, making them available for negotiations.with agency reports