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U.S. Calls For Overhaul Of Taliban Sanctions List

Richard Holbrooke: "That list...should be reexamined and scrubbed down."
LONDON (Reuters) -- U.S. special envoy Richard Holbrooke welcomed a UN committee's removal of five former senior Taliban officials from a sanctions list today and called for the list to be overhauled.

The decision by a Security Council committee came days before a 60-nation conference in London on January 28 to set a framework for handing security over to Afghan forces.

NATO powers are expected to back President Hamid Karzai's plan to reach out to Taliban insurgents. Removal from the UN sanctions list is among the incentives under discussion.

Holbrooke called the UN committee's decision, which means the five will no longer be subject to international travel bans and asset freezes, a "long overdue step."

"That list...should be reexamined and scrubbed down. There are people on it who are dead, there are people on it who shouldn't be on it," Holbrooke, the special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, told a news briefing.

"We welcome the forward progress of the UN yesterday...I hope that that process of refining the list and improving it will continue," he said.

U.S. President Barack Obama is sending an extra 30,000 troops to Afghanistan to try to break a military stalemate there in an eight-year conflict with Taliban insurgents.

In recent days, three U.S. or British generals have held out the possibility of an eventual peace deal with the Taliban.

Red Lines

Holbrooke said people often confused "reintegration" -- attempts to persuade low-ranking fighters with the Taliban to lay down their arms -- and "reconciliation" -- whether the Kabul government can find common ground with the Taliban.

On reconciliation, he said, "there is a lot less going on than is being implied by articles."

He said the international community had "red lines" on reconciliation, including the Taliban's treatment of women.

"Any discussions involving what we call reconciliation must involve a repudiation of any ties to Al-Qaeda as well as a willingness to lay down their arms and participate in a peaceful political approach to the future of Afghanistan," he said.

"And there's certain aspects of the Taliban's activities that also have to be discussed and the most obvious is their treatment of women. We cannot ignore the unacceptable nature of the treatment of women," he said.

Asked if the Afghan government should be making active attempts to engage Taliban leaders, Holbrooke said: "I'll leave that to President Karzai."

Holbrooke said the United States did not know the details of a reintegration plan that Karzai will announce on January 28.

Although the meeting is not a pledging conference, some countries may promise aid for reintegration, Holbrooke said. "I believe the Japanese will be the leaders on this," he said.

The conference will also endorse stronger measures to combat corruption which is rife in Afghanistan. Holbrooke said the United States wanted to participate in Afghan anticorruption efforts because "so much of the corruption is linked to opportunities created by the contracting and security forces of the international community."

"The mechanisms for this are still under discussion," he said.

Asked about speculation that Karzai may announce on January 28 a Loya Jirga, an assembly of elders that may discuss talking to the Taliban, Holbrooke said the United States would welcome such an announcement.