(Reuters) - The U.S. and Afghan governments have begun secret three-way talks with the Taliban, Afghan President Hamid Karzai told The Wall Street Journal, in a move that could bolster U.S.-led efforts to convene fully fledged peace talks within months.
Karzai's government had previously been excluded from early, exploratory contacts between the Taliban and the United States, with the insurgents seen as resisting the involvement of a local administration they regard as a puppet of Washington.
But the Journal quoted Karzai on Thursday as saying the Taliban were "definitively" interested in a peace settlement to end the 10-year war in Afghanistan, and that all three sides were now involved in discussions.
"People in Afghanistan want peace, including the Taliban. They're also people like we all are. They have families, they have relatives, they have children, they are suffering a tough time," the Journal quoted Karzai as saying in an interview conducted on Wednesday in the Afghan capital.
"There have been contacts between the U.S. government and the Taliban, there have been contacts between the Afghan government and the Taliban, and there have been some contacts that we have made, all of us together, including the Taliban."
The newspaper said Karzai had declined to specify the location of the talks or go into further detail, saying he feared this could damage the process.
Karzai's comments have been published as he prepares to meet the leaders of neighboring Pakistan and Iran in Islamabad on Thursday for a summit set to focus on security issues, including the Taliban insurgency and support for it from within Pakistan.
Washington wants to accelerate the fragile talks with the Taliban so it can announce serious peace negotiations at a NATO summit in May, officials say, in what would be a welcome bright spot in Western efforts to end the war in Afghanistan.
The United States hopes it can declare a start to authentic political negotiations between the Afghan government and the Taliban at the May 20-21 summit in Chicago, after a year of initial, uncertain contacts with militant representatives.
It would be a needed victory for the White House and its NATO partners in Afghanistan as they struggle to contain a resilient insurgency and train a local army while moving to bring their troops home over the next three years.
(Writing by Mark Bendeich)