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Holbrooke, McChrystal Sound Open to Karzai Negotiating With Taliban

This — to be very clear — isn’t a shift of position. Both Richard Holbrooke, the Obama administration’s special representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan, and Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the commander of NATO troops in the war, have said that they would support any outreach made by the Afghan government to reconcile with insurgents not linked to al-Qaeda. But with an international conference in London to rally support for Afghanistan scheduled for Thursday, both are emphasizing that position. Holbrooke told The New York Times that he didn’t have a problem with scrubbing the United Nations’ list of banned terrorists for the names of mid-to-high ranking Taliban fighters, a move intended to test Taliban willingness to negotiate an end to the war:

“A lot of the names don’t mean much to me,” Richard C. Holbrooke, the Obama administration’s special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, said last week in Kabul. “Some of the people on the list are dead, some shouldn’t be on the list and some are among the most dangerous people in the world.

“I would be all in favor of looking at the list on a case-by-case basis to see if there are people on the list who are on the list by mistake and should be removed, or in fact are dead,” he said.

And in the Financial Times, McChrystal expressed agnosticism about the membership of the Afghan government:

“As a soldier, my personal feeling is that there’s been enough fighting,” he said. “What I think we do is try to shape conditions which allow people to come to a truly equitable solution to how the Afghan people are governed.”

Asked if he would be content to see Taliban leaders in a future government in Kabul, he said: “I think any Afghans can play a role if they focus on the future, and not the past.”

Again: not new, but a renewed emphasis. I’ll be at the Center for American Progress later today to hear Jim Jones, the national security adviser, discuss Afghanistan and Pakistan, and I’ll be interested to hear if he makes the same call.

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