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Afghan President Karzai still wants to negotiate with Taliban

| Saturday, June 29, 2013, 6:12 p.m.

KABUL, Afghanistan — Afghan President Hamid Karzai said on Saturday that his government is still willing to start talks with the Taliban, easing concerns that a brazen attack by the group on the presidential palace last week would derail the country's nascent peace process.

In a joint news conference in Kabul with British Prime Minister David Cameron, Karzai urged the group to return to the negotiating table. He dismissed the attack as “peanuts” and said it would not deter his government from seeking peace.

The Taliban have indicated they are willing to open peace talks with the U.S. and Afghan governments and opened an office in Qatar a little more than a week ago for possible negotiations.

At the same time they have not renounced violence and attacks have continued across Afghanistan.

Their ability to carry out well-planned and bold operations was driven home Tuesday when a sport utility vehicle carrying four Taliban fighters made it into a highly secured area by the gates of the palace. The four Taliban gunmen battled Afghan security forces for about an hour before being killed; a second vehicle involved in the attack blew up at a checkpoint on the way into the area.

The brazen attack on the center of Karzai's government raised concerns that the Afghan leader, who has a reputation for political posturing, might demand difficult concessions for talks. The peace process has been delayed by a dispute over the flag and sign outside the Qatar office.

Karzai told reporters at a joint news conference with Cameron in Kabul that entering talks was the only way to end nearly 12 years of war.

He downplayed the significance of the Taliban attack at the heart of the Afghan government, in which all eight militants and three security guards were killed.

“Comparatively speaking this was quite an irrelevant attack,” he said. “We're more concerned when they attack Afghan civilians. We're more concerned when they attack Afghan schools and children. I wish they would spend all their time attacking the presidential palace and leave the rest of the country alone.”

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