Reaching out to Taliban moderates is a tactic "worth exploring," U.S. Vice President Joe Biden said Tuesday as he sought to engage Europe in a new strategy for Afghanistan.
During a day of back-to-back meetings with NATO and EU officials, Biden pledged to take into account European concerns about Afghanistan, emphasizing the break from ex-president George W. Bush's go-it-alone approach.
"It's worth exploring," Biden told reporters after President Barack Obama at the weekend floated the idea of talks with moderates from the Islamic militia to help stabilize the country.
"I do think it's worth engaging and determining whether or not there are those who are willing to participate in a secure and stable Afghan state," he said in Brussels following talks at NATO headquarters.
The vice president said he shared US envoy Richard Holbrooke's assessment that 70% of Taliban forces were paid fighters and that only a small minority were hard-core Islamists.
Talks with the Taliban would be led by Afghan President Hamid Karzai who has long supported dialogue in a bid to isolate hardliners waging an increasingly bloody insurgency in Afghanistan.
"We are not now winning the war but the war is far from lost," Biden said.
Obama has ordered 17,000 extra U.S. troops to Afghanistan and a top-to-bottom review of his war policy, shifting the focus from Iraq to Afghanistan and Pakistan in the fight against Islamic militants.
But European allies have made it clear they are not ready to contribute more frontline troops.
"I heard from our allies. I heard the concerns and they listed their priorities," Biden said after the meeting of the North Atlantic Council, the alliance's top decision-making body for its 26 member states.
He also held a working lunch with EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana and Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg, whose country holds the presidency of the European Union.
"And I pledged to them, as I pledge to all Europeans now, that we will build their ideas into our review."
European officials have suggested they could take part in police training, civilian reconstruction and offer assistance during elections in Afghanistan set for August.
Germany has offered to send 600 extra troops to beef up security during the vote.
NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said the allies had an obligation to make good on its pledges of assistance once a new strategy has been agreed.
"It is also important this alliance deliver in the short term," he said.
Obama's strategic review on Afghanistan is expected to be discussed at a U.N. conference in The Hague on March 31 and and be ready in time for a summit of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization in early April.
Biden said the worsening security situation in Afghanistan posed a security threat to all NATO countries and that "a terrorist attack in Europe is viewed as an attack on us."
The Sept 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and the bombings in Madrid in 2004 and London in 2005 were planned "from the very same mountains" along the Afghan-Pakistan border, he said. "This is not a U.S.-centric view."
Nearly 70,000 foreign troops under NATO and U.S. command have been fighting a Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan since late 2001.
Biden, meanwhile, denied reports that Washington was championing Canada's Defense Minister Peter MacKay to replace Scheffer in August.
"The United States has not made a decision yet," Biden told reporters.
Normally the post is held by a European while an American, currently General John Craddock, is supreme allied commander Europe.
However, Biden stressed that "we don't think, as a matter of policy, any member nation should be ruled out as being able to provide a secretary general."
Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen has been reported as having the backing of European powers.© AFP