US remarks on Taliban welcomed
Afghan president Hamid Karzai has welcomed remarks from the US administration that the Taliban is not necessarily America's enemy.
Earlier this month, US vice president Joe Biden said in an interview with Newsweek magazine that the Islamist militants did not represent a threat to US interests unless they continued to shelter al Qaida.
Mr Biden is quoted as saying: "Look, the Taliban per se is not our enemy. That's critical. There is not a single statement that the president has ever made in any of our policy assertions that the Taliban is our enemy because it threatens US interests."
The Obama administration and other governments are trying to establish a peace process with the Taliban to help end the 10-year war.
"I am very happy that the American government has announced that the Taliban are not their enemies," Mr Karzai said in a speech to the Afghan Academy of Sciences.
"We hope that this message will help the Afghans reach peace and stability."
A senior US official has told reporters that Washington plans to continue a series of secret meetings with Taliban representatives in Europe and the Persian Gulf region next year.
The US outreach this year had progressed to the point that there was active discussion of two steps the Taliban seeks as precursors to negotiations, the official said. Trust-building measures under discussion involve setting up a Taliban headquarters office and the release from the US military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, of about five Afghan prisoners believed to be affiliated with the Taliban.
On Tuesday, Mr Karzai said his government would accept the Taliban establishing a liaison office in Turkey, Qatar or Saudi Arabia for the purpose of holding peace talks.
Meanwhile, Nato troops have handed over responsibility for security in three districts of the embattled southern Helmand province to Afghan forces.