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Karzai threat to Taliban peace deal

Afghanistan's president has disrupted plans for peace talks between America and the Taliban by threatening a boycott.

Hamid Karzai said he will not pursue peace talks with the Taliban unless the United States steps out of the negotiations, while also insisting the militant group stop its violent attacks on the ground after it claimed responsibility for a rocket attack that killed four Americans.

His strong response and the Taliban attack deflated hopes for long-stalled talks aimed at ending nearly 12 years of war in Afghanistan, just a day after the United States and the Taliban said they would begin initial meetings in Qatar.

Mr Karzai had said that he would send representatives from his High Peace Council to Qatar for talks but aides said he changed his mind after objecting to the way the announcement was handled.

Mr Karzai also suspended talks with on a new US.-Afghan security deal that would allow some American troops to remain in the country after the international combat mission ends in 2014 to protest at the fact that his government was being left out of the initial process.

The twin statements came despite an olive branch from Barack Obama to Mr Karzai, with the US president saying that "ultimately we're going to need to see Afghans talking to Afghans."

Mr Obama said later the US had anticipated "there were going to be some areas of friction, to put it mildly, in getting this thing off the ground. That's not surprising. They've been fighting there for a long time" and mistrust is rampant. He said it was important to pursue a parallel track toward reconciliation even as the fighting continues, and it would up to the Afghan people whether that effort ultimately bears fruit.

Violence also cast a pall over the talks, with the Taliban claiming responsibility for a rocket attack on the Bagram Air Base that killed four American soldiers.

Five Afghan police officers were also killed at a security outpost in Helmand province by five of their comrades, the latest in a string of "insider attacks" that have shaken the confidence of the nascent Afghan security forces.

Mr Obama cautioned that the peace talks with the Taliban would be neither quick nor easy but that their opening a political office in Doha was an "important first step toward reconciliation" between the Islamic militants and the government of Afghanistan.

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