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US holds out hope for Afghan reconciliation talks

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Obama administration said it would press on with trying to reconcile Afghanistan’s government and Taliban forces willing to renounce terrorism, despite Thursday’s announcement by the militant group that it was no longer interested in peace talks with the United States.

It also insisted that the U.S. course in Afghanistan was unchanged, as Afghan President Hamid Karzai demanded Thursday that U.S. troops leave rural Afghan areas and stay on bases until they finish the withdrawal of troops by the end of 2014. The war effort has been set back in recent days by the weekend slaughter of 16 people, including nine children, and by the inadvertent burning of Qurans by US troops. The 16 people were allegedly killed by an American soldier

“There is no likely resolution to the conflict in Afghanistan without a political resolution,” White House press secretary Jay Carney told reporters. “And our conditions for participation in that process by the Taliban have been clear in terms of the reconciliation. Those who would be reconciled need to lay down their arms, renounce al-Qaida (and) promise to abide by the Afghan constitution. And we continue to support that process.”

The meeting came a day after President Barack Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron reiterated that the aim for the U.S. and its allies was to get out by the end of 2014, but stated for the first time that international forces would hand over the lead combat role to Afghan forces next year. Obama cautioned that no one should see “any sudden, additional changes” in the pace of withdrawal.

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