Afghan Peace Council Chief: Taliban Ready To Talk

A former Afghan president who heads a new peace council said Thursday that he's convinced the Taliban are ready to negotiate peace.

Burhanuddin Rabbani told reporters in Kabul the Taliban have not completely rejected the idea of negotiating a nonmilitary resolution of the war.

""They have some conditions to start the negotiations process. It gives us hope that they want to talk and negotiate,"" Rabbani said.

""We are taking our first steps,"" he said. ""I believe there are people among the Taliban that have a message that they want to talk. They are ready.""

The Afghan government has acknowledged that it has been involved in reconciliation talks with the Taliban, but discussions between the two sides have been described as mostly informal and indirect message exchanges relying on mediators.

U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said any reconciliation between the Afghan government and the Taliban insurgents has to be led by Afghans. But he told a press conference in Brussels Thursday that the U.S. is offering advice and has kept an ear on the initial talks.

Gates said reconciliation efforts may not bear fruit anytime soon, but he says the effort is worth making.

NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said that the military alliance is helping the Taliban meet with the Afghan government. Rasmussen said that when there are practical ways that the alliance can help, it will.

He did not give details, yet it was a sign that the U.S. and NATO are backing clandestine talks aimed at bringing an end to the 9-year-old war.