WASHINGTON- The United States will support the Afghan government in efforts to step up its reconciliation with the Taliban and other insurgents in Afghanistan, but not with al-Qaida or those who support it, Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell told reporters today.

“They are an independent, sovereign state,” Morrell said of the Afghans’ stated interest in escalating reconciliation efforts. “If that’s what they see is in their best interest, we fully support it, and we’ll do whatever we can to help facilitate it.”

Morrell emphasized that U.S. support would be limited to those “willing to work for the good of this democratically elected government [and] for the peace and security of the Afghan people.”

“Those are the kind of people that we think it’s worth taking a shot to try to bring into the system,” he said.

The United States will stop short of supporting reconciliation with foreign fighters in Afghanistan, or Taliban leader Mullah Omar, who Morrell said provided a safe haven and base for Osama bin Laden to train terrorists who eventually launched the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

“We as a government do not believe that Mullah Omar is somebody you reconcile with,” he said. “Mullah Omar has the blood of thousands of Americans on his hands, based on the support he provided Osama bin Laden. So we do not reconcile with al-Qaida.”

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates expressed similar endorsement of the Afghan government’s interest in negotiating with insurgents during his return flight from a meeting of NATO defense ministers in Budapest, Hungary, earlier this month.

“What is important is detaching those who are reconcilable and who are willing to be part of the future of the country from those who are irreconcilable,” Gates told reporters.

“Part of the solution is strengthening the Afghan security forces,” he said. “Part of the solution is reconciliation with people who are willing to work with the Afghans.”

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