Defence Secretary Robert M. Gates acknowledged on Sunday that the U.S. had begun preliminary talks with members of the Taliban as part of an effort to end the war in Afghanistan.

But as he pressed his case against withdrawing a significant number of U.S. troops from the region this year, he said he did not believe the negotiations would produce any positive result unless the Taliban continued to feel military pressure through the end of the year.

In an appearance on CNN's State of the Union, Mr. Gates cautioned the talks were in such early stages having begun a few weeks ago that officials were still uncertain the Taliban participants were genuine representatives of the Taliban leader Mullah Omar. He said the effort was being carried out by U.S. diplomats but did not directly involve Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. And he said several other countries were participating, though he did not specify which ones. “We have said all along that a political outcome is the way most of the wars end,” said Mr. Gates. “The question is when and if they are ready to talk seriously.”

Referring to his concerns about drawing down too many U.S. troops this summer, he added, “Real reconciliation talks are not likely to be able to make substantive headway until at least this winter. I think the Taliban have to feel themselves under military pressure and begin to believe they can't win before they are willing to have a serious conversation.”

Mr. Gates appeared on at least two Sunday morning programmes as part of a final media tour before he leaves his post after having served under eight Presidents over 40 years in government, including overseeing two wars and the recent airstrikes over Libya. — New York Times News Service

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