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Afghanistan's president says peace council is hope for future
KABUL, Afghanistan -- Just a few weeks after breaking down in tears while talking about his son's future in Afghanistan, President Hamid Karzai said he has high hopes for a new peace council to negotiate with Taliban leaders he's been meeting, according to a statement released Saturday by his office.
"I have had personal meetings with some Taliban leaders, and my colleagues from my government have had some meetings in and outside Afghanistan with the Taliban," he said in an interview with Al-Jazeera's David Frost, according to the statement.
"These have mostly been unofficial after contact was initiated -- countryman-to-countryman talks," he said. "But now is the time for us to begin to talk with the Taliban at a fixed address and with a more open agenda to tell us how to bring peace to Afghanistan and Pakistan."
In the interview, aired Friday, Karzai said the formation of the peace council was an important step toward finding an end to the 9-year-old war, the statement said. The 70-member council is charged with setting up a formal dialogue with insurgents.
The Taliban, which has denied that its leaders are in talks, has long said it will not come to the negotiating table until after U.S. and NATO troops leave the country.
In the interview, Karzai said U.S.-Afghan relations were strong. He sought to reassure Afghans that there would not be a mass exodus of U.S. troops in July, when President Barack Obama wants to begin to withdraw American forces if conditions allow.
"July 2011 was never the date of the end of mission of the international troops in Afghanistan," Karzai said, according to the statement.
An upbeat Karzai said it makes him happy to see the flag of Afghanistan flying along with banners of other nations. He said he also finds joy in hearing the sound of school bells. He pledged to work to improve the country's educational system.
During a Sept. 29 speech on literacy, Karzai lamented how violence was keeping children home from school and expressed concern that Afghanistan's youth would seek education abroad, leaving them estranged from Afghanistan.
"I don't want my son, Mirwais, to be a foreigner," a tearful Karzai said about his 4-year-old son. "I want Mirwais to be Afghan."