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Mourning Holbrooke, Clinton defends Taliban talks

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton speaks during a memorial service for US Ambassador Richard Holbrooke at the American Academy in Berlin, Germany, April 15, 2011. Holbrooke, a long-time US diplomat, most recently served as US President Barack Obama’s special envoy to Pakistan and Afghanistan before his death in December. – AFP Photo

BERLIN: US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Friday voiced understanding for talks with the Taliban as she mourned late diplomat Richard Holbrooke, an avid proponent of reconciliation in Afghanistan.

At a memorial service, Clinton credited Holbrooke -- who died unexpectedly at the age of 69 in December -- with setting the troubled US relationships with Pakistan and Afghanistan on the right track as special envoy to the countries.

“Those who found negotiations with the Taliban distasteful got a very powerful response from Richard -- diplomacy would be easy if we only had to talk to our friends,” Clinton said at the American Academy in Berlin, which was co-founded by Holbrooke, a former ambassador to Germany.

“And negotiating with your adversaries wasn’t a disservice to people who had died, if by talking you could prevent more violence,” Clinton said.

Holbrooke was seen as the main force in President Barack Obama's administration seeking a political deal in Afghanistan, despite calls by conservatives and the military to try to crush the Taliban insurgency.

Obama has tripled the number of troops in Afghanistan to around 100,000 but his administration has also increasingly signalled it does not believe there is a military solution to the conflict.

Clinton, while supporting the diplomatic push, made clear in talks Thursday with NATO foreign ministers that the United States would stay committed militarily in Afghanistan well beyond a July drawdown date originally set by Obama.

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