Afghan President Hamid Karzai. — Photo by Reuters

KABUL: The United States and other foreign powers are engaged in preliminary talks with the Taliban about a possible settlement to the near decade-long war in Afghanistan, Afghan President Hamid Karzai said on Saturday, the first official confirmation of US involvement in negotiations.

Diplomats have already said there have been months of preliminary talks between the two sides, and Karzai, who is a strong advocate of peace talks, has long said Afghans are in contact with insurgent groups.

“Peace talks are going on with the Taliban. The foreign military and especially the United States itself is going ahead with these negotiations,” Karzai told a news conference in the Afghan capital.

The US Embassy in Kabul declined immediate comment.

Karzai was speaking the day after the UN Security Council split the UN sanctions list for Taliban and al Qaeda figures into two, which envoys said could help induce the Taliban into talks on a peace deal in Afghanistan.

Despite hopes that talks with the Taliban could provide the political underpinning for the US staged withdrawal from Afghanistan, the discussions are still not at the stage where they can be a deciding factor.

US Defence Secretary Robert Gates said earlier this month there could be political talks with the Taliban by the end of this year, if the Nato alliance kept making military advances on the ground, putting pressure on the insurgents.

There are also many Afghans, among them women's and civil society activists, who fear talks with the insurgents could undo much of the progress they have made since the 2001 ouster of the Taliban government.

The United States is on the verge of announcing a “substantial” drawdown of American troops from Afghanistan, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said on Friday.

“There's going to be a drawdown. I am confident that it will be one that's substantial. I certainly hope so,” the leading Senate Democrat said during an interview with PBS Newshour.

There currently are about 100,000 US troops fighting in Afghanistan, up from about 34,000 when President Barack Obama took office in 2009.

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