U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon suggested in a new report on Afghanistan that the United Nations is ready to continue informal talks with the Taliban; however, the contact must be discreet, diplomats said. The 15-nation U.N. Security Council will discuss Ban’s report March 18 and vote next week on his recommendation to renew the mandate of the U.N. mission in Afghanistan for another 12 months. Ban said UNAMA’s mandate “allows it to provide good offices to support the implementation of Afghan-led reconciliation programs” with which President Hamid Karzai is trying to reach out and offer an amnesty to Taliban insurgents. They said the requirement for “discretion and flexibility” meant that information might be kept confidential and left out of formal U.N. briefings. “It’s a request for an explicit implicit wink from the council” to allow secret political talks with the Taliban to continue, one U.N. diplomat said. The issue of speaking with the Taliban is a sensitive one because the group has been subject to U.N. sanctions since 1999. (Reuters)

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