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Hamid Karzai, Afghanistan President, Welcomes Taliban Office In Qatar

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KABUL, Afghanistan — Afghan President Hamid Karzai on Wednesday welcomed a possible deal that would allow Taliban insurgents to open an office in Gulf nation of Qatar with the aim of holding talks with the United States.

"Afghanistan agrees with negotiations between United States of America and the Taliban which will result in the establishment of an office for Taliban in Qatar," a presidential statement said.

It said establishment of the office could lead to an end of the bloody Afghan conflict.

The likelihood that the Taliban will remain a potent fighting force after most foreign forces leave by the end of 2014 is driving the U.S. and NATO to seek even an incomplete bargain with the insurgents that would keep them talking with the Kabul government.

On Tuesday, the Taliban announced that they had reached a preliminary understanding to open the representative office, an unprecedented step toward peace negotiations that might lead to a winding down of the 10-year conflict. The statement did not say when the office would open.

In the past, the Islamist group has publicly opposed peace offers. The insurgents, who perceive themselves as winning the war, have repeatedly said they would not engage in talks with the government while foreign troops remain on Afghan soil.

Conducting talks with the U.S. through the office in Qatar, while keeping the Afghan government indirectly involved, could be a formula for satisfying that demand.

The prospects of peace talks suffered a serious setback in September when Burhanuddin Rabbani, a former president and the head of a body set up to seek contacts with the Taliban, was assassinated. The attacker was posing as a Taliban peace emissary.

After Rabbani's death, Karzai said peace efforts could take place only if the Taliban established a political office authorized to conduct talks on a peaceful end to the war. He proposed that it be set up in Saudi Arabia, Turkey or Qatar.

"The government of Afghanistan once again insists that only negotiations can be lead to peace, and an end to the war and violence for our suffering nation," Karzai's statement said.

Despite a huge surge of U.S. and NATO forces since 2009 and a rapid expansion in the government's army and police which resulted in the capture and killing of thousands of insurgents, the guerrillas have retained their capability to inflict losses on coalition forces.

Faced with an overwhelming allied superiority in numbers and firepower, the Taliban have largely avoided direct combat relying instead on roadside bombs, small ambushes and hit-and-run tactics to harass the security forces.

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Associated Press reporters Rahim Faiez and Neshat Massieh contributed to this report.