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Obama ponders reaching out to Taliban -

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Reporter: Barbara Miller

ELEANOR HALL: The US President Barack Obama has raised the option of negotiating with moderate
elements of the Taliban in Afghanistan.

The Obama administration is reviewing the US strategy in Afghanistan and Pakistan. And in an
interview with the New York Times, President Obama said he's looking at a strategy similar to the
one used in Iraq to engage Sunni insurgents.

But some analysts warn that such a policy could send the wrong message entirely.

Barbara Miller has out report.

BARBARA MILLER: He came to power promising to reach out to enemies of the US.

And after making overtures to Iran, Syria and Russia, Barack Obama appears to have the Taliban in
his sights too.

In an interview with the New York Times, the US President opened the door to reconciliation with
moderate elements of the Taliban.

It's a strategy that's been used with some success in Iraq, where former Sunni insurgents unhappy
with al-Qaeda elements in the country have been engaged in the political process.

Barack Obama said there could be comparable opportunities in Afghanistan and the Pakistani region.

The Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who's long advocated a policy of engaging the Taliban, welcomed
President Obama's comments.

(Sound of Hamid Karzai speaking)

HAMID KARZAI (translated): The good news is the call of the American President Mr Obama to identify
moderate elements of the Taliban and encourage them to reconcile with the Afghan Government. This
has been the stand of the Afghan Government and we support this.

BARBARA MILLER: But the Australian Afghanistan expert Professor William Maley doubts engaging with
the Taliban is the way forward.

WILLIAM MALEY: The lessons of past experience that the international community had trying to
negotiate with the Taliban in the 1990s is that it is like grasping smoke. That one thinks one has
a deal and it all evaporates because one's not talking about a hierarchal movement that accepts
international norms. And the danger therefore is that one loses ones moral credibility without
gaining anything political in the process.

BARBARA MILLER: Is it then too simplistic to say this was a strategy that worked with some Sunni
insurgents in Iraq, and so therefore we could try applying it in Afghanistan?

WILLIAM MALEY: Yes, I think the key difference between the two situations is that the Sunnis in
Iraq were a disaffected internal group resistant to the international intervention in their
country. Whereas in the Afghan case the core of the Taliban movements survives because of the
support from Pakistan and there's no particular reason to believe that even if one were able to cut
a deal with some fragments of the Taliban within Afghanistan this wouldn't simply stimulate the
supporters of the radicalism across the border from redoubling their efforts and sending different
kinds of people in Afghanistan to promote instability.

BARBARA MILLER: And Danielle Pletka from the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy
Research says engaging with the Taliban could look like an admission of defeat.

DANIELLE PLETKA: The real risks are in the perception that the United States is weak, that we're
sitting down within because we have no other options.

BARBARA MILLER: William Maley, the director of the Asia-Pacific College of Diplomacy at the
Australian National University, is also worried about the message reaching out to the Taliban would

WILLIAM MALEY: The risk is it will be seen as a precursor to a cutting and running strategy which
of course then makes it very unlikely that ordinary people within Afghanistan would deem it to be
in their interest to support the current or moderate dispensation within Afghanistan itself.

BARBARA MILLER: President Obama's comments come as his administration reviews its Afghanistan and
Pakistan policy. And begins the process of drawing down US forces in Iraq and boosting their
numbers in Afghanistan.

As it does so, domestic disputes in Afghanistan are coming to a head, with President Karzai and the
Opposition engaged in a bitter feud over this year's election.

President Karzai's term runs out in May, but Afghanistan's electoral commission recently delayed
the elections until August because of security and logistical concerns.

It's not yet clear how the country will be governed in the intervening period.

ELEANOR HALL: Barbara Miller reporting.