MOSCOW - Russia said on Monday it was open to dialogue with the Taliban in Afghanistan, Interfax reported, echoing the U.S. position aimed at ensuring regional stability as Washington prepares to pull out its troops.Russia fears the withdrawal of 100,000 U.S. troops, scheduled to begin in July, will leave a power vacuum in Afghanistan, allowing militants to filter into the oil and gas-producing countries of former Soviet Central Asia.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in February that the United States was mounting a "diplomatic surge" to end the war, saying the Taliban's only option was to split from al-Qaida, accept the Afghan constitution, and join dialogue.
"We have no direct contacts with the Taliban. But Russia supports national reconciliation in Afghanistan, which is of crucial importance," Zamir Kabulov, Russia's envoy to Afghanistan, told Interfax news agency.
"If there are people among the Taliban, who can make this step — we are sure there are such people — we will be open for dialogue with them."
Some political analysts say the Taliban may be willing to drop al-Qaida, but Taliban leaders have said no peace talks can happen as long as foreign troops are in Afghanistan. Any prospect of talks is difficult to gauge while there is uncertain progress in the unpopular U.S-led war.
Kabulov outlined Russia's preconditions for dialogue with the Taliban, which were the same three as the United States. Russia is still haunted by its decade-long war in Afghanistan, which killed 15,000 Soviet troops, and ended in 1989.
Moscow is also waging a battle with Islamist rebels in its mainly Muslim North Caucasus region, where many want to carve out a separate Islamic state. Moscow has blamed al-Qaida for increased violence there, though experts dismiss this.
Russia has warned leaders against getting too cosy to the Taliban, saying the movement could return to power after being ousted in 2001. Violence in Afghanistan is at its highest since the U.S.-led war began a decade ago.
Moscow and its former Soviet allies are also concerned over an influx of drugs and radical Islamist ideology.
According to the United Nations, just over a fifth of the 375 tonsof heroin coming from top producer Afghanistan finds its way through Central Asia to Russia.
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