Clinton to Afghan women: 'We will not abandon you',
WASHINGTON (AP) — Women's rights will not be sacrificed in any settlement between the government of Afghan President Hamid Karzai and Taliban militants, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Thursday.
Clinton ruled out U.S. support, or at least her own, for negotiations with anyone who would roll back advances for Afghan women achieved since the militant Islamic Taliban movement was ousted from power in 2001.
"There are certain conditions that have to be met," to hold talks with insurgents about laying down arms, Clinton said during an appearance with Karzai. Karzai and a large delegation of government ministers and advisers, including several women, were finishing four days of talks in Washington.
Among the conditions for peace talks, midlevel Taliban leaders would have to renounce violence, cut ties with al-Qaida and its affiliates and abide by Afghanistan's laws and constitution, Clinton said.
"And on a personal note they must respect women's rights."
Karzai nodded beside her but did not mention the women's rights aspect of possible talks with the Taliban. The other conditions apply, he said.
The Taliban regime forced women to wear a traditional head-to-toe covering called a burqa, forbade school for girls and beat women seen walking without being accompanied by a man.
The Taliban has surged back over the past several years to become a persistent insurgency seeking Karzai's overthrow. Insurgents and their sympathizers routinely intimidate or attack women who work outside the home, wear Western dress or try to attend school.
Clinton, whose bid for president in 2008 got further than any American woman before her, made a similar point when she met with Afghan women earlier Thursday at the State Department.
"We will not abandon you; we will stand with you always," Clinton told three senior female Afghan officials who were part of Karzai's delegation. The trip ends Friday with Karzai's visit to Fort Campbell, Kentucky, home of the 101st Airborne Division that is deploying en masse to Afghanistan.
Clinton said it was "essential that women's rights and women's opportunities are not sacrificed or trampled on in the reconciliation process."
Karzai sought U.S. blessing this week for wider talks with the Taliban when the time comes. President Barack Obama seemed noncommittal during a White House news conference with Karzai on Wednesday.
Associated Press Writer Matthew Lee contributed to this report