US, Britain talks on Afghanistan, Iran, Mideast

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton prepared to host extensive talks Wednesday with counterpart and top ally David Miliband on Afghanistan, Iran, the Middle East and North Korea, a US official said, reported AP.

The talks come after Miliband told PBS television Tuesday that it was in Britain's "national security interest" to keep troops in Afghanistan as most anti-British terrorist plots had links with the region.

The US television network had asked him what his government tells Britons who, opinion polls say, now form a majority in believing the seven-year US-led war is unwinnable and wanting their troops pulled out.

Clinton and Miliband, who have set aside several hours of meetings, will discuss "bilateral issues as well as global issues, such as Iran, North Korea, Afghanistan and the Middle East," a US official told AFP on the condition of anonymity.

The official did not elaborate but President Barack Obama's administration has put efforts to stabilize both Afghanistan and neighboring Pakistan at the heart of the US-led struggle against terrorism.

With 9,000 troops in Afghanistan, Britain is the second largest troop contributor after the United States, which has deployed an estimated 56,000 troops in the country. Both sides have increased their contributions ahead of national elections in August.

Britain is also a key diplomatic partner with the United States in efforts to halt Iran's sensitive nuclear programs, which both sides fear is aimed at building an atomic bomb.

London also supports the Obama administration's drive for a comprehensive Arab-Israeli peace, backing the creation of a Palestinian state living side by side in peace with a secure Israel.

Britain has also condemned recent North Korean missile and nuclear tests, but is not a party to the six-country nuclear disarmament talks. The six-party talks involve the two Koreas, the United States, China, Japan and Russia.

A total of 22 British troops have been killed this month alone after British forces went on the offensive in Operation Panther's Claw, just weeks before crucial presidential elections.

Four more fallen soldiers' bodies were flown home to RAF Lyneham, before a solemn procession through the nearby village of Wootton Bassett.

"It's good to see that people, not just from the military community, the general public, are paying tribute to our fallen comrades," said Carlton Wray, who left the army last July, and joined hundreds lining the street as the cortege passed through the village.

The ceremonies in the town -- which has become a focus of grief and support for troops -- came after two more soldiers were killed Monday in Helmand province, the front line in the battle with the Taliban.

The surge in deaths has sparked a political row over resources for troops in Afghanistan, with Prime Minister Gordon Brown forced to defend government strategy after calls for more equipment and more boots on the ground.

But according to the opinion poll in the Independent Tuesday, more than half of Britons now think the war in Afghanistan is "unwinnable" and want to see an immediate troop withdrawal.

Fifty-eight percent see the offensive against the Taliban as a lost cause. Only 31 percent disagree, according to the ComRes telephone poll conducted for the newspaper between July 24 and 26.

Fifty-two percent of the 1,008 Britons polled want the troops out while 43 percent want them to stay put.

Britain has around 9,150 troops in Afghanistan, most of them in Helmand.

"The problem in Afghanistan cannot be overcome by such statements by Miliband or Karzai," Yousuf Ahmadi told AFP.

"This problem can only be solved if the foreign countries withdraw their forces from this country and Karzai leaves (office) and repents -- then we will be ready for talks and this issue will be solved."

In a speech at NATO headquarters in Brussels on Monday, Miliband stressed the need for the Afghan government to engage with moderate Taliban elements.

"We need to help the Afghan government exploit the opportunity, with a more coherent effort to fragment the various elements of the insurgency and turn those who can be reconciled to live within the Afghan constitution," he said.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai welcomed the British move, saying it was "a confirmation of the rightful position of Afghanistan".

But a Taliban spokesman reiterated there could be no talks without the withdrawal of foreign troops in Afghanistan.

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