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FILE PHOTO - U.S. Army General John Nicholson, Commander of Resolute Support forces and U.S. forces in Afghanistan, speaks during a news conference in Kabul, Afghanistan November 20, 2017. REUTERS/Mohammad Ismail(reuters_tickers)
KABUL (Reuters) - The NATO-led Resolute Support mission in Afghanistan on Tuesday rejected reports its commander General John Nicholson had said the United States was ready to join direct negotiations with the Taliban, saying his comments were "mischaracterised".
In a statement, it referred to reports on Monday in which Nicholson reiterated comments by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on the possibility of talks with the Taliban involving the United States.
"The United States is not a substitute for the Afghan people or the Afghan government," Nicholson said in a statement.
"My reaffirmation of Secretary Pompeo's statement in which he said peace talks would include a discussion of international forces and that the United States is ready to work with the Taliban, the Afghan government and the Afghan people towards lasting peace was mischaracterised," he said.
The Taliban have rejected talks with the government of President Ashraf Ghani, which they see as illegitimate and instead insisted they would only talk with the United States.
In his comments on Monday, Nicholson said the United States recognised it had an important role to play in the peace process.
"Our Secretary of State, Mr Pompeo, has said that we, the United States, are ready to talk to the Taliban and discuss the role of international forces," he said. "We hope that they realise this and that this will help to move forward the peace process."
The remarks come amid growing speculation about moves to open talks with the Taliban following an unprecedented three-day ceasefire during last month's Eid holiday.
Last month, Pompeo said the United States was ready to "support, facilitate and participate" in discussions with the Taliban over the role of international forces in Afghanistan but that the peace process would be Afghan-led.
(Reporting by James Mackenzie. Editing by Lincoln Feast.)