In our new ABC News poll, almost three-quarters of the Afghan people say they want their government to reach a negotiated settlement with the Taliban. But when I spoke with Gen. David Petraeus, he tamped down talk of a quick deal. As for that Taliban imposter who made it all the way to talks with President Karzai, Petraeus said he was "not surprised.”
Here's our exchange:
George Stephanopoulos: One of the things the poll also shows is that almost three quarters of Afghans support a negotiated settlement with the Taliban. Is that possible, or must they be defeated?
Gen. David Petraeus: Well, it depends what you're talking about. There are already cases of reintegration, of reconcilable elements of the Taliban. In other words, mid-level leaders and below--
George Stephanopoulos: I'm talking about the top level.
Gen. David Petraeus: --two-- two-- two dozen. Well, you know, in-- Iraq, we never reconciled with the top level al-Qaeda in Iraq leaders. What we did is we were able to reconcile with the mid-level leaders and the population that, in some cases, was opposing the new Iraq and either actively or tacitly supporting al-Qaeda in Iraq. So there are different groups that you want to pursue. And in this case-- the "we" being the government of Afghanistan. Because it is the government that has to have the lead, clearly-- in cases of reintegration of those who are in the country, and then reconciliation with the senior--
George Stephanopoulos: There was that embarrassing-- that embarrassing episode a couple of weeks ago, where it turned out-- supposedly a top level Taliban who was negotiation with the Afghan government turned out to be an imposter. How could that happen?
Gen. David Petraeus: Well, it was not a surprise, George-- that the--
George Stephanopoulos: Not a surprise?
Gen. David Petraeus: Not at all. That's the—
George Stephanopoulos: Well, then why--
Gen. David Petraeus: There was doubt—
George Stephanopoulos: --the person let in?
Gen. David Petraeus: This was-- there was enormous doubt about this individual from the very beginning. And decisions were made to go ahead and pursue that just to see where it leads. Partly because it-- maybe he actually proves to be who he is. But more than likely, even if he doesn't, you-- you see what dynamics that creates-- see how it evolves. And there was-- there was-- healthy skepticism about that individual—
George Stephanopoulos: But you decided to give it a chance?
Gen. David Petraeus: Well, again, this is not our decision. This reconciliation is an action that the Afghan government carries out in some cases with the-- some degree of at least knowledge or assistance of international elements.
George Stephanopoulos: Are there any serious talks going on right now?
Gen. David Petraeus: If there were, I wouldn't tell you about them. But I think that observers have noted that there are various strands of outreach that are out there.
George Stephanopoulos: Let's talk about some of the other challenges you face.
Gen. David Petraeus: I'm sorry. Let me actually clarify that.
George Stephanopoulos: Okay.
Gen. David Petraeus: Because what everyone has been very clear to say is that whatever is going out there right now, and there are various, as I said, strands of outreach that-- that have-- that are out there. These are all pre-preliminary, or-- that's-- it's arguable that they're even talks about talks, if you will. But there is outreach. There are various efforts from various quarters in this regard.
George Stephanopoulos: But we're not close to a negotiated settlement right now.
Gen. David Petraeus: No. No. I don't think anyone would characterize the situation as that.