LONDON (AFP) — Western governments should talk to Islamist extremists including Al-Qaeda and the Taliban to end violence, one of former Prime Minister Tony Blair's closest aides said in comments published Saturday.
"It's very difficult for democratic governments to do -- talk to a terrorist movement that's killing your people," Blair's former chief of staff Jonathan Powell he told The Guardian in an interview.
"(But) if I was in government now I would want to have been talking to Hamas, I would be wanting to communicate with the Taliban and I would want to find a channel to Al-Qaeda."
Powell, who was in the post throughout Blair's premiership from 1997 to 2007, is seen as having been a key behind-the-scenes figure in talks to bring about an end to sectarian violence in the British province of Northern Ireland.
London had been in secret communication with the Irish Republican Army (IRA) since the 1970s, which had been a key factor in eventually securing a peace deal in 1998, he told the newspaper.
He accepted though that "there's nothing to say to Al-Qaeda and they've got nothing to say to us at the moment" and there was also a problem of whom to talk to and about what.
"But at some stage you're going to have to come to a political solution as well as a security solution. And that means you need the ability to talk," he added.
The Foreign Office dismissed Powell's suggestion outright.
A spokesman told the newspaper: "It is inconceivable that Her Majesty's Government would ever seek to reach a mutually acceptable accommodation with a terrorist organisation like Al-Qaeda."
The Guardian said the government did communicate with Hamas for a time through one of its intelligence officers but now insists the Palestinian group recognises Israel and renounces violence before talks can resume.
Prime Minister Gordon Brown has ruled out talking directly to the Taliban but its alleged efforts to open a dialogue with militants have apparently soured relations between London and Afghan.
Two senior diplomats from the United Nations and European Union -- one British and the other Irish -- were expelled from Afghanistan late last year after contacting Taliban-linked insurgents in southern Helmand province.
One of them, Michael Semple, defended their actions in an interview with The Guardian published February 16, saying: "There isn't a serious actor in Afghanistan who says the only way forward is to fight your way out."
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