Canada's position on talks with Taliban unchanged: Bernier

The Afghan government will decide on its own whether to negotiate with the Taliban, Foreign Affairs Minister Maxime Bernier said during a visit to Kabul.

Afghanistan's government will decide on its own whether to hold talkswith the Taliban, Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Maxime Bernier saidafter a meeting Saturday with Afghan President Hamid Karzai in Kabul.

Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Maxime Bernier, left, and Afghan counterpart Dadfar Spanta hold a news conference Saturday in Kabul. ((Paul Chiasson/Canadian Press))
He added, however, that Canada maintains its position thatthe Taliban mustrenounce violence before any deal with the Afghan government can be reached.

Karzai announced last week that he would meet for peace talks withtwo insurgent leaders, including Taliban leader Mullah Omar, and offered to give the militants a position in government if theyrenounced violence.

A spokesman for the Taliban soon rejected the offer, saying talks would only go ahead if foreign troops leave Afghanistan.

Bernier is on atour of Afghanistan with International Co-operation Minister Bev Oda. The two held a joint news conference with an Afghan cabinet minister and were peppered with questions by Afghan reporters about the deteriorating security situation in the country.

Oda said securityin the south, where Canadian troops are based, has improved over the past year. She also pointed to the millions of Afghan children who are now in school.

Canadian aid guaranteed until 2011

The twoministers were also touringCanadian-supported development projects in the war-torn country.

Their second stop of the day was Kandahar Airfield, wherethe foreign affairs minister said Canada plans toprovideAfghanistan with development aid until 2011, whilethe military commitment runs untilearly 2009.

Foreign Affairs Minister Maxime Bernier and International Co-operation Minister Bev Oda visit the Murad Khane district of Kabul under tight security Saturday. ((Paul Chiasson/Canadian Press))
The minister refused to exclude the possibility of extending the military mission.

"That debate will happen at Parliament,"he said. "It will be a democratic process to decide the role of the mission in the future."

Just hours before they arrived in Afghanistan, a suicide bomber attacked a U.S. military convoy on the road leading to the Kabul airport, killing one U.S. soldier and four Afghan civilians.

It was the third bombing in the Kabul area this week and came on the sixth anniversary of the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan.

This is the first visit to Afghanistan for Bernier and Oda since Prime Minister Stephen Harper shuffled them into their current cabinet posts in August.

Canada has some 2,500 troops in Afghanistan, the majority in the violent southern province of Kandahar. Seventy-one Canadians have died in the country since 2002.

With files from the Canadian Press