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Clinton to Afghan women: 'We will not abandon you'

Afghan President Hamid Karzai, center, places a small stone atop the head stone of Pfc Justin Ray Davis, Bronze Star and Purple Heart recipient, who died Jun. 25, 2006 while supporting Operation Enduring Freedom at Arlington National Cemetery as Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, left, looks on, in Washington, Thursday, May 13, 2010. Afghan President Hamid Karzai, center, places a small stone atop the head stone of Pfc Justin Ray Davis, Bronze Star and Purple Heart recipient, who died Jun. 25, 2006 while supporting Operation Enduring Freedom at Arlington National Cemetery as Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, left, looks on, in Washington, Thursday, May 13, 2010. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen)
By Anne Gearan and Anne Flaherty
Associated Press Writers / May 13, 2010

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WASHINGTON—Women's rights will not be sacrificed in any settlement between the government of Afghan President Hamid Karzai and Taliban militants, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Thursday.

Clinton ruled out U.S. support, or at least her own, for negotiations with anyone who would roll back advances for Afghan women achieved since a U.S.-led invasion ousted the militant Islamic Taliban movement from power in 2001.

"There are certain conditions that have to be met" to hold talks with insurgents about laying down arms, Clinton said during an appearance with Karzai. Karzai and a large delegation of government ministers and advisers, including several women, were finishing four days of talks in Washington.

Among the conditions for peace talks, midlevel Taliban leaders would have to renounce violence, cut ties with al-Qaida and its affiliates, and abide by Afghanistan's laws and constitution, Clinton said.

"And on a personal note, they must respect women's rights."

Karzai nodded beside her but did not address the women's rights aspect of possible talks with the Taliban. The other conditions apply, he said.

The Taliban regime forced women to wear a traditional head-to-toe covering called a burqa, forbade school for girls and beat women seen walking outside the company of a man.

The Taliban has rebounded over the past several years to become a persistent insurgency seeking Karzai's overthrow. Insurgents and their sympathizers routinely intimidate or attack women who work outside the home, wear Western dress or try to attend school.

Clinton, whose bid for president in 2008 got further than any American woman before her, made a similar point when she met with Afghan women earlier Thursday at the State Department.

"We will not abandon you, we will stand with you always," Clinton told three senior female Afghan officials who were part of Karzai's delegation. The trip ends Friday with a visit to Fort Campbell, Ky., home of the 101st Airborne Division that is going en masse to Afghanistan.

Clinton said it was "essential that women's rights and women's opportunities are not sacrificed or trampled on in the reconciliation process."

After the institute event, Clinton and Karzai took a private two-hour tour of the gardens at Washington's famed Dumbarton Oaks estate, State Department officials said.

Karzai sought U.S. blessing this week for wider talks with the Taliban when the time comes. President Barack Obama seemed noncommittal during a White House news conference with Karzai on Wednesday.

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Associated Press writer Matthew Lee contributed to this report.