Powell says government "should talk to al Qaeda"

LONDON Sat Mar 15, 2008 1:45pm GMT

Ex-aide to former Prime Minister Tony Blai r Jonathan Powell is seen in Downing Street, central London in this January 31, 2007 file photo. The Foreign Office on Saturday dismissed as ''inconceivable'' calls by Powell to open a channel of communication with al Qaeda.. REUTERS/Stephen Hird/Files

Ex-aide to former Prime Minister Tony Blai r Jonathan Powell is seen in Downing Street, central London in this January 31, 2007 file photo. The Foreign Office on Saturday dismissed as ''inconceivable'' calls by Powell to open a channel of communication with al Qaeda..

Credit: Reuters/Stephen Hird/Files

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LONDON (Reuters) - The Foreign Office on Saturday dismissed as "inconceivable" calls by an ex-aide to former Prime Minister Tony Blair to open a channel of communication with al Qaeda.

Jonathan Powell, who served as Blair's chief of staff between 1995 and 2007, said he would "want to find a channel to al Qaeda" if he was still in government, the Guardian newspaper reported.

He was quoted as saying that a secret back channel between the British government and the IRA, first opened in the 1970s, was a key factor that contributed to a peace deal in Northern Ireland three decades later, which he was central to securing.

Only by talking to al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan could Western governments hope to secure a long-term halt in their campaigns of violence, he was reported as saying.

But the Foreign Office said: "It is inconceivable that Her Majesty's government would ever seek to reach a mutually acceptable accommodation with a terrorist organisation like al Qaeda."

Powell was speaking ahead of the publication of his book "Great Hatred, Little Room", which is to be serialised in the newspaper.

It reveals the behind the scenes drama leading to the Northern Ireland peace deal.

He told the Guardian: "There's nothing to say to al Qaeda and they've got nothing to say to us at the moment, 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: "It's very difficult for democratic governments to do -- talk to a terrorist movement that's killing your people.

" 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."

Foreign Secretary David Miliband said in a recent question-and-answer session with reuters.co.uk readers that Britain's policy on Hamas had not changed.

"There needs to be significant movement by Hamas towards the three Quartet principles of non-violence, recognition of Israel and acceptance of previous agreements, before we can have a political dialogue," he said.

"Such a dialogue is impossible so long as one party is dedicated to violence and the destruction of the other."

The government's position on the Taliban is to "support President Hamid Karzai's efforts to bring disaffected Afghans into society's mainstream, providing they renounce violence and accept Afghanistan's constitution".

(Reporting by Avril Ormsby; Editing by Sami Aboudi)

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