The United States and the Nato have vowed to support efforts by Hamid Karzai, the Afghan president, to reconcile with elements of the Taliban.

Robert Gates, the US defence secretary, on Thursday said the US will do "whatever it takes" to support Karzai's bid while Anders Fogh-Rasmussen, the Nato secretary-general, said the Western alliance is willing to provide "practical assistance" for such efforts.

"We have always acknowledged that reconciliation has to be part of the solution in Afghanistan and we will do whatever we can to support this process," Gates told a news conference at the Nato headquarters in Brussels, the Belgian capital.

Speaking earlier in the day, Fogh-Rasmussen said the alliance was ready to help facilitate reconciliation talks, but did not confirm that such assistance was taking place.

"Our position is that if we can facilitate this process though practical assistance, then why not? If we get a request, then we are prepared to do that," he said.

A senior Nato official earlier told reporters that Nato-led forces were already facilitating contacts between senior Taliban officials and the Afghan government, including allowing them safe passage for talks in Kabul.

Face-to-face talks

Karzai, who is keen on reconciliation with Taliban and other allied groups, has set up a peace council to facilititate the talks. 

He told Al Jazeera's Frost over the World programme - to be aired on Friday - that he has already held face-to-face meetings with senior members of the Taliban.

The official Taliban line is that the group will not negotiate until all foreign forces leave [GALLO/GETTY]

"I have had personal meetings with some Taliban leaders and my colleagues from my government have had some meetings in and outside Afghanistan with the Taliban," he told Al Jazeera's David Frost.

"These have mostly been unofficial after contact was initiated, countryman to countryman talks. But now is the time for us to begin to talk with the Taliban at a fixed address and with a more open agenda to tell us how to bring peace to Afghanistan and Pakistan."

The Taliban has publicly denied that its leaders are in talks, and on Wednesday the group again denied it is holding peace talks with the Afghan government.

In a statement the Taliban said that Karzai's claims that such talks are being held are "baseless propaganda".

Al Jazeera Sue Turton, reporting from the Afghan capital, Kabul, said it has been very difficult for senior Taliban leaders based in Pakistan to move around, and therefore the Karzai government has resorted to talking to leaders in Afghanistan.

"It's mainly been about talking about talks, but if the Taliban want to talk further, the Afghan government says they must abide by its three conditions - the laying down of arms, to cut ties with al-Qaeda, and to respect the Afghan constitution, particularly human rights."

Nato deaths

Meanwhile, Nato said seven foreign troops have been killed in four separate attacks across Afghanistan on Thursday.

Thursday's deaths brought to 588 the number of foreign soldiers killed this year, eclipsing the previous record of 521 in 2009, according to the AFP news agency.

At least 35 foreign soldiers have died in Afghanistan this month alone.

The surge in military deaths has followed the deployment of about 40,000 extra US and Nato troops under a White House strategy designed to clear major towns and cities of the Taliban and restore confidence in the government.

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies