Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, has said that Washington's "preliminary outreach" to the Taliban was part of a necessary but unpleasant attempt to achieve a political solution in Afghanistan.
Mrs Clinton told the Senate that the US is backing a diplomatic surge complementing the military surge that President Barack Obama has begun to wind down with the planned withdrawal of 10,000 troops this year.
"It is diplomatic efforts in support of an Afghan-led political process that aims to shatter the alliance between the Taliban and al-Qaeda and the insurgency, and help to produce more stability," she said.
She repeated that the Taliban insurgents must meet the US "red lines" of renouncing violence, abandoning support for al Qaeda, and supporting the Afghan constitution, which includes protections for women.
"The United States has a broad range of contacts at many levels across Afghanistan and the region that we are leveraging to support this effort, including very preliminary outreach to members of the Taliban," she said.
"This is not a pleasant business, but a necessary one because history tells us that a combination of military pressure, economic opportunity and an inclusive political and diplomatic process is the best way to end insurgencies."