WASHINGTON, June 19 (UPI) -- U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates says the United States and other countries are taking peace talks directly to the Taliban.
Gates, appearing on CNN's "State of the Union," said Sunday the talks have been ongoing for several weeks and they're being conducted by the U.S. State Department.
"Well, I think first question we have is who represents Mullah Omar? Who really represents the Taliban? We don't want to end up having a conversation at some point with somebody who's basically a freelancer," Gates said. "My own view is that real reconciliation talks are not likely to be able to make a substantive headway until at least this winter. I think that the Taliban have to feel themselves under military pressure and begin to believe they can't win before they are willing to have a serious conversation."
Gates said a political outcome is the way most wars end, and he sees that as the way the war in Afghanistan will end.
"We have all said all along that a political outcome is the way most of the wars end," Gates said. "The question is when and if they are ready to talk seriously about meeting the red lines that President Karzai and that the coalition has laid down, including totally disavowing al-Qaida."
Gates said coalition forces have made much progress in the past 15 months, including the killing on May 2 of Osama bin Laden, the man who ordered the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States.
"We have basically thrown the Taliban out of their home turf of Kandahar and Helmand Provinces," Gates said. "So I think we will present the president with options and different levels of risks associated with the options and he will decide "about troop withdrawals in Afghanistan this summer."
Gates is retiring from his post at the end of the month.