U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Thursday that reconciliation talks with the Taliban must be a central part of America's plan for stabilizing Afghanistan as troops begin to exit.

While the prospect of negotiating with the Taliban might seem repugnant, it is necessary to stabilize the country politically and demonstrate American commitment to the government's sovereignty, Clinton said. She confirmed that Washington has engaged in very preliminary outreach to the Taliban, a process that she called not a pleasant business.

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, Clinton said.

Clinton said that Taliban members must meet specific conditions, including renouncing violence and embracing the Afghan constitution -- including its protections for women -- before they will be welcomed to the table. She noted that insurgencies have historically succumbed to a combination of military pressure, economic opportunity and an inclusive political and diplomatic process.

With bin Laden dead and al-Qaeda's remaining leadership under enormous pressure, the choice facing the Taliban is clear: be part of Afghanistan's future or face unrelenting assault, Clinton said.

President Barack Obama's announcement Wednesday night that he would begin withdrawing troops from Afghanistan was cheered by the Taliban, who followed the speech with a statement that the solution for the Afghan crisis lies in the full withdrawal of all foreign troops immediately. The boast encapsulates fears that a rapid U.S. departure would leave a vacuum that the Taliban could fill, a possibility underscored by Clinton's attempts at opening talks.

This clearly is a defeat for the U.S. in Afghanistan, and the start of the return of the Taliban, [its supreme leader] Mullah Omar and an Islamic sharia state, a senior member of the Taliban's military council said of Obama's speech during a phone interview with The Daily Beast. We can't believe that in the short time of 10 years the Taliban are forcing the superpower of the century to pull out its troops.