The United States has been engaged in peace talks with the Taliban , Defense Secretary Robert Gates said on Sunday, 11 days before he is set to resign. "There's been outreach on the part of a number of countries, including the United States," he said. "I would say that these contacts are very preliminary." Gates affirmed that "a political outcome is the way most of these wars end" and described the communication as being handled by the State Department for "a few weeks, maybe." "Who really represents the Taliban ?" he asked. "We don't want to end up having a conversation at some point with somebody who is basically a freelancer." As Gates described the early stages of communication, he asserted that any kind of resolution will take time. "My own view is that real reconciliation talks are not likely to be able to make any substantive headway until at least this winter," he said.