WASHINGTON (Reuters/AFP) - US President Barack Obamas July 2011 date for beginning to pull US forces from Afghanistan is not a drop-dead deadline but a message to Kabul about the urgency of fielding an army to defend the country, top members of US President Barack Obamas cabinet said on Sunday. They refused to rule out talks with Taliban leaders in order to bring about a settlement of the war in Afghanistan, but made them conditional on changes in the radical movements strategy. The two officials also said Washington will closely monitor future financial aid to Afghanistan to ensure it does not aid and abet bad behaviour by the Kabul government. He was balancing a demonstration of resolve with also communicating a sense of urgency to the Afghan government that they must step up to the plate in terms of recruiting their soldiers, training their soldiers and getting their soldiers into the field, US Defence Secretary Robert Gates told CBS News Face the Nation programme. US Defence Secretary Robert Gates, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, National Security Adviser James Jones and General David Petraeus rejected the criticism and defended the Presidents decision in interviews with Sunday morning news programmes, saying the date would begin a transition to Afghan military control. Were not talking about an exit strategy or a drop-dead deadline, Hillary told NBCs Meet the Press. What were talking about is an assessment that ... we can begin a transition, a transition to hand off responsibility to the Afghan forces. Its the beginning of a process, Gates added. In July 2011, our generals are confident that they will know whether our strategy is working. And the plan is to begin transferring areas of responsibility for security over to the Afghan security forces with ... us remaining in a tactical and then strategic overwatch position. Petraeus, commander of the US Central Command, told Fox News Sunday Obamas decision didnt trigger a rush to the exits but rather the start of a transition of responsibilities to Afghan security forces and to the government in Kabul. On CNN, US National Security Advisor James Jones also would not give a date for the withdrawal of all US troops but indicated it would not be soon. We have strategic interests in South Asia that should not be measured in terms of finite times. We are going to be in the region for a long time, Jones said. Gates said prospects for possible talks with Taliban leaders will require halting the insurgents momentum on the Afghan battlefield. Talking to ABC News, the US Defence Chief suggested Obamas decision to send 30,000 reinforcements to Afghanistan was aimed in part at bringing the insurgents to the negotiating table on US terms. I think that the likelihood of the leadership of the Taliban, or senior leaders, being willing to accept the conditions Secretary Clinton just talked about depends in the first instance on reversing their momentum right now, and putting them in a position where they suddenly begin to realise that theyre likely to lose, Gates said. Hillary, who also appeared on the same programme, said the Taliban would have to accept conditions to enter into any talks - including rejecting violence and Al-Qaeda - which she said looked unlikely. She said she was highly sceptical that any of the current Taliban leaders would be ready to pursue negotiations or accept such conditions. When asked if high-level negotiations with the Taliban were possible, she replied: We dont know yet.