WASHINGTON - The US welcomes Taliban militants who are willing to lay down their arms and to fight Al-Qaeda, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the other day. Today we and our Afghan allies stand ready to welcome anyone supporting the Taliban, who renounces Qaeda, lays down their arms, and is willing to participate in the free and open society that is enshrined in the Afghan constitution, Hillary said in a major foreign policy speech to the Council of Foreign Relations, a think tank. We and our allies fight in Afghanistan because the Taliban protects Al-Qaeda and depends on it for support. To eliminate Al-Qaeda, we must also fight the Taliban, she said. However, the chief US diplomat added that we understand that not all those who fight with the Taliban support Al-Qaeda, or believe in the extremist policies the Taliban pursued when in power. Earlier, President Obama said in an interview with the NYT in early March that he was holding out hope that US forces in Afghanistan can peel away elements of the Taliban. In addition, US Defence Secretary Robert Gates also said that Washington could accept a political agreement between the Afghan government led by President Hamid Karzai and the Taliban, if the insurgents would lay down their arms and accept the governments terms.