American officials have met with a senior aide to the fugitive Taliban leader, Mullah Mohammad Omar, at least three times in recent months in the first direct exploratory peace talks, officials in the region told The New York Times. The meetings have been facilitated by Germany and Qatar but American officials have been present at the meetings each time, meeting with Tayeb Agha, who is a close personal assistant to Mullah Omar, the officials said. Officials of the CIA and the State Department have been involved in the meetings, one official said. The meetings were first reported by the Washington Post last week and the German magazine Der Spiegel. A senior Afghan official and Western officials working in the region confirmed the reports on condition of anonymity because they were not permitted to talk to the media about the issue. Initiated well before the killing of Osama bin Laden on May 2, the meetings represent a clear shift in the attitude of the Obama administration toward peace talks with the Taliban first signalled by a speech in February by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, the Western officials said. The presence of Mr. Agha, who is a long-time personal assistant of the reclusive Taliban leader, is a sign that the Taliban are serious despite their public opposition to peace talks, the officials said. Through spokesmen and in emailed statements the Taliban have always rejected peace talks until foreign forces leave Afghanistan. But privately, through intermediaries, they have insisted on direct meetings with US officials, which would give them official recognition of their movement.