NEW YORK - U.S. officials have met with an aide to Mullah Mohammad Omar at least three times in recent months in the first direct exploratory peace talks, The New York Times reported Friday as war-weary Americans seek to end the decade-long Afghan war. Citing unnamed "officials in the region", the newspaper said in a dispatch from Islamabad that the meetings have been facilitated by Germany and Qatar, but American officials have been present each time, meeting with Tayeb Agha, who is a close personal assistant to Mullah Omar. A senior Afghan official and Western officials working in the region confirmed the reports on the condition of anonymity because they were not permitted to talk to the news media about the issue, according to the Times. Begun 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 signaled by a speech in February by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, the Western officials said. In that speech Mrs. Clinton said that previous requirements for starting talks could instead be considered desired outcomes, opening the way to exploratory meetings without preconditions. The presence of Agha, a longtime personal assistant of the Taliban leader, is a sign that the Taliban are serious despite their public opposition to peace talks, the officials said. Through spokesmen and in e-mailed statements, the Taliban have always rejected peace talks until foreign forces leave Afghanistan. But privately, through intermediaries, they have insisted on direct meetings with United States officials, which would give them official recognition of their movement. Agha, who speaks English and Arabic, is reported to have attended a dinner hosted by the king of Saudi Arabia several years ago, which was seen as the first American-sanctioned overture toward the Taliban, the report said. Mullah Omars ability to control the increasingly radicalized insurgent commanders and groups allied with the Taliban also remains in question, according to the Times. He is still the spiritual leader of the Taliban movement, and he certainly retains strong command over Taliban forces in southern Afghanistan, which represent the bulk of the insurgency, it said. Yet the increasingly radical Pakistani Taliban groups that send insurgents to Afghanistan and the Haqqani family, which runs its own fief in Pakistans tribal areas, have disregarded Mullah Omars orders in the past despite swearing allegiance to him, it was pointed out. The meetings have been conducted without the participation of Pakistan, which has long called for negotiations with the Taliban as a way to end the war on its western border and which has insisted that it also be included, the paper said. Pakistan's Chief of Army Staff General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani even offered Afghan President Hamid Karzai his help in bringing Taliban insurgent leaders to the negotiating table, it added. Yet Pakistan is regarded with suspicion by Kabul, and increasingly by Washington and other NATO capitals, because of its long time support for the Taliban, and those working on contacts with the Taliban have sought to draw them away from Pakistan's controlling influence, said the paper, adding that one issue under discussion is the opening of a representative office for the Taliban in a third country, possibly Turkey or Qatar. "You cannot do reconciliation without Pakistan, but also they can be a spoiler," a European diplomat in the region was quoted as saying on the condition of anonymity, in keeping with diplomatic protocol. A senior Afghan official, however, cautioned that the meetings might not represent much because Agha was known to be no longer particularly close to Mullah Omar. Agha was a much trusted personal assistant, answering phone calls and making appointments for Mullah Omar, for most of the Taliban's time in power, from 1994 to 2001. The Obama administration is instead conducting parallel but separate dialogues: one between the United States, Afghanistan and the Taliban; and a second between the United States, Afghanistan and Pakistan. Pakistan appears to be satisfied with this track so far and sent its foreign secretary, Salman Bashir, to the latest round of trilateral talks in Kabul on Tuesday.