"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 told CNN, a day after Afghan President Hamid Karzai said the United States is holding talks with the Taliban.
Gates, who is set to resign in 11 days, 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," he said, referring to the elusive Taliban leader Mullah Omar.
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.
"Talks with the Taliban have started... the talks are going on well," Karzai had said in Kabul on Saturday.
"Also foreign forces, especially the United States, are carrying out the talks themselves," he said.
Gates said among the conditions required by the United States of the Taliban were: complete disassociation from al Qaeda and "meeting the redlines that President Karzai and the coalition have laid down."