The offer to exchange U.S. Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl for the Afghan detainees came as an Afghan government spokesman said President Hamid Karzai is now willing to join planned peace talks with the Taliban — provided that the Taliban flag and nameplate are removed from the militant group's newly opened political office in Doha, the capital of the Gulf state of Qatar. Karzai also wants a formal letter from the United States supporting the Afghan government.
Bergdahl, 27, of Hailey, Idaho, is the only known American soldier held captive from the Afghan war. He disappeared from his base in southeastern Afghanistan on June 30, 2009, and is believed held in Pakistan.
In an exclusive telephone interview with The Associated Press from his Doha office, Taliban spokesman Shaheen Suhail said on Thursday that Bergdahl "is, as far as I know, in good condition."
Col. Tim Marsano with the Idaho National Guard said he has been in touch with Bergdahl's parents, Bob and Jani Bergdahl, of Hailey several times this week. The family isn't giving interviews, but Marsano said Bergdahl's parents do plan to speak at an event honoring the soldier in Hailey on Saturday.
"They're aware that the possibility of a transfer or exchange is on the table and they're encouraged by it," Marsano said.
Suhail did not elaborate on Bergdahl's current whereabouts. Among the five prisoners the Taliban have consistently requested are Khairullah Khairkhwa, a former Taliban governor of Herat, and Mullah Mohammed Fazl, a former top Taliban military commander, both of whom have been held for more than a decade.
Bergdahl's parents earlier this month received a letter from their son through the International Committee of the Red Cross. They did not release details of the letter but renewed their plea for his release. The soldier's captivity has been marked by only sporadic releases of videos and information about his whereabouts.
The prisoner exchange is the first item on the Taliban's agenda before even opening peace talks, said Suhail, who is a top Taliban figure and served as first secretary at the Afghan Embassy in the Pakistani capital of Islamabad before the Taliban government's ouster in 2001.
"First has to be the release of detainees," Suhail said when asked about Bergdahl. "Yes. It would be an exchange. Then step by step, we want to build bridges of confidence to go forward."
Meanwhile, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry was expected in Doha ahead of Saturday's conference on the Syrian civil war. He was not expected to meet with the Taliban although other U.S. officials might in coming days.
On Wednesday in Washington, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the U.S. had "never confirmed" any specific meeting schedule with Taliban representatives in Doha.
The reconciliation process with the Taliban has been a long and bumpy one that began nearly two years ago when the U.S. opened secret talks that were later scuttled by Karzai when he learned of them.
It was then that the U.S. and Taliban discussed prisoner exchanges and for a brief time it appeared that the five Guantanamo Bay prisoners would be released and sent to Doha to help further the peace process. But Karzai stepped in again and demanded they be returned to Afghanistan over Taliban objections.
Since then, the U.S. has been trying to jumpstart peace talks and the Taliban have made small gestures including an offer to share power. The Taliban have also attended several international conferences and held meetings with representatives of about 30 countries.
If the Taliban hold talks with American delegates in the next few days, they will be the first U.S.-Taliban talks in nearly 1 ½ years.
Prospective peace talks were again thrown into question Wednesday when Karzai became infuriated by the Taliban's move to cast their new office in Doha as a rival embassy.
The Taliban held a ribbon-cutting ceremony Tuesday in which they hoisted their flag and a banner with the name they used while in power more than a decade ago: "Political Office of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan." Later, the Taliban replaced the sign to read simply: "Political office of the Taliban."
At the ceremony, the Taliban welcomed dialogue with Washington but said their fighters would not stop fighting. Hours later, the group claimed responsibility for a rocket attack on Bagram Air Base outside the Afghan capital, Kabul, that killed four American service members.
Karzai on Wednesday announced his government is out of the peace talks, apparently angered by the way Kabul had been sidelined in the U.S.-Taliban bid for rapprochement.
The Afghan president also suspended negotiations with the United States on a bilateral security agreement that would cover American troops who will remain behind after the final withdrawal of NATO combat troops at the end of 2014.
However, Karzai spokesman Fayeq Wahidi said Thursday that the Afghan president is willing to join peace talks with the Taliban if the U.S. follows through with promises he said were made by Kerry in a phone call.
Wahidi said Kerry promised Karzai that the Taliban flag and a nameplate with their former regime's name would be removed and the U.S. would issue a formal letter supporting the Afghan government and making clear that the Taliban office would not be seen as an embassy or government-in-exile.
Once those commitments are met, Wahidi said, "We would see no problem in entering into talks with the Taliban in Qatar. "
On Thursday, the "Islamic Emirate" nameplate had been removed from the Taliban office. The flagpole inside the compound was apparently shortened and the Taliban flag — dark Quranic script on a white background — was still flying but not visible from the street. Journalists gathered at the office shot images of the flag through the gaps in the walls.
The Taliban have long refused to talk to Karzai's representatives but the opening of the office was seen as a first step toward those meetings.
Suhail said the Taliban are insistent that they want their first interlocutors to be the United States. "First we talk to the Americans about those issues concerning the Americans and us (because) for those issues implementation is only in the hands of the Americans," he said.
"We want foreign troops to be pulled out of Afghanistan," he added. "If there are troops in Afghanistan then there will be a continuation of the war."
Suhail indicated the Taliban could approve of American trainers and advisers for the Afghan troops, saying that "of course, there is cooperation between countries in other things. We need that cooperation."
He said that once the Taliban concluded talks with the United States, they would participate in all-inclusive Afghan talks.
Suhail ruled out exclusive talks with Karzai's High Peace Council, which has been a condition of the Afghan president, who previously said he wanted talks in Doha to be restricted to his representatives and the Taliban. Instead, the Taliban would talk to all Afghan groups, Suhail said.
"After we finish the phase of talking to the Americans, then we would start the internal phase ... that would include all Afghans," he said. "Having all groups involved will guarantee peace and stability."
____ Gannon reported from Islamabad, Pakistan. Associated Press writers Rebecca Boone in Boise, Idaho, and Brian Murphy in Dubai contributed to this report.
____ Kathy Gannon is AP Special Regional Correspondent for Afghanistan and Pakistan and can be reached at www.twitter.com/kathygannon
Obama's senior energy and climate adviser, Heather Zichal, said the plan would boost energy efficiency of appliances and buildings, plus expand renewable energy. She also said the Environmental Protection Agency was preparing to use its authority under the Clean Air Act to regulate heat-trapping pollution from coal-fired power plants.
"The EPA has been working very hard on rules that focus specifically on greenhouse gases from the coal sector," Zichal said.
Zichal, speaking at a forum hosted by The New Republic in Washington, said that none of the proposals would require new funding or action from Congress. It has shown no appetite for legislation that would put a price on carbon dioxide after a White House-backed bill to set up a market-based system died in Obama's first term with Democrats in charge.
The plan, with details expected to be made public in coming weeks, comes as Obama has been under increasing pressure from environmental groups and lawmakers from states harmed by Superstorm Sandy to cut pollution from existing power plants, the largest source of climate-altering gases. Several major environmental groups and states have threatened to sue the administration to force cuts to power plant emissions. And just last week, former Vice President Al Gore, a prominent climate activist and fellow Democrat, pointedly called on Obama to go beyond "great words" to "great actions."
It was unclear whether the White House's plans would include controls on existing power plants. An administration official, who wasn't authorized to comment on the plan by name, said the White House was still weighing it. But since the administration has already proposed action on future power plants, the law would likely compel it to eventually tackle the remaining plants, or it would be forced to through litigation.
Obama's remarks in Berlin echoed comments he made in his State of the Union and inaugural speeches this year.
"This is the global threat of our time," Obama said Wednesday. "And for the sake of future generations, our generation must move toward a global compact to confront a changing climate before it is too late. That is our job. That is our task. We have to get to work."
Some environmentalists who cheered those remarks when they were made months ago, criticized them Wednesday.
"President Obama deserves praise for including climate change among the long-term threats facing us all," said Ned Helme, president of the Center for Clear Air Policy, an environmentally friendly think tank. "But he should do more than talk about the problem. The president needs to put the full force of his office behind new regulations that will truly curb greenhouse gas emissions. For too long now, he has produced little action. I'm encouraged that he will finally act and not just ask."
Meanwhile, the environmental community is growing impatient.
"I really can't understand why they haven't moved forward on this more quickly, and we hope that turns around," said Nathan Wilcox of Environment America.
An orchestrated and well-publicized campaign to persuade Obama to reject the Keystone XL oil pipeline, which would carry oil extracted from tar sands in western Canada to refineries along the Texas Gulf Coast, appears to be an uphill battle.
Opponents call the $7 billion project a "carbon bomb" that would carry "dirty oil" and exacerbate global warming. But the State Department in an environmental evaluation concluded that other means of transporting the oil would be worse from a climate perspective.
___ Associated Press writer Matthew Daly contributed to this report.
Follow Dina Cappiello on Twitter at www.twitter.com/dinacappiello and Josh Lederman at www.twitter.com/joshledermanAP
But his portrayal of criminal Tony Soprano in HBO's landmark drama series "The Sopranos" was just one facet of an actor who created a rich legacy of film and stage work in a life cut short.
Gandolfini, 51, who died Wednesday while vacationing in Rome, refused to be bound by his star-making role in the HBO series that brought him three Emmy Awards during its six-season run.
"He was a genius," said "Sopranos" creator David Chase. "Anyone who saw him even in the smallest of his performances knows that. He is one of the greatest actors of this or any time. A great deal of that genius resided in those sad eyes."
Dr. Claudio Modini, head of the emergency room at the Policlinic Umberto I hospital in Rome, said Gandolfini suffered a cardiac arrest. He arrived at the hospital at 10:40 p.m. (2040 GMT, 4:40 p.m. EDT) Wednesday and was pronounced dead at 11 p.m. after resuscitation efforts in the ambulance and hospital failed, Modini said.
Modini told The Associated Press that an autopsy would be performed starting 24 hours after the death, as required by law.
Michael Kobold, a family friend, told reporters in Rome that a family member discovered Gandolfini in his hotel room, but he declined to say whom. NBC quoted Antonio D'Amore, manager of Rome's Boscolo Exedra hotel, as saying it was Gandolfini's 13-year-old son, Michael.
Organizers of the Taormina Film Festival in Sicily were scrambling to put together a tribute to Gandolfini, who had been expected to attend the festival's closing ceremony this weekend and receive an award. They said Gandolfini will instead be honored with a tribute "remembering his career and talent."
Mario Sesti and Tiziana Rocca said they had spoken to Gandolfini hours before his death "and he was very happy to receive this prize and be able to travel to Italy."
Edie Falco, who played Tony Soprano's wife Carmela on "The Sopranos," remembered him as a "man of tremendous depth and sensitivity."
"I am shocked and devastated by Jim's passing," she said in a statement. "I consider myself very lucky to have spent 10 years as his close colleague. My heart goes out to his family. As those of us in his pretend one hold on to the memories of our intense and beautiful time together. The love between Tony and Carmela was one of the greatest I've ever known."
Joe Gannascoli, who played Vito Spatafore on the drama series, said he was shocked and heartbroken.
"Fifty-one and leaves a kid — he was newly married. His son is fatherless now. ... It's way too young," Gannascoli said.
Gandolfini and his wife, Deborah, who were married in 2008, have a daughter, Liliana, born last year, HBO said. Michael is the son of the actor and his former wife, Marcy.
Gandolfini's performance in "The Sopranos" was his ticket to fame, but he evaded being stereotyped as a mobster after the drama's breathtaking blackout ending in 2007. In a December 2012 interview with The Associated Press, he was upbeat about the work he was getting post-Tony Soprano.
"I'm much more comfortable doing smaller things," Gandolfini said then. "I like them. I like the way they're shot; they're shot quickly. It's all about the scripts — that's what it is — and I'm getting some interesting little scripts."
He played then-CIA director Leon Panetta in Kathryn Bigelow's Osama bin Laden hunt docudrama "Zero Dark Thirty." He worked with Chase for the '60s period drama "Not Fade Away," in which he played the old-school father of a wannabe rocker. And in Andrew Dominick's crime flick "Killing Them Softly," he played an aged, washed-up hit man.
On Broadway, he garnered a best-actor Tony Award nomination for 2009's "God of Carnage."
Deploying his unsought clout as a star, Gandolfini produced a pair of documentaries for HBO focused on a cause he held dear: veterans affairs.
He was mourned online in a flood of celebrity comments. "The great James Gandolfini passed away today. Only 51. I can't believe it," Bette Midler posted on her Twitter account.
"An extraordinary actor. RIP, Mr. Gandolfini," Robin Williams tweeted.
His "Sopranos" co-star Michael Imperioli said that "Jimmy treated us like family with a generosity, loyalty and compassion that is rare in this world."
His final projects included the film "Animal Rescue," directed by Michael R. Roskam and written by Dennis Lehane, which has been shot and is expected to be released next year. He also had agreed to star in a seven-part limited series for HBO, "Criminal Justice," based on a BBC show. He had shot a pilot for an early iteration of the project.
While Tony Soprano was a larger-than-life figure, Gandolfini was exceptionally modest and obsessive — he described himself as "a 260-pound Woody Allen."
In past interviews, his cast mates had far more glowing descriptions to offer.
"I had the greatest sparring partner in the world, I had Muhammad Ali," said Lorraine Bracco, who, as Tony's psychiatrist Dr. Melfi, went one-on-one with Gandolfini in their penetrating therapy scenes. "He cares what he does, and does it extremely well."
Gandolfini grew up in Park Ridge in New Jersey, the son of a building maintenance chief at a Catholic school and a high school lunch lady.
After earning a degree in communications from Rutgers University, Gandolfini moved to New York, where he worked as a bartender, bouncer and nightclub manager. When he was 25, he joined a friend of a friend in an acting class.
Gandolfini's first big break was a Broadway production of "A Streetcar Named Desire" where he played Steve, one of Stanley Kowalski's poker buddies. His film debut was in Sidney Lumet's "A Stranger Among Us" (1992).
Director Tony Scott had praised Gandolfini's talent for fusing violence with charisma — which he would perfect in Tony Soprano.
Gandolfini played a tough guy in Scott's 1993 film "True Romance," who beat Patricia Arquette's character to a pulp while offering such jarring, flirtatious banter as, "You got a lot of heart, kid."
Scott called Gandolfini "a unique combination of charming and dangerous."
In his early career, Gandolfini had supporting roles in "Crimson Tide" (1995), "Get Shorty" (1995), "The Juror" (1996), Lumet's "Night Falls on Manhattan" (1997), "She's So Lovely" (1997), "Fallen" (1998) and "A Civil Action" (1998). But it was "True Romance" that piqued the interest of Chase.
In his 2012 AP interview, Gandolfini said he gravitated to acting as a release, a way to get rid of anger. "I don't know what exactly I was angry about," he said.
"I try to avoid certain things and certain kinds of violence at this point," he said last year. "I'm getting older, too. I don't want to be beating people up as much. I don't want to be beating women up and those kinds of things that much anymore."
The U.S. Embassy in Rome, which said it had learned about the death from the media, said it would be available to provide a death certificate and help prepare Gandolfini's body for return to the United States. The Embassy said it can often take between four and seven days to arrange shipment outside of Italy.
It isn't yet known yet what caused his heart to stop beating. Sudden cardiac arrest can be due to a heart attack, a heart rhythm problem, or as a result of trauma. The chance of cardiac arrest increases as people get older; men over age 45 have a greater risk. Men in general are up to three times more likely to have a sudden cardiac arrest than women.
___ Contributing to this report were Associated Press writers David Bauder, John Carucci, Jake Coyle and Frazier Moore in New York; Nicole Winfield in Rome; Maria Cheng in London; and Shaya Tayefe Mohajer and Sandy Cohen in Los Angeles.
A $1-per-pack cigarette tax increase in Illinois isn't having the financial impact that state officials had hoped for. The year-old increase was expected to rake in $350 million in tax revenue, but instead the total is closer to $212 million. Illinois raised the cigarette tax from 98 cents to $1.98 in June of last year, hoping to bring in much-needed revenue and discourage people from smoking. Authorities say fewer people are buying cigarettes, which explains the decline in tax revenue.