Sir Hugh Orde says talking to al-Qaeda means 'thinking the unthinkable'
The UK should not rule out talking to al-Qaeda in a strategy to end its campaign of violence, according to one of the country's most senior policemen.
Police Service of Northern Ireland chief Sir Hugh Orde told the Guardian talking to al-Qaeda was not unthinkable but "a question of timing".
He said 30 years tackling the IRA had taught him that policing alone was not enough to defeat terrorism.
The government has already rejected suggestions it negotiate with al-Qaeda.
Sir Hugh said it was important to maintain tough law enforcement against those involved in terrorist activity and that this would help bring them to the negotiating table.
He said IRA members had entered into negotiations with "a certain pragmatism" after realising their violent approach "wasn't ever going to work".
Sir Hugh cited his 2004 meeting with Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams as an example of how one-time opponents can become partners in a peace process.
It is not the first time that senior establishment figures have raised the prospect of negotiations with al-Qaeda.
In March, former Downing Street chief of staff Jonathan Powell said that at some point in the future it might be necessary to start talks with the group.
Mr Powell, who helped broker the peace agreement in Northern Ireland, said the deal showed such negotiations could work.
At the time, the Foreign Office rejected the suggestion, saying the government would not talk to any group actively promoting its aims through violence.
Sir Hugh is regarded by some as a front-runner to be the next commissioner of the Metropolitan Police.