U.S. Still Sees Talks As Best Path To Peace In Afghanistan — Pompeo
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Sunday that the U.S. was still interested in negotiating a peace deal with the Taliban even through U.S. President Donald Trump abruptly called off secret talks that were to take place Sunday.
Trump announced in a tweet Saturday his decision to cancel the talks, which were to take place at Camp David, a presidential retreat outside Washington.
Trump cited an attack Thursday in Kabul claimed by the Taliban that killed a U.S. soldier, a Romanian soldier and 10 other people.
“When that happened, President Trump said, I’m not going to take that deal,” Pompeo said on ABC.
Prior to the bombing, he said, negotiations had made “real progress” and were close to a resolution. But “for now” U.S special envoy to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad will be coming home.
He still hopes the Taliban will change their behaviour to clear the way for more talks.
“In the end, this will be resolved through a series of conversations,” Pompeo said.
Speaking later on CBS, he described the U.S. as “still at this hard.”
The Taliban reacted to Trump’s decision to cancel the talks by saying that it showed the US is not truly committed to peace, adding, however, that the group would remain committed to dialogue.
“Showing reaction to an attack prior to signing an agreement shows neither patience nor experience,” the militant organization said in a statement. It noted that attacks by US and Afghan forces had killed hundreds of Afghans prior to the Kabul attack.
Pompeo estimated the number of Taliban fighters killed in the last 10 days at more than 1,000, saying that had ensured the US was not negotiating with one hand tied behind its back.
Trump’s tweet announcing his decision to cancel the secret talks, which were to include separate meetings with major Taliban leaders and Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, came out of the blue late Saturday.
“Unfortunately, in order to build false leverage, they admitted to an attack in Kabul that killed one of our great great soldiers, and 11 other people.” he tweeted. “I immediately cancelled the meeting and called off peace negotiations. What kind of people would kill so many in order to seemingly strengthen their bargaining position?”
The Afghan government blamed the Taliban for Trump’s decision.
“The current obstacle created in the ongoing peace process is due to Taliban’s continued violence and fighting,” a statement published by the presidential palace said.
Since July 2018 the US and the Taliban have been negotiating a political resolution to a conflict that began shortly after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the US. America’s longest war costs the US 30 billion dollars annually, Pompeo said.
The Taliban’s statement said that a peace agreement had been finalized and and that the sides had been preparing for an announcement prior to Trump’s decision to cancel the Camp David talks. Khalilzad on Wednesday shared a draft agreement with the Afghan government.
The draft called for the US to withdraw 5,000 of the estimated 14,000 US soldiers stationed in Afghanistan in 135 days as a first instalment. Khalilzad said at the time that a final deal could be announced within the next few days, but would need Trump’s approval.
For its part the Taliban had in principle agreed to sit down with Afghan leaders, achieve “certain reductions in violence” and break with al-Qaeda, according to Pompeo, speaking on CNN.
If those conditions can’t be met, the US will not enter into any deal, Pompeo said.
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