US, Taliban keep open door to talks after summit scrapped

Published: Sep 09, 2019, 08:52 IST | mid-day online correspondent | Washington

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo hinted on a return to talks with Taliban in a series of television interviews, but also said the United States is looking for a "significant commitment" from them

Donald Trump waves as he arrives at the White House. Pic/AFP
Donald Trump waves as he arrives at the White House. Pic/AFP

The United States and Afghanistan's Taliban both left the door open to fresh talks on Sunday after President Donald Trump abruptly cancelled a secret summit, but the insurgents reportedly threatened to inflict greater costs.

Washington replied saying it would not relent in fighting the militants after the president blamed the scuttling of the unprecedented meeting on a Taliban attack that killed a US soldier.

Trump had earlier said he invite Taliban leaders and Afghan President Ashraf Ghani for talks on Sunday at the Camp David presidential retreat on a draft deal that would lead to the withdrawal of thousands of American troops and wrap up its ‘longest war ever.’

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo hinted on a return to talks in a series of television interviews, but also said the United States is looking for a "significant commitment" from the Taliban.

"I'm not pessimistic," Pompeo was quoted by NBC. "I've watched the Taliban do things and say things they've not been permitted to do before." "I hope it's the case the Taliban will change their behaviour, will recommit to the things that we've been talking to them about for months," he said in an interview to ABC.

"In the end, this will be resolved through a series of conversations," Pompeo added, urging the Taliban to drop their long-running refusal to negotiate with Ghani's internationally recognized government, an AFP report mentioned.

He also said that Trump did not decided on going ahead with a withdrawal, which according to the draft deal would pull 5,000 of the roughly 13,000 US troops from Afghanistan in 2020. But Pompeo was quoted by AFP warning that the United States was "not going to reduce the pressure" on the Taliban, saying US forces had killed more than 1,000 insurgents in the past 10 days alone.

On the other hand, veteran US negotiator Zalmay Khalilzad had spent a year meeting with the Taliban, who said that Trump showed "neither experience nor patience." A statement by the group's spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid warned, "Americans will be harmed more than any other" by Trump's decision. But he also added that the Taliban still believed "that the American side will come back to this position" of talks that seek "the complete end of the occupation."

The office of Ghani, whose government is considered by the Taliban as illegitimate, cautiously saluted the "sincere efforts of its allies" after Trump called off the meeting. Releasing a statement, the Afghan presidency also insisted that "real peace can only be achieved if the Taliban stop killing Afghans and accept a ceasefire and face-to-face talks with the Afghan government."

Also Read: Donald Trump calls off 'secret' meet with Ashraf Ghani

 Trump's decision came weeks ahead of Afghanistan's presidential elections, that raised fears of the Taliban stepping up their campaign of violence to disrupt election process. The US president relishes dramatic gestures, such as meeting North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, but the idea of inviting Taliban leaders to the US soil saw stunned reactions in Washington.

The would-be talks did not go down well with even some allies of Trump, who noted that the Taliban would be visiting three days before the 18th anniversary of the September 11 attacks, that triggered the US invasion of Afghanistan.

Liz Cheney, a Republican congresswoman and daughter of former vice president Dick Cheney took to Twitter to express disagreement of the Taliban meeting Trump in Camp David, the spot where America leaders had meet after the 9/11 attacks that killed 3000 Americans."No member of the Taliban should set foot there. Ever," she said in the tweet.

Considering Trump's penchant for bombast, some also questioned if the summit was even set to take place. "I'm still looking for confirmation an actual, physical trip to Camp David was planned," Democratic presidential candidate Julian Castro was quoted by CNN, adding: "It's very odd to invite a terrorist organization like that to Camp David."

Islamabad, meanwhile, reportedly urged both sides to "re-engage to find (a) negotiated peace from the ongoing political settlement process." The foreign ministry said in a statement, "Pakistan looks for optimized engagement following (the) earliest resumption of talks."

Afghanistan's neighbour Iran -- which has a history of opposing the Taliban and has had tense relations with the United States -- said it was "gravely concerned" about the meeting. Iranian foreign minister Javad Zarif tweeted warning the US that the situation can be exploited, “bringing renewed bloodshed.”

With inputs from AFP

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