America’s chief diplomat strongly defended President Trump’s decision to cancel a secret meeting with envoys of the Taliban at Camp David that had been scheduled for this weekend, saying the administration is seeking a lasting agreement that ends the 18-year war against the militants in Afghanistan and ensures the country does not become a staging ground for terrorist attacks against the U.S.
“If the Taliban can’t live up to their commitments, if they’re going to continue to do the things that they’ve been doing — and as we approached this decision point in the discussions with the Afghans, they blow up Kabul and kill an American — President Trump will never do that,” Pompeo said on “Face the Nation” Sunday.
The president on Saturdayhe had scrapped the previously undisclosed meeting with the Afghan government and high-ranking representatives of the Taliban that was set to take place on Sunday at his Camp David retreat in Maryland. Mr. Trump accused Taliban insurgents of attempting to create “false leverage” ahead of the secret meeting by admitting to carrying out a suicide attack in Kabul on Thursday that killed a dozen people, including one American soldier.
“If they cannot agree to a ceasefire during these very important peace talks, and would even kill 12 innocent people, then they probably don’t have the power to negotiate a meaningful agreement anyway,” the president wrote in a series of tweets on Saturday night. “How many more decades are they willing to fight?”
Pompeo on Sunday said the president will not hesitate to “walk away” from negotiations that undermine U.S. interests and national security, citing Mr. Trump’s decision to leave the summit in Vietnam earlier this year without brokering a deal with North Korea and the ongoing trade dispute with China.
Asked about criticism the administration has faced after Mr. Trump revealed the U.S. would be meeting with members of the Taliban — a group Pompeo himself has referred to as terrorists — three days before the 18th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, the secretary of state said the administration had been very “thoughtful” when arranging the negotiations.
“We thought about this a long time and ultimately the president made the decision that this was the right place. We know the history of Camp David. That’s where peace has been negotiated many, many times,” Pompeo said, referring to the Camp David Accords between Israel and Egypt that the U.S. helped broker. “And sadly you often have to deal with some pretty bad characters to get peace.”
“I’d say to anybody who says you shouldn’t negotiate with the Taliban, tell me how else they’d like us to talk to, try to get reconciliation,” he added.
Before it was ousted from power in Afghanistan in 2001, the Taliban was known to harbor members of al Qaeda, including Osama bin Laden, who was killed in Pakistan by U.S. forces a decade later.
Since a U.S.-led coalition invaded Afghanistan in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks and toppled the Taliban government, the U.S. has been entangled in what has become the longest war in American history.
Ethnic strife within the country, a fragile Afghan government and a determined insurgency from Taliban militants have prompted Republican and Democratic presidents to keep a large troop presence in the country. Although Mr. Trump has veered from Republican orthodoxy on foreign policy and has been critical of U.S. military intervention abroad, his administration has kept about 14,000 troops in Afghanistan.
For the past months, the Trump administration has been holding talks with Taliban representatives to try to broker a ceasefire and eventually, a lasting agreement to end the seemingly intractable conflict. But a concrete deal has proved elusive, with hostilities continuing and the Taliban refusing so far to negotiate directly with the U.S.-backed government in Kabul.
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani had been informed in advance that the Taliban had been invited to Camp David, a senior Afghan government official confirmed to CBS News. The official said the U.S. called off Ghani’s visit and denied that the cancellation was a protest move by the Afghan government.
Mr. Trump cited the killing of a U.S. soldier on Thursday during the bombing in Kabul that killed 11 others as the chief reason for cancelling Sunday’s meeting, but the chain of events leading up to it suggest other factors came into play.
The U.S. envoy in Afghanistan, Zal Khalilzad, an Afghan-born American diplomat involved in the early stages of overthrowing the Taliban back in 2001, had continued to meet and talk to the Taliban in Doha, Qatar, after the Thursday suicide attack. About 16 Americans have been killed since the start of 2019 and the deaths have not disrupted the diplomacy to date.
Just five days ago, Khalilzad had announced on Afghan television that he had come to an agreement “in principle” with the Taliban to withdraw around 5,000 U.S. troops within 135 days of a deal being struck.
Despite the meeting’s cancelation, Pompeo on Sunday said he’s hopeful that a deal to end the conflict in Afghanistan can be reached.
“I hope we can get to this place,” he said. “It will be good for the Afghan people. And if we can get it right, it’ll be good for American national security as well.”