JEFFREY BROWN: Just 24 hours ago, there was talk of new prospects for finding peace in Afghanistan. Today, President Hamid Karzai angrily changed course, leaving the initiative in doubt and U.S. officials doing damage control.
The reversal by President Karzai came a day after he announced his government would open negotiations with the Taliban in Qatar.
PRESIDENT HAMID KARZAI, Afghanistan: We don’t have any immediate preconditions for talks between the Afghan Peace Council and the Taliban, but we have principles laid down.
JEFFREY BROWN: Today, though, Karzai nixed those plans and lodged several complaints. Chief among them was the Taliban’s use of its formal name, the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, at its new office in Qatar. A member of Karzai’s Afghan Peace Council said the name suggests it’s an embassy, representing an actual government.
MOHAMMAD ISMAIL QASIMYAR, Afghanistan High Peace Council: Senior American officials have assured us in a written letter in the past that the legal suggestion of the Afghan High Peace Council will be respected. This office cannot be used as a political settlement to build up relations with the United Nations or any other country.
JEFFREY BROWN: State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Secretary of State John Kerry spoke with Karzai last night and again this morning.
JEN PSAKI, State Department Spokeswoman: The secretary reiterated the fact that we do not recognize the name Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, and noted also that we’re pleased that the Qatari Ministry of Foreign Affairs has issued a statement clarifying that the name of the office is the political office of the Afghan Taliban and not the political office of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, and has had the sign with the incorrect name in front of the door taken down.
JEFFREY BROWN: Psaki also addressed Karzai’s objection to reports that U.S. officials would meet with the Taliban first.
JEN PSAKI: There isn’t a meeting. I know there were reports of it, but reports of a meeting being scheduled or on the books are inaccurate. If there’s a role for the U.S. to play in that, that’s up to the Afghans to decide.
JEFFREY BROWN: U.S. officials also have to address another Karzai decision today. He suspended talks on how many American troops would stay in Afghanistan and under what conditions after combat forces withdraw at the end of 2014.
In Berlin, President Obama played down any suggestions that the overall peace effort has foundered before it began.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: We had anticipated that, at the outset, there were going to be some areas of friction, to put it mildly, in getting this thing off the ground. That’s not surprising. But I think that President Karzai himself recognizes the need for political reconciliation. The challenge is, how do you get those things started while you’re also at war?
JEFFREY BROWN: Underscoring that point, five Afghan police officers were killed yesterday by fellow officers in a so-called insider attack. The Taliban also claimed responsibility for a rocket attack on Bagram Air Base in Kabul that killed four American troops.
It came just hours after international forces handed over full security control to the Afghan military and police.