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What’s next for U.S.-Afghanistan peace talks?

President Trump announced on Twitter on Saturday that he had canceled a secret Camp David meeting with the Taliban and Afghan officials, after the insurgent group “admitted” to a suicide attack in Kabul that killed 12 people, including a U.S. soldier. The Wall Street Journal’s Kabul bureau chief, Craig Nelson, joins Hari Sreenivasan to discuss the road ahead in ending America’s longest war.

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  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Good evening. Thanks for joining us.

    A possible peace deal between the U.S. and the Taliban that could lead to the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan ended abruptly last night when President Donald Trump issued a series of surprising tweets after months of negotiations. The president tweeted quote- "unbeknownst to almost everyone the major Taliban leaders and separately the president of Afghanistan were going to secretly meet with me at Camp David on Sunday." He then called off more negotiations. Mr. Trump said he was canceling all talks because the Taliban admitted to a suicide car bombing on Thursday, near the U.S. embassy in Kabul that killed a U.S. soldier and 11 others.

    The body of Sergeant First Class Ellis Barretto Ortiz was returned last night. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo attended the ceremony at Dover Air Force Base. Ortiz was the fourth U.S. service member killed in Afghanistan in the past two weeks. This morning on the Sunday TV talk shows Pompeo defended the president's decision to call off the peace talks.

  • Mike Pompeo:

    The Taliban tried to gain negotiating advantage by conducting terror attacks inside of the country. President Trump made the right decision to say that's not going to work. We're going to walk away from a deal if others try to use violence to achieve better ends in negotiations, not right is not appropriate it killed an American and it made no sense for the Taliban to be rewarded for that kind of bad behavior.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Joining us now from Afghanistan via Skype is Craig Nelson, Kabul bureau chief for The Wall Street Journal.

    Craig, were you surprised by the president's tweets?

  • Craig Nelson:

    Yes very. President Trump has sort of steered clear of the Afghan peace process quite a bit. As a candidate he of course said he would like to see U.S. troops out of there. But since the peace process sort of got started and the U.S. Started direct talks with the Taliban last summer, he's made occasional comments but he's generally steered clear and so that was a pretty that was shocking.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    What about the parties involved that you've been able to touch base with? Were they planning on having a meeting?

  • Craig Nelson:

    The Taliban have said that they had received an invitation from President Trump last month to come to Washington to visit. The Taliban didn't specify a date today. The Afghan government sort of leaked information on Friday suggesting that they were going to go to Washington. There was no indication at all that they were going to meet with President troop and there was no indication that they were going to go to Camp David. So obviously, when there is a Camp David event that's a very, very big deal.

    And President Trump obviously wanted to sort of try to bridge the differences and push this U.S. Taliban agreement over the line. Obviously, something has happened that the single American death from a suicide bombing on Thursday here in Kabul seems like a pretty flimsy pretext to call off the negotiations.

    As you well know there are frequent bombings here. We've had at least 14 U.S. soldiers killed this year so far. So obviously something else is at play here and the White House hasn't said exactly what that is.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    How were the talks progressing? I mean over the past couple of months we've heard that they're getting closer and closer. What were the final sticking points?

  • Craig Nelson:

    We were there. We were there on Sunday. The chief U.S. negotiator to the U.S. Taliban talks that have been taking place and in Qatar said that after nine rounds of talks he tweeted that we are at the threshold and all that was needed at that point a week ago was President Trump sign off.

    The ambassador, Ambassador Khalilzad came to Kabul. Here he was excoriated by Afghan government officials and the president of Afghanistan, Ashraf Ghani, who feel that they resent that they've been left out of the talks. We feel like they're not getting adequate security guarantees at all. And he had a policy that had a very, very rough week here. He returned to Doha to talk to the Taliban on Friday and then bingo, The tweet dropped.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Is there any hope of salvaging these conversations? I mean this seems to undercut the work that Khalilzad has been doing for months.

  • Craig Nelson:

    Yeah. Remarkably he's been at it for about a year. It's an important stepping stone to a comprehensive agreement to end this nearly 18 year war, which is America's longest war. He was almost there. So it's a real big setback. I don't think anyone thinks now.

    Certainly the consensus is that there is no military victory here in Afghanistan. The U.S. and the Taliban have both conceded that no no side is going to win. The Taliban controls more territory in Afghanistan than they have since the U.S. Invasion in 2001.

    So there's the prospect of military victory is gone. They're going to have to talk. They're going to have to come back to the table at some point — under what circumstances, how many people are going to die in the meantime?That's the question.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    All right. Craig Nelson The Wall Street Journal's Kabul bureau chief joining us via Skype tonight thanks so much.

  • Craig Nelson:

    You're welcome.

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