White House: We aren’t demanding Taliban cut ties with al Qaeda — yet

Politics,Beltway Confidential,Joel Gehrke,Secretary of Defense,Afghanistan,National Security

White House officials announced that the United States and Afghanistan governments will use the negotiating table as the place to ask the Taliban to cut ties with al Qaeda, a process that can begin now that the Taliban have denounced most other Afghanistan-based terrorist efforts.

“[W]e’ve long had a demand on the Taliban that they make a statement that distances themselves from the movement from international terrorism, but made clear that we didn’t expect immediately for them to break ties with al Qaeda, because that’s an outcome of the negotiation process,” a senior administration official told reporters during a background briefing on Afghanistan. “So the statement that we expect today is this first step in distancing them, distancing the movement from international terrorism. But it’s not as far as [we] will demand them to go at the end of the process.”

The U.S. will participate in negotiations with the terrorist-tied group, but won’t be the focal point. “The core of this process is not going to be the U.S. Taliban talks — those can help advance the process, but the core of it is going to be negotiations among Afghans, and the level of trust on both sides is extremely low, as one would expect,” a senior administration official said. “So it’s going to be a long, hard process if indeed it advances significantly at all.”

President Obama’s team compared the reconciliation process to the political process that ended the fighting in Northern Ireland.  “Many insurgencies end in negotiated peaces — those of you who are taking this call from Northern Ireland are in a good place to recall at least one such instance — but there’s no guarantee that this will happen quickly, if at all,” a senior administration official told reporters.


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