WASHINGTON — Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Sunday said despite President Donald Trump abruptly calling off a secret meeting with top Taliban leaders on U.S. soil this weekend, the possibility for future peace talks remained open if the group shows it’s prepared to meet U.S. concessions aimed at ending the 18-year war in Afghanistan.
Pompeo, appearing on all five major Sunday political talk shows, defended the president’s decision to invite top Taliban and Afghan government officials to the historic Camp David site in Maryland just days before the anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks that sparked the longest war in U.S. history.
Trump, in a series of tweets Saturday revealed that the officials “were going to secretly meet with me at Camp David on Sunday,” but said he called off the talks after the Taliban claimed responsibility for last week’s fatal car bombing in Kabul that killed an American soldier.
As lawmakers on both sides of the aisle denounced Trump’s move to host the Taliban on American soil, Pompeo told “Fox News Sunday” that Trump made the choice to invite Taliban officials and Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, to personally engage with both sides as he pushes for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan.
Pompeo noted U.S. officials and Taliban leaders have been negotiating for months, attempting to reach a “peace and reconciliation deal.”
“President Trump ultimately made the decision,” Pompeo told Fox host Chris Wallace. “He said: ‘I want to talk to President Ghani. I want to talk to these Taliban negotiators. I want to look them in the eye. I want to see if we can get to the final outcome that we needed so we could sign off on the deal.’ "
The president’s initial intent to host a meeting with Taliban leaders at the revered presidential campground, so close to the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, drew bipartisan criticism, including from some of Trump’s supporters, including Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming, the No. 3 Republican in the House of Representatives.
Cheney, the daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney who shaped much of the Bush Administration’s military response to the 9/11 attacks, said on Twitter: “Camp David is where America’s leaders met to plan our response after al Qaeda, supported by the Taliban, killed 3000 Americans on 9/11. No member of the Taliban should set foot there. Ever.”
Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Illinois.) in a tweet said: “Never should leaders of a terrorist organization that hasn’t renounced 9/11 and continues in evil be allowed in our great country.”
Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minnesota), appearing on CNN’s “State of the Union” said Taliban leaders should not have been invited to meet on Camp David’s historic grounds without having an “iron clad” agreement already in place.
“It’s just another example of the President treating foreign policy like it’s some kind of game show.” Klobuchar said. “This isn’t a game show. These are terrorists ... he loves the showmanship, but then all the details aren’t done.”
Pompeo, told Fox News Sunday, the United States had received commitments from the Taliban to publicly “break from al-Qaida,” the terrorist group that claimed responsibility for the 9/11 attacks, and had also received commitments to negotiate directly with the Afghan government, which Pompeo said has not occurred for nearly two decades.
Last Thursday’s deadly car bombing near the U.S. embassy and NATO headquarters in Kabul upended those discussions, Pompeo said. The attack claimed the life of U.S. Army paratrooper Elis Angel Barreto Ortiz, 34, who is the 16th U.S. service member killed in Afghanistan this year, according to the Pentagon.
The Taliban, through its spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid, issued a statement warning that the cancellation of negotiations “will lead to more losses to the U.S.”
“More than anyone else, the loss will be for the United States — their standing will be hurt, their anti-peace position will be clearer to the world, their human and treasure loss will increase, and their political actions will come across as unstable,” Mujahid said.
Asked about the statement, Pompeo, told ABC’s “This Week”: “Let me assure you, America’s capacity to protect our nation from a terror attack ever emanating from that place again, that effort will continue.”
Pompeo told CBS’s “Face the Nation” he couldn’t say whether the scrapped talks would also put on hold plans announced by Trump last month to reduce the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan to 8,600, down from about 14,000 current troops in place. Nearly 2,400 U.S. troops have died since the October 2001 start of the war.
“I can’t answer that question. Ultimately it was the president’s decision,” Pompeo said.
With the Camp David summit no longer taking place, Trump spent the day at his Northern Virginia golf course on Sunday.