President Obama, reacting to news that Afghan President Hamid Karzai had suspended talks with Washington aimed at setting up a prolonged U.S. presence in the country, said he was not surprised by the Afghan government’s abrupt decision to walk away from the negotiating table.
The White House Tuesday announced the beginning of peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban, along with news that the Taliban had opened a political office in the Qatari capital of Doha, where the negotiations will take place.
Even though Obama said U.S. officials have had “extensive conversations” with Karzai before and after the Taliban opened the office in Doha, he said “there were concerns in the manner in which the Taliban opened it – the language they used.”
“We anticipated at the outset there were going to be some areas of friction, to put it mildly, in getting this thing off the ground,” Obama said during a joint press conference with German Chancellor Merkel in Berlin. “That’s not surprising. They are fighting as we speak. We are in the middle of a war and Afghans are still being killed and members of the international forces are still being killed.”
Statements from the Afghan government, however, appeared to point to anger over the way U.S. officials announced the peace talks. At least initially, Karzai reportedly had wanted any negotiations with the Taliban to take place on Afghan soil.
In suspending talks with Washington aimed at setting a future security agreement between the two nations, the Afghan government released a statement citing “inconsistencies” by the Obama administration in the way it has handled the beginning of peace talks between Afghanistan and the Taliban.
The Office of the National Security Council of Afghanistan released a vague statement to the media Wednesday morning.
“In view of the contradiction between acts and the statements made by the United States of America in regard to the Peace Process, the Afghan government suspended the negotiations, currently underway in Kabul between Afghan and U.S. delegations,” it said without providing further detail.
Two members of Karzai’s High Peach Council a few hours later told CBS News the Afghan government had decided it could not recognize the office opened by the Taliban in Doha, Qatar.
The officials said they disagreed with the way the Taliban had described the address as a “political” office of the “Islamic Emirate” of Afghanistan, arguing that it is unconstitutional and implies that the office represents a second government for the nation on foreign soil, CBS reported.
Despite the setback before talks even begin, Obama said he hopes the earliest attempts at a reconciliation process will still proceed.
“Even as we go through some frankly difficult negotiations” on the level of U.S. military presence in Afghanistan after 2014, he said, “we still believe you’ve got to have a parallel track to at least look at the prospect of a political reconciliation” between Afghanistan and the Taliban.
“Whether that bears fruit is a question only the Afghans can answer,” he concluded.