The Trump administration is not demanding that women's rights be protected as part of a settlement between Afghanistan and the Taliban, according to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.
Tillerson was asked Tuesday if he would be dropping a demand that women's rights be guaranteed as part of any final settlement in the country, and he indicated it would not be a demand put forward by the United States.
"The government of Afghanistan and the Taliban representatives need to sit down and sort this out," Tillerson said in reply. "It's not for the U.S. to tell them it must be this particular model, it must be under these conditions, and I think that's what the president means when he says we're no longer nation-building."
Tillerson explained that Trump's new strategy will involve coordinating with regional partners to break the terrorist groups that have fought alongside the Taliban. At the same time, the United States military will ramp up within Afghanistan, with the goal of forcing the Taliban to drop their weapons and negotiate. But Trump's team won't set preconditions that could dictate the outcome of those talks.
"Look, we've tried taking certain principles and forms around the world, and sometimes it works and a lot of places it doesn't work," Tillerson said. "We don't know what's going to emerge here."
Instead, he left the door open to a hypothetical peace deal that brings security to the country, even if women's rights are not honored. "We're going to be there, obviously, to encourage others, but it's going to be up to the Afghan government and the representatives of the Taliban to work through a reconciliation process of what will serve their needs and achieve the American people's objective, which is: security," Tillerson said. "No safe haven for terrorists to operate anywhere in Afghanistan now or in the future."
Still, Tillerson predicted that the final deal will protect women's rights even without the U.S. requiring the negotiators to do so.
"There's been enormous strides achieved in Afghanistan both in terms of the numbers of millions of children that are now in schools being educated, [and] the role of women in the Afghan economy has been dramatically changed," he said. "I don't expect any of that to be rolled back."
The outcome of those talks might depend on how much military strength the Taliban has at the point at which they agree to negotiate.
"This entire effort is intended to put pressure on the Taliban to have the Taliban understand: You will not win a battlefield victory; we may not win one, but neither will you," Tillerson said. "And so, at some point, we have to come to a negotiating table and find a way to bring this to an end."