23 September 2019

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Friday September 6, 2019
Kabul (BNA) U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper on Wednesday began briefing allied officials in Europe on an emerging peace deal with the Taliban, but he cautioned that no final deal has been sealed to end the longest war in American history.
"Negotiations in some ways are still ongoing," he told reporters traveling with him from Washington a day after he discussed Afghanistan with President Donald Trump.
Esper declined to talk about his meeting with Trump other than to say it covered a range of issues. He said political decisions are pending.
"I don't want to say anything that gets in front of that or upsets that process," he said.
The U.S. envoy to Afghanistan said earlier this week that a deal had been reached in principle to end the war, amid concerns by the Afghan government that American forces will leave too quickly and without requiring the Taliban to reduce violence.
Trump on Wednesday restated his intention to end the conflict prompted by the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
"We have great warriors there. We have great soldiers, but they are not acting as soldiers, they are acting as policeman, and that's not their job," Trump told reporters at the White House. "So, we would like to get at least a big proportion of them home."
The president added that he'd also like to get "a big portion" of the NATO troops out of Afghanistan. "We're talking with the Taliban. We're talking to the government. We'll see what happens," he said.
Esper said he would discuss Afghanistan over dinner Wednesday in Stuttgart with NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg to give the alliance's civilian leader "a sense of where I think things are" in the push to close a peace deal.
NATO countries have had troops in Afghanistan through the nearly 18-year conflict, and they have agreed that they would coordinate any final withdrawal.
Esper planned to meet with his British counterpart in London on Friday and with his French counterpart in Paris on Saturday. Both countries have played important roles in Afghanistan.
In the in-flight interview, Esper cited "sensitive negotiations" as he declined to talk about specifics, such as the timing of an initial American troop pullout or, more broadly, his level of confidence that the Taliban would live up to their end of any peace agreement.
Among the unanswered questions is whether an agreement with the Taliban will allow for some number of U.S. counterterrorism forces to remain after conventional troops depart. The timing of a Taliban cease-fire also appears in doubt.
"The conflict continues on," he said. "They are conducting attacks. The Afghans are conducting attacks. We're supporting Afghan attacks. That's why we think the best way forward — if we can get the right deal — is a political agreement that leads to a viable outcome."

Friday September 6, 2019
Kabul (BNA) Russia has reaffirmed its readiness to be a guarantor for any peace deal between the U.S. and Taliban.
"The Russian side reaffirms its readiness to act as a guarantor for the implementation of the said agreement, in case of receiving an appropriate request from the parties," Russian Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Maria Zakharova said on Wednesday.
Asked how Russia sees its role, in achieving a compromise between the U.S. and the Taliban, Zakharova said Russia would help to implement the deal.
Taliban have said that they were close to an agreement with U.S. officials that would see U.S. forces withdraw from Afghanistan, in exchange for a promise that the country would not become a haven for international terrorism.
Both sides have been holding negotiations in Doha, capital of Qatar, since late last year.
Turning to the Venezuelan crisis, Zakharova called opposition leader Juan Guaido’s announcement to establish a parallel government as "another attempt orchestrated by Washington to destabilize the country”.
She also said the U.S. decision to open "a section on Venezuelan affairs" in its embassy in Colombia "provokes many questions".
Both events reflect a new U.S. strategy aiming to overthrow Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, she added.
"Many of Guaido's so-called 'ministers' have been working for a long time for the organizations, sponsored by the U.S. This confirms once again the White House's unwillingness to let the Venezuelans independently agree a political solution," she said.
Venezuela has been rocked by political unrest, beginning on Jan. 10, when President Nicholas Maduro was sworn in for a second term. Tension escalated on Jan. 23 when parliament member Juan Guaido declared himself interim president.
Russia, China and Iran have thrown their weight behind Maduro, as has Turkey.
Anadolu Agency

Friday September 6, 2019
Kabul (BNA) United States Secretary of State Michael Pompeo has declined to sign an agreement reached "in principle" between the US and Taliban under which Washington would withdraw about 5400 of its troops from Afghanistan, TIME Magazine has exclusively reported, citing senior US, Afghan and European officials.
The agreement was reached upon between the US and Taliban negotiators during the ninth round of talks held in this regard in Qatar's capital city of Doha. Under the agreement, the US would withdraw the said number of troops from five of its bases in Afghanistan within 135 days.
Officials familiar with discussions told TIME that the deal does not ensure several crucial things, such as the survival of pro-US government in Kabul, guaranteeing the continued presence of US counterterrorism forces to battle al-Qaeda or an end to fighting in Afghanistan.
"No one speaks with certainty. None," an Afghan official taking part in briefings on the deal with Washington's peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad said. "It is all based on hope. There is no trust. There is no history of trust.
There is no evidence of honesty and sincerity from the Taliban," and intercepted communications "show that they think they have fooled the US while the US believes that should the Taliban cheat, they will pay a hefty price."
The uncertainty over these crucial points may explain why Pompeo declined to sign the agreement. Pompeo's office had declined to comment on this before the publication of TIME's story. However, after the story was published, Pompeo said through a spokesperson that he might sign "if and when there is an agreement that is approved by all parties, including President Trump". "There is no agreement to sign yet. If and when there is an agreement that is approved by all parties, including President Trump and if the Secretary is the appropriate signatory, he will sign it," State Department spokesperson Morgan Ortagus emailed TIME Wednesday evening.
Taliban and the US have held nine rounds of peace talks in the past ten months over the agreement which is broadly centred around the withdrawal of latter's troops in exchange for the guarantee by the former that the Afghan soil, particularly areas under the group's control, would not become a platform for transnational terrorism. In addition, the agreement would pave the way for the initiation of intra-Afghan peace talks.
The US currently has about 14,000 service members in Afghanistan, and the move would reduce troop levels to one of the lowest points in the history of the 18-year long war. The figure had swelled to nearly 100,000 at the highest mark in 2011 and dipped to 8,300 in 2017, according to USA Today.

Thursday September 5, 2019
Kabul (BNA) Chief Executive Dr. Abdullah Abdullah has met with the US Ambassador, John Bass the other day, BNA reported. The meeting took place at the Sapidar Palace, where both exchanged views on peace, presidential election and the latest military-political changes in the country.


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