Taliban talks in spotlight as U.S. spells out minimum conditions

Laura Rozen
The Envoy

American officials are putting their fledgling efforts at reconciliation with Taliban leaders in Afghanistan  to the test via a poposed exchange of confidence-building measures, Reuters reported Sunday.

The report noted that one such measure would be a transfer of some Taliban prisoners now in custody in the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay to Afghanistan--if the Taliban would reciprocate with something like a formal denunciation of international terrorism.

"After 10 months of secret dialogue with Afghanistan's Taliban insurgents, senior U.S. officials say the talks have reached a critical juncture and they will soon know whether a breakthrough is possible, leading to peace talks whose ultimate goal is to end the Afghan war," Reuters' Missy Ryan, Warren Strobel and Mark Hosenball reported Sunday.

Vice President Joe Biden set out two basic conditions that undergird the newest overtures to engage constructively with Taliban leaders: the Islamist group's formal break with the terrorist group al-Qaida; and a commitment from Afghanistan to "cease and desist" serving as a haven for international terrorist group--as it had been for al-Qaida under Taliban rule in Afghanistan up until the U.S. invasion in 2001.

"Look, the Taliban per se is not our enemy: That's critical," Biden told the Daily Beast's Leslie Gelb.  However, he continued: "If, in fact, the Taliban is able to collapse the existing [Afghan]  government, which is cooperating with us in keeping the bad guys from being able to do damage to us, then that becomes a problem for us."

Biden described a "dual track" U.S. strategy in talks with Afghanistan--seeking simultaneously to diminish al-Qaida's influence while also shoring up the Afghan government. The aim of the present talks, he stressed, is  "to see to it that  [the Taliban], through reconciliation, commit not to be engaged with al Qaeda or any other organization that they would harbor to do damage to us and our allies."

The jury is still out on prospects for the talks to succeed on these terms, Biden said. "We're engaged in a reconciliation process," he told Gelb. "Whether it will work or not is another question."

Biden also contended that the negotiations are hewing to a simple bottom line.

"We are in a position where if Afghanistan ceased and desisted from being a haven for people who do damage and have as a target the United States of America and their allies, that's good enough," he said. "That's good enough. We're not there yet."

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