Direct talks an important first step: Obama
WASHINGTON (PAN): President Barack Obama said Tuesday the agreement between the US and the Taliban to hold direct talks “is an important first step”, but was quick to acknowledge a bumpy road lied ahead in the process.
“This is an important first step towards reconciliation. Although it's a very early step -- we anticipate there will be a lot of bumps in the road -- but the fact that the parties have an opportunity to talk and discuss Afghanistan's future I think is very important,” Obama told reporters in Northern Ireland.
“The one thing that we do believe is that any insurgent group, including the Taliban, is going to need to accept an Afghan constitution that renounces ties with al Qaeda, ends violence and is committed to the protection of women and minorities in the country,” he said.
Over the last several months, Obama said he has discussed this issue frequently with Afghan President, Hamid Karzai, and also the Emir of Qatar.
“I want to publicly commend President Karzai for taking this courageous step, and his determination to end the conflict and build a future of security and peace and prosperity for the Afghan people,” he said following his meeting with the French President.
“We're going to continue to support these efforts in partnership with the Afghan government. I want to repeat we don't anticipate this process will be easy or quick, but we must pursue in parallel with our military approach. We, in the meantime, remain fully committed to our military efforts to defeat al Qaeda and to support the Afghan National Security Forces,” Obama said.
“The imminent opening of the Taliban office in Doha and willingness to enter into talks with Afghan and US sides is a positive development, but a small step in a long and complex process with many hurdles on the way,” Omar Samad, the former Afghan Ambassador to Canada and France told Pajhwok Afghan Mews.
“The level of Taliban flexibilty, sincere Pakistani cooperation, US mediation and Kabul inclusivity will determine the success rate of the afghan peace effort,” Samad said.
However, top Republican Senator, Marco Rubio, expressed his concern over direct talks with the Taliban. “I am very concerned that the Obama Administration has agreed to direct talks with the Taliban despite little indication that the Taliban is serious about cutting its ties to al Qaeda, renouncing terrorism, or respecting the Afghan government and constitution,” he said in a statement.
“Afghanistan’s future stability will only be ensured if the Taliban and other affiliated groups decide to abide by the Afghan constitution, including its protections for the rights of women and minorities, and operate within the Afghan political system,” he said.
“This administration’s shifting timelines and goalposts in Afghanistan have only served to give those who wish to take Afghanistan back to the days of brutal violence and chaos hope that they will be able to wait us out,” Rubio said.
“Over more than eleven years, America has invested much in this conflict, with our brave men and women in uniform bearing most of the burden. This decision to begin direct talks empowers the extremists who are trying to undermine all that the United States and our Afghan and international partners have achieved,” the Senator said.
Senator Saxby Chambliss, vice chairman of the US Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, also expressed his concern on the direct talks between the US and the Taliban.
“Despite the remarkable progress made by the U.S. military over the last 12 years, the Taliban have regained their strength and remain unwilling to make any real commitment to cease hostilities,” he said.
“Given their resilience and ongoing resistance, I am concerned any attempt to restart negotiations will once again become one-sided and will do nothing to further our interests in preventing terrorism against the United States and our allies. Until the Taliban confirm, not just in words but in action, that they have renounced all terrorist activity and support, we should not reward them by participating in any reconciliation efforts,” Chambliss said.
Congressman Eliot Engel, Ranking Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, welcomed, though with very cautious optimism, the Taliban statement supporting an Afghan peace process and opposing the use of Afghan soil to threaten other countries.
“If the Taliban’s actions meet their commitments, there might be a real opening for Afghanistan to achieve a political solution and end the country’s almost 30 year armed conflict,” he said.
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