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Another Trump gamble unravels after calling off secret talks with Taliban

The Associated Press

Afghan Presidential Spokesman Sediq Seddqi gives a press conference in Kabul on Sunday, hours after U.S. President Donald Trump in a series of tweets announced that he had canceled a secret meeting with Taliban and Afghan leaders.


Seddqi said it doesn't believe talks between the United States and Taliban will continue "at this stage" after Trump abruptly called them off. (AP Photo/Rahmat Gul)

The Associated PressWASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. President Donald Trump’s weekend tweet canceling secret meetings at Camp David with the Taliban and Afghan leaders just days before the anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks is the latest example of a commander in chief willing to take a big risk in pursuit of a foreign policy victory, only to see it dashed.

What had seemed like an imminent deal to end the war has unraveled, with Trump and the Taliban blaming each other for the collapse of nearly a year of U.S.-Taliban negotiations in Doha.

The insurgents are promising more bloodshed. The Afghan government remains mostly on the sidelines of the U.S. effort to end America’s longest war. And as Trump’s reelection campaign heats up, his quest to withdraw the remaining 14,000 U.S. troops from Afghanistan remains unfulfilled — so far.

Trump said he axed the Camp David meetings and called off negotiations because of a recent Taliban bombing near the U.S. Embassy in Kabul that killed a U.S. service member, even though nine other Americans have died since June 25 in Taliban-orchestrated violence.

But the deal started unraveling days earlier after Afghan President Ashraf Ghani postponed his trip to Washington and the Taliban refused to travel to the United States before a deal was actually signed, according to a former senior Afghan official.

Trump’s secret plan for high-level meetings at the presidential retreat in Maryland resembled other bold, unorthodox foreign policy initiatives — with North Korea, China and Iran — that the president has pursued that have yet to bear fruit.

“When the Taliban tried to gain negotiating advantage by conducting terror attacks inside of the country, President Trump made the right decision to say that’s not going to work,” said Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who appeared Sunday on five TV news shows.

Trump’s three high-profile meetings with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un — including the president’s recent brief footsteps onto North Korean soil — prompted deep unease from many quarters, including his conservative base in Congress.

And while the meetings produced the ready-for-television visuals that Trump is known to relish, negotiations between Washington and Pyongyang have been stalled for months with no tangible progress in getting the North to abandon its nuclear weapons.

Trump’s offers to hold talks with the Iranian leadership have similarly met with no result and Iran has moved ahead with actions that violate the 2015 nuclear deal that the president withdrew from last year.

With China, Trump has vigorously pursued a trade war, imposing billions of dollars in tariffs on Chinese imports that have yet to force a retreat by Beijing. So far, the discussions have unsettled financial markets and have resulted in retaliatory steps by both Beijing and Washington.

Pompeo defended Trump’s foreign policy, depicting it as tough diplomacy, rather than naivete or inexperience.

“He walked away in Hanoi from the North Koreans where they wouldn’t do a deal that made sense for America,” Pompeo said. “He’ll do that with the Iranians. When the Chinese moved away from the trade agreement that they had promised us they would make, he broke up those conversations, too.”

Democrats said Trump’s decision to nix a deal with the Taliban was evidence that he was moving too quickly to get one. Far from guaranteeing a cease-fire, the deal only included Taliban commitments to reduce violence in Kabul and neighboring Parwan Province, where the United States has a military base.

New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez, the ranking Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, said the talks were ill-conceived from the start because they haven’t yet involved the Afghan government.

The Taliban have refused to negotiate with the government its sees as illegitimate and a puppet of the West, so the Trump administration tried another approach, negotiating with the Taliban first to get a deal that would lead to Taliban talks with Afghans inside and outside the government.

“It’s another example of the Trump administration’s foreign policy, which is a high-wire act that ultimately is focused on Trump as a persona but not in the strategic, methodical effort of creating peace,” Menendez said.

Criticism of the Camp David plan was not limited to Democrats or “Never Trump” Republicans.

“Camp David is where America’s leaders met to plan our response after al Qaeda, supported by the Taliban, killed 3,000 Americans on 9/11,” tweeted Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo. “No member of the Taliban should set foot there. Ever.”Speech

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