DIPLOMATIC SHIFT

Report: White House to Pursue ‘Direct Talks’ With Taliban

The White House has instructed diplomats to seek “direct talks” with Taliban leaders in an attempt to end the 17-year war, The New York Times reports. The move is a “significant shift” from the administration’s earlier position: that Afghan leaders play a pivotal role in initial negotiations. The Taliban has always insisted that they will only negotiate with Americans first, which has stymied past peace efforts. The shift comes as American and Afghan officials have together acknowledged that the “Afghan-led, Afghan-owned” strategy for ending the war has largely failed, and as President Trump has grown increasingly more impatient to withdraw the approximately 15,000 American troops still fighting on the ground. Senior officials including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, have traveled to Afghanistan and Pakistan to explore the possibility of direct U.S.-Taliban talks. U.S. officials noted that including Afghan leaders as talks progressed was still a priority. “We are prepared to facilitate, to support, to participate in—so there is nothing that precludes us from engaging with the Taliban in that fashion,” Alice G. Wells, the top diplomat for the region, told the Times. “What we are not prepared to do is at the exclusion of the Afghan government—that is the critical difference.” The Daily Beast’s Spencer Ackerman reported last month on a new opportunity for direct talks.