WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump said Tuesday that he had spoken with the senior Taliban leader, a phone conversation that is apparently the first direct communication between a U.S. president and the Afghan insurgent force since the early 19-year-old war in Afghanistan began.
Trump confirmed the Taliban’s announcement earlier Tuesday that Trump had spoken by phone with Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the Taliban’s top political leader.
“We’ve agreed there’s no violence. We don’t want violence. We’ll see what happens. They’re dealing with Afghanistan. But we’ll see what happens,” Trump told reporters.
Barader was a senior figure representing the insurgent group in talks with the United States in Doha, Qatar. Those talks concluded with the signing of an accord Saturday between the United States and the Taliban that would lead to the reduction of U.S. forces in Afghanistan.
Trump said Saturday that he intends to meet with Taliban leaders soon, but he did not provide details.
On Saturday, he hailed the accord, formalized with signatures and a handshake between U.S. negotiator Zalmay Khalilzad and his Taliban counterpart, Baradar, as historic. “There hasn’t been a moment like this,” Trump said at a White House news conference. “We’ve had very successful negotiations. … Everybody’s tired of war.”
Senior administration officials, while claiming success, offered slightly more tempered expressions of optimism over the weekend.
“There will be a temptation to declare victory,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said at the signing ceremony, held at a hotel in Doha, the Qatari capital, and attended by a full contingent of Taliban as well as diplomats and other dignitaries. “Victory for Afghans will only be achieved when they can live in peace and prosper. Victory for the United States will only be achieved when Americans and our allies no longer have to fear a terrorist threat from Afghanistan.”
The agreement, after 10 years of on-and-off talks with the Taliban, follows months of intense negotiations, in which the Afghan government did not participate.
Many veterans of the years-long efforts to end the war and leave a stable Afghanistan, as well as Trump supporters, questioned whether the new agreement laid a sturdy groundwork for permanent peace. Some described it as a capitulation to the Taliban, whose primary demand has always been the full departure of foreign troops.