The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Pompeo defends Trump’s decision to invite Taliban to talks at Camp David

On Sept. 8, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo discussed President Trump's decision to call off a meeting with Taliban leadership and Afghan President Ashraf Ghani. (Video: Sarah Parnass/The Washington Post)
Placeholder while article actions load

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Sunday defended President Trump’s now-scuttled plan to host members of the Taliban leadership and Afghan President Ashraf Ghani at Camp David, amid a backlash from members of both parties.

In interviews on all five major Sunday morning news shows, Pompeo argued that Trump was willing to take a political risk to strike a deal on reducing the American troop presence in Afghanistan. But he conceded that the talks are dead “for the time being” and said the United States has recalled Zalmay Khalilzad, the chief U.S. negotiator in the process.

“If you’re going to negotiate peace, you often have to deal with some pretty bad actors,” Pompeo said on ABC News’s “This Week.” “I know the history, too, at Camp David, and indeed President Trump reflected on that. Some pretty bad actors have traveled through that place throughout recorded history.”

The canceled summit would have taken place just ahead of the 18th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, which led to the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan.

Rep. Liz Cheney (Wyo.), the No. 3 Republican in the House, was among those who had hailed Trump’s decision to walk away from the talks — while making no mention of the fact that Trump had invited Taliban leaders to Camp David in the first place.

“Camp David is where America’s leaders met to plan our response after al Qaeda, supported by the Taliban, killed 3000 Americans on 9/11,” Cheney said Sunday morning on Twitter. “No member of the Taliban should set foot there. Ever.”

Collapse of Afghanistan peace talks spotlights internal Trump administration divisions

For months, Khalilzad had been shuttling between the capitals of Afghanistan and Qatar to meet with Taliban leaders and Afghan officials in an effort to forge a peace deal. Last week, he announced that a deal had been reached “in principle” under which the United States would partially withdraw its troops from Afghanistan in exchange for the Taliban renouncing al-Qaeda, which had orchestrated the 2001 attacks.

President Trump said Sept. 7 that he canceled a summit with Taliban leadership and Afghan President Ashraf Ghani after an attack that killed a U.S. soldier. (Video: Reuters)

U.S. officials expected the tentative agreement to advance a comprehensive cease-fire and talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government. But after a spate of attacks and bombings by the Taliban, including one that killed a U.S. soldier, further talks over ending the 18-year conflict began to waver.

In what appeared to be a last-minute scramble to save the negotiations, Khalilzad traveled to Qatar on Thursday for meetings with Taliban officials after U.S. officials had said negotiations with the militant group had ended.

In his tweets on Saturday, Trump said he “called off peace negotiations” after the Taliban took responsibility for an attack in Kabul “that killed one of our great soldiers, and 11 other people.”

“What kind of people would kill so many in order to seemingly strengthen their bargaining position?” Trump tweeted. “They didn’t, they only made it worse!”

The president, who was spending his second day in a row at his golf club in Sterling, Va., had not tweeted again on the topic as of late Sunday morning.

Pompeo said Sunday on ABC News that U.S. officials had made “enormous progress over the last month” in negotiations with the Taliban.

“We finally reached a point where we were close. We’d made real progress. And then the Taliban failed to live up to a series of commitments that they had made. And when that happened, President Trump said, ‘I’m not going to take that deal,’ ” Pompeo said.

The Taliban said in a statement that Trump’s cancellation of the talks would harm the United States and “increase its financial and human losses.” In his ABC interview, Pompeo responded that the United States will continue its effort to “protect our nation from a terror attack ever emanating from that place again.”

John Hudson and Seung Min Kim contributed to this report.