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Pentagon chief says U.S. working towards 'good deal' with Taliban

Pentagon chief says U.S. working towards 'good deal' with Taliban
U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper holds a news conference with French Defense Minister Florence Parly (not pictured) at the residence of French Defense Minister in Paris, France, September 7, 2019. REUTERS/Christian Hartmann -
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CHRISTIAN HARTMANN(Reuters)
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By Idrees Ali

PARIS (Reuters) – U.S. Defence Secretary Mark Esper said on Saturday that while it was seeking a political agreement with the Taliban, Washington would not accept just any deal after a wave of violence cast a shadow over its talks with the insurgent group.

Afghan leaders including President Ashraf Ghani have been increasingly critical of the apparent draft deal reached between U.S. special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad and Taliban representatives in Doha this week as the violence has escalated.

“The United States’ view is that the best way forward is a political agreement and that (is what) we’re working diligently on right now, that doesn’t mean we’ll take any deal,” Esper said during a press conference in Paris with his French counterpart.

“We will make sure we have a good deal, a good enough deal that guarantees at least the security of our countries going forward and a brighter path ahead for the Afghan people.”

Under the draft accord with the Taliban, thousands of U.S. troops would be withdrawn over the coming months in exchange for guarantees that Afghanistan would not be used as a base for militant attacks on the United States and its allies.

However, according to the agreement, a full peace agreement to end more than 18 years of war would depend on subsequent “intra Afghan” talks. The Taliban have rejected calls for a ceasefire and instead stepped up operations across the country.

On Friday U.S. envoy Khalilzad was back in the Qatari capital Doha, along with General Scott Miller, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, to continue talks with the Taliban, who said the meeting had gone well.

Afghanistan’s Tolo TV reported that the Afghan president had been due to visit Washington for talks with U.S. President Donald Trump on Monday only for his trip to be cancelled at the last minute.

The United States ended its combat role in 2014, although 20,000 U.S. and NATO forces remain. They still train and support Afghan troops fighting the Taliban who fear being left vulnerable if the United States leaves.

(Reporting by Idrees Ali. Additional reporting by Dominique Vidalon; Editing by Alexander Smith)

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