Pompeo defends plan to host Taliban leaders at Camp David

Image: Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks at the National Convention of
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks at the National Convention of the American Legion in Indianapolis on Aug. 27, 2019. Copyright Michael Conroy AP file
Copyright Michael Conroy AP file
By Allan Smith with NBC News Politics
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"President Trump ultimately made the decision," Pompeo said. "He said: 'I want to talk to President Ghani. I want to talk to these Taliban negotiators.'"


Hours after President Donald Trump called off a secret meeting between the U.S., Afghan leaders, and the Taliban at Camp David, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Sunday defended the decision to invite Taliban leaders to the U.S. in the first place.

During an interview with NBC's "Meet the Press," host Chuck Todd pressed Pompeo on whether "it was appropriate to have the Taliban set foot on Camp David" given the area's historical significance.

Pompeo responded by saying that while there were "lots of discussions" about the issue, "The president ultimately made the decision that if we could get that, if we could get commitments and then put in place a verification regime that would give us confidence that we could observe that those commitments were being honored, that it was a useful effort to try and get all of those parties in one place so that we could have serious conversations about how to reduce America's risk so that there won't be other secretaries of state that have to travel to Dover to go see these amazing American heroes who have given so much for our country."

Pompeo made similar comments on "Fox News Sunday," telling host Chris Wallace that, "President Trump ultimately made the decision. He said: 'I want to talk to (Afghan) President (Ashraf) Ghani. I want to talk to these Taliban negotiators. I want to look them in the eye. I want to see if we can get to the final outcome that we needed so we could sign off on the deal so we found that arrangement acceptable.'"

"And we concluded this was a perfectly appropriate place," he added. "You know the history of Camp David. Lots of bad folks have come through that place."

Pompeo spoke with all five of the major Sunday political talk shows in interviews that were set to take place prior to Trump's announcement. The idea of hosting Taliban leaders had come under fire from both Democrats and Republicans.

Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., tweeted that "no member of the Taliban should set foot" at Camp David "ever." Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., tweeted: "Never should leaders of a terrorist organization that hasn't renounced 9/11 and continues in evil be allowed in our great country. NEVER. Full stop." And Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., asked what the point was "of dragging Ghani and Taliban leaders all the way to Camp David?"

"How on earth would legitimacy of a deal in Afghanistan been enhanced by it being signed in America rather than Afghanistan?" he tweeted.

Late Saturday, Trump tweeted he was calling off the planned "peace negotiations" after a U.S. service member was killed in a suicide attack in Kabul, Afghanistan. The president said he planned to meet secretly with Taliban leadership and, separately, Ghani at Camp David on Sunday as the sides looked to reach a deal on how to end the years of conflict in the country.

"Unbeknownst to almost everyone, the major Taliban leaders and, separately, the President of Afghanistan, were going to secretly meet with me at Camp David on Sunday," Trump tweeted. "They were coming to the United States tonight. Unfortunately, in order to build false leverage, they admitted to an attack in Kabul that killed one of our great great soldiers, and 11 other people."

"I immediately cancelled the meeting and called off peace negotiations," he added. "What kind of people would kill so many in order to seemingly strengthen their bargaining position? They didn't, they only made it worse! If they cannot agree to a ceasefire during these very important peace talks, and would even kill 12 innocent people, then they probably don't have the power to negotiate a meaningful agreement anyway. How many more decades are they willing to fight?"

For months, the U.S. has been working toward a deal that would allow the country to pull troops out of Afghanistan, where the U.S. has been fighting its longest war. The attack Trump cited was one ofmultiple that the Taliban has carried outin the past week. The Taliban controls or heavily influences roughly half of Afghanistan.

Over the past week, the Trump administration has signaled an agreement was imminent. But talks between the U.S. and Taliban had recently hit a snag, and the Afghan government was displeased with not being invited to take part in the discussions.

About 14,000 U.S. troops remain in Afghanistan, where roughly 2,400 Americans have been killed since the onset of war nearly 18 years ago. The U.S. was negotiating with the Taliban to withdraw 5,000 troops initially.

On Sunday, The New York Times reported that the meetings was called off because negotiators "hit a wall over how the deal should be finalized and announced."CNN reported that the administration is working toward rescheduling the meeting.

Speaking with CNN's "State of the Union," Pompeo said "real progress" was made toward a deal with the Taliban, adding however that the administration would not enter into any deal if conditions on the ground weren't appropriate.

"It was the case that when the Taliban tried to gain a negotiating advantage by conducting terror attacks inside the country, President Trump made the right decision" to cancel the meeting," Pompeo said. "It made no sense for the Taliban to be rewarded for that kind of bad behavior."

2020 presidential candidates used the uncertainty of the talks to call out the president's foreign policy strategy.


"To me this is just no way to conduct foreign policy," Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., told CNN's "State of the Union" on Sunday. "This isn't a game show, these are terrorists. The way he conducts foreign policy, this reminds me exactly of North Korea. He loves the showmanship. He wants to have that moment but then all the details aren't done, and then we end up in a worse place on the world stage than we were before."

Former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Juliàn Castro, himself a 2020 Democratic presidential candidate, said the ended Camp David peace talks were "another bizarre episode" for the administration.

"It's more of his erratic behavior that people are tired of and that's one of the reasons I believe that he's going to lose in 2020," Castro said.

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