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U.S. House committee reaches deal for testimony by Trump Afghan envoy

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By Reuters
U.S. House committee reaches deal for testimony by Trump Afghan envoy
FILE PHOTO: U.S. envoy for peace in Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad speaks during a debate at Tolo TV channel in Kabul, Afghanistan April 28, 2019. REUTERS/Omar Sobhani/File Photo   -   Copyright  Omar Sobhani(Reuters)

By Patricia Zengerle

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump’s top negotiator for Afghanistan will hold a briefing for the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee, the panel said on Wednesday, after the committee subpoenaed him in frustration at his refusal to meet with its members.

The committee said that Zalmay Khalilzad, the special representative for Afghanistan reconciliation, would hold a classified briefing for the entire panel on Thursday morning.

Under an agreement reached between the panel and the State Department on Wednesday, the closed-door session will be followed by a public hearing on the administration’s Afghanistan policy with Alice Wells, the acting Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs.

“While I would have preferred to hear from Ambassador Khalilzad in an open setting, I’m glad our members will have this long overdue opportunity to press for answers on the peace plan,” said Eliot Engel, the committee’s chairman, in a statement. “It shouldn’t have taken a subpoena to get the State Department to work with this committee and allow us to perform our oversight duties.”

The Foreign Affairs Committee issued a subpoena on Sept. 12, ordering Khalilzad to testify on Sept. 19.

That announcement came the day after Trump proclaimed negotiations with Afghanistan’s Taliban leaders dead after scrapping planned talks with the group at Camp David.

The committee said it had been frustrated for some time over the administration’s failure to allow briefings by Khalilzad. Khalilzad has briefed lawmakers in the Senate, which is controlled by Trump’s fellow Republicans, but had declined three requests to appear before the committee in the Democratic-controlled House.

The abrupt announcement that peace talks had ended – and news that Trump had planned to bring Taliban leaders to the presidential retreat – angered many in Congress.

It was followed by the exit of Trump’s national security adviser, John Bolton, who had opposed the plan. Trump announced on Wednesday that hostage negotiator Robert O’Brien would replace Bolton.

Bringing troops home from Afghanistan has been one of Trump’s main foreign policy objectives.

The subpoena for Khalilzad was the first issued by the committee since Democrats took control of the House in January and Engel became chairman.

Karen Freeman, assistant to the administrator in the Office of Afghanistan and Pakistan Affairs at the U.S. Agency for International Development, will also testify at Thursday’s public hearing.

(Reporting by Patricia Zengerle; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Rosalba O’Brien)