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Taliban Suspends Talks with U.S.

6:00 PM, Mar 15, 2012 • By THOMAS JOSCELYN
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The Obama administration’s fantasyland attempt at talks with the Taliban took another significant blow on Thursday. In a statement released online, Mullah Omar’s organization announced that it “has decided to suspend all talks with Americans taking place in Qatar from today onwards until the Americans clarify their stance on the issues concerned and until they show willingness in carrying out their promises instead of wasting time.”

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The goals of the nascent peace talks have evolved over time, at least as they have been reported in the press.  

Initially, the State Department wanted the Taliban to adhere to three preconditions. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton dropped those preconditions last year when they proved to be unrealistic.

As the New York Times previously reported, Clinton “first signaled the opening for talks by recasting the administration’s longstanding preconditions: that the insurgents lay down their arms, accept the Afghan Constitution and separate from Al Qaeda.” What were once necessary preconditions became, in Clinton’s words, “necessary outcomes.”

But the Taliban openly rejected these one-time preconditions, turned goals, for the peace talks in a statement earlier this year. The Taliban has never demonstrated any willingness to come to the negotiating table in a meaningful way.

Earlier this week, Josh Rogin reported at Foreign Policy’s Cable blog that the “crux” of the talks involved a prisoner exchange. The Obama administration has been considering the transfer of five senior Taliban leaders held at Guantanamo to Qatar. A few press reports previously indicated that the five hardened Taliban commanders were to be exchanged for a westerner held by the Taliban. Most of the reporting on the talks, however, indicated that the Taliban five were to be transferred to Qatar as a confidence boosting measure intended to get the Taliban to come to the table. The Taliban used similar phrasing in previous statements.

Rogin, citing Senate Intelligence Committee chairwoman Dianne Feinstein (D, Cal.). reported that the prisoner swap was actually more integral to the talks than previously recognized. “That’s the framework of the exchange. But it’s presented as a confidence-building measure,” Feinstein told Rogin. “We are giving up people who killed a lot of people, people who were head of major efforts of the Taliban.”      

In its statement today, the Taliban says that the talks were always intended to lead to the prisoner swap, and reports of more substantive negotiations were merely “propaganda.”

“The Americans initially agreed upon taking practical steps regarding the exchange of prisoners and to not oppose our political office but with the passage of time, they turned their backs on their promises and started initiating baseless propaganda portraying the envoys of the Islamic Emirate as having commenced multilateral negotiations for solving the Afghan dilemma,” the Taliban said.

The Taliban also said that it decided to halt any attempt at talks after “an American representative presented a list of conditions in his latest meeting with the Islamic Emirate which were not only unacceptable but also in contradiction with the earlier agreed upon points.”

It is not known if the American side decided to reintroduce its preconditions, or introduced some other conditions, or if the Taliban is being disingenuous. The statement is, as with all Taliban statements, propaganda. Interestingly, it is consistent with Rogin’s account, which is based on Feinstein’s assessment.

The Obama administration previously told the press that the Taliban’s decision to open a political office in Qatar was potentially a significant step forward for the putative peace talks. The Taliban stresses in its statement, however, that “the inauguration of political office in Qatar was not but for the sake of reaching an understanding with the outside world and particularly for the exchange of prisoners with the Americans in the initial stages.”

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