KABUL (Reuters) – U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made a one-day visit to Afghanistan on Monday to try to resolve a political deadlock that threatens a historic U.S. deal with the Taliban, but he left with no immediate signs of a breakthrough.
Afghanistan’s President Ashraf Ghani (R) meets with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in Kabul, Afghanistan March 23, 2020. Afghan Presidential Palace/Handout via REUTERS
Pompeo met Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and his political rival Abdullah Abdullah, both separately and together. Both men say they are Afghanistan’s rightful leader following a disputed election in September.
Their standoff has stalled the selection of a negotiating team to represent the Afghan government in planned talks with the Taliban.
A senior State Department official, speaking before the meetings ended, said the purpose of Pompeo’s visit was to try to mediate a solution between the two men.
“The fear is that unless this crisis gets resolved…soon, that could affect the peace process…our agreement with the Talibs could be put at risk,” the official said.
A diplomat in Kabul briefed on the meetings and two other Afghan officials said they were inconclusive.
“It did not work. Neither of the two budged,” the diplomat said, speaking on condition on anonymity.
A spokesman for Ghani declined to comment, saying details of the meetings had not yet been released.
Omid Maisam, a spokesman for Abdullah, said that if there were more meetings a solution was “not impossible” and that they wanted a peaceful end to the crisis.
The Afghan government was not a party to the U.S.-Taliban deal, signed in Doha on Feb. 29, but the agreement aimed to pave the way for the Taliban to negotiate with them.
Formal talks have not yet begun, hampered by disagreement over the release of prisoners – a condition set by the Taliban – and by the feud between Ghani and Abdullah.
The deal included a pact to withdraw foreign troops that would effectively end the United States’ longest war.
U.S. Special Representative Zalmay Khalilzad, who has spent much of his time in Kabul since the deal was signed, made a plea to both sides last week to act fast on the release of prisoners.
The Taliban and Afghan government spoke for more than two hours on prisoner releases on Sunday in a Skype meeting facilitated by the United States and Qatar, offering some hope of progress.
But domestic politics have been a complicating factor.
In February, Afghanistan’s Electoral Commission announced incumbent Ghani as the winner of the presidential election, but Abdullah said he and his allies had won and insisted that he would form a government.
Key sticking points in recent weeks between the two men have included Abdullah’s desire to retain the role of chief executive, which he held in the previous government, and that his camp be given more ministerial roles than Ghani was offering, according to the diplomat and an aide to Abdullah.
Reporting by Humeyra Pamuk, Charlotte Greenfield and Hamid Shalizi; additional reporting by Abdul Qadir Sediqi; writing by Charlotte Greenfield; Editing by Himani Sarkar and Nick Tattersall
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