Sat, 21 Sep 2019

WASHINGTON -- U.S. President Donald Trump said he canceled a secret meeting outside of Washington, D.C. with Taliban leaders and Afghan President Ashraf Ghani after a car bomb in Kabul killed 12 people, including a U.S. soldier.

In a series of tweets on September 7, Trump said he had planned to 'secretly' hold peace talks with the two sides at Camp David, a wooded presidential compound in nearby Maryland, on the following day.

Trump accused the Taliban of trying to increase their negotiating leverage by carrying out the September 5 car bombing that took place in a neighborhood that is home to embassies, government buildings, and the local NATO headquarters.

'If they cannot agree to a cease-fire 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,' Trump said in a tweet.

Ghani's office, meanwhile, responded to Trump's comments by blaming the Taliban, saying real peace was only possible when the Taliban halted violence and held direct talks with the government.

'Real peace will come when the Taliban agree to a cease-fire,' Ghani's officials said in a statement.

Trump is seeking to end the nearly 18-year conflict in Afghanistan and pull U.S. troops out of the country to fulfill a campaign promise he made in 2016. Trump is running for reelection in 2020.

The Taliban has to date rejected negotiations with the Afghan government, seeing it as a puppet of the United States.

Taliban fighters now control more territory than at any time since the war started in 2001. The militant group had been stepping up operations in recent days just as U.S. and Taliban negotiators appeared to be closing in on an accord to end the fighting.

Early on September 6, the Taliban launched an offensive against the western city of Farah -- the third provincial capital to come under attack in less than a week.

The bombings came as the U.S. envoy negotiating with the Taliban, Zalmay Khalilzad, reached an agreement 'in principle' with the militant group following nine rounds of talks in Qatar.

An Afghan cabinet minister who asked not to be named told RFE/RL on September 6 that the U.S. government canceled Ghani's trip.

Ghani's office said it was committed to working together with the United States and allies for a 'dignified and long-lasting peace' and emphasized the importance of the September 28 presidential election.

Ghani is seeking a second tenure in the upcoming vote, but the Taliban want the elections to be cancelled as a precondition to signing a peace accord with the Americans.

The Ghani administration supports "a strong, legitimate, and legal government through the upcoming elections to take the ongoing peace process forward with complete accuracy and prudence,' the statement said.

Copyright (c) 2018. RFE/RL, Inc. Republished with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Ste 400, Washington DC 20036

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