US special envoy returns to Kabul with renewed peace bid

Afghanistan Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah with Zalmay Khalilzad, US special representative for Afghanistan, and John Bass, US ambassador, in Kabul. (Reuters)
Updated 28 October 2019

US special envoy returns to Kabul with renewed peace bid

  • Taliban spokesman: Washington should sign deal instead of pursuing talks

KABUL: US Special Envoy Zalmay Khalilzad held talks with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and local leaders in Kabul on Sunday to revive peace talks with the Taliban. However, the Taliban’s political spokesman Suhail Shaheen said that the group would opt for a cease-fire after the US inks the peace deal, which is finalized and ready for signing.
Shaheen spoke to Arab News from Doha after a meeting in Moscow on Friday where all sides were urged to observe a cease-fire during the negotiations to enable participants to reach an agreement on Afghanistan’s political roadmap.
“Everything will happen. If the US signs the agreement there will be a cease-fire and reduction in violence. The countries asking the Taliban for a cease-fire should ask Americans for it,” he said.
He said Americans should respond to calls by Russian, Chinese and Pakistani officials at the Moscow consultations as these countries “understand realities.”
Khalilzad’s trip is the first since US President Donald Trump called off the talks six weeks ago, amid growing criticism from the US Congress and other politicians on signing a deal with the militants which entailed the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan. In return, the Taliban pledged not to allow Afghan soil to be used against any country’s interests.
It follows his meeting with Taliban delegates in Pakistan three weeks ago and his discussions with regional leaders and NATO representatives in Brussels in recent days on the resumption of talks with the militants who have insisted on a total pullout of US troops.
“These countries should press the US to return to the peace process and sign the agreement. A draft of the agreement is with the US, Qatar and the Islamic Emirate. As we had agreed on the draft, there is no need for fresh negotiations,” Shaheen said.
He said that the Taliban and the US teams had agreed on a “plan of action” for the implementation of the agreement.
When asked about growing US pressure on the Taliban to declare a cease-fire or reduce violence for resumption of the talks, he said pressures will not work.
On whether Russia and China had asked the Taliban to declare a cease-fire when they visited the two countries this month, he said that they are making efforts for a political solution to the problem.
Meanwhile, an official in Ghani’s office confirmed to Arab News that Khalilzad met with Ghani, but refused to give further details about the content and atmosphere of the meeting.
Khalilzad was also scheduled to hold talks with Chief Executive Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, former President Hamid Karzai and other influential leaders, according to local media reports.
The US and Khalilzad have yet to comment about his talks, which follows a delay in announcing the results of last month’s presidential elections which saw the lowest turnout due to the threat of Taliban attacks.

FASTFACT

US envoy Zalmay Khalilzad’s arrival in Kabul coincided with the announcement that preliminary results from recent presidential elections will be delayed for nearly a month.

Both Ghani and Abdullah are the front-runners in the election and any new government that will be created on the basis of the poll will be required to prioritize peace talks with the Taliban.
After his meetings with European and NATO delegates last week, Khalilzad in a statement said that war was not solution for Afghanistan.
Khallilzad said he “reviewed the current situation in Afghanistan and confirmed that a sustainable peace can only be achieved through a negotiated political settlement.”
He said the sides “urged all parties to take immediate and necessary steps to reduce violence and civilian casualties in order to create an environment conducive for peace.”
Before the US-Taliban talks broke off, both Khalilzad and the Taliban said they were close to reaching a deal, despite concerns among some American security officials and Afghan government officials that a troop withdrawal could bring more conflict and a resurgence of Islamist militant factions.
Khalilzad’s trip follows visits by senior American officials to Kabul, where Ghani’s government was urged to form a team for talks with the Taliban, who have refused to talk with the government, denouncing it as a US puppet.
China has been trying to host an intra-Afghan dialogue meeting, but it has been delayed indefinitely because Kabul has yet to decide who should be going.
“Khalilzad has begun his new efforts for the peace process and that is why he came to Kabul to speak with government and other leaders about it,” Mohammed Jan Rasoulyar, an analyst, told Arab News.
“He is trying to get both sides to reduce the attacks so that peace talks can begin. We have to wait and see what comes out of the efforts in coming days.”
Wahidullah Ghazikhai, another analyst, said on the basis of the agreement with the Taliban, US troops are set to pullout from Afghanistan within a year and that the Taliban should be given a role in the future government.


Top diplomat implicates Trump in explosive impeachment testimony

Updated 21 November 2019

Top diplomat implicates Trump in explosive impeachment testimony

  • Sondland said Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani led the effort at Trump’s direction to pressure Ukraine President Volodymr Zelensky
  • Trump said he barely knew Sondland and had not spoken to him much

WASHINGTON: A senior US diplomat directly implicated President Donald Trump Wednesday in a scheme to force Ukraine to probe a political rival, in bombshell testimony to a televised impeachment hearing.
Gordon Sondland, the ambassador to the European Union, told lawmakers he followed the president’s orders in seeking a “quid pro quo” deal for Ukraine to investigate Democrat Joe Biden in exchange for a White House summit.
Sondland said Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani led the effort at Trump’s direction to pressure Ukraine President Volodymr Zelensky for the investigation and that top officials in the White House and State Department knew about it.
The unexpectedly damning testimony drew a sharp backlash from Trump who tweeted: “This Witch Hunt must end NOW. So bad for our Country!.”
Trump said he barely knew Sondland and had not spoken to him much, despite the senior diplomat having donated $1 million to his inauguration and testifying that he had spoken to the president some 20 times while ambassador.
Democrats said Sondland’s seven hours of testimony before the House Intelligence Committee had bolstered their case for Trump’s impeachment for what they have labeled “extortion.”
“Today’s testimony is among the most significant evidence to date,” said committee chairman Adam Schiff.
“It goes right to the heart of the issue of bribery as well as other potential high crimes or misdemeanors.”
A succession of Democrats hoping to win the nomination to take on Trump in next year’s election also said the testimony had strengthened the case for impeachment as the issue dominated the opening exchanges in their latest televised primary debate.
Sondland said Trump directed him and two other senior diplomats to work with Giuliani.
From early in the year, Giuliani mounted a pressure campaign on Zelensky’s government to investigate Biden over his son Hunter’s ties to a Ukrainian energy company, Burisma, and to probe a conspiracy theory espoused by Trump that Ukraine helped Democrats against him in 2016. Biden is one of the favorites to challenge Trump in next year’s presidential election.
“Mr. Giuliani demanded that Ukraine make a public statement announcing the investigations of the 2016 election/DNC server and Burisma,” Sondland told the panel.
“Mr Giuliani’s requests were a quid pro quo for arranging a White House visit for President Zelensky.”
Far from being a “rogue” operation outside normal US diplomatic channels, Sondland told the hearing top officials — including Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo — were kept constantly informed.
“We followed the president’s orders,” he said.
Like Trump a multimillionaire developer with a chain of high-end hotels, Sondland, who wore a $55,000 Breguet white gold watch to the hearing, fended off pressure from both Democrats and Republicans.
He had not implicated the president in earlier private testimony, when he answered scores of questions by saying he could “not remember.”
But subsequent testimony by other witnesses which had further implicated him in the Ukraine pressure scheme had jolted his memory, he said on Wednesday.
While he confirmed the linkage between the investigations and a White House meeting between Zelensky and Trump, he would not attest to allegations that Trump froze $391 million in aid as well to Ukraine to add pressure on Ukraine.
“I never heard from President Trump that aid was conditioned on an announcement” of the investigations, he said, contradicting testimony from two other diplomats.
In separate testimony, a Pentagon official appeared to undermine a key Republican defense in the impeachment battle, that Kiev did not even know until late August or even September about the July 18 aid freeze, rendering moot Democrats’ allegations that Trump had extorted Ukraine.
Laura Cooper, the Pentagon official in charge of Ukraine affairs, said Kiev voiced concern over a holdup in aid on July 25.
That was the same day that Trump told Zelensky in a phone call that he wanted a favor, asking for investigations into Biden specifically and the 2016 conspiracy theory.
“The Ukrainian embassy staff asked, ‘What is going on with Ukrainian security assistance?” she told the committee.
At the White House, Trump denied making the demand of Zelensky, citing Sondland’s own recall of their September 9 phone call on the Ukraine issue.
Reading from large-print notes, he said that he told Sonderland: “I want nothing. I want nothing. I want no quid pro quo. Tell Zelensky to do the right thing.”
“If this were a prizefight, they’d stop it!” he said of the inquiry.
Speaking at the Democrats’ debate, Biden dodged a question on the role of his son but said the testimony had shown that “Donald Trump doesn’t want me to be the nominee.”
And Bernie Sanders, another of the frontrunners for the nomination, said Trump had been shown to be “not only a pathological liar” but also “the most corrupt president in the modern history of America.”