Was Biden handcuffed by Trump’s Taliban deal in Doha?

Was Biden handcuffed by Trump’s Taliban deal in Doha?
US peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad (L) and Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar (R), the Taliban's top political leader, shake hands after signing a peace agreement between Taliban and US officials in Doha, Qatar on Feb. 29, 2020. (File/AP)
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Updated 19 August 2021

Was Biden handcuffed by Trump’s Taliban deal in Doha?

Was Biden handcuffed by Trump’s Taliban deal in Doha?
  • Biden says the agreement bound him to withdraw US troops
  • The Taliban takeover prompted questions about whether the terms and conditions of the deal did enough to protect Afghanistan

WASHINGTON: After President Donald Trump signed a peace deal with the Taliban in February 2020, he optimistically proclaimed that “we think we’ll be successful in the end.” His secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, asserted that the administration was “seizing the best opportunity for peace in a generation.”

Eighteen months later, President Joe Biden is pointing to the agreement signed in Doha, Qatar, as he tries to deflect blame for the Taliban overrunning Afghanistan in a blitz. He says it bound him to withdraw US troops, setting the stage for the chaos engulfing the country.

But Biden can go only so far in claiming the agreement boxed him in. It had an escape clause: The US could have withdrawn from the accord if Afghan peace talks failed. They did, but Biden chose to stay in it, although he delayed the complete pullout from May to September.

Chris Miller, acting defense secretary in the final months of the Trump administration, chafed at the idea that Biden was handcuffed by the agreement.

“If he thought the deal was bad, he could have renegotiated. He had plenty of opportunity to do that if he so desired,” Miller, a top Pentagon counterterrorism official at the time the Doha deal was signed, said in an interview.

Renegotiating, though, would have been difficult. Biden would have had little leverage. He, like Trump, wanted US troops out of Afghanistan. Pulling out of the agreement might have forced him to send thousands more back in.

He made that point Monday, saying in a televised address from the White House that he would not commit to sending more American troops to fight for Afghanistan’s future while also harkening back to the Trump deal to suggest that the withdrawal path was predetermined by his predecessor.

“The choice I had to make, as your president, was either to follow through on that agreement or be prepared to go back to fighting the Taliban in the middle of the spring fighting season,” Biden said.

The Taliban takeover, far swifter than officials from either administration had envisioned, has prompted questions from even some Trump-era officials about whether the terms and conditions of the deal — and the decisions that followed after — did enough to protect Afghanistan once the US military pulled out.

The historic deal was always high-wire diplomacy, requiring a degree of trust in the Taliban as a potential peace partner and inked despite skepticism from war-weary Afghans who feared losing authority in any power-sharing agreement.

“The Doha agreement was a very weak agreement, and the US should have gained more concessions from the Taliban,” said Lisa Curtis, an Afghanistan expert who served during the Trump administration as the National Security Council’s senior director for South and Central Asia.

She called it “wishful thinking” to believe that the Taliban might be interested in lasting peace. The resulting agreement, she said, was heavily weighted toward the Taliban, contributed to undermining Afghan President Ashraf Ghani — he fled the country Sunday — and facilitated the release of 5,000 Taliban prisoners without a commensurate concession from the Taliban.

“They wanted US forces out, and they wanted to take over the country militarily, and they believed that they could do that,” Curtis said of the Taliban. “That was just crystal clear.”

The agreement called for the US to bring down its forces to 8,600 from 13,000 over the following three to four months, with the remaining US forces withdrawing in 14 months, or by May 1.

It stipulated commitments that the Taliban were expected to make to prevent terrorism, including specific obligations to renounce Al-Qaeda and prevent that group or others from using Afghan soil to plot attacks on the US or its allies. Though the agreement bound the Taliban to halt all attacks on US and coalition forces, it importantly did not explicitly require them to expel Al-Qaeda or to stop attacks on the Afghan military or offensives to take control of Afghan cities or other populated areas.

The agreement provided significant legitimacy to the Taliban, whose leaders met with Pompeo, the first secretary of state to meet with leaders of the group. There were also discussions of them coming to the United States to meet with Trump.

Stlll, Trump spoke cautiously about the deal’s prospects for success and warned of military firepower if “bad things happen.” Pompeo similarly said the US was “realistic” and “restrained,” determined to avoid endless wars.

US officials made clear at the time that the agreement was conditions-based and the failure of intra-Afghan peace talks to reach a negotiated settlement would have nullified the requirement to withdraw.

One day before the Doha deal, a top aide to chief US negotiator Zalmay Khalilzad said the agreement was not irreversible, and “there is no obligation for the United States to withdraw troops if the Afghan parties are unable to reach agreement or if the Taliban show bad faith in the course of this negotiation.”

Those negotiations were intended to begin within a month of the US-Taliban deal being signed but were delayed amid disputes between the Taliban and the Afghan government over prisoner releases. Amid numerous fits and starts, the negotiations had not produced any outcome by the time Biden announced his withdrawal decision in April. Nor have they done so since.

Miller said it was the “right approach” and necessary to force Ghani into negotiations. He said the Doha deal was always supposed to be “phase one” of the process, with the next part being the US using its leverage to have Ghani negotiate on a power-sharing deal with the Taliban.

“Obviously, he was not jazzed by that, but he was going to do it — or he was going to be removed,” Miller said. “We were going to put some serious pressure on him to make him cut a deal with the Taliban.”

In hindsight, though, said Curtis, the US should not have entered the Doha talks “unless we were prepared to represent the Afghan government’s interests. It was an unfair negotiation, because nobody was looking out for the interests of the Afghan government.”

NATO to pledge aid to Baltics and Ukraine, urge Turkey to let in Nordics

NATO to pledge aid to Baltics and Ukraine, urge Turkey to let in Nordics
Updated 13 sec ago

NATO to pledge aid to Baltics and Ukraine, urge Turkey to let in Nordics

NATO to pledge aid to Baltics and Ukraine, urge Turkey to let in Nordics
  • NATO summit over three days in Madrid; Turkey’s veto over Sweden, Finland application a big issue
  • NATO to agree new defenses for Baltic region; aid package to Ukraine aims for longer-term support

MADRID: NATO leaders will urge Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan to lift his veto over Finland and Sweden’s bid to join the military alliance when they meet for a three-day summit on Tuesday, as the West strives to send Russia and China a signal of resolve.
Taking place in the shadow of Russia’s war in Ukraine, the Madrid gathering comes at a pivotal moment for the transatlantic bond after failures in Afghanistan and internal discord during the era of former US President Donald Trump, who threatened to pull Washington out of the nuclear alliance.
Negotiations among an often-fractious organization are still under way, diplomats said, but leaders also hope to agree to provide more military aid to Ukraine, increase joint defense spending, cement a new resolve to tackle China’s military rise and put more troops on stand-by to defend the Baltics.
Spain, whose king will host a dinner for leaders, is also pushing for more NATO focus on the southern flank to address migration and militant groups in the Sahel region of Africa.
The leaders of Australia, New Zealand, Japan and South Korea are expected to attend part of the summit, part of a broader US strategy for a more assertive Western presence in the Indo-Pacific region to counter China.
“We will do more to ensure we can defend every inch of allied territory, at all times and against any threat,” NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said in a speech last week.
Although British and US officials have advised against a Baltic request for permanent multinational forces in the region, the summit is likely to settle on a compromise of promising rapid reinforcements.
Germany has already said it will put more troops at the ready to defend Lithuania should Russia seek to seize NATO territory and Britain is expected to do the same for Estonia, while Latvia is looking to Canada to pledge more troops there.

Turkey veto
NATO — created in 1949 to counter the Soviet threat — is under no treaty obligation to defend Ukraine, as the former Soviet republic is not a NATO member.
But Russian President Vladimir Putin’s Feb. 24 invasion has sparked a geopolitical shift as once neutral countries Finland and Sweden seek to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and Ukraine has formally become a candidate to join the European Union.
If accepted, Finland and Sweden’s inclusion into NATO would bring about the expansion of the alliance that the Russian leader aimed to prevent.
“I think it sends an important message to Putin. And I think it would actually significantly strengthen the alliance,” US Senator Angus King said of Finland and Sweden, following a trip to Finland, Latvia and Turkey.
However, Turkey is also testing that unity, angered by what it says is Helsinki and Stockholm’s support for Kurdish militants and arms embargoes on Ankara.
A Turkish government official involved in the talks between the three countries and NATO’s Stoltenberg told Reuters it would be difficult to reach a deal at the summit, saying that Sweden and Finland must first address Turkish concerns.
“There were meetings, but unfortunately steps we expected are not being taken,” the official said.
Sweden has set up a process for ongoing consultations, diplomats said. But two senior NATO diplomats said the dispute was less about technical benchmarks and more about politics.
Erdogan’s stance has proved popular at home before a June 2023 presidential election as he seeks to challenge US and European priorities. In recent weeks, he has threatened more military operations in northern Syria, stoked tensions with fellow NATO member Greece and declined to join Western sanctions on Russia over the Ukraine war.
“I think there’s nearly zero chance that this issue will be resolved at the Madrid summit,” said Soner Cagaptay, a Turkey analyst at the Washington Institute, a US think-tank.
US President Joe Biden could hold a meeting with Erdogan in the margins of the NATO summit to push for progress with Finland and Sweden, whose leaders will be in Madrid.
But Cagaptay added that Erdogan could try to use the situation to boost his popularity and call a possible snap election in November ahead of the official June 2023 vote. 

4 killed when stands collapse during Colombian bullfight

4 killed when stands collapse during Colombian bullfight
Updated 27 June 2022

4 killed when stands collapse during Colombian bullfight

4 killed when stands collapse during Colombian bullfight
  • The disaster took place in a stadium in the city of El Espinal in Tolima state during a traditional event called “corraleja”

BOGOTA, Colombia: Part of the wooden stands collapsed during a bullfight in central Colombia Sunday, sending spectators plunging to the ground and killing at least four people and seriously injuring about 30, authorities said.
The disaster took place in a stadium in the city of El Espinal in Tolima state during a traditional event called “corraleja” in which members of the public enter the ring to engage the bulls.
Videos taken during the bullfight show a three-story section of the stands collapsing as people screamed.
“We have activated the hospital network in Tolima,” Tolima Gov. José Ricardo Orozco told local Blu Radio. “Four people have died, as of this moment: two women, a man and a minor.”
Authorities said about 30 people had been seriously injured
Orozco said he had asked for the traditional “corralejas” to be suspended in Tolima earlier Sunday but this one was held anyway.
President-elect Gustavo Petro urged local officials to ban such events, noting that it was not the first time an incident like this had taken place.
“I ask mayors not to allow more events involving the death of people or animals,” he said.
Current President Iván Duque on Twitter announced an investigation of the disaster.
“We lament the terrible tragedy registered in El Espinal, Tolima, during the festivals of San Pedro and San Juan, with the collapse of the stands during a corraleja. We will call for an investigation.”

Sri Lanka struggles to secure new fuel shipments as supply runs dry

Sri Lanka struggles to secure new fuel shipments as supply runs dry
Updated 27 June 2022

Sri Lanka struggles to secure new fuel shipments as supply runs dry

Sri Lanka struggles to secure new fuel shipments as supply runs dry
  • About 70 percent of gas stations across the island closed 
  • Government will send ministers to Russia to discuss urgently needed imports  

COLOMBO: Sri Lanka is struggling to secure fresh supplies of fuel, the energy minister said on Sunday, with the crisis-hit country fast running out of petrol and diesel to keep essential services running. 

For months, the island nation of 22 million people has lacked the foreign currency to pay for essential imports, including fuel, food and medicine. Amid the chronic shortages, Sri Lankans have formed long queues outside pumping stations, with some waiting in line for days. 

Sri Lanka’s Power and Energy Minister, Kanchana Wijesekera, said that the country is now down to just 15,000 tons of petrol and diesel, while 70 percent of fuel stations have closed due to delays in expected shipments. 

“We are struggling to find suppliers. They are reluctant to accept letters of credit from our banks. There are over $700 million in overdue payments, so now suppliers want advance payments,” he told reporters. 

“The remaining stock will be finished soon.”

In the past two months, Sri Lanka has received its fuel supply via a $500 million credit line from India that ran out in mid-June. A petrol shipment due last Thursday failed to arrive and officials are unable to confirm the next delivery, Wijesekera said. 

The military will begin issuing tokens to people queuing for fuel on Monday.

Meanwhile, the government will send ministers to Russia to discuss fuel imports and has told 1 million public employees to work from home until further notice. 

Sri Lanka also increased fuel prices in the early hours of Sunday, with the price hike expected to further push inflation, already running at 40 percent. 

The fuel crisis is also affecting medical services in the country, as both patients and healthcare workers struggle to reach hospitals due to the shortages. 

“Staff attendance today was remarkably low,” Omar Sheriff, CEO of Colombo’s largest kidney facility, told Arab News. “And outpatients have dropped from 300 to 40.” 

Pathmanathan, who drives a three-wheel taxi in Colombo, said that he waited in line for 12 hours from Saturday afternoon, only to be turned back as he almost reached the fuel station. 

“I lost my daily wage waiting for fuel in the queue on Saturday,” he told Arab News.

“Today, Sunday, I was informed that the oil price had risen again. I just can’t understand how we can charge so much money in fares to our customers,” Pathmanathan said. “It’s very sad.” 

UK heir Prince Charles accepted cash in suitcase from Qatari sheikh: Report

UK heir Prince Charles accepted cash in suitcase from Qatari sheikh: Report
Updated 27 June 2022

UK heir Prince Charles accepted cash in suitcase from Qatari sheikh: Report

UK heir Prince Charles accepted cash in suitcase from Qatari sheikh: Report
  • The Prince of Wales's Charitable Fund (PWCF) received the payments

LONDON: The heir to the British throne Prince Charles accepted a suitcase of cash as a charitable donation from the former prime minister of Qatar, UK media claimed on Sunday.

The Sunday Times reported that three bundles of cash were given as charitable donations from Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim bin Jaber Al-Thani to the Prince of Wales.

The three lots, which totalled €3 million ($3.16 million), were handed to the prince personally between 2011 and 2015, the paper reported.

Despite no suggestion of any illegal payments, according to the paper, Sheikh Hamad, 62, presented the prince with €1m packed into carrier bags from the luxury department store Fortnum & Mason.

The Prince of Wales's Charitable Fund (PWCF) received the payments, according to the report, including an entity that bankrolls the prince's private projects and his country estate in Scotland.

Clarence House has released a statement following the report, saying: “Charitable donations received from Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim were passed immediately to one of the prince's charities who carried out the appropriate governance and have assured us that all the correct processes were followed.”

Indonesian president to urge dialogue on Ukraine, Russia visits

Indonesian president to urge dialogue on Ukraine, Russia visits
Updated 26 June 2022

Indonesian president to urge dialogue on Ukraine, Russia visits

Indonesian president to urge dialogue on Ukraine, Russia visits
  • Joko Widodo will push President Vladimir Putin for immediate ceasefire
  • Visit is ‘unlikely to change the situation in Europe,’ analyst says

INDONESIA: Indonesian President Joko Widodo said that he will urge his Ukrainian and Russian counterparts to open room for dialogue, as he departed for a peace-building mission to the warring countries on Sunday.

Four months after the Russian invasion of Ukraine began, the conflict has disrupted global supply chains and stoked an energy crisis after Moscow — a major oil and gas producer — was slapped with international sanctions, leading to rising inflation in many countries.

Widodo, who is also chairing Indonesia’s G20 presidency this year, will be the first Asian leader to meet Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and Russian President Vladimir Putin since the war started in late February.

“The mission is to invite the Ukrainian president to open room for dialogue in the interest of peace,” Widodo said before leaving for Germany to attend the G7 Summit.

“With the same mission I will ask President Putin to open room for dialogue, and to immediately have a ceasefire and stop the war.”

Indonesia’s mission is to strive for peace in Ukraine while also attempting to resolve the ongoing global energy and food crisis, Widodo said, adding that the visit is important to prevent developing and low-income countries from falling into extreme poverty and hunger.

“War has to be stopped and global food supply chains need to be reactivated,” he added.

As Indonesia holds the rotating G20 presidency, the Southeast Asian nation has come under pressure to exclude Russia from the summit scheduled to take place in Bali in November.

Widodo had previously invited both Zelenskyy and Putin to attend the summit. The Indonesian leader called for a peaceful resolution to the months-long fighting, though largely maintained a neutral position.  

Dr. Ahmad Rizky Mardhatillah Umar, an Indonesian international relations researcher at the University of Queensland, Australia, said that Indonesia was concerned about how the war will affect its G20 presidency, as well as its domestic energy and food security.

“Indonesia wants to make sure that Russia and Western countries do not make the G20 a battlefield to advance their cause,” Umar told Arab News.

As it remains unclear what Indonesia will propose to both Zelenskyy and Putin in the upcoming meetings, Widodo’s visit is “unlikely to change the situation in Europe,” Umar said.

“Indonesia is not in the capacity to mediate the conflict and offer long lasting and strategic solutions to end the war.”