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World

In Afghanistan, Trump Announces Fresh Taliban Talks

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

For people following the news, Thanksgiving was a relatively quiet holiday. For a moment anyway, events in the world did not seem to be moving quite so swiftly as they have in recent years. In the course of the day, we learned of a possible reason why. The world's No. 1 generator of news had briefly gone dark for security reasons while visiting U.S. troops in Afghanistan. Once his presence was known in Afghanistan, President Trump did make news. He declared that peace talks with Afghanistan's Taliban militants are back on.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: The Taliban wants to make a deal. And we're meeting with them, and we're saying it has to be a cease-fire. They didn't want to do a cease-fire, but now they do want to do a cease-fire.

INSKEEP: The U.S. negotiated with the Taliban before, only to have the president call off the talks a few months ago. NPR Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman is covering this story. Tom, happy holiday to you. Good morning.

TOM BOWMAN, BYLINE: Happy holiday, Steve.

INSKEEP: Now, we're obliged to note that the president says a lot of things are happening when they're not actually happening - not a statement against him, just a reality - often says things that aren't true. He just said there are peace talks. Are these peace talks real?

BOWMAN: Well, we don't know yet. What we do know is the American envoy to the peace talks, Zalmay Khalilzad, has been traveling around the region, meeting with Pakistani officials. The Taliban, meanwhile, who had been to China, talking with Chinese officials. So we know there's a lot of preliminary stuff going on behind the scenes. But as far as formal talks in Doha, Qatar, we have no sense at this point whether they started at all.

What's curious, Steve, is after the president made those remarks, his press secretary told reporters this trip is all about meeting troops and not about the peace process.

INSKEEP: Well, let's talk about what these peace talks would be if something real and formal does emerge because there was this effort before. They didn't engage in talks - Zalmay Khalilzad was deeply involved in that - and they did have some kind of possible outline of an agreement, but it seemed to be really narrow - wasn't even really a peace deal. So what would they talk about this time?

BOWMAN: Well, as we all know, anybody that covers this stuff, Steve - and you and I met in Afghanistan 16 years ago, so we've been following this a long time. The Americans want the Taliban to renounce any support for terrorist organizations, principally al-Qaida. They want a cease-fire. And they also want the Taliban to talk directly with the Afghan government. But the Taliban see the Afghan government as mere puppets of the Americans, so there's a stumbling block right there. The Americans want to keep some troops in Afghanistan to go after ISIS and maybe al-Qaida remnants. The Taliban, though, want all U.S. troops out. So the question - one of the big questions is, can there be a compromise on that point alone?

INSKEEP: Tom, thanks very much for the insight - really appreciate it.

BOWMAN: You're welcome, Steve.

INSKEEP: That's NPR Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.