The Cable

Tillerson Open to Peace Talks With ‘Moderate’ Taliban

The U.S. secretary of state reopened the offer during a surprise visit to Afghanistan.

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson speaks during a surprise visit to Afghanistan on October 23, 2017. (Alex Brandon/AFP/Getty Images)
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson speaks during a surprise visit to Afghanistan on October 23, 2017. (Alex Brandon/AFP/Getty Images)

During an unannounced trip to Afghanistan on Monday, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson reminded the Taliban that the United States is ready to negotiate, going so far as to say the militant group could join the Afghan government if it renounced its extremism and violence.

Tillerson said the United States wanted to make it clear to the Taliban and other militants that the United States was in Afghanistan for the long haul and the militants would not prevail militarily.  

“And there are, we believe, moderate voices among the Taliban, voices that do not want to continue to fight forever,” he said. “There’s a place for them in the government if they are ready to come, renouncing terrorism, renouncing violence, and being committed to a stable prosperous Afghanistan,” he added.

Tillerson made remarks after a meeting with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and other top Afghan officials near Kabul at Bagram Air Base, the largest U.S. military installation in Afghanistan.

The diplomatic overture signals the Trump administration’s eagerness to wrap up the longest war in U.S. history. In August, Trump pledged open-ended support for Afghanistan following fierce internal debates and foot-dragging after having campaigned on ending the costly 16-year war.

Former President Barack Obama tried multiple times to negotiate peace with the Taliban, to no avail. The Trump administration hasn’t yet made clear how its diplomatic efforts will be different this time around.

Tillerson during his visit reiterated his desire to get more Pakistani cooperation to stabilize Afghanistan, and he hinted at a tough message for Islamabad when he goes there Tuesday.

“We are as concerned about the future stability of Pakistan as we are in many respects here in Afghanistan,” Tillerson said.

“Pakistan needs to, I think, take a clear-eyed view of the situation that they are confronted with in terms of the number of terrorist organizations that find safe haven inside of Pakistan,” he said.

Robbie Gramer is a diplomacy and national security reporter at Foreign Policy. @robbiegramer

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