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State Department agrees with Biden: Not all Taliban are the enemy

Vice President Joe Biden made waves this week when he told Newsweek that "the Taliban per se is not our enemy." The State Department said this week it agrees with that assertion, as new reports surfaced that an initial confidence building deal with the Taliban in the works had fallen apart "There is not a ...

Vice President Joe Biden made waves this week when he told Newsweek that "the Taliban per se is not our enemy." The State Department said this week it agrees with that assertion, as new reports surfaced that an initial confidence building deal with the Taliban in the works had fallen apart

"There is not a single statement that the president has ever made in any of our policy assertions that the Taliban is our enemy because it threatens U.S. interests," Biden said. "If, in fact, the Taliban is able to collapse the existing government, which is cooperating with us in keeping the bad guys from being able to do damage to us, then that becomes a problem for us."

Vice President Joe Biden made waves this week when he told Newsweek that "the Taliban per se is not our enemy." The State Department said this week it agrees with that assertion, as new reports surfaced that an initial confidence building deal with the Taliban in the works had fallen apart

"There is not a single statement that the president has ever made in any of our policy assertions that the Taliban is our enemy because it threatens U.S. interests," Biden said. "If, in fact, the Taliban is able to collapse the existing government, which is cooperating with us in keeping the bad guys from being able to do damage to us, then that becomes a problem for us."

Biden went on to say that there is a dual-track policy in place: One track is continuing to put pressure on al Qaeda, and the other is convincing the Taliban that reconciliation and a renunciation of international terrorism is in its best interests.

Republicans pounced on Biden’s remarks. GOP presidential hopeful Mitt Romney tweeted that the comments were "an outrageous affront to our troops carrying on the fight in Afghanistan." Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) told Fox News that the comments were an "insult to the men and women who are serving today."

White House spokesman Jay Carney, however, backed up Biden, saying, "It is a simple fact that we went into Afghanistan because of the attack on the United States on Sept. 11, 2001. We are there now to ultimately defeat al Qaeda, to stabilize Afghanistan and stabilize it in part so that al Qaeda or other terrorists who have as their aim attacks on the United States cannot establish a foothold again in that country."

The Cable asked State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland if she agreed with Biden that the Taliban were not "per se" the enemy of the United States.

"Obviously we’ve made clear that those Taliban who are willing to come off the battlefield, renounce violence, break ties with al Qaeda, support the constitution of Afghanistan, be part of a political process — we would support reconciliation with them led by the Afghans," Nuland said. "We’re less interested in what folks call themselves, as we’ve said in other parts of the world. We’re more interested in what they do and in the actions that they take."

The Washington Post reported today that months-long negotiations between the United States and the Taliban have broken down. According to the Post, the deal would have included the transfer of five Afghans out of the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay, in exchange for the Taliban publicly renouncing international terrorism. The Taliban prisoners would have been allowed to live under house arrest in Qatar , where the Taliban plan to open an office.

The deal reportedly broke down due to the objections of Afghan President Hamid Karzai. On Dec. 18, Karzai told CNN’s Fareed Zakaria that months of negotiations with the Taliban were revealed to be a farce when the purported Taliban negotiators assassinated Karzai’s top negotiator, former Afghan President Burhanuddin Rabbani.

"The assassination of President Rabbani brought us in a shock to the recognition that we were actually talking to nobody, that those who came in the name of the peace process were assassins, were killers, were terrorists rather than negotiators," Karzai said.

"We’ve seen ups, and we’ve seen significant downs in the Afghans’ efforts to create a reconciliation process," Nuland said on Dec. 19, before the reports of the secret negotiations surfaced. "I mean, the Rabbani assassination was obviously a very serious step backwards. With regard to, you know, whether we’re going to have serious steps forward, I think, you know, only time will tell."

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Josh Rogin covers national security and foreign policy and writes the daily Web column The Cable. His column appears bi-weekly in the print edition of The Washington Post. He can be reached for comments or tips at josh.rogin@foreignpolicy.com.

Previously, Josh covered defense and foreign policy as a staff writer for Congressional Quarterly, writing extensively on Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantánamo Bay, U.S.-Asia relations, defense budgeting and appropriations, and the defense lobbying and contracting industries. Prior to that, he covered military modernization, cyber warfare, space, and missile defense for Federal Computer Week Magazine. He has also served as Pentagon Staff Reporter for the Asahi Shimbun, Japan's leading daily newspaper, in its Washington, D.C., bureau, where he reported on U.S.-Japan relations, Chinese military modernization, the North Korean nuclear crisis, and more.

A graduate of George Washington University's Elliott School of International Affairs, Josh lived in Yokohama, Japan, and studied at Tokyo's Sophia University. He speaks conversational Japanese and has reported from the region. He has also worked at the House International Relations Committee, the Embassy of Japan, and the Brookings Institution.

Josh's reporting has been featured on CNN, MSNBC, C-Span, CBS, ABC, NPR, WTOP, and several other outlets. He was a 2008-2009 National Press Foundation's Paul Miller Washington Reporting Fellow, 2009 military reporting fellow with the Knight Center for Specialized Journalism and the 2011 recipient of the InterAction Award for Excellence in International Reporting. He hails from Philadelphia and lives in Washington, D.C. Twitter: @joshrogin

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