Secretary of State Michael Pompeo distanced himself from President Donald Trump’s abandoned plan to host Taliban leaders at Camp David, as criticism mounted that the White House was prepared to welcome the group on U.S. soil so close to the anniversary of 9/11.
In several television interviews on Sunday, Pompeo said there’d been intense discussion around the idea of hosting the Taliban, along with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, at the presidential retreat in Maryland.
The plan centered on efforts to pin down a deal that would have resulted in U.S. troops withdrawing from Afghanistan in exchange for security guarantees from the Taliban. Trump announced in a series of tweets Saturday night that he had called off the meeting.
“President Trump ultimately made the decision,” Pompeo said on “Fox News Sunday.” “He said, ‘I want to talk to President Ghani. I want to talk to these Taliban negotiators. I want to look them in the eye.’”
Of the startling revelations from Trump about the previously unreported talks, the one that attracted the most criticism was the idea of hosting Taliban leaders — whom U.S. officials have branded terrorists — in the U.S., particularly just a few days before the anniversary of the attacks on the U.S. on September 11, 2001.
After the attacks, the Taliban had refused to turn over al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, precipitating a U.S. invasion of Afghanistan in October of that year.
Republican lawmakers, including Representative Liz Cheney of Wyoming and Representative Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, both blasted the idea on Twitter.
Kinzinger said leaders of a terrorist organization that hasn’t renounced 9/11 should be allowed into the U.S. “NEVER. Full stop,” he wrote. Cheney said the Taliban “still harbors al Qaeda.”
“The president ultimately made the decision that if we could get that, if we could get commitments and then put in place a verification regime that would give us confidence that we could observe that those commitments were being honored, that it was a, it was a useful effort,” Pompeo said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
In 2012, Trump criticized former President Barack Obama for talking to the Taliban, tweeting, “while @barackobama is slashing the military, he is also negotiating with our sworn enemy the Taliban—who facilitated 9/11.”
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