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Pompeo says Afghanistan has ‘historic opportunity’ for peace, must be ‘seized’

Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo (U.S. State Department photo by Freddie Everett)

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo says Afghanistan has a “historic opportunity for peace” and that an agreement with the Taliban will be signed “on or about February 29” if a temporary reduction in violence is successful.

“We have arrived at a historic opportunity for peace,” Pompeo told reporters in a briefing on February 25. “It won’t be easy to obtain. We should seize the moment.”

Pompeo, noting a previously agreed upon seven-day reduction in violence that started on February 22, said that “in 19 years of war, this is the first weeklong break in violence by all sides if we are successful in achieving it.”

“If, and only if, it is successful, we will sign the U.S.-Taliban agreement coordinated with the government of national unity on or about February 29 that includes a timeline for a conditions-based and phased troop withdrawal and for the commencement of inter-Afghan negotiations,” he said.

In the past, the Taliban has refused to negotiate with the government in Kabul, calling it a puppet of foreign powers.

“These negotiations, if they take place, will be the first time that Afghans representing all sides of the conflict will sit down together and begin the hard work of reconciliation,” Pompeo added.

The U.S. military has some 13,000 troops in Afghanistan leading a coalition of nations that train and assist Afghan forces.

President Donald Trump has long sought to reduce the foreign deployment of U.S. troops, and on February 25 he said the plan was to bring the force level down to 8,600 in Afghanistan should a deal be signed with the Taliban.

The top U.S. diplomat also said Washington would respond if Russia moves to undermine the November presidential election, as intelligence agencies concluded it did in 2016.

Multiple press reports have said that intelligence officials recently warned lawmakers in Congress that Moscow has taken steps to interfere in the 2020 vote as well.

“Meddling in our elections is unacceptable. Should Russia or any foreign actor take steps to undermine our democratic processes, we will take action in response,” he said, without being specific.