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Trump says he's canceling Afghanistan peace talks, secret meeting with Taliban leaders

Sunday September 8, 2019

President Donald Trump speaks to the media on the South Lawn of the White House last month. He tweeted Saturday that he was ending peace talks with Afghanistan and canceling a secret meeting he had planned Sunday with Taliban leaders at Camp David. Mandel Ngan / AFP - Getty Images

President Donald Trump said Saturday he's calling off "peace negotiations" with Taliban leadership after a U.S. service member was killed in a suicide attack in Kabul, Afghanistan.

Trump tweeted that he was scheduled to hold a secret meeting with Taliban leadership and, separately, the president of Afghanistan, Sunday at Camp David. The United States has been working on a deal to pull troops out of the country that harbored 9/11 mastermind Osama bin Laden and, in the process, end the nation's longest war.

The meeting at Camp David would have come just days before the 18th anniversary of 9/11.

"I immediately cancelled the meeting and called off peace negotiations," Trump tweeted. "What kind of people would kill so many in order to seemingly strengthen their bargaining position?"

The attack in Kabul on Thursday, for which the Taliban took credit, killed 12 and injured 42.

"If they cannot agree to a ceasefire during these very important peace talks, and would even kill 12 innocent people, then they probably don’t have the power to negotiate a meaningful agreement anyway," Trump tweeted.

Neither the White House nor the State Department were immediately available for comment.

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The president’s tweets came as the U.S. and the Taliban were poised to clinch an unprecedented agreement that would open the door to a phased withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan and launch peace talks between the militants and the Kabul government.

The administration has signaled over the past week that an agreement is imminent, and officials had been planning how to publicly unveil the deal. U.S. special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad has said that the two sides had reached an agreement “in principle” and that it would be up to Trump to approve it.

Before the president’s surprising comments, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had been scheduled to appear on political talk shows Sunday, and Afghan President Ashraf Ghani was expected to travel to Washington in the next few days.

Trump’s tweets will come as a shock to European allies and other governments, including Pakistan and Qatar, that have sought to support the talks.

Norway has already begun preparations for the planned peace talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government, according to foreign diplomats and U.S. officials briefed on the negotiations.

In conversations with NBC News, U.S. officials, foreign diplomats briefed on the discussions, Afghan officials and Taliban representatives had given no indication in recent days that the Trump administration had plans to invite the group to Camp David for a meeting with the president.

The Taliban controls or heavily influences about half the country, and some U.S. officials fear it could invade the other regions.

About 2,400 Americans have been killed in Afghanistan. There are still about 14,000 U.S. troops in the nation. The U.S. was negotiating with Taliban leaders to withdraw 5,000 troops initially.

Negotiations recently hit a snag over American insistence that the Taliban pledge not to allow areas under its control to be used by global terrorists. The Taliban has subsequently stepped up its campaign of violence in Afghanistan.

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