Washington Extra – Talking with the Taliban

December 20, 2011

For most Americans and for many here in Washington, the idea that the United States could broker successful talks with the Taliban that lead to the end of the Afghan war is mind-bending. And yet, that is what senior U.S. officials have allowed themselves to entertain as 10 months of secret dialogue reach the point of breakthrough or collapse. It’s a small glimmer of hope where there once was none.

In our exclusive “Secret U.S., Taliban talks reach turning point,” we reveal that the United States is considering the transfer of Taliban prisoners from Guantanamo to the Afghan government. The Taliban will have to correspond with its own confidence-building measures like denouncing international terrorism and entering formal talks with President Karzai’s government.

Judging from initial reactions, a reconciliation process will be no easy sell here at home (not to mention in Afghanistan, where a senior Taliban commander said talks had not even started).

Republican Senator Saxby Chambliss issued a statement today saying: “It sounds as if the administration has decided to negotiate with terrorists, something the United States does not do.” Prisoner transfers, he said, should only be done once hostilities have ceased and that Americans should know who the detainees are and what acts they have committed.

There will undoubtedly be much American soul-searching about dealing with an insurgent group that has not only killed U.S. soldiers but also advocates a strict Islamic form of government.

U.S. officials, however, believe the war can only end with negotiations. “The challenges are enormous,” one of them said. “But if you’re where we are … you can’t not try. You have to find out what’s out there.”

Here are our top stories from Washington…

Secret U.S., Taliban talks reach turning point

After 10 months of secret dialogue with Afghanistan’s Taliban insurgents, senior U.S. officials say the talks have reached a critical juncture and they will soon know whether a breakthrough is possible, leading to peace talks whose ultimate goal is to end the Afghan war. As part of the accelerating, high-stakes diplomacy, Reuters has learned, the United States is considering the transfer of an unspecified number of Taliban prisoners from the Guantanamo Bay military prison into Afghan government custody.

For more of this story by Missy Ryan, Warren Strobel and Mark Hosenball, read here.

U.S. payroll tax cut extension stuck in partisan fight

With a tax cut for 160 million U.S. workers set to expire in less than two weeks, Republicans and Democrats in Congress were mired in a last-ditch battle over extending it. In a surprise turnabout, Republicans in the House of Representatives are now pushing for a one-year extension of the payroll tax cut and have rejected a short-term compromise struck by Republicans and Democrats in the Senate during the weekend.

For more of this story by Richard Cowan and Rachelle Younglai, read here.

For a factbox of lows for Congress this year, read here.

Kim death complicates Obama’s N. Korea nuclear quandary

The death of North Korean leader Kim Jong-il could dim hopes for fresh nuclear disarmament talks with the United States and its key Asian allies as an untested and largely unknown heir takes charge of one of the world’s most feared atomic renegade states. The most crucial immediate question for Washington, and close ally Seoul, is whether Kim’s hermetic state can survive his death and complete a power transition to his youngest son Kim Jong-un.

For more of this story by Andrew Quinn, read here.

Fed bank oversight rules expected this week-source

The Federal Reserve is expected to release this week a highly anticipated proposal for how it will oversee the largest U.S. banks, a person familiar with the plan said. The proposal, which includes a group of rules such as new  capital and liquidity requirements, was mandated by the 2010 Dodd-Frank financial oversight law, enacted in response to the financial crisis.

For more of this story by Dave Clarke, read here.

Gingrich star fading in Iowa, nationally

Presidential nominee Newt Gingrich’s status as Republican front runner is fading after weeks of attack ads from rivals and intense media exposure of his political history and personality. A Public Policy Polling survey of likely Republican caucus-goers in the key state of Iowa released showed the former House speaker dropping to third place there from first in the space of a week. Another poll, by CNN/ORC International, showed Gingrich and Romney tied at 28 percent of support nationally.

For more of this story by Mark Felsenthal, read here.

From elsewhere…

N. Korea mourns dead leader, son is ‘Great Successor’

gives North Koreans poured into the streets to mourn the death of leader Kim Jong-il and state media hailed his untested son as the “Great Successor” of the reclusive state whose atomic weapons ambitions are a major threat to the region. Earlier, a tearful North Korean television announcer, dressed in black and her voice quavering, said the 69-year old ruler died on Saturday of “physical and mental over-work” on a train on his way to give “field guidance” — advice dispensed by the “Dear Leader” on trips to factories, farms and the military.

For more of this story, read here.

For more stories from our Washington correspondents visit www.reuters.com and stay informed.

Photo Credits:  REUTERS/Mustafa Andaleb (Captured Taliban insurgents and their weapons presented to the media in Ghazni province Dec. 19, 2011); REUTERS/file photo (Detainees at Camp X-Ray of Naval Base Guantanamo Bay in this January 11, 2002

No comments so far

We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see http://blogs.reuters.com/fulldisclosure/2010/09/27/toward-a-more-thoughtful-conversation-on-stories/