Tales from the Trail

Washington Extra – Peace by piece

February 16, 2012

Not since Vietnam has the United States sat down with an enemy it was fighting on the battlefield and negotiated an exit from war. That long-standing policy might end this year if a carefully choreographed diplomatic dance takes U.S. and Afghan officials to a negotiating table with the Taliban.

As Reuters Washington correspondent Missy Ryan explains, President Obama’s peace gambit has the potential to be a significant development for U.S. foreign policy. But it turns out it is a policy borne out of necessity: two years ago, the Pentagon thought the Taliban could be defeated militarily, and today, it’s all too clear they aren’t going away.

There are many hurdles and not insignificant push back here at home to overcome. And Obama may want to don a helmet for the incoming fire… from Capitol Hill. As soon as he notifies Congress of plans to move Taliban detainees from Guantanamo to get the ball rolling, he is sure to face a torrent of attacks.

If the idea of talking with a fundamentalist group known for its brutality and repression is just too hard to conceive, consider this: it could have well happened a decade ago and possibly ended the war in Afghanistan.

As a former U.N. official and advocate of peace talks told Ryan: “When people start to add up cost of war in Afghanistan over the last decade, they will ask how on earth the new Afghan leadership and U.S. officials failed to take advantage of these early overtures by the Taliban.”

Here are our top stories from Washington…

Afghan peace push brings rare chance, risks, for U.S.

If all goes as hoped, U.S. and Qatari negotiators will meet soon to nail down final details for transferring Taliban prisoners from Guantanamo prison – a momentous step for President Obama, the Afghan war and perhaps U.S. foreign policy as well. On the way to the first-ever peace negotiations to end the long and bloody Afghan war, much could go wrong – indeed much already has.

For more of this story by Missy Ryan, read here.

U.S.-China discord remains after Xi’s mood music

China’s leader-in-waiting Xi Jinping won the kind of reception in the United States that suggests Washington sees his rise as a chance to narrow economic and political rifts. Converting the warm mood music brought by Xi into substantively improved Sino-U.S. ties, however, will demand concessions that both sides are likely to resist.

For more of this analysis by Chris Buckley, read here.

Romney, Obama campaign spar over US-China policy

Mitt Romney lashed out at Beijing and President Obama’s China policy, criticizing the president for going in “precisely the wrong direction” and calling meetings this week with visiting Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping “empty pomp.” In an editorial in the Wall Street Journal, the Republican presidential candidate chided Obama for demurring to the Asian powerhouse and said he would change course if elected by preserving a military presence in the region and confronting human rights issues in China more forcefully.

For more of this story by Susan Heavey and Jeff Mason, read here.

In Michigan, Santorum fights back against Romney

Republican White House hopeful Rick Santorum defended himself against attacks from wounded front-runner Mitt Romney as Santorum’s hopes rose of dealing a heavy blow in Michigan to his main rival. Santorum, a former Pennsylvania senator who has emerged as a major threat to Romney in the race for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination, used a speech in Detroit to push a blue-collar theme in the state where the struggling auto industry has help push up unemployment.

For more of this story by Samuel P. Jacobs, read here.

U.S. jobs, factory data strengthen growth outlook

The number of Americans filing for new unemployment benefits unexpectedly fell to a near four-year low last week, suggesting the labor market recovery was quickening. Other data showing solid expansion in factory activity in the Mid-Atlantic area this month and builders breaking more ground on new residential projects in January offered more evidence of a sustained momentum in the economy.

For more of this story by Lucia Mutikani, read here.

Congress leaders rally support for tax deal

Democratic and Republican leaders rallied support in a divided Congress for a bipartisan deal to renew a payroll tax cut for 160 million U.S. workers through the November elections. The agreement represents a victory for President Barack Obama and his fellow Democrats in Congress, and allows Republicans to put behind them a battle over taxes that threatened to hurt them in the November elections.

For more of this story by Donna Smith and Thomas Ferraro, read here.

CFPB targets debt collectors and credit bureaus

The new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau released a proposal to regulate about 200 debt collectors and companies that produce credit reports as part of an effort to extend its oversight beyond the banking industry. The agency is charged by Dodd-Frank with overseeing consumer financial products, such as credit cards and mortgages offered by banks, as well as some products offered outside the industry, including residential mortgages and student loans.

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

From elsewhere…

China’s Xi, US officials talk food trade in Iowa

China’s leader-in-waiting, Xi Jinping, gathered with agricultural officials in America’s grainbelt and stressed their shared interests in fostering increased trade in farm goods. Extending his visit to the top U.S. soybean- and corn-growing state of Iowa, Xi and Chinese Minister of Agriculture Han Changfu met with U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack in Des Moines to kick off what was billed as the first-ever U.S.-China Agricultural Symposium.

For more of this story, read here.

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

Photo Credit: REUTERS/Ahmad Nadeem (A U.S. soldier keeps watch near the site of a car bomb blast in the city of Kandahar ); REUTERS/Rebecca Cook  (Santorum addresses the Detroit Economic Club); REUTERS/Charlie Neibergall/Pool (Rick Kimberley presents a model tractor to Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping  at Kimberley’s family farm, in Maxwell, Iowa)

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