Washington Extra – Tactical, not terminal

March 23, 2012

The predominant media narrative was pretty straightforward:  U.S. soldier kills 16 Afghan civilians, the Taliban respond by suspending participation in U.S.-sponsored Afghan peace talks. Game over.

Or maybe not. As Missy Ryan reports today, efforts by the Obama administration to cajole the Taliban into peace talks with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, while not exactly roaring forward, are not dead. U.S. officials see the Taliban move as tactical, not terminal, and more of a reflection of internal divisions within the movement than anything else. “Deep breaths, and not hyperventilation, are required here,” said one of the many U.S. officials Reuters interviewed.

The Taliban also appear put out that President Obama has not yet transferred senior Taliban prisoners from Guantanamo Bay to kick-start the talks. That’s a problem for Obama, who faces intense resistance to sending the Talibs to detention in Qatar. That Qatar has yet to agree to U.S. demands they be held under strict conditions further complicates matters.

Still, the massacre of the Afghan innocents may not have been the game-changer it was assumed to be. Karzai immediately demanded U.S. troops leave Afghan villages, but has not followed through. Further proof that things in Afghanistan are rarely what they seem, and that it pays to watch what the players do, not what they say.

Warren Strobel

Editor in Charge, U.S. Foreign Policy & National Security

Here are our top stories from Washington…

US see Taliban talks suspension as tactical move

The Taliban’s suspension of preliminary peace talks is a tactical move reflecting internal tensions, U.S. officials believe, rather than a definitive halt to discussions the White House hopes will bring a peaceful end to the war in Afghanistan. U.S. officials had been bracing themselves for backlash from the militant group following a string of public setbacks that have scandalized and angered Afghans, notably U.S. soldiers’ burning of copies of the Koran and the killing of 16 Afghan villagers for which a U.S. soldier is in custody.

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

Obama pledges to speed part of pipeline

Standing in front of a row of pipes, President Barack Obama pledged to accelerate approval of the southern leg of the Keystone XL pipeline, seeking to deflect criticism that his rejection of the full project helped create a climate for high gasoline prices. The campaign-style stop was immediately dismissed as a stunt by Republicans, saying that Obama doesn’t have the authority to really jump start the project. Analysts say it won’t likely be finished until 2014 at the earliest.

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

Romney works behind the scenes to attract conservatives

Mitt Romney, sensing the Republican presidential nomination will be his, is working behind the scenes to try to unify conservatives behind him and he may be gaining some traction. Romney’s objective is to ease conservative doubts about his candidacy raised repeatedly by chief rivals Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich, who denounce him as a Massachusetts moderate who will forsake conservative views if he becomes the nominee.

For more of this story by Steve Holland and Thomas Ferraro, read here.

Romney’s man in Congress seeks to rally support

Roy Blunt approached a fellow Republican on the U.S. Senate floor a few weeks back and made a pitch for Mitt Romney, their party’s presidential front-runner, who is pushing to nail down the elusive Republican nomination. Blunt got a lukewarm response that has become all too familiar as he works as Romney’s hand-picked recruiter in Congress, trying to drum up enthusiasm from Republicans cautiously assessing the presidential contest.

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

US Senate passes lawmakers’ insider trading bill

The Senate voted by a wide margin on Thursday to pass a bill to boost small business growth, notching a rare election-year bipartisan victory though some Democrats and watchdogs warned the legislation would erode investor protections. The “JOBS Act,” which passed the Senate 73 to 26, would make it easier for small companies to raise capital and make initial public offerings.

For more of this story by David Lawder, read here.

Bill to boost startups wins Senate approval

The U.S. Senate voted overwhelmingly to send President Barack Obama legislation imposing new curbs on insider trading by members of Congress, even though the measure was weaker than a version it passed in February. Obama has promised to swiftly sign into law the measure   aimed at ensuring that lawmakers do not profit from non-public knowledge they gain through their positions.

For more of this story by Alexandra Alper, read here.

French shooter was on U.S. “no fly” list

The French Islamist gunman suspected of murdering seven people who was killed in a shootout with police was on a “no fly” list maintained by U.S. authorities, two American officials said. The officials would not disclose precisely when the militant, Mohammed Merah, was placed on the U.S. watch list, but they said his name was added some time ago.

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

Bernanke: U.S. consumption still too weak

U.S. consumer spending is still too weak to ensure a healthy pace of economic growth, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke said. “Right now, in terms of debt and consumption, we’re still way low relative to the pattern before the crisis,” Bernanke told students in the second of two lectures at The George Washington University. “We lack a source of demand to keep the economy growing.”

For more of this story by Pedro Nicolaci da Costa, read here.

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

Photo Credit: REUTERS/ Ahmad Nadeem (Afghan police officer stands guard in a village in Kandahar); REUTERS/Jim Young (Romney after his Illinois primary victory)

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