RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
The deal is off - at least for now. After weeks of anticipation that a peace agreement would be announced, President Trump announced Saturday in a tweet that he was calling off talks with the Taliban. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo defended the decision on CNN's "State Of The Union" yesterday.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "STATE OF THE UNION")
MIKE POMPEO: When the Taliban tried to gain negotiating advantage by conducting terror attacks inside of the country, President Trump made the right decision to say that's not going to work.
MARTIN: We're joined now in studio by Laurel Miller. She served as the State Department's acting special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan from 2013 to 2017. She now directs the International Crisis Group's Asia program. Thank you so much for coming in this morning.
LAUREL MILLER: It's my pleasure.
MARTIN: So President Trump says he called off this meeting - this summit, really, that was supposed to happen at Camp David because of a Taliban attack that killed a U.S. service member last week. Was that the right call, to call these talks off...
MILLER: Well, first of all...
MARTIN: ...Because of that?
MILLER: ...I don't find that a credible explanation. That might be some kind of face-saving explanation. Obviously, the attack was very tragic. But you have to look at this against the backdrop of ongoing violence in Afghanistan over all the months of negotiation, nearly a year now. And so there's really no reason to believe that this latest attack was uniquely the reason for calling it off.
MARTIN: So understanding that I'm asking you to speculate here - but as an informed observer, why do you think he did call it off?
MILLER: I think what happened was that the purpose of the Camp David meeting was to reopen the text of an agreement that had painstakingly been negotiated over months and that the Taliban had understood was closed and that U.S. negotiators had indicated was a closed text. Why would the Taliban want to show up at Camp David under those circumstances? They've said they were willing to come once a deal was already announced but not to continue negotiations, reopen negotiations that they thought had been closed.
MARTIN: So just to restate what you just said, the Taliban had believed that they had struck a final deal with the United States - understand the Afghan government isn't part of this. But the Taliban believed it had struck a final deal. And you're suggesting that the U.S. administration wasn't ready to sign that yet - that there were other things they wanted to still negotiate.
MILLER: I think that's right. I think there are multiple indications of that from what U.S. officials are saying. I mean, of course, the U.S. negotiator did caveat his comments about the deal being done by saying President Trump still needed to sign off. But needing to sign off is a far cry from summoning the parties to Camp David to pursue further negotiations.
MARTIN: But if the Trump administration has already agreed - which they have in theory - we've seen these reports that they have agreed to start removing U.S. troops. What leverage does the administration still have in these talks? I mean, haven't the Taliban already gotten what they wanted to some degree here?
MILLER: To some degree. I mean, they would want to have that on terms that are - that include legitimization of the Taliban, that include acknowledging their role in Afghan politics and continuing to provide economic support for Afghanistan. So there is something for the Taliban to get out of the deal beyond simply the removal of U.S. forces. But if all the United States wanted to do was withdraw from Afghanistan, it doesn't need to make a deal with the Taliban to do it. It can just do it. And if that's what the U.S. wants, then any assurances the Taliban gives about counterterrorism and al-Qaida, etc., are utterly worthless. The only value of the U.S.-Taliban deal is if it is a prelude to an actual peace process among Afghans.
MARTIN: Do you think that is what the U.S. should do - just pull out of Afghanistan altogether?
MILLER: No, I think if the U.S. just simply pulls out of Afghanistan altogether with no peace agreement left in its wake, then I think there's extremely high risk of an intense - an intenser, wider, multi-sided civil war in Afghanistan. I don't think that would be good for Afghanistan or good for U.S. interests.
MARTIN: Whose move is it now?
MILLER: Predominantly the United States' move because this gambit over the weekend was something that was launched and then canceled by the United States. I don't think this is necessarily a fatal blow to the credibility of U.S. commitment to the negotiations. But the U.S. is going to have to find a way to demonstrate, both to the parties in Afghanistan but also to the important countries in the region, that it's still serious about negotiating and that it's not simply fickle.
MARTIN: And we should just point out that even if the United States - the Trump administration and the Taliban actually do finalize a deal, it is significant the Afghan government hasn't yet signed on. That is a huge hurdle to coming up some comprehensive peace in this country.
MILLER: Yeah. This is only the first step of peace. This was supposed to lead to an Afghan peace process. And that was the real benefit of the deal that's now been put on ice - is that it had a real prospect of leading to an actual Afghan peace process.
MARTIN: So the beginning has been stalled.
MILLER: The beginning has been stalled, hopefully not for too long.
MARTIN: Laurel Miller, she served until 2017 as the State Department's acting special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan. Thank you so much for your time.
MILLER: It was my pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.