After abruptly axing nearly a year of delicate peace talks with the Taliban in September, President Trump put the negotiations back on the front-burner this week in a similarly jolting fashion by seeming to demand a cease-fire that his negotiators had long concluded was overly ambitious.
Despite a sense of relief at the prospect of resuming talks to end the 18-year conflict, Western diplomats and Taliban leaders were scrambling to figure out whether Mr. Trump had suddenly moved the goal posts for negotiations.
They were particularly confused by his remarks, made during an unannounced Thanksgiving visit to Afghanistan, that the United States was once again meeting with the Taliban to discuss a deal, but that “we’re saying it has to be a cease-fire.”
Demanding a cease-fire would amount to a big shift in the American position and require a significant new concession from the Taliban — one that the Americans have little leverage to extract.
For much of the yearlong talks, the Taliban and the United States were fundamentally on the same page: The Taliban wanted the Americans out of Afghanistan, and Mr. Trump has made no secret his desire to end what he has called America’s unending wars. But agreeing upon the details of a deal proved complicated. [Continue reading…]