U.S. Reportedly Accelerates Talks With Taliban

Originally published on May 17, 2011 5:53 pm
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Karen DeYoung reported these developments in today's Washington Post. She joins us now with more details. Welcome to the program.

KAREN DEYOUNG: Thanks, Michele.

NORRIS: The U.S. has tried and failed to open talks with the Taliban in the past. What's different this time? Is it all about the killing of bin Laden, or is there a broader explanation?

DEYOUNG: They've tried this, as you said, in the past, but there's always been a problem in determining whether the person who was representing himself as someone close to Mullah Omar, someone with influence in the Taliban really was someone of influence. You know, there was a case last fall where you had NATO flying a senior - so-called senior Taliban representative into Kabul for talks, only to find out that the guy was a fake, that he didn't represent anyone but himself.

NORRIS: Karen, help us understand what's on the table in these talks.

DEYOUNG: And I think that the Americans have just pushed harder. You know, President Obama, as you said, is going to announce the early withdrawal of troops starting in July and they really would like to also announce that they've made some progress with what they've always said has got to be a negotiated settlement to this war.

NORRIS: In the end, when you look at the Taliban's demands - the release of prisoners, the total pullout of all foreign troops from Afghanistan - you know, you look at that list and you wonder, where is the possibility of some kind of middle ground?

DEYOUNG: So, I think that as we get further along the line, assuming we do in these talks, that the Afghan people are going to have weigh in and say what they want.

NORRIS: And as the U.S. engages in these direct talks with the Taliban, what role, if any, do other governments play in these talks? Afghanistan, Pakistan - are these countries happy about this and happy about the possibility of sitting on the sidelines while the U.S. engages in some sort of unilateral discussion with Taliban leaders?

DEYOUNG: And according to U.S. officials, there's some reason to believe that at least the Quetta Shura Taliban in fact would prefer not to go through the Pakistanis. There are lots of other governments in the region that had to be brought into this - India, China, Russia, Iran. The United States is trying, having given lip service for a long time, to bringing these other countries into the negotiations. I believe there is a renewed effort to bring them in as these talks go further.

NORRIS: Karen DeYoung, thanks so much.

DEYOUNG: You're very welcome.

NORRIS: Karen DeYoung is the senior diplomatic correspondent for the Washington Post. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.