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U.S. Nears Taliban Deal To Reduce Afghanistan Violence And Begin Withdrawing Troops


President Trump and his administration are closing in on a deal with the Taliban to start drawing down U.S. forces in Afghanistan. American officials sound hopeful the Taliban will agree to reduce violence and pave the way for peace talks to end America's longest war. NPR's Michele Kelemen reports on the latest diplomatic push.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: At NATO headquarters today, Defense Secretary Mark Esper said he didn't want to get ahead of the diplomacy, but he hinted at what is expected to be in a deal with the Taliban.


MARK ESPER: There is a reduction-in-violence proposal on the table. I'm here consulting with allies about it.

KELEMEN: Gone is any talk about a nationwide cease-fire. Instead, officials suggest there will be a period of calm ahead of any kind of deal being signed. Trump's national security adviser, Robert O'Brien, told an audience at the Atlantic Council last night that there may be good news in the coming days and weeks.


ROBERT O'BRIEN: I think that we're making significant progress. It's something we're keeping the president apprised of on a very regular basis. And we're cautiously optimistic that some good news could be forthcoming.

KELEMEN: Last year, President Trump tried to pull off a Camp David meeting with the Taliban, but officials say he called it off because of a Taliban attack that killed a U.S. service member. Laurel Miller of the International Crisis Group believes Trump got cold feet, having listened to the naysayers in his administration. But she says this year he's sounding more determined.

LAUREL MILLER: It appears, based on what President Trump said in the State of the Union address, that he's made a political calculation that a peace deal in Afghanistan or being able to say he's gotten a peace deal in Afghanistan is good for him politically.

KELEMEN: U.S. Envoy Zalmay Khalilzad has been negotiating with the Taliban in Doha, Qatar. A former U.S. special representative, Dan Feldman, says the idea is to reduce violence, get the Taliban to join peace talks with other Afghans and then begin to draw down U.S. troops. But a U.S. deal with the Taliban doesn't necessarily mean peace, Feldman warns.

DANIEL FELDMAN: That depends on what happens after the U.S.-Taliban agreement is signed, what sort of conditionality there is for the removal of troops and how much the Taliban actually abide by any sort of commitment to reduce violence.

KELEMEN: And what happens if the Taliban fails to reach an agreement with Afghan officials and civic groups about what the country will look like and whether, for example, women will maintain their hard-won rights? Laurel Miller, speaking via Skype, says diplomats are trying to at least give Afghans a chance to sit together and make peace.

MILLER: What we get out of the deal is the possibility of ultimately withdrawing from Afghanistan without leaving chaos in our wake.

KELEMEN: And one thing experts say has improved chances of a deal this time around is that the U.S. and the Taliban are talking about a week-long reduction of violence before any agreement is signed. Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Michele Kelemen has been with NPR for two decades, starting as NPR's Moscow bureau chief and now covering the State Department and Washington's diplomatic corps. Her reports can be heard on all NPR News programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered.
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