President Donald Trump revealed Saturday that he secretly invited Taliban leaders and Afghanistan’s president to meet with him in the U.S., but called the meeting off before they were scheduled to land on Saturday.
Trump said in a series of tweets that he was forced to cancel the meeting, which would have taken place Sunday at Camp David in Maryland, after “they” admitted to a deadly attack in the Afghan capital of Kabul.
The president said peace negotiations with the Taliban, which have been going on for months, were officially off the table. He also revealed that Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and the Taliban leaders were originally scheduled to arrive in the U.S. Saturday night.
The Taliban claimed responsibility for a car bombing in Kabul that killed 12 people, including a U.S. soldier, on Thursday.
In his tweet, Trump said they admitted to the attack to “in order to build false leverage” in their negotiations.
“I immediately cancelled the meeting and called off peace negotiations,” the president said. “What kind of people would kill so many in order to seemingly strengthen their bargaining position?”
Ghani was scheduled to meet with Trump early next week but postponed the trip, according to The Associated Press.
Before the Kabul bombing, U.S. envoy Zalmay Khalilzad announced that the U.S. had reached an agreement with the Taliban “on principle.” Khalilzad reportedly rushed back to Qatar, where his negotiations with the Taliban had taken place, after the attack.
Trump has long been a proponent of withdrawing the U.S. from Afghanistan. The recent peace talks between U.S. diplomats and the Taliban, which were reportedly close to a resolution, were part of those efforts, according to The New York Times.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Sunday that the Taliban had made an unprecedented agreement with the U.S. to break with al Qaeda, commit to “certain reductions in violence” and meet with Afghan leaders.
He said peace negotiations are on hold for now but that the president is willing to restart them if the Taliban delivers on “the promises that they’ve made.”
“If it’s not right, if it’s not protecting the American people, if the conditions aren’t appropriate on the ground and proper to protect America, we’re not going to enter into any deal,” Pompeo said during an appearance on CNN’s “State of the Union.”
Trump hasn’t decided whether to pause plans to withdraw U.S. troops from Afghanistan in the wake of the collapsed peace talks, Pompeo said during an appearance Sunday on ABC’s “This Week.”
“We’ll be talking about that in the coming days,” he said. “President Trump is going to focus with [Defense Secretary Mark Esper]. They will think about making sure we have the right force posture to deliver on the president’s objectives.”
Although the Trump administration has been working for months to broker a peace deal, Trump previously criticized former President Barack Obama for attempting the same.
In 2012, he described the Taliban as a “sworn enemy” of the U.S. “who facilitated 9/11,” while drawing attention to the Obama administration’s efforts to negotiate with the insurgent group.
Democrats in Congress pointed out the irony of Trump inviting the Taliban into the country four days before the 18th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks carried out by al Qaeda.
“You brought the Taliban to the United States the week of September 11?” Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.) wrote to the president late Saturday in response to a tweet.
In his own late-night tweet, Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.) called Republicans “hypocrites.”
“If [Obama] ever invited the Taliban to Camp David during the week of 9/11… My point is that Republicans are hypocrites who will never criticize President Trump no matter what he does.”
But Pompeo on Sunday stood by Trump’s decision to invite the Taliban, which recently reiterated its support for the 9/11 attacks, to Camp David.
“Who thought it was a good idea for the president of the United States to meet with Taliban leaders, who have the blood of thousands of Americans on their hands, just three days before 9/11?” asked Fox News’ Chris Wallace.
Pompeo told the “Fox News Sunday” host that the White House had “reflected” on the “history of Camp David” and felt the invitation was appropriate.
“President Trump ultimately made the decision,” Pompeo said. “We found that arrangement acceptable, that the verification was adequate, and we concluded this was a perfectly appropriate place.”
“Lots of bad folks have come through that place,” he said of Camp David. “There’s been lots of peace negotiations taking place. It’s almost always the case that you don’t get to negotiate with good guys.”
This article has been updated with quotes from Secretary of State Mike Pompeo from Sunday.