- The Washington Times
Friday, February 14, 2020

The chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee said Friday that while the Taliban’s reported commitment to lower violence in Afghanistan is a “positive step,” he is dissatisfied with the lack of information about the agreement that has been shared with Congressional leaders.

U.S. officials announced Thursday a short-term pact with the Taliban that calls for a seven-day reduction in violence across the country to clear the way for intensive direct talks.

“Hopefully, this will lead to a sustained reduction in violence, a constructive intra-Afghan dialogue — including participation by women and minorities — and ultimately, the withdrawal of the U.S. troops,” said Eliot Engel, New York Democrat and the committee chair.

The breakthrough in negotiations comes a year and a half after U.S. officials began peace talks with the radical Islamist group in an effort to wind down the longest military campaign in American history and bring home more than 12,000 U.S. troops still in the country.

Despite skepticism from the administration to not label the trial period as a formal cease-fire, officials expressed optimism that a sweeping agreement could finally be within reach as Defense Secretary Mark Esper announced a deal is “on the table” after a key summit with NATO leaders in Brussels.

Mr. Engel joined fellow Democratic leaders on Capitol Hill in warning that the success of the deal will depend on the Taliban’s willingness to hold up its side, “including separating from al Qaeda and renouncing violence.”

The chairman said he remains “frustrated and disappointed that the administration has sidelined Congress in this process.”

Mr. Engel has previously subpoenaed Zalmay Khalilzad, President Trump’s special envoy to talks with Afghanistan’s Taliban insurgents, to testify publicly before his committee after peace negotiations abruptly stalled in the fall.

“This negotiation was carried out without any meaningful input from Congress and with little transparency for the American people,” he said, calling on Mr. Khalilzad to brief Congress on the details of the negotiations “very soon.”

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