Direct talks with Taliban haven’t resumed: US

WASHINGTON: The United States on Tuesday ruled out any intention to hold direct talks with the Taliban, defending the prisoner swap as a good thing to open the possibility of Afghans talking to Afghans.

“We have been very clear that if this could open the possibilities for Afghan-led reconciliation, that would be a good thing for the future of Afghanistan, but there is nothing new to update on direct talks,” State Department Deputy spokesperson Marie Harf told reporters here.

The Taliban, she said, had suspended direct talks with the US in 2012. “We have not resumed them. Obviously, we appreciate the support of the government of Qatar in playing a mediating role here (brokering the prisoner swap,” she said in response to a question.

Harf said the Taliban were not designated as a Foreign Terrorist Organization. “They are designated as a Specially Designated Terrorist Organization under an executive order, which is different,” she said, calling it a technical question.

At a news conference, Senator John McCain said the decision to release five Taliban prisoners in return for the American soldier was a mistake.

“These individuals will be able to move around Qatar, and after one year, according to the Qatar spokesman, they will be able to go back to Afghanistan,” he said, claiming 30 percent of those released from Guantanamo had already returned to the fight.

“This is the hardest and toughest of all. These are wanted war criminals. One of them is supposedly of guilty of murdering thousands of Shiite Muslims while he was in charge outside of, I believe, Kandahar,” he said.

“So this decision to bring Sergeant Bergdahl home, and we applaud that he is home, is ill-founded, it is a mistake, and it is putting the lives of American servicemen and women at risk, and that, to me, is unacceptable to the American people,” McCain said.

Senator Marco Rubio said Obama had set a dangerous precedent. “He has basically told terrorist elements around the world that if you take an American serviceman hostage, you can get five, six, three – however many number of your own folks – released.

He said those released were dangerous. “I mean these are people that we’re returning back to the battlefield,” he said.

Meanwhile, Congressman Howard P. “Buck” McKeon, Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee announced that Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel had been invited to testify before the committee on Wednesday (June 11) on the transfer of five senior Taliban detainees.

“We are all relieved that Sergeant Bergdahl has come home to us safely. However, we have a responsibility to both the American people and the troops still in harm’s way in Afghanistan to get to the bottom of this deal with the Taliban,” he said.

“I am particularly troubled by the release of five senior Taliban leaders, men with the blood of many on their hands, and the implications for our deployed forces.”

He said he was no less concerned that the Obama Administration had broken a national security law passed with bipartisan support and signed by the president in transferring these detainees.