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Pompeo: Afghan talks likely to be contentious

Much-anticipated negotiations between Afghanistan’s warring parties are likely to be “contentious”, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo warned on Friday, but are the only way forward if Afghans are to find peace after decades of relentless conflict.

Pompeo made his comments en route to the Middle Eastern State of Qatar, where intra-Afghan negotiations are to begin Saturday, a day mostly reserved for ceremony before the hard task of hammering out a road map for a post-war Afghanistan begins.

The negotiations were laid out in a peace deal Washington brokered with the Taliban and signed in Doha on February 29 aimed at ending the war and bringing US troops home ending America’s longest conflict.

“It’s taken us longer than I wish that it had to get from February 29 to here but we expect Saturday morning, for the first time in almost two decades, to have the Afghans sitting at the table together prepared to have what will be contentious discussions about how to move their country forward to reduce violence and deliver what the Afghan people are demanding — a reconciled Afghanistan with a government that reflects a country that isn’t at war,” Pompeo said on the plane taking him to Doha.

“It’s their country to figure out how to move forward and make a better life for all Afghan people,” he said.

President Donald Trump made the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan a promise before the 2016 presidential election. In the countdown to this November’s presidential polls, Washington has ramped up pressure to start intra-Afghan negotiations.

Pompeo in his comments made it clear the US was ready to return soldiers to Afghanistan if it saw a threat emerging and the Taliban reneged on their commitments. But he warned of spoilers to peace, citing recent targeted killings in Afghanistan and an attempted assassination of Afghan vice-president Amrullah Saleh.