Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, the Trump administration’s negotiator for peace talks in Afghanistan, is traveling to the region as the White House seeks to restart negotiations with the Taliban.
The State Department announced Wednesday that Khalilzad departed Tuesday for his first trip to the region since President Trump announced he would revive discussions with the Taliban after declaring them “dead” earlier this year.
Khalilzad will meet with Afghan government representatives and other Afghan leaders in Kabul to discuss “how best to support accelerated efforts to get all parties to intra-Afghan negotiations,” the State Department said in a statement. He will also meet with Taliban officials in their bureau in Doha, Qatar to discuss steps to help reduce violence in Afghanistan that could ultimately lead to a cease-fire there.
The trip comes after a surprise trip by Trump to Afghanistan in which he announced that he would restart peace talks with the Taliban and that he’d like to reduce the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan to 8,600 from just under 14,000.
“The Taliban wants to make a deal — we’ll see if they make a deal. If they do they do, and if they don’t they don’t. That’s fine,” Trump said during a meeting with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani.
“The Taliban wants to make a deal, and we’re meeting with them and we’re saying it has to be a cease-fire, and they didn’t want to do a cease-fire and now they do want to do a cease-fire,” he added. “I believe it’ll probably work out that way.”
Trump had said in September that talks with the Taliban were “dead” after an attack by the group killed 12 people, including a U.S. soldier.
The Trump administration has been negotiating with the Taliban for roughly a year as it tries to end the longest war in U.S. history. The outlines of a deal are expected to involve a troop drawdown by the Pentagon in exchange for assurances from the Taliban that it would not allow Afghanistan to be used as a safe haven for terrorist groups to launch attacks against the U.S.
Trump’s remarks about a cease-fire last week reportedly sent aides scrambling to determine if the White House had moved the goal posts in negotiations and if the U.S. had the leverage to extract such a promise from the Taliban.