BERLIN -- President Obama on Wednesday rejected criticism from Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s office that the U.S. had said one thing and done another while arranging informal peace talks with the insurgent Taliban movement.
“We had anticipated that at the outset, there were going to be some areas of friction, to put it mildly, in getting this thing off the ground,” Obama said at a news conference here with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
Karzai's office earlier in the day had abruptly canceled ongoing security negotiations with U.S. officials aimed at defining the U.S.-Afghan relationship after American-led foreign forces leave Afghanistan, a move scheduled for the end of next year.
His decision came a day after the Obama administration had announced that representatives of the United States and the Taliban would hold talks in the Persian Gulf nation of Qatar. U.S. officials said the talks were set to begin Thursday.
In a terse statement, the Afghan president’s office said the government would stop participating in the security talks given a “contradiction” between U.S. words and deeds on the peace process.
In a later statement, it added that Afghan officials wouldn’t attend the separate negotiations with the Taliban until they were “fully Afghanized,” and that the opening of a Taliban political office Monday in Doha, the Qatari capital, undermined earlier assurances made by the United States.
The statement didn’t say what those assurances were or how long the suspension would last.
Obama said misunderstandings aren’t surprising given the enormous mistrust between the Afghan government and the Taliban, but that it was still important to explore opportunities for a political reconciliation.
“Not only have the Taliban and the Afghan government been fighting for a long time, they're fighting as we speak,” he said. “We're in the middle of a war. And Afghans are still being killed and, by the way, members of the international forces there are still being killed. And that's not abating as we speak.”
Obama said that as elusive as reconciliation with the Taliban may seem, it’s worth pursuing.
“I think that President Karzai himself recognizes the need for political reconciliation,” he told reporters, adding that it remains to be seen whether the process bears fruit. “That's a question that only the Afghans can answer.”
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Times staff writer Hennessey reported from Berlin and special correspondent Baktash from Kabul.