Personal connection made, now time to make progress: US

Updated 27 Jul 2019

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State Department spokesperson says July 22 White House meeting gave Trump and Pompeo chance to meet and build rapport. — AFP/File
State Department spokesperson says July 22 White House meeting gave Trump and Pompeo chance to meet and build rapport. — AFP/File

WASHINGTON: Prime Minister Imran Khan’s visit gave President Donald Trump and Secretary Michael Pompeo the chance to build a personal connection and rapport with the premier and now it’s time to make progress on this success, says the US State Department.

At a Thursday afternoon’s news briefing, the department’s spokesperson Morgan Ortagus disagreed with the suggestion that the Trump-Khan talks, particularly some of Mr Trump’s comments, were a source of “unhappiness” for the Afghan people.

Ms Ortagus said that the prime minister’s July 22 White House summit with the US president was an initial meeting, which “gave the chance for the president and the secretary to meet Prime Minister Khan, to build a personal connection and rapport”.

State Department spokesperson says July 22 White House meeting gave Trump and Pompeo chance to meet and build a rapport with Imran

And now, “we think it’s time to make progress on the success of this first meeting”, said the US official. She recalled that in his meetings in Washington, Prime Minister Khan also “vowed to urge the Taliban to negotiate with the Afghan government”.

The United States, she said, was committed to peace in Afghanistan and it believed that the Trump-Khan meeting was an important step towards achieving that goal.

“There was a number of issues that were discussed not only in the president’s meeting but with the secretary’s meeting as well,” said Ms Ortagus while re-emphasising that “now is the time to build upon that meeting and to build upon those commitments”.

The prime minister met Secretary Pompeo at the Pakistan House in Washington on July 23. Later, the US State Department said that Mr Pompeo availed this opportunity to emphasise the “continued importance of the United States and Pakistan working together to advance shared priorities”.

On the same evening, the prime minister told members of the US Congress in Washington that Pakistan and the United States shared the same objective of reaching a peaceful solution in Afghanistan, which includes persuading the Taliban to hold direct talks with Kabul.

On Thursday, a Taliban official told journalists in Doha, where the group maintains a political office, that senior Taliban leaders would soon visit Islamabad to learn from Mr Khan the details of his talks in Washington.

At the State Department briefing, an Afghan journalist told Ms Ortagus that the Trump-Khan talks — particularly President Trump’s comment that he could have won the war in 10 days by killing millions of Afghans — had made the people of Afghanistan “very unhappy”.

Ms Ortagus said she would “remind the Afghan people of the countless number — thousands, tens of thousands — of American lives and lives of our Nato allies and our European allies that have been lost fighting in Afghanistan for the people of Afghanistan to have a right to choose their own future”.

The United States, she said, had not only lost thousands of lives and billions of dollars in Afghanistan but there were countless others who also had served there.

“You could probably look at most of the people in this room that serve here at the State Department, and we have either served ourselves or we have had family members that have served. I have someone on my staff who is serving there right now,” she said.

“So, I think that the people of Afghanistan should know that for almost 20 years, Americans have lost their lives and have spent their hard-earned taxpayer money to see the people of Afghanistan have a choice for their own future,” she said.

“And that commitment has not been a small commitment. That has been a vast and sweeping commitment by the American people.”

Asked if Prime Minister Khan delivered the “good news” of securing the release of two US hostages within 48 hours after returning to Islamabad, Ms Ortagus said the Trump administration had a very strong record on getting American hostages returned.

“We take human lives incredibly seriously, and we will use every means available at our disposal to secure and to see the secure and safe return of American citizens who are held hostage abroad,” she said.

Ms Ortagus confirmed that the Pakistani prime minister had made that promise and now US officials were working closely with the Pakistanis on recovering the hostages.

“We think his statements were helpful and we’re of course hopeful that there will be some action proceeding those statements,” she said.

Published in Dawn, July 27th, 2019