Romney rejects Taliban transfer from Guantanamo

LITTLETON, New Hampshire Thu Dec 22, 2011 7:19pm EST

LITTLETON, New Hampshire (Reuters) - U.S. Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney on Thursday rejected the transfer of Taliban prisoners from the Guantanamo Bay military prison into Afghan government custody as part of a secret dialogue to end the Afghan war.

Reuters reported on Sunday that the United States is considering the transfer of an unspecified number of Taliban prisoners as part of the 10-month secret talks.

"I don't believe in releasing prisoners as part of a terrorist negotiation. And we do not negotiate with terrorists. The Taliban are terrorists, they are our enemy and I do not believe in a prisoner release exchange," Romney told Reuters in an interview.

The United States has asked representatives of the Taliban to match a prisoner transfer with confidence-building measures their own, Reuters reported. Those could include a denunciation of international terrorism and a public willingness to enter formal political talks with the government headed by Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

But U.S. officials acknowledged that the Afghanistan diplomacy, which has reached a delicate stage in recent weeks, remains a long shot.

President Barack Obama argues he has a strong record on foreign policy and national security, helped by the killing this year of Osama bin Laden, but a serious downturn in the war in Afghanistan or the situation in Iraq could drag his poll numbers down ahead of next November's presidential election.

Romney argued that Obama has accelerated the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan in order to help his re-election campaign. Thousands of troops sent there as part of a "surge" are being pulled out next September.

Romney said leaving them there through the end of 2012 makes more sense by allowing them to complete the fighting season.

(Reporting by Steve Holland; editing by Anthony Boadle)

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