WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. President Donald Trump on Saturday said he would be personally meeting leaders of the Taliban in the near future and rejected criticism of a deal that the United States signed with the insurgents in Afghanistan.
He spoke hours after U.S. and Taliban representatives signed a deal that could pave the way toward a full withdrawal of foreign soldiers and move closer to ending the 18-year war in Afghanistan.
Trump said in a news conference at the White House that the agreement should allow the United States to draw down its troops in Afghanistan from 13,000 to 8,600. He held out the possibility of withdrawals beyond that number, but said the United States could quickly move forces back into the country if needed.
In later remarks at a conservative political conference in suburban Maryland, Trump said if the Taliban lives up to its commitments the war will “be over.”
“We can’t be the policeman for the world,” he said.
Trump has frequently expressed a desire to put a halt to “endless wars” and has said he has been personally struck by meeting wounded soldiers who are missing limbs on his visits to Walter Reed Medical Center.
The president came under sharp criticism for the deal from his former national security adviser, John Bolton, who said in a tweet that “signing this agreement with Taliban is an unacceptable risk to America’s civilian population.”
“This is an Obama-style deal. Legitimizing Taliban sends the wrong signal to ISIS and al Qaeda terrorists, and to America’s enemies generally,” he said, referring to former President Barack Obama, Trump’s Democratic predecessor.
Republican U.S. Representative Liz Cheney, daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney, also complained about the deal and said the Trump administration should disclose how it plans to verify Taliban compliance.
“Today’s agreement with the Taliban includes concessions that could threaten the security of the United States,” she said.
Trump’s willingness to meet Taliban leaders at the presidential retreat in Camp David, Maryland, last year was a factor in Bolton’s exit from the White House. Taliban violence in Afghanistan prompted Trump to cancel that meeting.
Trump rejected the criticism from his former aide.
“Nobody should be criticizing this deal after 19 years. He had his chance, he didn’t do it,” Trump said of Bolton.
Trump did not say where he would be meeting leaders of the group that has fought the American presence in Afghanistan since war broke out following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States.
The U.S. president said Afghanistan’s neighbors should help maintain stability following the agreement.
Many expect the forthcoming talks between the Afghan sides to be more complicated than the initial deal. But Trump said he thought the negotiations would be successful because “everyone is tired of war.”
Reporting by Steve Holland; Editing by Daniel Wallis, Nick Zieminski and Paul Simao
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