GOP skeptical of Taliban talks

“Talking to them now, before we make a commitment about a post-2014 footprint, is giving them a wrong signal,” Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamDHS chief takes heat over Trump furor Overnight Defense: GOP chair blames Dems for defense budget holdup | FDA, Pentagon to speed approval of battlefield drugs | Mattis calls North Korea situation 'sobering' Bipartisan group to introduce DACA bill in House MORE (R-S.C.) told reporters. “The best way to talk with the Taliban is ensure them you will defeat them on the battlefield, and they’re not assured of that.”

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Sen. Kelly AyotteKelly Ann AyotteLessons from Alabama: GOP, throw out the old playbook The Hill's 12:30 Report Explaining Democratic victories: It’s gun violence, stupid MORE (R-N.H.) said that while reconciliation between the Afghan government and the Taliban would be a positive step, she didn’t see that happening at the moment.

“I’m very skeptical at this point,” she told The Hill. “Until they feel they’re defeated, I think it's difficult to come to any kind of lasting resolution.”

Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainMcCain rips Trump for attacks on press NSA spying program overcomes key Senate hurdle Meghan McCain says her father regrets opposition to MLK Day MORE (R-Ariz.) said he wasn’t discouraging the talks, so long as they don't lead to the release of Taliban prisoners, which could be a demand of the Taliban during the negotiations.

“But certainly, I’d be very pessimistic about any concrete results,” he said.

Sen. Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerSenate campaign fundraising reports roll in Congress should take the lead on reworking a successful Iran deal North Korea tensions ease ahead of Winter Olympics MORE (R-Tenn.), the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said he’d had a “good conversation” with the State Department on Monday, and he did think the talks were a good thing.

U.S. officials announced Tuesday that they would begin direct negotiations with the Taliban in the coming days in Doha, Qatar. 

The Taliban said in a statement Tuesday that it was setting up a political office in Qatar and supported a peaceful solution to the conflict. The statement also said the Taliban would not allow Afghanistan to be used as a base to threaten other nations, a U.S. precondition to holding to the talks.

Obama administration officials said that starting the talks with the Taliban was a major first step, but they also downplayed their expectations for what would result from the negotiations.

The officials emphasized that the key to the talks’ success was negotiations between the Afghan government and Taliban, and not the between the Taliban and the U.S.

“It's going to be a long, hard process if, indeed, it advances significantly at all,” one senior administration official said on a conference call with reporters.

Senate Armed Services Chairman Carl LevinCarl LevinCongress: The sleeping watchdog Congress must not give companies tax reasons to move jobs overseas A lesson on abuse of power by Obama and his Senate allies MORE (D-Mich.) was more optimistic than his Republican counterparts over the prospects of the talks, saying that the U.S. and Afghan government are entering them in a position of strength.

“This is the right context to hold it because the Taliban is in a weaker position militarily,” Levin said.