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 Graham (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.”

Sen. Kelly Ayotte (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 McCain (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 Corker (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 Levin (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.