Obama downplays rift as Karzai pulls out of Taliban peace talks

President Obama on Tuesday downplayed Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s decision to suspend talks on a long-term security deal with the U.S. in protest of the launch of formal peace talks with the Taliban. 

Karzai also pulled out of peace talks with the Taliban the Obama administration agreed to hold in Qatar, which are to begin Thursday.

Obama said his administration had always anticipated "difficult negotiations."

"We had extensive conversations with President Karzai both before and after the Taliban opened the office in Doha," Obama told reporters at a joint press conference in Berlin with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

"There were some concerns over the manner in which [the Taliban] opened [the Doha political office], the language that they used," the president continued. "We had anticipated at the outset that there would be areas of friction — to put it mildly — to get this thing off the ground."

Obama said despite "enormous mistrust," he believed "that President Karzai himself recognizes the need for political reconciliation."

"Even as we go through some frankly difficult negotiations … we still believe you've got to have a parallel track to at least look at the prospect there could be some political reconciliation," Obama said.

Administration officials had characterized the forthcoming talks as primarily between the Taliban and Karzai government, with the U.S. working as a facilitator. They said however that the U.S. and Taliban would speak first before including representatives from Kabul’s government. 

The move sparked anger from Karzai, leading to the Afghan government’s decision to freeze talks on a deal governing the status of U.S. forces post-war and continued aid for the Afghan economy and military.

“In view of the contradictions between acts and the statements made by the United States of America in regard to the peace process, the Afghan government suspended the negotiations,” said an Afghan government statement, according to multiple media reports.

Karzai’s decision increases tensions in an already contentious relationship between Kabul and Washington, as the U.S. draws down forces from Afghanistan.

On Tuesday, Afghan security forces took over responsibility for security operations from NATO forces. The U.S.-led NATO coalition intends to withdraw all combat troops by 2014, leaving a residual support force. 

This story was posted at 8:04 a.m. and updated at 10:21 a.m.