House chairman reaches deal on classified briefing with Trump's Afghanistan negotiator

House chairman reaches deal on classified briefing with Trump's Afghanistan negotiator
© Aaron Schwartz

House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) on Wednesday said he had pulled the subpoena to have the Trump administration's lead Afghanistan peace talks negotiator openly testify before the committee, saying that a classified briefing is being planned instead.

Engel said that after several days of negotiations with the State Department, “we have reached an accommodation that will allow all members of the Foreign Affairs Committee to hear from” Zalmay Khalilzad in a classified briefing set for Thursday morning, according to a statement from the lawmaker.

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Engel added that he has withdrawn the subpoena issued to Khalilzad last week, which he had given after the State Department ignored requests in February, April and earlier this month for briefings.

After the classified briefing with Khalilzad, an open hearing “will then proceed as scheduled with testimony from another administration witness.”

“While I would have preferred to hear from Ambassador Khalilzad in an open setting, I’m glad our members will have this long overdue opportunity to press for answers on the peace plan,” Engel added. “It shouldn’t have taken a subpoena to get the State Department to work with this committee and allow us to perform our oversight duties.”

Engel issued the subpoena to Khalilzad on Sept. 12 after a whirlwind week in which the envoy told reporters he had reached an agreement “in principal” with the Taliban, followed quickly by President Trump announcing that he canceled a plan to meet with Taliban leaders at Camp David to finalize the deal.

Khalilzad had been negotiating with the Taliban for nearly a year on an agreement that would have most U.S. troops withdraw in exchange for assurances from the group that it would not let terrorists launch attacks against the United States from Afghanistan.

Trump, however, said Sept. 7 that he canceled the Camp David summit due to Taliban-claimed car bomb day prior in Kabul that killed a U.S. soldier and 11 others.

Trump has since described the peace talks as “dead.”

“For months, we haven’t been able to get answers on the Afghanistan peace plan, and now the president is saying the plan is dead,” Engel said in a statement last week when he issued the subpoena.

“We need to hear directly from the administration’s point person on Afghanistan to understand how this process went off the rails.”