US defense chief says Taliban deal 'looks very promising' but not without risk

US defense chief says Taliban deal 'looks very promising' but not without risk
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Defense Secretary Mark EsperMark EsperOvernight Defense: Stopgap spending measure awaits Senate vote | Trump nominates former Nunes aide for intelligence community watchdog | Trump extends ban on racial discrimination training to contractors, military Overnight Defense: Pentagon redirects pandemic funding to defense contractors | US planning for full Afghanistan withdrawal by May | Anti-Trump GOP group puts ads in military papers Official: Pentagon has started 'prudent planning' for full Afghanistan withdrawal by May MORE said a deal with the Taliban that could lead to the withdrawal of U.S. troops in Afghanistan “looks very promising” but is not without risk.

Esper made the comments while speaking at the Munich Security Conference on Saturday, The Associated Press reported.

The defense chief said the administration has not reached a firm date on when a seven-day "reduction in violence" may begin. The deal is aimed at gauging the Taliban’s seriousness.

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“So we have on the table right now a reduction in violence proposal that was negotiated between our ambassador and the Taliban,” Esper told an audience at the security conference, according to the AP. “It looks very promising.”

On Friday, Esper and Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoPutin nominated for Nobel Peace Prize The Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by Facebook - Trump previews SCOTUS nominee as 'totally brilliant' Pompeo accused of stumping for Trump ahead of election MORE met with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, who has been skeptical of the proposal negotiated with the Taliban.

The plan seeks to end attacks for seven days, followed by the signing of a U.S.-Taliban peace deal. Afghan peace talks would begin shortly after, in which the U.S. envisions a phased withdrawal of U.S. forces over 18 months.

Esper told reporters that if the plan is successful, it could reduce the amount of troops stationed in Afghanistan from 12,000 to 8,600 “over time.” 

“It’s my view as well that we have to give peace a chance, that the best if not the only way forward in Afghanistan is through a political agreement and that means taking some risk,” Esper said in Munich. “That means enabling our diplomats and that means working together with our partners and allies on the ground to affect such a thing.”

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On Friday, lawmakers appeared wary of the peace talks, with Rep. Mac ThornberryWilliam (Mac) McClellan ThornberryTrump payroll-tax deferral for federal workers sparks backlash Overnight Defense: Woodward book causes new firestorm | Book says Trump lashed out at generals, told Woodward about secret weapons system | US withdrawing thousands of troops from Iraq Top Armed Services Republican 'dismayed' at Trump comments on military leaders MORE (Texas), the top Republican on the House Armed Services Committee, questioning how a stipulation for intra-Afghan talks would be enforced.

“How are you going to know if that’s real negotiation or if that’s a fig leaf?” he said.  

Meanwhile, Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamSteele Dossier sub-source was subject of FBI counterintelligence probe Hillicon Valley: Subpoenas for Facebook, Google and Twitter on the cards | Wray rebuffs mail-in voting conspiracies | Reps. raise mass surveillance concerns Key Democrat opposes GOP Section 230 subpoena for Facebook, Twitter, Google MORE (R-S.C.), a close Trump ally and leading GOP voice on foreign policy, said he’s “willing to give it a try” and that the goal is “to show a semblance of good faith to start a broader discussion.”