Middle East/North Africa

Afghan president rejects Taliban demand for prisoner release

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Afghan President Ashraf Ghani on Sunday publicly contradicted the U.S. on a landmark deal between U.S. and Taliban forces, repudiating a provision that would release 5,000 Taliban prisoners.

“The government of Afghanistan has made no commitment to free 5,000 Taliban prisoners,” Ghani told reporters in Kabul Sunday, a day after the two sides signed the deal in Qatar, Reuters reported.

Ghani added that the promise was not for the U.S. to make.

“The request has been made by the United States for the release of prisoners and it can be part of the negotiations but it cannot be a precondition,” Ghani said, according to The Associated Press.

Qatari Foreign Minister Mohammad bin Abdulrahman Al Thani told the AP that a prisoner exchange would be vital for building confidence between the sides, saying “everything was interconnected” in the 14-month timeframe within the agreement.

“The prisoner exchange will be one of the first confidence-building measures, so it will remain a very critical step that we need to push forward,” he told the AP.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on CBS’ “Face the Nation” Sunday morning that he was hopeful negotiations would commence between the Taliban and Afghanistan’s government in coming says after the militant group had long refused to sit down with Afghan officials.

President Trump, meanwhile, said over the weekend that he would meet with Taliban leaders “in the not-too-distant future,” adding “we think we’ll be successful in the end” but “if bad things happen we’ll go back.”

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