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Pompeo Leaves Kabul Without Announcing Deal Between Ghani, Abdullah

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani (C) with the U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (L) and Vice President Amrullah Saleh in the Arg presidential palace on March 23.
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani (C) with the U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (L) and Vice President Amrullah Saleh in the Arg presidential palace on March 23.

KABUL -- U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has completed an urgent visit to Kabul without saying whether he was able to broker an agreement between Afghanistan's quarreling political leaders.

The U.S. State Department said Pompeo was flying to Doha on March 23 after his one-day visit in Kabul.

State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said Pompeo would meet in Doha late on March 23 with Taliban representatives, including the Taliban's chief negotiator Mullah Baradar, to press for the Taliban to continue to comply with a peace deal the militant group signed with Washington in late February.

Pompeo was in Kabul on March 23 to broker talks between President Ashraf Ghani and Ghani's main political rival, former Chief Executive Officer Abdullah Abdullah.

But as Pompeo's plane left Kabul late on March 23, there was still no announcement on whether he was able to broker a deal between Ghani and Abdullah.

The Associated Press quoted reports from the Afghan capital that Pompeo had given Ghani and Abdullah until March 24 to come up with a compromise in their dispute over the country's official presidential election results. But there was no indication either side had offered to compromise their position.

Pompeo was hoping to advance progress on a peace deal signed on February 29 by U.S. negotiators and the Taliban.

Pompeo met separately with Ghani and Abdullah on March 23 before meeting together with both Afghan leaders.

Since the signing of the deal with the Taliban, the peace process has ground to a halt amid political turmoil, with both Ghani and Abdullah arguing they'd won the presidency through a contested election in September 2019.

According to the official election results, Ghani won the presidency outright in the first round of the election with just over 50 percent of the vote compared to about 39 percent for Abdullah.

But Abdullah has alleged there was widespread fraud in the ballot count and staged his own presidential inauguration to reinforce his claim that he was the legitimate winner of the election.

Pompeo hoped to help end the political stalemate which has put on hold the start of intra-Afghan peace talks that would include the Taliban.

Pompeo's visit came a day after the Afghan government held its first talks with the Taliban about a prisoner swap. The talks were announced by U.S. peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad.

“Prisoner releases by both sides is an important step in the peace process,” Pompeo said in a March 22 statement on Twitter.

The talks -- held via Skype amid the coronavirus pandemic -- lasted more than two hours and were facilitated by the United States and Qatar, Khalilzad said.

The spread of the coronavirus has made the release of prisoners “that much more urgent,” he said.

Afghanistan announced the same day the first death in the country due to COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. Afghanistan had 34 confirmed cases of the virus as of March 22.

The United States on February 29 signed a historic agreement with the Taliban that could lead to the withdrawal of all foreign troops from Afghanistan and an end to the country’s 18-year conflict.

According to a joint declaration published by the U.S. and Afghan governments on February 29, the United States and NATO would withdraw all troops in Afghanistan within 14 months if the Taliban upholds the commitments made in the agreement.

“All sides conveyed their strong commitment to a reduction of violence, intra-Afghan negotiations, and a comprehensive and permanent cease-fire,” Khalilzad said.

The envoy said a follow-up meeting between the Afghan government and Taliban will be held in the next two days.

With reporting by AP and AFP

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