Trump hails Afghanistan deal and plans to meet Taleban leaders soon

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Trump speaks during a press conference at the White House as US Vice-President Mike Pence looks on. PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON (REUTERS) - US President Donald Trump on Saturday (Feb 29) said he would be personally meeting leaders of the Taleban in the near future and rejected criticism of a deal that the United States signed with the insurgents in Afghanistan.

He spoke hours after US and Taleban representatives signed a deal that could pave the way towards a full withdrawal of foreign soldiers and move closer to ending the 18-year war in Afghanistan.

Trump said in a news conference at the White House that the agreement should allow the United States to draw down its troops in Afghanistan from 13,000 to 8,600. He held out the possibility of withdrawals beyond that number, but said the United States could quickly move forces back into the country if needed.

In later remarks at a conservative political conference in suburban Maryland, Trump said if the Taleban lives up to its commitments the war will "be over."

"We can't be the policeman for the world," he said.

Trump has frequently expressed a desire to put a halt to "endless wars" and has said he has been personally struck by meeting wounded soldiers who are missing limbs on his visits to Walter Reed Medical Centre.

The president came under sharp criticism for the deal from his former national security adviser, John Bolton, who said in a tweet that "signing this agreement with Taleban is an unacceptable risk to America's civilian population."

"This is an Obama-style deal. Legitimising Taleban sends the wrong signal to ISIS and Al-Qaeda terrorists, and to America's enemies generally," he said, referring to former president Barack Obama, Trump's Democratic predecessor.

Republican US Representative Liz Cheney, daughter of former vice-president Dick Cheney, also complained about the deal and said the Trump administration should disclose how it plans to verify Taleban compliance.

"Today's agreement with the Taleban includes concessions that could threaten the security of the United States," she said.

Trump's willingness to meet Taleban leaders at the presidential retreat in Camp David, Maryland, last year was a factor in Bolton's exit from the White House. Taleban violence in Afghanistan prompted Trump to cancel that meeting.

Trump rejected the criticism from his former aide.

"Nobody should be criticizing this deal after 19 years. He had his chance, he didn't do it," Trump said of Bolton.

Trump did not say where he would be meeting leaders of the group that has fought the American presence in Afghanistan since war broke out following the Sept 11, 2001, attacks on the United States.

The US president said Afghanistan's neighbours should help maintain stability following the agreement.

Many expect the forthcoming talks between the Afghan sides to be more complicated than the initial deal. But Trump said he thought the negotiations would be successful because "everyone is tired of war."

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