'Times': Obama Willing To Talk To Taliban In an interview with The New York Times, President Obama says the United States isn't winning the war in Afghanistan and he's opened the door to having the military reach out to some of the Taliban insurgents. Reporter Sheryl Gay Stolberg talks about the president's strategy.
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'Times': Obama Willing To Talk To Taliban

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'Times': Obama Willing To Talk To Taliban

'Times': Obama Willing To Talk To Taliban

'Times': Obama Willing To Talk To Taliban

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In an interview with The New York Times, President Obama says the United States isn't winning the war in Afghanistan and he's opened the door to having the military reach out to some of the Taliban insurgents. Reporter Sheryl Gay Stolberg talks about the president's strategy.

JACKI LYDEN, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Jacki Lyden. President Obama says the United States isn't winning the war in Afghanistan, and he's opened the door to having the U.S. military reach out to some of the Taliban insurgents it's now fighting.

Obama told the New York Times that the strategy, similar to the one General David Petraeus used with the Sunni militias in Iraq, will be much more complicated this time in Afghanistan.

And the complications keep on coming. Hamid Karzai's term as that country's president ends May 20th, but elections aren't scheduled until August 20th. He said today that he should stay in office until then, and that could set up a constitutional showdown.

Back in the U.S., Sheryl Gay Stolberg is one of the New York Times reporters who sat down with President Obama today. I talked to her earlier and asked exactly what the president said he would consider to improve the military situation in Afghanistan.

Ms. SHERYL GAY STOLBERG (Reporter, New York Times): Well, as you know, the president has started a review of his policy toward Afghanistan and Pakistan. And so, he said he didn't want to preempt that review, but he did say that reconciliation with some moderate elements of the Taliban might emerge as an important strategy to be used there, and this would be kind of a mirror of the strategy that General Petraeus used in Iraq.

And he, in fact, quoted General Petraeus. He said that if we talked to him, he thought that the general would argue that part of the success in Iraq involved reaching out to people that we would ordinarily consider to be Islamic fundamentalist but who are willing to work with us, and that perhaps a similar tactic could be used with the Taliban.

LYDEN: Now, as we heard throughout his campaign, candidate Obama took some heat for saying that he'd be willing to talk to America's enemies and certainly, the Taliban would qualify there. Does this change U.S. policy in Afghanistan?

Ms. STOLBERG: Well, I think we're seeing President Obama change U.S. policy toward our enemies all the way across the board. We're talking now about inviting Iran into the fold to talk about Afghanistan, reaching out to Syria. And so, I think this is very significant. Certainly, if it happened, it would be a change.

LYDEN: Did the president outline what next steps he will take to determine if this is a strategy the American military will move forward with?

Ms. STOLBERG: He did not. We had 30 minutes with him in the interview, and we tried to cover both foreign affairs and domestic.

LYDEN: Sticking with foreign policy for just another moment, Sheryl, administration officials were critical of Pakistan for the actions that it's taken to reach out to some in the Taliban. So, how would the American strategy be different?

Ms. STOLBERG: Well, I suppose that's a good question except that in Mr. Obama's view, the idea would be to break off those who are moderate to work with us. And I think, as he said in the interview, this is a very tricky strategy.

First of all, how do you find out who's moderate? This is a strategy that would be fraught with complexities. Officials would have to determine which Taliban members might be within reach of a reconciliation campaign, and this is a country, as we know, that is lawless and there are feuding insurgents.

So, it would be very difficult and delicate indeed. And in fact, in our interview, the president said that. He said the situation in Afghanistan, if anything, is more complicated than the situation in Iraq. It's a less-governed region. There's fierce independence among the tribes there and so figuring this out, he said, would be much more of a challenge.

LYDEN: What was the president's overall tone as regards Afghanistan?

Ms. STOLBERG: Well, he said quite pointedly that we are not winning there. We asked him a very straightaway question, are we winning, and he simply said no.

And I hate to characterize his tone, but I would say his tone was cautious toward Afghanistan. It's clearly the part of the world that he is devoting a lot of attention to. He's concerned about the situation there.

LYDEN: Sheryl Gay Stolberg is a reporter with the New York Times. Thanks very much for your time.

Ms. STOLBERG: Thank you.

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