AILSA CHANG, HOST:
After several rounds of negotiations, the U.S. and the Taliban appear to be within reach of a deal. President Trump is weighing the possible withdrawal of U.S. forces that have been in Afghanistan for 18 years. In turn, the U.S. wants the Taliban to agree to a cease fire in exchange for a role in the country's political system.
In a moment, Afghanistan's ambassador to the U.S. will tell us how she views these talks, but we begin with NPR national security correspondent Greg Myre.
GREG MYRE, BYLINE: Hey, Alisa.
CHANG: So a lot of our listeners probably haven't been following every twist and turn of these negotiations. How did we even reach the point where the U.S. and the Taliban are close to an agreement?
MYRE: So almost a year ago, President Trump appointed an envoy, Zalmay Khalilzad. And these talks began in Qatar late last year. And it was really striking to see these photos of U.S. diplomats sitting across the table from Taliban negotiators - remember seeing that at the beginning of the year. Now it's become routine. They had the latest round of the talks just last week. Still no deal, but it is becoming to look like a real possibility.
CHANG: So what are the sticking points that remain now?
MYRE: So the Taliban want all the U.S. troops out of Afghanistan. That's about 14,000. And the timeline they seem to be discussing is maybe two years, a little less.
MYRE: But U.S. and military officials are a little wary about this. They want to keep some small presence, a counterterrorism presence there. So that's a big concern. They're wary of what happened back in Iraq in 2011 when the U.S. pulled out, and then the Islamic State moved in.
MYRE: They don't want to see a repeat of that. But the U.S. also wants the Taliban to agree to a ceasefire, distance itself from al-Qaida, and negotiate with the Afghan government.
CHANG: And what do we know so far of what President Trump absolutely needs to see in this deal before agreeing to it?
MYRE: Well, you know, he's - all along, he's wanted to get the troops out of Afghanistan. So in theory, he's for this. He had a big meeting last Friday in New Jersey with his national security team. But he is getting these warnings from his military and national security folks.
We know he's unpredictable. He could say anything at any moment. And Daniel Feldman, who was the representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan under President Obama, said this needs to be a pretty measured sort of process and doesn't need to be a bombshell. So here's how he described it.
DANIEL FELDMAN: What would be worse for negotiations is for some sort of imminent announcement about a precipitous withdrawal by the U.S. after these 18 or 19 years. That would be very, very destabilizing.
CHANG: OK, so tell us what we should be expecting in the coming days or weeks now.
MYRE: Well, we could see an announcement as soon as that. Again, there's no deal, but that's a possibility. Then if there is, the Taliban and the Afghan government that would have to sit down face-to-face and talk.
And all this is coming against the backdrop of violence. We saw this horrible suicide bombing over the weekend, more than 60 people killed. Now the Islamic State claimed responsibility for that, not the Taliban. And Afghanistan has a presidential election coming up next month.
CHANG: That's NPR's Greg Myre.
MYRE: Thanks, Alisa.
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