Ashraf Ghani says Pompeo talks 'positive' despite aid cut

The Afghan president said his rival Abdullah Abdullah made unrealistic demands

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Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said his talks on Monday with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo went well, despite Washington slashing aid to the country immediately after the meeting. 

“I see my negotiations with Secretary Pompeo as positive,” he said in a televised address on Tuesday.

Mr Ghani said the cut in aid would not affect critical areas, and further discussions would be held to resolve differences with his rival Abdullah Abdullah. 

“I met with Dr Abdullah Abdullah ... and wanted to offer him a central role in the peace process and positions in the Cabinet to his allies, but he emphasised an amendment of the constitution,” Mr Ghani said.

He said the amendment was “impossible”.

Two sources told Reuters that Dr Abdullah had wanted to create a position of prime minister to reduce the amount of power concentrated in the president’s hands. The rival Afghan politicians have each declared themselves president of the country after disputed elections last year.

The Trump administration slashed $1 billion (Dh3.67bn) in assistance to Afghanistan and threatened further reductions in all forms of co-operation after the leaders failed to agree on forming a new government.

The decision to cut the aid was made on Monday by Mr Pompeo after he made an unannounced, urgent visit to Kabul to meet Mr Ghani and Dr Abdullah.

Mr Pompeo had hoped to break the deadlock but was unable to.

Absent from the meetings was the chief US negotiator, US Special Representative Zalmay Khalilzad, an Afghan-born veteran diplomat.

Mr Ghani did not directly address the aid cut being a response to his government and that of his rival failing to put aside their differences.

As part of the peace deal being negotiated with the Taliban, rival factions in Afghanistan were to come together in all-Afghan talks about shaping the country’s future.

But Washington made clear from the start that the pace of a US troop withdrawal was linked to the Taliban clamping down on terrorist groups and aiding in the fight against ISIS  not on the success of intra-Afghan talks.

After meeting the chief Taliban negotiator Abdul Ghani Baradar in Qatar, Mr Pompeo told reporters he was satisfied that the Taliban were keeping their side of the deal, had reduced violence and were ready to start negotiations with the leadership in Kabul.

Yesterday, the Taliban said Baradar’s meeting with Mr Pompeo stressed that only a strict implementation of the peace deal would “pave the way for intra-Afghan negotiations along with enduring peace and ceasefire, including a future Islamic government in accordance with the agreement”.

The group also said Mr Pompeo assured them that the US forces’ withdrawal “will continue in accordance with the declared timetable”.