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Engagement With U.S. For Peace Talk On Track: Taliban

"Peace talks [are] out there, regional players are pressing for peace, the Taliban is talking about peace, the Afghan government is talking about peace,"

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Taliban, afghanistan, pakistan, U.S.
Members of Taliban delegation take their seats during the multilateral peace talks on Afghanistan in Moscow, Nov. 9, 2018. VOA

The Taliban has said that its engagement with the United States for negotiating an end to “the war and illegitimate occupation” of Afghanistan remains on track, ruling out once again any direct peace talks with the government in Kabul

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told VOA a new round of discussions with the U.S. is in the cards but dates and a venue have not yet been determined.

He was responding to and rejected as “false claims” reports that insurgent negotiators were planning to hold direct talks with Afghan officials in Saudi Arabia later this month.

U.S. special representative for Afghanistan reconciliation, Zalmay Khalilzad, held two days of marathon talks in mid December with a high-powered Taliban delegation in Abu Dhabi, where envoys of Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and the host country also were in attendance.

Afghan President, elections, U.S.
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani speaks during a U.N. conference on Afghanistan, Nov. 28, 2018, at U.N. offices in Geneva, Switzerland. VOA

The Pakistani government took credit for arranging the meeting in the United Arab Emirates following Khalilzad’s preliminary interactions with Taliban representatives based in Qatar.

“There has been no interruption in the dialogue process with America because ending the occupation of Afghanistan is now a compulsion for them [U.S.],” said Mujahid.

He asserted that if talks fail to achieve the desired results and the war continues with the Taliban “the Americans would have no option but to be driven out of Afghanistan.”

In a separate statement issued via Taliban social media, Mujahid appeared upbeat, however, about the outcome of the series of negotiations held with the Americans.

taliban, afghanistan, U.S.
Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanakzai, right, head of the Taliban’s political council in Qatar, takes part in the multilateral peace talks on Afghanistan in Moscow, Nov. 9, 2018. VOA

“We can say with certainty that they indeed proved effective. They have given birth to hope that should the negotiations continue with such speed, then it is possible that foreign aggression be brought to an end, following which peace will be established,” the Taliban spokesman said.

He defended Taliban’s stance for not holding talks with the Afghan government, dismissing them as the product of “foreign occupation” of Afghanistan, with no “authority or ability” to end to the conflict.

President Donald Trump reportedly is weighing options about whether to significantly reduce the more than 14,000 forces currently stationed in Afghanistan.

The reports have worried officials in Kabul and foreign critics who maintain the drawdown would leave no incentive for the Taliban to halt fighting and seek a negotiated settlement to the war.

Mujahid mocked Afghan officials for urging Trump to review his drawdown plans, saying “the Afghan people saw the quislings at Kabul letting out screams.”

USA, afghanistan, taliban, peace talks
U.S. special envoy for peace in Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, talks with local reporters at the U.S. embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan, Nov. 18, 2018. VOA

The Taliban maintains the U.S. is its main adversary in the Afghan war and views direct talks with Washington as a legitimate effort to seek withdrawal of foreign troops before engaging in an intra-Afghan peace dialogue.

The 17-year war in Afghanistan is the longest overseas American military intervention in history. It has cost nearly a trillion dollars and killed roughly 150,000 people. Civilians, security forces, including more than 2,400 U.S. troops, and insurgents are among those killed.

U.S. military officials appear to be positioning themselves to tackle various possible outcomes of the talks with the Taliban.

General Austin Scott Miller,who commands U.S. and NATO-led non-combat Resolution Support (RS) mission in Afghanistan,told his troops last Tuesday to be ready to deal with “positive processes or negative consequences.” He nevertheless underscored the need for a political settlement to end the Afghan war.

Also Read: Peace Offer By Afghan Government Gets Rejected By Taliban

“Peace talks [are] out there, regional players are pressing for peace, the Taliban is talking about peace, the Afghan government is talking about peace,” Miller told dozens of NATO soldiers during a routine exercise session at RS headquarters in Kabul.

“Are [the RS] able to adapt? Are we able to adjust? Are we able to be in the right place to support positive processes and negative consequences, that’s what I ask you guys to think about in 2019,” Miller said. (VOA)

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U.S. Tariffs on China Could Remain Same, Even After Reaching The Trade Deal

Tariffs on imported automobiles — as are being contemplated by the White House — "would be counterproductive, like we have seen with steel tariffs," said Srinivasan, who was part of former President Barack Obama's Advanced Manufacturing Partnership task force.

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Trade Deal
Shipping containers, including one labeled "China Shipping," are stacked at the Paul W. Conley Container Terminal in Boston, Mass., May 9, 2018. VOA

U.S. tariffs on China are likely to remain in place for a while, even if a trade deal is reached, President Donald Trump told reporters Wednesday.

“The deal is coming along nicely,” the president said about the trade talks with Beijing, noting U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin would be heading to China within days to continue discussions.

“We’re taking in billions and billions of dollars right now in tariff money, and for a period of time that will stay,” Trump said.

The president’s remarks indicated that Washington’s tariffs could stay in place until U.S. officials are convinced the Chinese are adhering to the terms of the agreement.

“They’ve had a lot of problems living by certain deals,” the president noted on the White House South Lawn just before boarding the Marine One helicopter.

President Donald Trump talks to reporters as he departs on travel to Ohio from the White House in Washington, March 20, 2019.
President Donald Trump talks to reporters as he departs on travel to Ohio from the White House in Washington, March 20, 2019. VOA

China might accept a deal in which most of the U.S. tariffs are rolled back, according to Brookings Institution senior fellow David Dollar, but he said he expected President Xi Jinping would not accept any pact in which no tariffs were lifted.

“It’s very hard for the Chinese president to agree to a deal that’s so clearly asymmetric. Chinese people are so active on the internet and social media, and President Xi will hear about it from the people if he makes a deal that looks bad for China,” Dollar told VOA.

Tit-for-tat tariffs imposed last year ignited fears of a trade war between the United States and China, the world’s two largest economies, which annually trade more than a half-trillion dollars’ worth of goods.

The value of Chinese products sold in the United States far outweighs the value of those sent to China, and that deficit alone represents about 80 percent of America’s overall trade gap in goods.

A pillar of the Trump presidency has been reducing that huge gap by negotiating bilateral trade deals and rebuilding the U.S. manufacturing base.

President Donald Trump shakes hands with supporters as he arrives at Allen County Airport, March 20, 2019, in Lima, Ohio.
President Donald Trump shakes hands with supporters as he arrives at Allen County Airport, March 20, 2019, in Lima, Ohio. VOA

Trump traveled Wednesday to an area in Ohio where General Motors is set to shutter a car assembly plant, affecting about 1,500 jobs and undercutting the president’s manufacturing revival message.

“What’s going on with General Motors?” Trump asked during a speech. “Get that plant open or sell it to somebody and they’ll open it. Everybody wants it.”

“Intervening to try to keep one factory open isn’t going to do much for the economy” at a time when manufacturing is declining as a share of the overall job market, said Dollar, of the Brookings Institution. “It’s a bad precedent for politicians to intervene like that.”

A resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, Claude Barfield, agrees presidents should not intervene in individual corporate decisions.

“The president is woefully ignorant about trade and this part of the economy. He thinks it does help. I don’t think it does at all help,” Barfield, a former consultant to the office of the U.S. trade representative, told VOA.

The closure of the GM plant in Lordstown, according to a Cleveland State University study, will result in a total loss of 7,700 jobs in the region, including supply chain and consumer services employment tied to the auto plant, cutting 10 percent of the gross regional product in the greater Youngstown area.

Trump, in his remarks on Wednesday, placed some of the blame on the United Auto Workers, the union representing the GM workers.

“Your union leaders aren’t on our side,” Trump declared. “They could have kept General Motors” operating the Lordstown plant.

FILE - Employees watch as the last Chevrolet Cruze rolls off the assembly line at the General Motors Co. assembly plant in Lordstown, Ohio, March 6, 2019, in this photo obtained from social media.
Employees watch as the last Chevrolet Cruze rolls off the assembly line at the General Motors Co. assembly plant in Lordstown, Ohio, March 6, 2019, in this photo obtained from social media. VOA

Trump spoke at a facility in Lima that makes the M1 Abrams tank for the U.S. Army, about 300 kilometers from the idled auto factory.

“You better love me. I kept this place open,” Trump told workers at the General Dynamics facility, which was nearly closed six years ago after Army officials told Congress they did not need the additional tanks.

Workers listen as President Donald Trump delivers remarks at the Lima Army Tank Plant, March 20, 2019, in Lima, Ohio.
Workers listen as President Donald Trump delivers remarks at the Lima Army Tank Plant, March 20, 2019, in Lima, Ohio. VOA

Ohio, which Trump won in the 2016 election by 8 percentage points, again will be a key battleground state in next year’s presidential election.

Polls in the Buckeye State, where the president relies on a strong base of working-class voters, show his approval rating slipping.

Trade and tariffs are “not even the core issue about retaining the manufacturing jobs in this region,” University of Akron associate professor Mahesh Srinivasan, who is director of the school’s Institute of Global Business, told VOA.

Srinivasan said the focus by the Trump administration should not be so much on trade agreements as on “the inevitable march of automation and technology that has displaced workers from traditional jobs. The need of the hour is doubling down with even more emphasis on worker training and education to prepare the workforce for tomorrow’s jobs.”

Also Read: Starting With The 2024 Hurricane Season, US Meteorologists Replaces Hurricane Names Florence, Michael

Tariffs on imported automobiles — as are being contemplated by the White House — “would be counterproductive, like we have seen with steel tariffs,” said Srinivasan, who was part of former President Barack Obama’s Advanced Manufacturing Partnership task force. “It could attract retaliatory tariffs that will negatively impact numerous automobile manufacturers in Ohio and other Midwestern states, which today are supplying to automobile manufacturers globally.”

Some trade analysts agree that Trump’s metals tariffs on Canada and Mexico have hurt American manufacturing, including making U.S. auto plants less competitive. (VOA)