The State Department is being coy about whether the point man on Afghanistan and Pakistan met with representatives of the Taliban in Qatar this week.
State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland seemed to dance around the question Thursday of whether Marc Grossman, the Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, met Taliban personnel when he was in Qatar earlier this week. Grossman visited the Gulf country as part of trip that took him to Afghanistan, Turkey, India, Saudi Arabia, the U.A.E., and Italy.
Reports this week indicated that a team of senior Taliban diplomats had arrived in Qatar in preparation for the opening of an office that would be used to conduct negotiations with members of the Afghan and U.S. governments.
Nuland refused to get into specifics from the podium, but did not dismiss anything either.
You can decide from this section of Thursday's State Department briefing transcript on whether a meeting took place.
QUESTION: Do you have any readout of Ambassador Grossman's meetings in Qatar?
MS. NULAND: We did give a readout on those meetings a few days ago. I don't have anything new. He – what I can tell you, though, is that he was in Rome today for the last stop on his long, long trip which included stops in Turkey, Saudi Arabia, UAE, India, Afghanistan, Qatar, and now Rome. In Rome, he met with his Italian counterpart, Francesco Talo, and he also had a meeting with President Karzai, who was in Rome on a swing to talk to European governments. So that gave Ambassador Grossman an opportunity to debrief President Karzai on his meetings in Qatar and continue to work closely with the Afghan Government on next steps in the reconciliation process.
QUESTION: And while in Qatar, did he had any meetings with any representatives of the Taliban?
MS. NULAND: Well, I am not going to get into the specific blow-by-blow of his diplomacy on this issue. We've talked about this before. We have said in the past, he has said, the Secretary has said, we have said here, that we are open to having those meetings that we think can be helpful in encouraging a process that gets Afghans and Afghans sitting down together at a peace table. So he did have a number of meetings in Qatar focused on national reconciliation issues. I'm not going to get into the blow-by-blow either with regard to that stop or with regard to future meetings that he might have, except to say that we are intently focused on working these issues closely with the Afghan Government. That's why he sought a second meeting – it might actually have been a third meeting – in a week and a half with President Karzai up in Rome.
QUESTION: But that's a very important issue for the U.S. and why you're reluctant not to say if he met or didn't meet?
MS. NULAND: Because if this process is going to work, we have to give it some time, we have to give it some space, we have to give it some room. But the fundamentals are clear. We've been absolutely clear about it. I would refer you to his press conference in Kabul where he was very upfront that whenever we have such meetings, he talks to the Afghan Government about it before and after. And our goal is to get to a point where it's Afghans talking to Afghans and we're not needed to facilitate this. So that's what he's working on, but do not expect from this podium we're going to get into every blow-by-blow. We're not going to.
QUESTION: Can you tell me is -
QUESTION: Can you tell me a little bit more about what the – Under Sherman might have to say to -
QUESTION: Whoa, wait a minute.
MS. NULAND: Wait, let's stay on this subject, please. Sorry.
QUESTION: He can finish.
QUESTION: But overall, is he satisfied with his entire trip, including his meetings in Qatar?
MS. NULAND: I think that he thinks it's been quite a productive trip, that it has solidified in particular our understanding and agreement with the Government of Afghanistan about how to go forward, and made clear where we need to go next in this process. But there's a lot of work to do. The Secretary has been very clear about this – a long way to go, including a long way to go on the question of whether and when a Qatar office might be opened.