Follow us on social


US and Taliban take major first step, quietly

The desire to do this without the glare of the media is understandable; the need to do it outside Afghanistan is less so.

Analysis | Middle East

On Sunday and Monday, a significant event took place outside the public eye: U.S. officials engaged in high-level talks with senior Taliban representatives in Doha, Qatar, to discuss the future of Afghanistan. 

Some observers noted the lack of attention, but it might be a blessing in disguise. While the lack of media glare might raise concerns about Afghanistan slipping off the radar, conducting diplomacy without public scrutiny, media sensationalism, and political grandstanding could create the space for substantive and meaningful change in the war-ravaged country's future.

These talks represent the most substantial and public dialogue between the Taliban and the United States since Washington’s withdrawal almost two years ago. The State Department's statement on the meeting outlined the critical issues that were discussed, including human and women's rights, Afghanistan's foreign exchange reserves, terrorism, and the potential for “confidence building” between Washington and the Taliban.

The U.S. delegation, led by Special Representative for Afghanistan Thomas West, along with Special Envoy for Afghan Women, Girls, and Human Rights Rina Amiri, and Chief of the U.S. Mission to Afghanistan (based in Doha) Karen Decker, held talks with the Taliban’s foreign minister, Amir Khan Muttaqi. 

Interestingly, neither the State Department’s official statement nor West’s Twitter account mentioned Muttaqi by name, while Abdul Qahar Balhki, the spokesperson for the Taliban’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, tweeted about it. This could be coincidental, or it might be part of a broader pattern adopted by the Biden administration to amplify engagement with Afghan civil society figures and exiled politicians, while downplaying direct interactions with the Taliban, particularly its senior officials.

As I have previously argued, talking with senior Taliban officials remains important, even if they lack ultimate decision-making power. But it raises questions about why such conversations cannot take place within Afghanistan, as is the case for UK and EU officials. While there might be concerns about diplomatic security, there should be ways to address them, just as Washington’s European counterparts have managed to do. Concerns about legitimizing the Taliban by being seen to engage them publicly became moot the minute then-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met with Mullah Baradar in 2020, and had a photo taken of the occasion.

There is an opportunity cost in not meeting with the Taliban inside Afghanistan. As outgoing Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman recently told the Washington Post, “[i]n negotiating, you have to understand the other side — their interests, as well as their culture, their history.” U.S. diplomacy often views sitting at the table with adversaries as a concession or a display of weakness. 

In reality, however, engaging with the Taliban within Afghanistan will prove an essential initial step for any chance for sustainable progress.

A high level delegation of the Taliban met with US officials in Doha, Qatar, on July 30-31. In this October 8, 2021 photo some of the same officials, including Maulvi Amir Khan Mottaki (center) landed in Doha to engage in talks after the US withdrawal. (Reuters)
Analysis | Middle East
Chris Murphy Ben Cardin

Photo Credit: viewimage and lev radin via

Senate has two days to right Menendez’s wrongs on Egypt


Time is ticking if senators want to reinstate a hold on U.S. military aid to Egypt following indictments this week against Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), who is accused of taking bribes in exchange for greasing the skids for Cairo to receive weapons and aid.

On September 22, the Southern District of New York indicted the New Jersey Democrat, his wife Nadine Arslanian Menendez, and three associates on federal corruption charges. Prosecutors alleged that the senator accepted bribes, including gold bars, stacks of cash, and a Mercedes-Benz convertible, using his position as chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to benefit the government of Egypt. The FBI is now investigating Egyptian intelligence’s possible role.

keep readingShow less
Diplomacy Watch: A peace summit without Russia
Diplomacy Watch: Laying the groundwork for a peace deal in Ukraine

Diplomacy Watch: Domestic politics continue to challenge Ukraine’s allies


Last week’s edition of Diplomacy Watch focused on how politics in Poland and Slovakia were threatening Western unity over Ukraine. A spat between Warsaw and Kyiv over grain imports led Polish President Andrzej Duda to compare Ukraine to a “drowning person … capable of pulling you down to the depths ,” while upcoming elections in Slovakia could bring to power a new leader who has pledged to halt weapons sales to Ukraine.

As Connor Echols wrote last week, “the West will soon face far greater challenges in maintaining unity on Ukraine than at any time since the war began.”

keep readingShow less
What the GOP candidates said about Ukraine in 4:39 minutes

What the GOP candidates said about Ukraine in 4:39 minutes


The second Republican debate last night hosted by Fox news was marked by a lot of acrimony, interruptions, personal insults and jokes that didn't quite land, like Chris Christie calling an (absent) Donald Trump, "Donald Duck," and Mike Pence saying he's "slept with a teacher for 30 years" (his wife).

What it did not feature was an informed exchange on the land war in Europe that the United States is heavily invested in, to the tune of $113 billon dollars and counting, not to mention precious weapons, trainers, intelligence and political capital. Out of the tortuous two hours of the debate — which included of course, minutes-long commercials and a "game" at the end that they all refused to play — Ukraine was afforded all but 4 minutes and 39 seconds. This, before the rancor moved on — not to China, though that country took a beating throughout the evening — but to militarizing the border and sending special forces into Mexico to take out cartel-terrorists who are working with the Chinese.

keep readingShow less

Ukraine War Crisis