House Foreign Affairs Panel Subpoenas Top Afghanistan Negotiator

WASHINGTON — The chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee on Thursday subpoenaed President Trump’s top negotiator for Afghanistan, complaining that the administration had stonewalled lawmakers’ attempts to get a straight story about its strategy for bringing the war there to an end.

The subpoena, the first authorized by Representative Eliot L. Engel of New York since Democrats took control of the House, compels Zalmay Khalilzad, the special representative for Afghanistan reconciliation, to publicly brief lawmakers at a hearing on the administration’s plan.

It came in the aftermath of Mr. Trump’s revelation that he had been planning, but then abruptly canceled, peace talks with the Taliban at Camp David, and his subsequent declaration that the negotiations were “dead.”

“More than 2,000 American troops have died in Afghanistan, and I’m fed up with this administration keeping Congress and the American people in the dark on the peace process and how we’re going to bring this long war to a close,” Mr. Engel said. “For months, we haven’t been able to get answers on the Afghanistan peace plan, and now the president is saying the plan is dead.”

Mr. Engel continued: “We need to hear directly from the administration’s point person on Afghanistan to understand how this process went off the rails. I expect to see Ambassador Khalilzad in our hearing room.”

A spokeswoman for Representative Michael McCaul of Texas, the top Republican on the foreign affairs panel, said in an statement that Mr. McCaul was informed of the decision and that he hoped Mr. Khalilzad would testify. “Our committee members are eager to hear about the developments in Afghanistan, including the status of negotiations with the Taliban,” said the spokeswoman, Kaylin Minton.

The State Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The committee had asked three times this year for Mr. Khalilzad to brief lawmakers on the administration’s plan to end to the 18-year war in Afghanistan, and each time the State Department declined. Mr. Khalilzad gave a closed-door classified briefing to members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in May in his first and only appearance before Congress since his appointment.

Lawmakers in the House took their complaints directly to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in March, when he testified before the panel to present his department’s 2020 budget request.

“Members of Congress are concerned about the lack of communication between the State Department and Congress relative to our strategy and an update relative to the negotiations with the Taliban,” Representative Dean Phillips, Democrat of Minnesota, said then. He asked Mr. Pompeo to compel Mr. Khalilzad to appear before Congress.

“No, I’m not prepared to confirm that he will do that,” the secretary replied. “I’m happy to share with you our strategy, what the State Department has been tasked to do. When you’re engaged in complex negotiations, one needs to be really careful to make sure the contents of those negotiations stay within a very small circle.”

Lawmakers now feel an urgency to renew their requests, after a tumultuous week that began with Mr. Trump’s Saturday night revelation on Twitter of his aborted Camp David peace meeting, and the subsequent resignation of John R. Bolton, his hawkish national security adviser, who had been deeply opposed to the plan.

Source: NYT

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