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What To Expect From The Munich Security Conference


There's a truce in the making between the U.S. and the Taliban. If successful, it might open the way for a deal that could eventually bring American troops home from Afghanistan and end 18 years of war. But there hasn't been much talk about it from the stage of a major international meeting going on right now in Munich. NPR's Rob Schmitz is at the Munich Security Conference. Rob, thanks so much for being with us.

ROB SCHMITZ, BYLINE: Good morning, Scott.

SIMON: U.S. officials met with their counterparts from Afghanistan. What do we know about the details?

SCHMITZ: Well, we first heard about this deal yesterday from a senior U.S. official who spoke on the condition of anonymity. And according to this official, the U.S. and Taliban have agreed to a seven-day reduction of violence that'll cover the entire country. And if the Taliban, which controls roughly half of Afghanistan, is able to make good on this, then a U.S.-Taliban peace agreement would be signed within 10 days. And it would mean a drawdown of U.S. troops from the current levels, around 13,000, to less than 9,000 U.S. military personnel. And here at the security conference in Munich, we were expecting Secretary of State Mike Pompeo or Secretary of Defense Mark Esper to mention the deal in their speeches this morning, but neither of them did. After his speech, Secretary of Defense Esper finally addressed the deal when asked about it by a moderator. And here's what he said.


MARK ESPER: I think there's general agreement. It's my view as well that we have to give peace a chance, that the best if not only way forward in Afghanistan is through a political agreement. And that means taking some risk. That means enabling our diplomats. And that means working together with our partners and allies on the ground to affect such a thing.

SCHMITZ: And, Scott, one of those partners, the government of Afghanistan, sent its president, Ashraf Ghani, here. And he met with Secretary Pompeo yesterday.

SIMON: Well, what is it that Secretary Pompeo did talk about?

SCHMITZ: Well, it's interesting. His entire speech this morning was sort of a rebuke to the theme of this very conference. Organizers have coined this conference Westlessness to frame the idea that the world is becoming less Western. Pompeo talked about how the world still looks to the West. The threat of China was a big focus of his speech. He and Defense Secretary Esper talked at length about how China telecoms company Huawei aims to use its 5G infrastructure to steal data, spy on us and undermine Western democracies. And what's interesting here is the U.S. delegation, which included two dozen members of Congress, were all unified in this position. Yesterday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi criticized Huawei, as did Republican Senator Lindsey Graham.

SIMON: Of course, China has a delegation there, too. And I wonder if they responded.

SCHMITZ: Yeah. Yesterday during a session, a member of China's National People's Congress stood up and challenged Speaker Pelosi. Pelosi sort of snapped back at the Chinese official. She accused Huawei of stealing U.S. technology and then went on to say that China's human rights violations are evidence alone that countries should avoid working with Huawei. And Scott, I think the reason that Speaker Pelosi and others in the U.S. delegation are hammering on this issue so much is their audience here in Munich. Many European countries are in the process of deciding whether to allow Huawei to build their 5G networks. But these warnings from the U.S. seem to be sort of ringing hollow in their ears because they're also worried about the U.S. intelligence apparatus spying on their telecommunications networks, too.

SIMON: And back to the Afghanistan agreement - seven days of reduced violence doesn't sound like a huge step forward.

SCHMITZ: (Laughter).

SIMON: When it's supposed to begin?

SCHMITZ: Well, those details were not revealed today or yesterday. I think, perhaps, the officials, as was hinted at by one of the officials, are waiting for President Trump to weigh in on this before the weekend is finished.

SIMON: NPR's Rob Schmitz in Munich, thanks so much.

SCHMITZ: Thank you, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Rob Schmitz is NPR's international correspondent based in Berlin, where he covers the human stories of a vast region reckoning with its past while it tries to guide the world toward a brighter future. From his base in the heart of Europe, Schmitz has covered Germany's levelheaded management of the COVID-19 pandemic, the rise of right-wing nationalist politics in Poland and creeping Chinese government influence inside the Czech Republic.