US President Donald Trump speaks to the press prior to departing on Marine One from the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, DC. Photo: AFP
WASHINGTON: US President Donald Trump said on Sunday he would sign a peace deal with the Taliban if one were eventually reached in Afghanistan.
“Yes,” he told reporters at the White House as he prepared to depart on a trip to India. “I would put my name on it.”
His comments came after a partial truce took effect in Afghanistan on Saturday, with the Taliban, US, and Afghan forces agreeing to a weeklong “reduction in violence.”
The truce was intended to set conditions for Washington and the insurgents to sign a deal in Doha on Feb. 29 that could ultimately lead to a withdrawal of US forces after more than 18 years.
Trump also called for an investigation into an apparent leak of classified intelligence from a briefing for lawmakers on Russian interference in the 2020 US presidential campaign, setting his sights on a leading Democrat.
Trump said he had not been briefed on intelligence that Russia was aiming to boost the campaign of Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders.
A congressional source told Reuters on Friday that intelligence officials have told lawmakers Russia appears to be engaging in disinformation and propaganda campaigns to help both Democratic challenger Bernie Sanders and Trump, who is seeking re-election.
Trump departed on Sunday on a quick trip to India, where he is to see crowds so large that they will make the much-ballyhooed turnout for his campaign rallies pale in comparison.
With a travel time of 17 hours, Trump and his wife, Melania, were headed first to Germany for a refueling stop at Ramstein military base before heading on to Ahmedabad, India, which is the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s hometown.
There, hundreds of thousands of people are expected to gather to greet Trump on Monday for a roadshow leading to a rally in a cricket stadium with a capacity of over 100,000.
Trump routinely gets the biggest crowds of any candidate in the US presidential race, ranging up to 20,000 or so, and he has been grudgingly admiring of Modi’s ability to get a bigger crowd than him.
“Here’s my problem,” Trump told a large crowd of supporters in an arena in Colorado Springs, Colorado, last week. “We have a packed house. We have thousands of people who couldn’t get in. It’s going to look like peanuts from now on.”
It will be a larger version of the “Howdy Modi” rally that they jointly appeared at in Houston to a jubilant crowd of 50,000 Indian Americans last year, where Trump likened Modi to Elvis Presley for his crowd-pulling power.
After addressing the stadium crowd, Trump and his entourage will travel to Agra for a picturesque visit to the Taj Mahal. Then it will be on to New Delhi, where he and Modi are to have a day of talks and attend an evening banquet on Tuesday. The Trumps get back to Washington on Wednesday.
After concluding trade deals with China and Canada and Mexico, Trump would like to reach a similar agreement with India to open more markets for American goods, but progress has been slow and Trump in recent days has said such a pact is more likely after the US election.
India and the US have hit each other with retaliatory tariffs. Over the past month, they have engaged in intense negotiations to produce a mini-trade deal, but officials in both countries say it remains elusive.
The two sides have been arguing over US demands for access to India’s huge poultry and dairy markets, Indian price controls on medical devices such as stents and stringent local data storage rules that US technology firms say will raise the costs of doing business.
Modi’s government has sought restoration of trade concessions that Trump withdrew in 2019 and greater access to US markets for its pharmaceutical and farm products.
US officials say Trump will raise the sensitive subject of religious freedom during his meetings.
Modi’s government has faced protests at home and criticism abroad for enacting a citizenship law that is seen as discriminating against Muslims.
(with inputs from Agencies)