The announcement was among several steps that returned Washington to a traditionalist foreign policy stance and normal business, starting with a Biden phone call to Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Mexico’s President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, both US neighbours and allies that had been lacerated during the Trump years.
White House officials said President Biden’s National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan spoke with his Afghan counterpart Hamdullah Mohib and “made clear the US’ intention to review” the deal, specifically if Taliban is “living up to its commitments to cut ties with terrorist groups, to reduce violence in Afghanistan, and to engage in meaningful negotiations with the Afghan government and other stakeholders.”
Sullivan, a White House statement said, “underscored that the US will support the peace process with a robust and regional diplomatic effort, which will aim to help the two sides achieve a durable and just political settlement and permanent ceasefire.” He also discussed US support for steps to protect women and minority groups’ rights as part of the peace process.
The Biden move will bring some relief to both Kabul and New Delhi, which feared that the Trump administration threw then under the bus by giving away too much in return for sketchy assurances from the Taliban. The Trump White House made it obvious it was in a hurry to withdraw US troops from Afghanistan and other theaters as part of the former President’s disdain for Washington’s involvement in “foreign wars” regardless of US stakes previous administrations talked up.
Under the deal signed in February 2020 between Trump and Taliban representatives, the US and its Nato allies would withdraw all troops from Afghanistan in 14 months if the Taliban upheld its promises, including not allowing al-Qaeda or other militants to operate in areas it controlled, and proceeding with national peace talks.
The deal, based on thin assurance with sketchy guarantees, thrilled Pakistan, which regards Afghanistan as its “strategic depth” and a staging ground to counter India and assert itself in the region. The Biden review though is underscored by assurance by the new Secretary of State Antony Blinken that Washington is still committed to ending this “forever war” but it also wants to “retain some capacity to deal with any resurgence of terrorism, which is what brought us there in the first place.”
Friday’s developments made it clear that the US would continue to have differences with friends and allies, but it would mark the return of a “friendly and respectful” tone, as Mexico characterized the conversation between Biden and Obrador. “It’s not always going to be perfect alignment with the United States. That’s the case with any given president, but we’re in a situation where we are much more aligned on values and focus. I am very much looking forward to working with President Biden,” Canada’s Trudeau, stung by Biden’s first-day move of scrapping the Keystone XL pipeline that would help the Canadian economy, said.
The Biden White House has already indicated it sees a continuation of good relations with India in keeping with the bipartisan support New Delhi has in Washington. “President Biden, who, of course, has visited India many times, respects and values the long, bipartisan, successful relationship between leaders in India and the United States. He looks forward to a continuation of that,” White House spokesperson Jen Psaki said on Thursday, suggesting also that the election of the first US vice-president of Indian-origin would help this.
Biden visited India in 2008 and 2013, and in quirky asides, has twice referred to distant relatives and family in India — five Bidens in Mumbai who may have descended from his “great, great, great, great, great grandfather” George Biden, who was a Captain in the East India Trading company and settled in India after marrying locally.