WASHINGTON (AFP) – The Taliban welcomed President Barack Obama’s order to close Guantanamo but said peace would only come if he reverses the “satanic policies” of his predecessor, George W. Bush.
In a message posted on online jihadist forums, the Taliban also called on Obama to close all “evil” US detention centers for militants, “completely withdraw” from Iraq and Afghanistan and “stop defending Israel.”
“Obama’s move to close Guantanamo detention center is a positive step for peace and stability in the region and the world,” said the message, a copy of which was obtained from the US-based monitor, the SITE Intelligence Group.
The message also mentioned Obama’s appointment of “peace envoys:” Richard Holbrooke as envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, and George Mitchell as Middle East envoy.
Obama signed executive orders in his first week in office to ban torture, shut secret overseas CIA detention centers and close the US military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where some 245 detainees are still held.
The Guantanamo prison camp was established in 2002 as a means to hold detainees beyond the reach of US courts. The US also holds approximately 600 detainees at the US air base in Bagram, Afghanistan, the fate of which Obama has not yet decreed.
“If Barack Obama sincerely wants real stability and peace in the world, he should not only close Guantanamo. Rather, he should void all those evil projects established in the light of Bush’s satanic perspective of instability in the world,” the Taliban message said.
Monday, Obama told the Muslim world that “Americans are not your enemy” in his first formal interview as president.
“We are going to follow through on many of my commitments to do a more effective job of reaching out, listening as well as speaking to the Muslim world,” he said in the interview with Al-Arabiya, a pan-Arab and Saudi-owned satellite television network.
“If Obama is right and, according to his words, wants to open a new page based on peaceful interaction built on mutual respect with the Islamic world, the first thing he has to do is to stop and annul all these (Middle East policy) procedures, which were created according to Bush’s criminal policy,” the Taliban message said.
“He must completely withdraw all his forces from the two occupied Islamic countries (Afghanistan and Iraq), and to stop defending Israel against Islamic interest in the Middle East and the entire world.”
Living up to a key campaign promise, Obama has directed military planners to start formulating a proposal to get most US combat troops out of Iraq within 16 months.
He has also pledged to boost US forces in Afghanistan, amid deteriorating security. The Pentagon has promised to deploy up to 30,000 additional forces to Afghanistan to combat the insurgency led by the Taliban and Al-Qaeda, nearly doubling the 36,000-strong US force there.
Obama argued last week that the war in Afghanistan, which he called “the central front in our enduring struggle against terrorism and extremism,” could not be separated from the volatile border area with Pakistan, where Al-Qaeda and Taliban elements have regrouped.
Obama has promised to be more actively engaged in Middle East diplomacy than Bush. He told Al-Arabiya that he did not want expectations raised too high for a quick breakthrough on Middle East peace in the aftermath of the Gaza war.
“I do believe that the moment is ripe for both sides to realize that the path that they are on is one that is not going to result in prosperity and security for their people,” Obama said. “Instead, it’s time to return to the negotiating table.”
He also reaffirmed that “Israel is a strong ally of the United States. They will not stop being a strong ally of the United States. And I will continue to believe that Israel’s security is paramount.”
The Taliban issued a stern warning to Obama should he not heed their advice.
“It is imperative that Obama, before he gets hit with the same fate as the Communist empire, must find potential ways to carry a message of peace and stability to the world,” the message said. The Soviet Union left Afghanistan in defeat in 1989 after a war that lasted more than nine years.
“Through this, he can also protect his people and his administration from the danger of elimination and decline.”
In the Al-Arabiya interview, Obama agreed that the highly personal tone of recent Al-Qaeda messages seemed “nervous.”
“What that tells me is that their ideas are bankrupt,” he told the Dubai-based network.