(CNSNews.com) – An unapologetic President Trump on Monday defended his proposal to meet with Taliban leaders at Camp David – a plan he subsequently canceled – saying the presidential retreat in Maryland has had many visitors “perceived as being pretty tough customers and pretty bad people.”
The plan drew strong criticism from Democrats and some Republicans after Trump revealed at the weekend that a meeting was to have taken place, but that he was calling it off after the terrorist group took responsibility for a car bombing in Kabul that killed an American soldier and 11 other people.
Critics questioned the wisdom of meeting at all with the Taliban, the appropriateness of the venue, and the timing – as the nation prepared to mark the 18th anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks, perpetrated by the Taliban’s al-Qaeda allies.
Trump told reporters before leaving Washington for a rally in North Carolina that he wanted to have a meeting with the Taliban, but felt that holding it at the White House “would have been a step too far.”
“There’ve been many powerful meetings at Camp David having to do with enemies – real enemies, very big enemies, war. And I thought Camp David would be good, and I still do,” he said.
“The only reason I canceled that meeting is because they killed one of our soldiers and they killed a total of 12 people, trying to build up their importance, because they think that’s important. Except to me it backfired.”
Trump defended both the idea of meeting with Taliban leaders at all, and the venue that he favored.
“I’ve met with a lot of bad people and a lot of good people during the course of the last almost three years, and I think meeting is a great thing.”
Without meetings, he added, “wars would never end.”
As for holding such a meeting at the presidential retreat, Trump said, “Camp David’s held meetings with a lot of people that would have been perceived as being pretty tough customers and pretty bad people. There’ve been plenty of so-called bad people brought up to Camp David for meetings.”
“Camp David has had many meetings that I guess people would not have considered politically correct,” he added.
Used by presidents since Franklin D. Roosevelt, the facility made world headlines in 1978 when President Carter hosted Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin there for talks paving the way to a peace agreement between the longstanding Mideast foes.
As Trump stated, Camp David has also played host to some guests considered by many to be “pretty bad people.”
Twenty-two years after the Carter-Sadat-Begin encounter, President Clinton took to Camp David Yasser Arafat, the leader of the PLO terrorist organization whose many victims included American diplomats and other U.S. citizens.
The July 2000 talks there with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak ended in failure after Arafat rejected an unprecedented Israeli offer of the Gaza Strip, around 95 percent of the West Bank, and parts of Jerusalem.
Long before he invited Arafat to Camp David, Clinton had hosted him at the White House – in 1993 for the signing of the Oslo interim peace accords, then again in 1995, 1996, 1998 and 2000. Despite the Camp David failure, Clinton went on to receive the PLO chief at the White House yet again the following January.
In 2003 President George W. Bush hosted Russian President Vladimir Putin at Camp David, although Putin at the time was not the deeply controversial figure he would later become. (The previous year, world leaders had hailed Russia’s “remarkable economic and democratic transformation” under Putin’s leadership.)
President Obama hosted Russian President Dmitry Medvedev at Camp David alongside a G8 summit in 2012, four years after the Medvedev-Putin administration invaded Georgia and effectively occupied one-fifth of its territory.
In 2015, Camp David was again host to some controversial Mideast visitors, when Obama invited leaders from the six Gulf Cooperation Council countries to discuss improving security cooperation at a time when some of the Sunni states were leery of the administration’s engagement with Iran.
The emirs and crown princes who attended the summit represented some of the region’s most repressive regimes, including Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Qatar.