The following statement was issued today by the Spokesman for UN Secretary-General António Guterres:
The holding of free, fair and inclusive presidential and parliamentary elections as scheduled on 24 December is crucial to the stable future of Libya, delegates told the Security Council today, also expressing concern over a deteriorating humanitarian and economic situation.
The General Assembly adopted two resolutions today, including an omnibus text on the revitalization of the 193-member organ, as speakers argued that time has come to have a woman lead the United Nations as the Secretary-General beginning in 2027.
While no easy answers exist in addressing Yemen’s complex, sprawling seven-year-long conflict, the appointment of a new Special Envoy offers an opportunity to take stock, reassess and re-engage the parties anew, delegates told the Security Council today amid concerns over continued clashes and an escalating economic crisis.
Office of the Spokesperson
The below is attributable to Spokesperson Ned Price:
Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken met today with Philippine Secretary of Foreign Affairs Teodoro Locsin, Jr. Secretary Blinken reaffirmed the importance of the bilateral relationship, and highlighted the 70th anniversary of the alliance, and the 75th anniversary of diplomatic relations. Secretary Blinken also underscored the importance of freedom of navigation and respect for international law in the South China Sea, and reiterated calls on the People’s Republic of China to abide by the 2016 arbitration ruling issued pursuant to the Law of the Sea Convention. Secretary Blinken and Secretary Locsin also discussed COVID-19, economic engagement, and human rights.
Ned Price, Department Spokesperson
2:26 p.m. EDT
MR PRICE: Good afternoon. I have a few things at the top.
First, today, we can confirm that a Qatar Airways charter flight with U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents onboard departed the Hamid Karzai International Airport this morning and recently landed in Doha, Qatar.
We have been working around the clock and in close coordination with our Qatari partners, including the Secretary’s in-depth discussions this week with his counterpart, Foreign Minister Al Thani, to facilitate the safe departure of U.S. citizens, LPRs, and at-risk Afghans. We thank Qatar for their partnership and continued efforts to facilitate operations and ensure the safety of today’s flight.
Additionally, we have been in regular contact, as you have heard us say, with U.S. citizens remaining in Afghanistan. We have provided them – including those aboard this flight – with specific guidance and instructions. To date, we are proud to say that we have brought over 6,000 Americans home, and we remain deeply committed to facilitating the safe transit of U.S. citizens, LPRs, and at-risk Afghans who wish to leave Afghanistan, and we will continue our efforts. We will be relentless in doing so.
We welcome the Taliban’s cooperation in facilitating this flight as part of their commitment to allow those with travel documents to leave, if they so choose.
Our team in Doha and the Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Ambassador Khalilzad have stressed with Taliban officials that additional steps such as these will be well received by the international community.
We understand there are efforts within the international donors and partners to bring about a solution that is consistent with OECD governance principles and will provide sound management at Naftogaz. We encourage these efforts to move forward with haste.
As Russian aggression and occupation continue, our strategic partner Ukraine does not need to have questions about its commitment to corporate governance being raised. We welcome Ukrainian Government’s – the Ukrainian Government’s active engagement to resolve this issue positively.
Finally, today in Washington D.C., Vice President Harris opened the U.S.-Mexico High-Level Economic Dialogue, and Secretary of State Blinken participated with counterparts from the Government of Mexico. Secretary Blinken was joined by Department of Commerce Secretary Raimondo, United States Trade Representative Tai, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Mayorkas, USAID Administrator Power, and representatives from other U.S. agencies and departments in a series of discussions. The Government of Mexico included Foreign Secretary Ebrard, Secretary of Economy Clouthier, Undersecretary for Finance and Public Credit Yorio, as well as other representatives for this one-day dialogue that has just concluded.
Today’s meetings were a result of the March 2021 agreement that President Biden reached with Mexico President Lopez Obrador to relaunch the U.S.-Mexico High-Level Economic Dialogue, which was originally established in 2013. By bringing leaders together to discuss strategic, economic, and commercial objectives, this dialogue drives improved job creation, global competitiveness, and reductions in poverty and inequalities, and that is to the benefit of U.S. citizens and Mexican citizens alike.
This year’s dialogue focused on four central pillars: Building Back Together; Promoting Sustainable Economic and Social Development in Southern Mexico and Central America; Securing the Tools for Future Prosperity; and Investing in Our People.
We look forward to continuing to advance our economic partnership with Mexico as we build upon today’s meetings to further the interests of the people of the United States and the region.
So with that, Simon.
QUESTION: Just to follow up on the flight that’s come out of Afghanistan, are you able to tell us how many Americans, how many LPRs were on there, and then how many does that leave in Kabul? And do you see this is a – now a reliable safe-passage channel that’s now open, and are the Taliban assuring you that that’s the case, and are you confident that that will remain? The airport is now a – the way out of the country.
MR PRICE: Thanks, Simon. Let me take those in turn.
First on the numbers, you have heard us say this repeatedly in the context of Afghanistan, but we will always endeavor to provide you with information that is both timely and accurate. When it comes to the number of U.S. citizens and LPRs aboard this flight, what we’re going to do is to cross-reference those individuals we believe were on the plane when it departed the Hamid Karzai International Airport, cross-reference that against the manifest data upon landing in Doha, which it has recently done. So I do expect we’ll be able to provide you with some more granular details in the coming hours.
But I can add this. We have said that we have been in regular contact with American citizens and others to whom we have a special responsibility in Afghanistan, both before the end of the U.S. Government-led evacuation effort and after. And so as part of that, we invited more than 30 American citizens and LPRs to be on this flight. Now, not all of them ultimately chose to depart Afghanistan today. In our engagement with them, they offered a number of different reasons, those who chose not to take part in this flight. Some wanted more time to consider it. Others wanted to remain with extended family, at least for the time being. Others cited medical issues, among other reasons that we heard. But we will continue to invite Americans and others to whom we have a special commitment on future flights, additional opportunities for them to depart Afghanistan, again, if they so choose.
When it comes to this means of departure from Afghanistan, we’ve always maintained, well before the end of the U.S.-led evacuation effort, that we saw a functioning civilian airport in Kabul as key to that commitment that the Taliban has made both publicly and privately to safe passage. That is precisely why we have worked so concertedly with stakeholders in the region. And of course, that includes the Turks as well as the Qataris. We’ve – there was substantive discussion with our Qatari counterparts just within the past 48 hours when we were in Doha regarding the safe operation of the airport going forward. And we do see the safe operation of the airport as a means by which to see to it that the Taliban is able to fulfill that commitment that Americans and others who choose to depart the country are able to do so.
So we certainly hope and we certainly expect there will be additional opportunities for Americans and others to whom we have that commitment to depart Afghanistan, if they so choose, using this and potentially other means as well.
QUESTION: How do —
MR PRICE: Sure, please.
QUESTION: So do you think the Taliban are showing the same cooperation and flexibility you mentioned in letting go the Afghans at risk who aren’t – who don’t have another nationality? Because it’s my understanding that today – today’s flight were mainly third-country nationals, Americans, or dual-nationals. And can you update us with this regard with the status of the charters in Mazar-e-Sharif? Are they showing flexibility and cooperation on those flights?
MR PRICE: Sure. Well, we’re not ready to make sweeping categorical judgments. What we are willing and what we have done is to characterize what we’ve seen so far. And certainly, today’s departure of this Qatar Airways charter was a welcome step. It is certainly something that we were glad to see happen. As we have said, additional such steps will be similarly greeted not only by the United States but by the international community. There were other third-country nationals aboard this flight as well.
But the broader point is that we will continue and the international community will continue to hold the Taliban to account for its public and private commitments, the commitments it has made in private to us and to many of our close partners, that those with valid travel documents who wish to leave the country will be able to do so.
As you know, the Secretary hosted a ministerial along with Foreign Minister Maas of Germany yesterday in – at Ramstein Air Base, and this was a topic of discussion. Among the consistent themes we heard from the more than 20 countries and organizations that took part was the need to work collectively, using every tool at our disposal, to hold the Taliban responsible for those commitments.
Of course, we would like to see more such flights, flights similar to the one that took off today. We have heard public statements that more, in fact, may be forthcoming. But obviously, we don’t want to prejudge that, and we will continue to do everything we can together with our partners to work towards that goal.
QUESTION: Hi. Understanding that you welcome this step, what about what we’ve seen on the streets of Kabul, in other places: the lashings, the beatings of people, to say nothing of the appointment of an all-male, non-inclusive cabinet with these two Haqqani members with bounties on their head from this State Department?
MR PRICE: Well —
QUESTION: (Inaudible) FBI Wanted list.
MR PRICE: So, Andrea, as I said before, we are not going to make sweeping categorical judgments just yet. We have spoken about our reaction to the initial caretaker government. You have heard us say that the lack of inclusivity, the track records, the backgrounds of some of the individuals involved, is a cause for concern. It certainly does not reflect what the international community and what, as a part of that, the United States hoped to see.
Now, we note this is an initial caretaker government. We note that some of these positions remain unfulfilled. So what will be important to us is not only the composition of any future government of Afghanistan – again, we will look to see to it that it is inclusive, to see to it that it is representative of the people that the Taliban purport to represent.
But we’ll also look towards their actions, and that was another constant refrain yesterday when we gathered many of our closest allies and partners in Ramstein. There were several elements of consensus that emerged, and in fact, there were key questions that many of the participants posed: Will the Taliban uphold their commitments to freedom of travel and safe passage – in the case of the United States for Americans, but also for third-country nationals, for our Afghan partners? Will they live up to their counterterrorism commitments? There was a broad discussion of the threat from ISIS-K, from al-Qaida, from terrorist groups on – that may seek to operate or that are operating on Afghan soil. Will they form an inclusive government? That will be a key question that we’ll look to see as the future Afghan government comes together. And will they sustain progress for women and girls? In other words, will the gains of the past 20 years that no country did more to facilitate and support than the United States – will those gains be preserved?
We don’t yet know the answer to any of those questions. We will together be able to answer those questions with our allies and partners as we start to see how the Taliban is going to purport to govern, how it will treat its people, how it will treat our people, how it will confront threats not only to the Taliban but threats to us as well, and that includes from ISIS-K.
QUESTION: And let me just ask the follow-up about the people at Mazar-e-Sharif and elsewhere. Understanding the need for travel documents, but so many people don’t have them, and isn’t this a catch-22 for Americans as well as at-risk Afghans, some of which may have documentation – we don’t know – that was burned up in the evacuation of the embassy?
MR PRICE: Well, we are continuing and we have been in close dialogue with the Taliban but even closer dialogue with our partners on this very question. And when I say “partners,” I’m using that expansively. We have found and have very much appreciated the efforts of NGOs, of advocates, of lawmakers and others who have helped to organize groups of individuals, charters, manifests. And people in this building have been working with those individuals, entities, and groups literally around the clock at the highest levels of this building and the U.S. Government. We share a single a goal, and that is bringing and facilitating the departure out of – from Afghanistan of as many of these individuals to whom we have a special obligation.
And with our careful review of many of these manifests and our close partnership with many of these entities, organizations, and individuals, we have been able to confirm – at least to the best of our ability, not having personnel on the ground – that there are American citizens, that there are LPRs, there other at-risk Afghans to whom we do have that commitment who are willing and ready to go on one of these charter flights.
And our contention continues to be that these individuals should be allowed to go. We have made that known very publicly. You’ve heard the Secretary speak to it at some length, both in Doha and in Germany yesterday and the day before. But we’ve also made this known privately, and we have engaged with the Taliban, both Ambassador Khalilzad and with the team that Ian McCary is leading out of Doha, on this very question.
Now, the question about travel documents – look, we have been clear that American citizens, that LPRs and Afghans who may be at risk and Afghans to whom we do have that special obligation should be allowed to travel. There have been certain instances where we have been able to – for Afghan SIV recipients traveling to the United States, we have collaborated, for example, with the Department of Homeland Security to provide electronic proof of recent visa issuance.
I would say more broadly that we are considering and we are developing additional processing alternatives so that we can continue to deliver important consular services, including to these American citizens, these LPRs, these Afghans at risk. But just as we welcome the departure of this charter from HKIA today, we will continue to hold the Taliban accountable for the commitment it has made, including in the context of these individuals who are ready, willing, and able to depart Afghanistan now and in the coming days.
QUESTION: Coming back to the U.S. citizens and LPRs who have stayed behind because of their extended families, what is the discussion in this building and with DHS about prioritizing extended family in order to get them out of Afghanistan as well? I mean, it’s pretty easy to understand that if you have elderly relatives, you don’t want to leave them behind in a country where you can’t trust that they’re going to be safe. Do these people now get to be on a priority list to leave the country, if the only reason that they would be on the list is because they have U.S. or LPR relatives?
MR PRICE: Well, Ros, we have a special commitment to U.S. citizens, and it is not only the commitment that is deeply held and deeply felt by the Secretary and everyone in this building and across the administration, but it’s actually written into statute. It’s written into U.S. code that the Secretary of State has a special obligation that goes beyond other obligations to U.S. citizens, and I think everyone in this room can understand that. So certainly, that is our priority.
We are in regular contact with American citizens in Afghanistan. And we’ve talked about this process as being dynamic. A decision or feedback that we may hear one day, including in the context of the more than 30 individuals who were invited to be on this flight today, that answer could be different tomorrow or the next day. There have been cases where individuals say, “I want to leave” and then later they say, “I’ve decided to stay.” There have been cases where individuals say, “I’ve decided to say,” and then reverse themselves. And that is perfectly understandable. It is perfectly legitimate. These are, in many cases, wrenching decisions just for the dynamic that you explained. That is certainly at play in some of these cases.
Now, we will continue to offer these American citizens, going forward indefinitely, the opportunity to depart Afghanistan if they so choose. This invitation, this opportunity, doesn’t expire if they turn it down one day and change their mind the next or even next year.
When it comes to their family members, it is difficult to be categorical about this, because every individual is going to be in a different circumstance. But as you know, it is not only U.S. citizenship that may convey a reason to travel to the United States, to be granted entry into the United States, but there are other mechanisms through which individuals can travel. We have talked about so-called Priority 1 refugee referrals. In some cases, some of these individuals may be eligible for P-2 refugee referrals. So we will explore all appropriate options. But those are discussions that we’ll have to have on an individualized basis, given the circumstances of each family and of each U.S. citizen.
QUESTION: That could take some to sort out with each individual case. What if someone comes to you and says, “Look, I’m really worried about this. I can’t leave my life in the U.S. unattended, but I cannot get on a plane if my elderly mother or grandmother can’t come with me.” Isn’t there something you can do to get her to the head of the line? What do you do in that case?
MR PRICE: Again, it’s difficult for me to offer any sort of conclusion from here, because as I’ve – as we’ve said, every American who remains in Afghanistan, who has expressed any interest in departing, has been assigned a case manager. We’re using a case management strategy. And what that means is we have individuals, in this building in many cases, assigned to correspond with these individuals, to speak to them on the phone, to be in touch with them over text, to exchange emails, WhatsApp messages. And so they will hear the totality of these circumstances. And as you note, there may be instances where circumstances evolve quickly.
The good news is that all of the Americans we’ve been able to identify – or I should say that have identified themselves to us – who are interested in potentially departing the country, they know how to be in touch with us. They know precisely how to relay their circumstances, and we’ll be in a position to offer guidance that is tailored and precise for the circumstances in which they find themselves.
QUESTION: When the Secretary was in Doha, was he able to meet with any Taliban leader? And to what extent the U.S. is able to put pressure on Taliban when you all still have Americans inside Afghanistan?
MR PRICE: We had a very full visit to Doha. It was an opportunity for the Secretary and for his team to do a couple things. Number one, to express our profound gratitude for the Government of Qatar for really going above and beyond. And I think the Secretary may have said this publicly – he certainly said it privately – but everything we have asked of the Government of Qatar in the context of our recent mission in Afghanistan, they have been willing to do. And in many cases, they have gone well beyond that. There have been many countries that have been extraordinarily helpful in the context of our evacuation of some 124,000 individuals from Afghanistan. We could not have done that without the network of global transit points and partners that we assembled, but certainly no one has done more than Qatar in recent weeks. And that was before today’s development, the flight – the charter flight of Qatar Airways and Qatar’s ongoing work to resume fuller operations at the airport.
Second, it was an opportunity for the Secretary to visit Al Udeid Air Base, where – that had played host and still did host as of a couple days ago so many of those who were evacuated from Afghanistan. More people transited the facilities in Doha than any other transit point, and that is just another testament to the generosity of our partners. The Secretary had an opportunity to meet with Ian McCary and his team, the team that is responsible for much of the engagement with the international community in Doha – the community of special envoys for Afghanistan – and the team that will be engaging and has engaged with the Taliban. And he also had an opportunity to meet with the fuller embassy team in Doha. This is a team that, over the past several weeks, has been pulled in directions that it is fair to say many of them never would have contemplated.
But just as with the Government of Qatar, this is a team – and by team, I’m using that broadly: State Department, our interagency partners from DHS, to DOD, to others – they did everything that was asked of them and quite a bit more. And for those of you who had an opportunity to see the operations at the airbase, and the fact that an airbase like that was turned into a facility that could host so many at-risk individuals and others who were evacuated from Afghanistan, it was really a testament to the dedication, the commitment, the ingenuity of our mission team on the ground, of our interagency partners, and their commitment to the safe evacuation of so many at-risk Afghans and others.
When it comes to the Taliban, we did not engage with any members of the Taliban. That was not the point of the trip. As I’ve said, others from within the State Department, including the special representative, including Ian McCary and his team, they have continued that pragmatic engagement with the Taliban where and when it is in our national interest. And it is manifestly in our national interest to see to it that American citizens, LPRs, other Afghans at risk are offered the opportunity to depart Afghanistan if they so choose. Much of that engagement since August 31st has been focused on that very precise and narrow question, given just how important it is to us.
QUESTION: Can you talk about the pressure that you can put on Taliban, since you have still Americans inside Afghanistan?
MR PRICE: Well, I would say a couple things on that. We are and we will use appropriate tools and levers at our disposal to hold the Taliban to account for – to hold them responsible, I should say, for the commitments they have made. The United States Government is able to do quite a bit. We are able to do quite a bit more when we act in unison, when we act in coordination and cooperation with countries the world over. And I think you saw yesterday from Ramstein there was and has been a series of gatherings of countries, in many cases, that have different viewpoints, that may have slightly different interests. But we have consistently found a great deal of alignment of interests when it comes to what we believe and what we think should be the case in Afghanistan. And that includes vis-a-vis the Taliban’s governance of the Afghan people. So yes, we will continue to hold the Taliban responsible for those commitments.
When it comes to the ability of our citizens, of LPRs, of Afghans at risk to depart, this is not a favor we need or seek from the Taliban. This is a commitment that the Taliban has made, and it is a commitment that, in at least a couple instances now, the Taliban has made good on. Again, we welcome the departure, the safe departure, and, of course, the arrival in Doha of this charter flight. We have spoken of overland passage of Americans who have departed Afghanistan as well. Just as we welcome it, we also want to see more of it. And as we see more of it, our reaction and the reaction of the international community will be similar in that these steps will be greeted warmly and they will be welcomed.
QUESTION: Those Americans who have now arrived in Doha, would they be processed at Al Udeid or other bases, or would they be allowed to travel commercially directly to the U.S.?
MR PRICE: My understanding is that they will be allowed to travel in short order to the United States. These are American citizens, these are LPRs, these are individuals who upon their processing in Doha will be able to travel in short order.
QUESTION: For those 30 that you invited, how did you make the decision of the 100 or so that are in Afghanistan now?
MR PRICE: Yeah, it’s a good question, and it deserves a little bit of explanation because this gets back to our case management strategy. We know the answer to the very set of basic of questions. We know the answer to the size of this universe, we know the answer to the location of these individuals – the sorts of questions that we have been talking about over the course of the past few weeks. But as we have implemented this case management strategy, we have garnered quite a bit more detail about all of these individuals with whom we’re in regular contact. So it’s not only their names and bio data and with whom they might be traveling, but it is: Do they have travel documents on them? What are the numbers of those documents? Do they – are they able to reach HKIA? Are they able to reach another rallying point? Do they feel comfortable traveling by a certain means? Are they comfortable leaving within 48 hours?
We have been able to garner the answer to all of those questions. And so not only do we have the basics, but we have a very full understanding of each of these individuals, and again, the totality of their circumstances. So as we learned that there would be an opportunity for a charter flight to depart from Kabul, we turned to Americans and others and LPRs who we thought would fall – who would be most interested in that opportunity. But again, this was not the only opportunity for Americans and LPRs to depart the country. We certainly hope and expect to see more of this going forward, and we’ll be – continue to be in regular contact with these Americans going forward.
QUESTION: My next question was a quick follow-up on that. Were you given 30 seats or something? How was the breakdown – like, how – in terms of who could actually get on this first flight?
MR PRICE: So this was a first flight, and there were other – there were third-country nationals among others on it as well. I can’t speak to how the seats were allocated. This was a Qatari Airways flight. This was something that the Qatari Government was able to facilitate, and for that we are immensely grateful. Yes.
QUESTION: Thank you, sir. Jahanzaib Ali from ARY News TV, Pakistan. Just wanted to have your comments on the role of Pakistan for the ongoing situation in Afghanistan – everything.
MR PRICE: Well, as you know, Pakistan was engaged in the ministerial yesterday, and we heard from the Pakistanis very similar sentiment to what we heard from other countries that participated. And I don’t want to speak specifically for Pakistan, but there was widespread agreement, including from our Pakistani partners, that the gains of the last 20 years should not be squandered. There was distinction broadly between broad issues like recognition and legitimacy and practical engagement. And I think you’ve heard from us, you’ve heard from other governments, that when it is in our interest to engage the Taliban on the basis of our national self-interest, we will do that. And we heard a similar sentiment from other countries involved as well.
There was also the recognition from countries in the region that we needed to do everything we can to prevent a deterioration of the humanitarian situation in Afghanistan. And this is especially acutely held and felt by those countries bordering Afghanistan, knowing that the humanitarian implications could be acute for those countries in the region. That’s precisely why even as we have undertaken a review and are reviewing any forms of bilateral assistance to the government of Afghanistan, we are continuing to provide humanitarian assistance to the people of Afghanistan. This is something we have done to the tune of millions – hundreds of millions of dollars, even in recent months. In June, it was over $250 million that we put forward, and on July 31st, I believe it was, the President put forward $500 million, some of which is intended for internally displaced persons inside Afghanistan.
We’ve been in regular touch with our humanitarian partners and providers on the ground, and there was some discussion yesterday in the ministerial of the conference that the UN secretary-general is pulling together on Monday to discuss this very issue and to see to it that countries around the world raise their ambition and what collectively we are able to do for the people of Afghanistan. It’s an enduring commitment, felt dearly not only by the United States but to countries in the region and to countries well beyond.
QUESTION: I have two questions on Afghanistan, please, Ned. So just following up on the previous one about assistance, is the United States pledging any more aid in response to the UN’s emergency appeal? And can you just – I know that you said the other day that there’s a process to review individual aid programs to figure out what the United States can keep giving, but can you give any idea of whether or not assistance is formally suspended at this time to – through organizations outside of the government? And is there – does already appropriated aid need some sort of sign-off from Congress or from the Executive Branch to continue to be given at this stage?
And then separately, can you just – on Mazar, can you just clarify the extent to which the lack of adequate security vetting for Afghans who want to depart is a reason that they have not taken off? To what extent is the lack of security vetting preventing those flights from going forward for Afghans?
MR PRICE: So I’ll start with that last question first. What you heard from the Secretary is unequivocally true, and that is the United States has pulled every lever available to us to facilitate the departure of these charter flights from Mazar. The charter flights, of course, have not taken off from Mazar. I can tell you that has nothing to do with any inaction or action by the part of the United States Government, and we were very clear that we want to see the Taliban permit those who have expressed a desire to leave in this way to do so.
Now, of course, Mazar is not the only airport in Afghanistan, as we were reminded again today. We are very focused on seeing to it, along with our Qatari and Turkish partners, that the airport in Kabul can again resume fuller activity. And we were very gratified, again, to see a commercial fight depart earlier today.
When it comes to international assistance and humanitarian assistance, I should say, let me be very clear: There is no pause. There is no diminution in our humanitarian assistance to the people of Afghanistan. Whether the context is Afghanistan, whether the context is Venezuela, whether the context is any country around the world where we may have differences, including profound ones, with the government or the de facto ruling authority, we do not express those disagreements by taking it out on the people. And I think you have heard of our commitment even in recent months to the people of Afghanistan, again, to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars.
There is a pledging conference on Monday. We are very supportive of this effort. We would like to see the international community continue to step up, to show and to demonstrate in concrete ways its support for the people of Afghanistan. I don’t want to get ahead of Monday, but the United States will be very engaged in that pledging conference.
In terms of our review, we are not providing any bilateral assistance to the government of Afghanistan. We are reviewing the extent of the assistance we have provided over the years, determine – to determine what may be appropriate or what may be appropriate in various contingencies. But again, our approach to any future government of Afghanistan is going to be predicated on the answers that that government provides to some of those key questions that both we and the international community have posed.
Yes, in the back. Yes.
QUESTION: Good afternoon. I have a question regarding the slow agony of the JCPOA. I wanted to ask you: What is the State Department’s assessment right now of Tehran’s strategy regarding the talks in Vienna?
MR PRICE: Look, I will leave it to Tehran to speak to its strategy. I will tell you that our strategy is one that we have developed together with the P5+1, meaning some of our closest allies in the world, our European allies, as well as with our partners in this context, and that includes Russia and the PRC. And that is the fact that collectively the P5+1 and certainly the United States would like to see a resumption of indirect negotiations in Vienna as soon as possible. We continue to believe that the JCPOA is the most effective means to ensure that Iran is once again permanently and verifiably prevented from ever obtaining a nuclear weapon.
In fact, Rob Malley has been on travel this week. He traveled to Moscow, where he held what he described as good and productive discussions with his Russian counterpart. He is – if he has not landed already, he will soon be in Paris, where he will meet with some of our – some of his European counterparts as well.
We have heard various statements from Iran about what may be the timeframe on their end. That is not – it’s not up to us to characterize those statements. It is up to us to say that we would like to see those negotiations restart as soon as possible so we can test the proposition as to whether the – a mutual return to compliance is still within the realm of possibility.
I’d add one other point, and it’s a point that the Secretary had an opportunity to reiterate yesterday: We continue to believe that the JCPOA is the most effective means to ensure our ultimate objective – verifiably and permanently prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. But the advantages that the JCPOA conveyed will continue to be eroded the longer this goes on. We have seen – continue to see concerning reports from the IAEA when it comes to nuclear safeguards, when it comes to Iran’s compliance with the NPT. And we are cognizant that as Iran puts to use the more sophisticated technology, as Iran garners knowledge from the nuclear program that it is currently administrating that is not in compliance with the JCPOA, that will dull the original advantages that the JCPOA brought forth in 2015 and the ensuing years.
So this process cannot go on indefinitely. We are not at the point of abandonment yet. We continue to believe a mutual return to compliance is within the realm of the possible, and it is something that we will continue to pursue as long as it is in our interest to do so.
QUESTION: I’m sorry, just a follow-up. What if the Iranians do not want to restart the talks in Vienna?
MR PRICE: Well, that is a decision that they will have to make, and that is a decision that they will have to communicate. They, to the best of our knowledge, have neither made that decision and they certainly have not communicated it yet. So I wouldn’t want to get ahead of where it seems they are.
QUESTION: I know you said that you guys have done all that you can to get these flights from Mazar to take off. But I just want to be really clear: Are – is the U.S. Government still today urging the Taliban to allow these flights to take off? And then with regard to the flight today, did the United States push for there to be Afghans on the manifest, or was it essentially a situation where you’re given 30 seats and you had to prioritize the Americans to take those seats?
MR PRICE: When it comes to the individuals in Mazar, again, there – this is a collection of individuals from various categories. Our review of some of these manifests has indicated that there are American citizens, that there are lawful permanent residents, there are Afghans at risk among those who have expressed an interest in departing from Mazar.
It continues to be our contention that these individuals should be allowed to depart and should be allowed to depart at the first possible opportunity. It is consistent with the public pronouncements and the private assurances that the Taliban have made regarding their commitment to safe passage for those with travel documents who wish to depart the country. We will continue to engage the Taliban on that to see to it that these individuals are able to secure the safe passage to which they’ve been promised.
When it comes to the charter, this was an operation that was facilitated and that was overseen by our Qatari partners, so I wouldn’t want to go into it beyond saying that we are grateful for their ability and willingness to do this.
Yes, Kylie. Yeah.
QUESTION: Just one follow-up on outside groups. We’re being told that the White House has approved a plan for the State Department to take the lead in coordinating with outside groups who are trying to help with these evacuation efforts. Do you have any more details on this? And our understanding is that Milley was involved in putting forth one proposal that led to the White House signing off. So do you have anything to say about his involvement and the work out of this building on that?
MR PRICE: I wouldn’t want to speak to the chairman, but what I can speak to is our involvement in this going forward. As you know and I’ve said in this briefing, we have been in regular, around-the-clock contact with NGOs, with advocates, with lawmakers, with organizations that are helping those in need in Afghanistan. We have not only been in contact with them; we have provided them guidance. We have pulled every lever that is available to us to help facilitate the departure of these individuals from Afghanistan.
We greatly appreciate the constructive efforts of these groups. There is a great amount of passion, there is a great amount of determination, and there is a great amount of ingenuity that these groups, these individuals, these actors, have displayed. And so we are organizing an effort to help us – to help us organize these efforts on the part of NGOs, on the part of advocates, on the part of other outside actors, to see to it that we can provide them with – be most helpful to them, that we can provide them with the information that they need, and overall that – so that we can organize the broad and oftentimes disparate efforts of outside groups to see to it that all of these efforts are as effective as they can be.
This is an effort that will be run out of the State Department, and this is an effort that we’ll have more detail – for which we’ll have more detail to share in the coming days.
QUESTION: Do we know who’s leading this?
MR PRICE: We will have more detail to share in the coming days. I can say, and as we’ve said, that Ambassador John Bass, who was leading key elements of the evacuation effort on the ground in Kabul, is now back here at the department. He’s playing a leading role in our ongoing efforts to provide support to Americans and to others in Afghanistan who may to depart.
QUESTION: Thank you, Ned. Can I please follow up on the charter flight? Is there another charter flight coming out of HKIA tomorrow? The reason I ask is because you just said that not everyone decided to depart today and there may be more tomorrow. And earlier today, according to the Qatari’s envoy’s statement, it seems to suggest that possibility. Thank you.
MR PRICE: Well, this was an operation that was implemented by our Qatari partners. They have spoken to this publicly. They have voiced optimism that there will be additional such opportunities, but I would need to refer to them as the entity behind the operation of these charter flights to speak to when that next flight might be.
I will say from our perspective, we are doing everything we can. We are supporting our Qatari partners, we’re engaging with the Taliban, we’re working with the international community to see to it that there are no obstacles to any such future charter flights going forward. This is a key avenue for Americans and others to whom we have a special responsibility to depart the country if they so choose, and we are doing everything within our purview to see to it that there are more such opportunities.
QUESTION: If (inaudible) BRICS summit —
QUESTION: Can I ask —
MR PRICE: Sure, Nike. Go ahead.
QUESTION: So first, the summit among BRICS – the Brazil, South Africa, India, China, Russia – the virtual summit today. They – none of these countries signed up to the U.S.-led joint statement for Afghanistan evacuation safe passage, but they did discuss Afghanistan and saying that this Afghanistan should not be a launching pad for a terrorist attack. How close is the U.S. monitoring this summit, and what is your take on their joint statement? Because it comes before the UN donors’ conference on Monday, and what is your message to China and Russia? Thank you.
MR PRICE: Well, those countries did not take part in the ministerial yesterday, but a large and broad swatch of the international community did, including many of the most important stakeholders when it comes to Afghanistan. It was not only co-hosted by the United States and Germany, but it had participants from Australia, Bahrain, Canada, France, India, Italy, Japan, Kuwait, Norway, Pakistan, Qatar, Republic of Korea, Saudi Arabia, Spain, Tajikistan, Turkey, Turkmenistan, the UAE, the UK, Uzbekistan, the EU, NATO, and the UN, which is obviously a very broad coalition of countries coming together.
I would also say that there have been a number of efforts that the United States has pulled together, that the international community has pulled together, that the UN Security Council has pulled together where we have seen dozens if not, in a couple cases, more than a hundred countries sign onto a set of key principles, including this principle of safe passage for those who wish to depart the country. So I don’t want to characterize the efforts of other countries, but I suspect there will be opportunities going forward for the United States to continue to engage with a broad and wide swath of the international community on these important questions.
QUESTION: Question on North Korea: Has there been any result from the conversations with South Korea and any communication at all from North Korea in response to successive statements and inquiries for some engagement? Any reaction to what we saw last night at the annual ceremonies, which was a very different kind of parade, and obviously the focus on COVID and the extraordinary Kim Jong-un diet?
MR PRICE: Well, I don’t have a specific reaction to what we’ve seen overnight; of course aware of the military parade that the DPRK staged on September 9th. When it comes to the United States, our goal continues to be the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. We are prepared to engage in diplomacy towards that objective. Special Representative Sung Kim was recently in Seoul, where he met with his counterparts there, and we have made the point that we believe diplomacy presents an opportunity to make progress towards that goal of the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. We have made clear to the DPRK that we do not have any hostile intent towards the regime. We have made clear to them that we are prepared to meet to engage in principled negotiations anytime, anywhere, anyplace.
I don’t have an update for you when it comes to any North Korea – North Korean, DPRK response to those offers, but the offer certainly stands.
QUESTION: And in the interim, there has been extensive reporting from independent analysts about Yongbyon. Do you have anything to say about that?
MR PRICE: Well, we will get you – actually, you mentioned the report. We are aware of it. We are closely coordinating with our allies and partners on developments regarding the DPRK. This report – for us, it underscores what I was just referring to, and that was the urgent need for dialogue and the urgent need for diplomacy so that we can achieve our objective here, and that is the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. We believe the best way to make progress towards that is with dialogue with the DPRK so that we can address the issues raised in this report but also the fuller set of issues related to denuclearization.
MR PRICE: So when it comes to Daraa, we strongly condemn the Assad regime’s shelling of Daraa after weeks of violence, killing many and displacing thousands. We strongly support efforts to secure and maintain ceasefire. We share with others in the international community grave concerns over conditions in which the people of Daraa are living, and we’ve seen reports that humanitarian aid is being blocked from distribution to those most in need of it. The free flow of humanitarian aid must be restored to ease the suffering of civilians in this area, where tens of thousands are suffering due to shortages of food, of medicine, of other critical supplies as well.
We are deeply concerned by reports that the Assad regime is using threats of forced displacement as a pressure tactic in the ceasfire negotiations. Forced displacements – to be clear, they are a violation of human rights. These events are further proof of what we have long said: Syria’s humanitarian crisis is a direct result of the Assad regime’s appalling and relentless attacks on the Syrian people. That is why we continue to maintain there can be no military solution to the conflict. The conflict can only be resolved through a political transition in line with UN Security Council Resolution 2254, to which all parties have agreed and must adhere. And we call on all parties to uphold the ceasefire agreement to end this violence.
MR PRICE: We covered this in some detail. I think you may have been out of the room, but the special envoy did tweet. He said his conversations in Moscow were good, they were productive. The broader point is that we are working from a point of consensus with our P5+1 partners. That includes our European allies, the EU, Germany, as well as Russia and China. There is broad agreement that indirect negotiations should resume in Vienna as soon as possible, and that is what we’d like to see happen.
A couple final questions. Simon.
QUESTION: Yeah. Yesterday on Myanmar, you gave a comment that the U.S. doesn’t condone violence as a solution to the current crisis. This is in response to the national unity government’s kind of declaration of war. I wondered, if you don’t condone any violent kind of response to this, then what is the solution given – what is your message to those Burmese activists and democracy activists who are fighting against what you called a military junta and a coup? And in that case, what is the solution?
And separately, I mean, if they are – if the national unity government is now an armed organization or is part – is at war with the Government of Myanmar, does that impact your relations with them? Does that make it less likely that Deputy Secretary Sherman would meet again with them? And does it have any impact on your potential support for the national unity government to keep control of the seat at the UN?
MR PRICE: Well, we’ve always said that we stand with the people of Burma, and the people of Burman have demonstrated time and again that they do not support this coup, they do not support this extraconstitutional, this antidemocratic activity. They, just as we, would like to see a restoration of democracy within their homeland. We have worked closely in any number of contexts, to include in the ASEAN context with the U.S.-ASEAN Summit several weeks ago now, to attempt to make progress diplomatically, in the first instance by ensuring that we have unity of resolve, we have unity of approach from within the international community, including our partners in the Indo-Pacific, but well beyond that as well. We have used other tools at our disposal, including a bevvy of sanctions against those who have – those who were responsible for this coup, those who have been responsible for some of the violence perpetrated against the people of Burma, including those who were merely exercising their fundamental human right of peaceful assembly and peaceful protest. That is what we will continue to do.
QUESTION: I just want to ask you a question related to 9/11. So on Guantanamo, the administration has talked about its desire to transfer at least some of the remaining 39 prisoners, and I’m wondering – at the same time, there are critics who are saying that the administration hasn’t outlined specific strategy for all of the aspects of closure and they have – you all haven’t reopened the Guantanamo closure office. It seems like it’s hard to identify who, if anybody, at the State Department has Guantanamo transfer negotiations as their exclusive job. I’m just wondering if you could talk about what the administration is doing to expedite the closure given that it could become more difficult over time to actually close the prison as the President has said he’d like to do.
MR PRICE: Well, we do want to see this facility closed. This is a facility that is costly not only in the literal sense, but it is costly in terms of our international standing in many ways, and that has been the case for some time. This administration has transferred a detainee out of Guantanamo. That continues to be our strategy going forward. We’re undertaking – the administration, I should say, is undertaking an NSC-led process to assess the current state of play in line with that broader goal of seeing to it that this facility is ultimately closed and closed in a responsible manner. An important part of that is effecting additional transfers of Guantanamo Bay detainees.
The Secretary spoke to this when he appeared before the House, when he appeared before HFAC, and he said at the time that he wants to ensure that the department has what it needs in terms of both the resources and personnel to meet that goal of being able to close the facility. There has been an ongoing assessment of the work related to the administration’s Guantanamo detention policy, as well as the resources needed to sustain that effort, as well as what that leadership should look like in the State Department, throughout the interagency, to see to it that we can do that.
Right now our CT office has been deeply engaged in this. Our coordinator, John Godfrey, has been a key official overseeing many of our equities, many of our efforts, in these efforts to close the detention facility. And if and when we have more announcements there, we’ll let you know.
A quick final question or two.
QUESTION: I have a question on the German elections since you’re just back from Germany, and of course, it was focused on Afghanistan. Since the elections are very close, how is the U.S. Government viewing the end of the Merkel era? And are you expecting continuity or are there any areas where you would like some changes in the relation? And also, is the government worried that the outcome of the election could lead to a lengthy building process like last time and which would block important government activities?
MR PRICE: Well, I think the only thing I’ll say about the German elections is that this is for the German people to decide, of course. But beyond that, I think we have every expectation that the relationship between the United States and Germany will continue to be incredibly close and incredibly effective. As you said, we were just in Germany less than 24 hours ago, and our partnership with Germany is evident on issues from Afghanistan to climate change to technology to people-to-people ties, trade and investment, and really across the board.
And that is – the strength of that relationship is, of course, predicated on our longstanding ties that span decades, but it is also no small testament to the extraordinary leadership of Chancellor Merkel and the way she has positioned Germany, the way she has been able to navigate any number of challenges, the leadership she has demonstrated across the board during her remarkable tenure as chancellor. I think that is something that she has earned a great deal of admiration, respect, and affection not only from within this building and this administration, but from the American people as well. Secretary Blinken had an opportunity to meet with her when we were in Germany earlier this summer. The President, of course, has had an opportunity to meet with her as well. Her leadership is in many ways responsible for the current state of U.S.-German relations, and we’re grateful for it.
Yes. Yes, final question?
MR PRICE: What you’re referring to is an issue that is separate from our – any sort of bilateral assistance to the Government of Afghanistan. I believe you’re referring to the issue of currency reserves. That’s an issue that is handled by our independent Federal Reserve System and not by the Department of State.
Thank you all very —
QUESTION: Can I have one last question?
MR PRICE: Yes, yes.
QUESTION: Sorry. You said that Blinken didn’t see any Taliban officials in Doha. Does he plan to speak with any, or is that channel going to continue to be led by Khalilzad?
MR PRICE: We are not there. I think it remains to be seen if we will get there. We have appropriate channels of communication. That includes from the special representative and from the team of Ian McCary based in Doha. Thank you all very much.
QUESTION: Thank you.
(The briefing was concluded at 3:29 p.m.)
Antony J. Blinken, Secretary of State
We have consistently said we would continue to help U.S. citizens and others to whom we have a special commitment depart Afghanistan if they choose to do so. Today offers another concrete demonstration of that commitment.
We can confirm that a Qatar Airways charter flight departed from Kabul, this morning. with U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents (LPRs) on-board. This was the result of the Department’s regular and close engagement with our regional partners, particularly with Qatari authorities, who facilitated today’s flight. I emphasized this with Foreign Minister Al-Thani during my travel to Doha this week, and I am grateful for his and his team’s dedicated and effective engagement.
We also have been in regular – typically daily – contact with Americans remaining in Afghanistan. We have provided them, including those aboard this flight, with specific guidance and instructions. Our message to those who remain in Afghanistan is simple: if you wish to depart Afghanistan, we will help you do so.
Finally, we welcome the Taliban’s actions in facilitating this flight as part of their commitment to allow those with travel documents who wish to leave to do so. Our team in Doha as well as Special Representative Zalmay