Secretary Blinken’s Ministerial with Allies and Partners on Afghanistan

8 Sep

Office of the Spokesperson

The following is attributable to Spokesperson Ned Price:

Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken and German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas co-hosted a ministerial on Afghanistan with allies and partners. In attendance were representatives of Germany, Australia, Bahrain, Canada, France, India, Italy, Japan, Kuwait, Norway, Pakistan, Qatar, the Republic of Korea, Saudi Arabia, Spain, Tajikistan, Turkey, Turkmenistan, the United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom, Uzbekistan, the European Union, NATO, and the UN.

Secretary Blinken urged unity in mitigating a potential humanitarian crisis and on holding the Taliban accountable on counterterrorism, on allowing safe passage for foreign citizens and Afghans who want to leave, and on forming an inclusive government that respects basic rights. Participants agreed on the importance of remaining united in their enduring support for the people of Afghanistan.

The United States will continue to use economic, diplomatic, and political tools to support the rights of the Afghan people, especially women and girls, and to ensure that Afghanistan does not become a safe haven for terrorism.

ICYMI: The Hill: Democrats, Planned Parenthood say reproductive health care is on 2022 ballot

8 Sep
Key Point: Democratic leaders and Planned Parenthood executives joined together to condemn the Supreme Court’s decision not to block Texas’s controversial abortion law, arguing that ‘reproductive health care is on the ballot’ in the 2022 midterm elections. In a series of statements, which were first reported by Politico on Wednesday, Democrats and abortion rights activists took aim at the recent implementation of the so-called fetal heartbeat law in Texas that bans abortions from being carried out after a fetal heartbeat is detected, which can occur as early as six weeks.”

The Hill: Democrats, Planned Parenthood say reproductive health care is on 2022 ballot
By Celine Castronuovo 
Sept. 8, 2021

Democratic leaders and Planned Parenthood executives joined together to condemn the Supreme Court’s decision not to block Texas’s controversial abortion law, arguing that “reproductive health care is on the ballot” in the 2022 midterm elections. 

In a series of statements, which were first reported by Politico on Wednesday, Democrats and abortion rights activists took aim at the recent implementation of the so-called fetal heartbeat law in Texas that bans abortions from being carried out after a fetal heartbeat is detected, which can occur as early as six weeks. 

While the law grants exceptions for medical emergencies, it does not for pregnancies resulting from rape or incest beyond the first six weeks of gestation. 

[…]

Democratic National Committee Chairman Jaime Harrison noted that since the landmark 1973 decision in Roe v. Wade that protected abortion rights across the country, “access to safe, legal abortions has been upheld, as well as the privacy of a decision made between a person and their doctor.” 

“Now, due to extremist Republican lawmakers and conservative justices on the Supreme Court, people will have yet another barrier preventing them from accessing the health care they need and have every right to under our Constitution,” he added. 

Harrison argued that “politics has no place in one of the most personal health care decisions a person can make, and every Republican lawmaker will have to answer for this unprecedented assault on the constitutional right to privacy.” 

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Tajikistan Independence Day

8 Sep

Antony J. Blinken, Secretary of State

On behalf of the Government of the United States of America and the American people, I congratulate the people of Tajikistan on 30 years of independence on September 9, 2021.

Our three decades of partnership have been built on our shared goal of a sovereign, independent, and prosperous Tajikistan and flourishing Central Asian region.  Through our bilateral and multilateral cooperation, including through the C5+1 diplomatic platform, we are forging a relationship that supports regional security, economic prosperity, and integration.  We are also working with the Tajik people to address the COVID-19 pandemic, including through measures such as our recent donation of 1.5 million doses of vaccine through the COVAX facility.  Over the coming years, we look forward to continued collaboration with our Tajik partners to reinforce border security and regional stability, combat the climate crisis, spur economic growth, increase the effectiveness of democratic institutions, and promote respect for human rights.

The United States remains committed to the future stability and prosperity of Tajikistan and its people, and we look forward to enhancing our partnership in the years ahead. 

Secretary Antony J. Blinken and German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas at a Joint Press Availability

8 Sep

Antony J. Blinken, Secretary of State

Ramstein Airbase, Germany

USAFE Officers’ Club

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Good afternoon.  Let me first start by saying to Foreign Minister Maas, my friend Heiko, thank you so much for what has been a very productive almost-day in Germany.  We’ve been in very close contact from virtually my first day as Secretary of State.  We’re partners across a vast array of issues that matter to Germany, to the United States, to the world.  And I’m especially grateful for your leadership during this pivotal time both to facilitate a unified diplomatic response toward Afghanistan and to help thousands of people, including Americans, including vulnerable Afghans.

Thanks to you, to Chancellor Merkel, to the German Government, to the people of Germany, we were collectively able to evacuate 124,000 people from Afghanistan.  Germany and the United States have been working very closely together to mobilize this massive military, diplomatic, and humanitarian effort under some of the most challenging circumstances imaginable.  And the fact that Germany generously stepped up and offered to serve as a temporary transit location for Afghans at risk is a remarkable gesture of compassion and statesmanship.  More than 34,000 people arrived here on their way to their next destination, many exhausted, vulnerable, uncertain about their futures.  Here they found a safe place to catch their breath and many people eager to help them.  They’re embarking on a new, more peaceful chapter of their lives thanks to Germany.

Hundreds of Americans also safely transited through here on their way home, and we will never forget how you helped to make that happen.

Of course, Germany’s commitment to being our partner in Afghanistan stretches back to 2001.  You were one of the largest contributors of troops to coalition operations in Afghanistan.  You were the second largest contributor to Operation Resolute Support, aiming to build a long-term foundation for security in Afghanistan.  Germany lost brave service members, police officers in Afghanistan, and their sacrifice will not be forgotten.  Now Germany, the United States, and our allies and partners are working together to coordinate and plan the way forward.

Yesterday the Taliban named a new interim government.  We’re assessing the announcement, but despite professing that a new government would be inclusive, the announced list of names consists exclusively of individuals who are members of the Taliban or their close associates, and no women.  We’re also concerned by the affiliations and track records of some of those individuals.  We understand the Taliban has presented this as a caretaker cabinet.  We will judge it, and them, by its actions.  The international community has made clear its expectation that the Afghan people deserve an inclusive government.

Today Foreign Minister Maas and I co-hosted a virtual ministerial meeting of 22 countries plus NATO, the European Union, the United Nations, to discuss the next chapter on Afghanistan.  The Taliban seek international legitimacy and support; any legitimacy, any support, will have to be earned.  And we’ve heard that across the board from everyone participating in today’s session.

We also discussed how we will hold the Taliban to their commitments and obligations to let people travel freely; to respect their basic rights, including women and minorities; to ensure that Afghanistan is not used as a launching pad for terrorist attacks; and not to carry out reprisal violence against those who choose to stay in Afghanistan.

We’ll also hold the Taliban to their commitment to allow humanitarian access.  The toll of conflict, drought, COVID-19, have hit the people of Afghanistan very hard and left millions displaced.  According to the United Nations, some 50 percent of the population is in need of humanitarian assistance.  Yesterday in Doha I had a chance to meet with Martin Griffiths, the UN under-secretary-general for humanitarian affairs, to talk about the urgent need for countries to work together to deliver aid and ward off a potential humanitarian crisis.  The United States will continue to provide humanitarian assistance to the people of Afghanistan.  We’re gratified to have a partner in Congress when it comes to that commitment.

Let me also say a bit more about freedom of movement, particularly the issue of charter flights.  I spoke about this in Doha yesterday as well.  As I think all of you know, a number of groups and individuals determined to help are working to organize charter flights out of Afghanistan, including from Mazar-e-Sharif, for people who wish to depart.  We’re grateful for those efforts.

There’s been a fair amount of confusion surrounding the flights, and let me just clarify a few things.  As of now, the Taliban are not permitting the charter flights to depart.  They claim that some of the passengers do not have the required documentation.  While there are limits to what we can do without personnel on the ground, without an airport with normal security procedures in place, we are working to do everything in our power to support those flights and to get them off the ground.  That’s what we’ve done; that’s what we will continue to do.  Specifically, we’re working with NGOs, with advocates, with lawmakers around the clock to help coordinate their efforts and offer guidance where we can.  We’re helping to arrange landing rights and liaise with other countries in the region in the question of overflight.  We’ve made clear to all parties – we’ve made clear to the Taliban – that these charters need to be able to depart, and we continue every day, virtually every hour, to work on that.

As you know, this is also a complex situation.  Many of these flights have been organized by NGOs or individuals who have a deeply felt desire to help people, and again, we’re grateful to be working with so many passionate advocates.  But there’s also a risk of people looking to extort money from desperate and vulnerable people, which, of course, we want to prevent.  Additionally, some of the groups claiming to have all of the documentations and arrangements locked down unfortunately don’t, often for good reason.  But this creates further complications.

The bottom line is this:  Those flights need to be able to depart.  And we will work every day to make sure that they’re able to do that.  We will continue to press the Taliban to allow the charters to leave, and also critically to open HKIA, the Hamid Karzai International Airport, to the regular flow of civilian aircraft, which can enable the safe and orderly departure of people from Afghanistan.

Our efforts to help people who want to leave Afghanistan will continue.  So will our intense diplomacy to advance our vital national interests and those of our Afghan allies and partners.  And I know we’ll continue to work with Germany closely every step along the way.

Our cooperation is a testament to the strength of our friendship, our commitment as NATO Allies, and the shared values that have long connected the German and American people.  What Germany has done over the past several weeks for Americans, for Afghans, for citizens of many countries will be remembered for a long time.  And on behalf of the American people, Heiko, to you, to Germany, thank you.

FOREIGN MINISTER MAAS:  (Via interpreter) Tony, thank you very much, and once again, a warm welcome to Germany, and at the same time, thank you very much for the warm welcome you have given us here at the airbase in Ramstein, probably the most American place to be found in Germany.  And being here, I would like to mention that the American soldiers here in Ramstein have been symbolizing over decades the German-American friendship.  They are part of social life here.  There are people-to-people contacts with the citizens here in Rhineland-Palatinate, and the American soldiers contribute to our security here in Germany and also beyond, to European security, and we are very grateful for that.  And I would like to clearly tell them they have been, they are, and they always will be welcome here in Ramstein and in Germany as a whole.

Tony, one lesson that we have drawn from the long days and short nights during the evacuation period and the evacuation operation at Kabul airport is that the answer to the development in Afghanistan cannot be provided by one or two countries alone.  The number of challenges we are faced with require a minimum of international cooperation and close coordination at the international stage.  Today, we have made a contribution, and I am delighted that our joint invitation to a ministerial meeting has been accepted by more than 20 states and organizations.  The discussions that we had with the colleagues have shown that there is great concern about future development in Afghanistan – not only here in Germany these concerns are felt.

Right in front of our eyes, a severe humanitarian crisis is emerging and we need to prevent that from happening.  This is why we need provide humanitarian assistance quickly to the people on the ground, especially through the United Nations.  And this is not only a moral obligation; it is also a question of regional stability.  We expect from the Taliban that they allow access for that.

The reopening of the Kabul airport is planned and it would be a very important step.  We hope that we will succeed very soon in reopening the airport, and we thank everybody who has made a contribution and who is making a contribution to that.  Beyond the necessary humanitarian assistance, what a foundation for a new cooperation with new rulers in Kabul can look like is something we have discussed with the EU foreign ministers last Friday, and it was also an important topic today.  We expect that possibilities for people in Afghanistan for whom we are responsible – that these people will be able to leave the country and that the Taliban prevent Afghanistan from becoming a safe haven for terrorism again.  Terrorism is a threat to all of us all over the world – all across the world.  And together with our partners, we demand the protection of basic human and women’s rights, and a government that truly includes all groups of society.

Against this backdrop, the news that we have received from Afghanistan yesterday night do not make us overly optimistic.  The formation of an interim government without including other groups is not a symbol for more international cooperation and stability in the country.  And we hope that when the future consolidation of the government – this is still an ongoing process – that the necessary signals will be sent out.  And it has to be clear to the Taliban as well that international isolation cannot be in their interests, especially not in the interest of the people in Afghanistan.  A country with an economic meltdown will never be stable.

My trip to the region a little more than a week ago clearly showed that to me.  If we don’t take action, we might see further instability in Afghanistan with all the impacts this has: extremism, drug trafficking, terrorism for the entire region.  This is why all participants have agreed on one thing today:  Nobody has an interest in turning one’s back to Afghanistan; on the contrary, we need to act together to use our influence on the Taliban.  And this is why I believe that today’s meeting was a start of a broader consultation process, a process that we need in order to implement the goals that we have, step by step.  Thank you.

MR PRICE:  Our first question will go to Will Mauldin with The Wall Street Journal.

QUESTION:  Thank you so much.  Mr. Foreign Minister, is Germany willing to accept any Afghans from here at Ramstein Air Force Base for asylum if they have family members in Germany, or if they don’t?  And is this issue hurting U.S.-German relations as the two countries try to rebuild relations in the Biden administration?

And for you, Mr. Secretary of State, I wanted to ask – specifically you mentioned the Taliban government.  I wanted to ask specifically about Sirajuddin Haqqani, who is the interior minister, wanted by the FBI, currently on the other side of the law in Afghanistan, as interior minister.  Will the U.S. continue to pursue him?  And since he’s interior minister, is he the kind of person you can work with to get these charter flights out of Afghanistan?  What specifically – does the U.S. have any issues remaining with the charter flights or is it only the Taliban which is allowing them to depart – not allowing them to depart?  Thank you.

FOREIGN MINISTER MAAS:  (Via interpreter) It is true that on Ramstein Airbase, people have asked asylum, but let me say that this is less than 1 percent of the people who have been transferred here.  We are working with our American partners.  We are working together very closely.  We speak every day and we have made clear – we have reached clear agreements about how long people can stay here, how we organize processes, and how we can support our American partners in order to implement the agreement that we have made.  And these are implemented to 100 percent.  We are very grateful for that.  We will continue to do that over the coming days and weeks, and the cooperation on the basis – what we have agreed upon is a very good cooperation.  I’m very grateful to our American friends and to Tony Blinken in particular for being together in this process and for implementing this process together.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Thank you.  Will, in response to your question, a couple of things.  First, just to come back to the end of your question on the charter flights, let me be very clear:  Those flights need to be able to leave, and the United States Government, the State Department, we are doing everything we can to help – to help make that happen.

Second, with regard to the composition of this government, or interim government, I noted the fact that it certainly does not meet the test of inclusivity and it includes people who have very challenging track records.  Our engagement with the Taliban and with a government, interim or long term, will be for purposes of advancing the national interest, advancing our interests, the interests of our partners.  We have and we will find ways to engage the Taliban, to engage an interim government, a future government, to do just that and to do it in ways that are fully consistent with our laws.

QUESTION:  (Off-mike.)

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  No, those flights need to move.  I pointed out some of the complications that are there, but those flights need to move.

MODERATOR:  (In German.)

QUESTION:  (Via interpreter) A question to both foreign ministers, a question regarding the interim government and how we deal with that government.  Will Germany and the U.S. start diplomatic relations with Afghanistan?  The American colleague already said that the minister of the interior is on the blacklist of the FBI, and even if prospectively other groups will be included in the government in the future, this minister of the interior seems to be in that position.  So would you reopen embassies in Kabul?  Or at what stage would we restart diplomatic relations with Kabul under these conditions?

FOREIGN MINISTER MAAS:  (Via interpreter) I can’t tell you when that point in time will have come, but I can tell you that we have had direct talks with the Taliban up to now.  If we hadn’t done that, we wouldn’t have been able to evacuate vulnerable groups – Germans, Afghans – from Afghanistan.  We continue to have German nationals in Afghanistan, but we don’t have any diplomatic representation in Kabul, in Afghanistan.  So in order to evacuate these German nationals, we need to have people to talk to on the ground.

And the question of a diplomatic representation is something we’re discussing with our international partners.  We are coordinating our efforts on this issue.  We don’t think it’s helpful for everybody to do their own thing, and this is one reason for our meeting with so many colleagues here today.  We want to have an international coordination process.  We don’t want to be played off against each other from the Taliban.  But if we want to evacuate German nationals and our local staff and vulnerable groups from Afghanistan in whichever way, it will be necessary to continue to talk to the Taliban regardless of a diplomatic recognition.

This is not what we’re talking about now.  I can’t see anything that points to that right now.  Now this is about evacuating people from Afghanistan for whom we have given permission to enter our country.  And in addition to that, we need to talk about humanitarian assistance.  We are ready to provide humanitarian assistance with the help of the UN agencies.  This requires discussions and talks, and if it – if this is about making sure people don’t starve, I think it would be irresponsible to not have these talks.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  And I fully agree with my friend Heiko.  I would simply say or simply add that the nature of a Taliban-led government’s relationship with us, with the international community, will depend entirely on its actions in the weeks and months in time ahead.

MR PRICE:  Michael Crowley, The New York Times.

QUESTION:  Thank you.  Thank you both.  Secretary Blinken, my question is about Iran.  Your envoy for Iran, Robert Malley, is visiting Moscow and Paris this week to consult with allies on the nuclear negotiations with Tehran, which have now been stalled for months.  Last week, Iran’s foreign ministry said that the talks would likely not resume for another two to three months, and as you know, Iran’s progress on enriching highly – on enriching uranium continues.  You and other officials have been saying for months now that there is some point at which it will not be possible to return to the JCPOA because of Iran’s nuclear progress.  Is two to three months too long for that scenario, where you return to the JCPOA as we knew it?

Minister Maas, related, there’s a new IAEA report that is highly critical of Iran, saying that Tehran is stonewalling the nuclear agency’s work, blocking inspectors and hindering the agency’s investigations into the nature of its program.  Back in February, Germany and other European nations considered a formal censure resolution of Iran, but held off in order to allow diplomacy to work.  That was now many months ago.  Would you now support a formal IAEA rebuke of Iran?  Thank you.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Michael, I’m not going to put a date on it, but we are getting closer to the point at which a strict return to compliance with the JCPOA does not reproduce the benefits that that agreement achieved because as time goes on and as Iran continues to make advances in its nuclear program, including spinning more sophisticated centrifuges, enriching more material, learning more, there is a point at which it would be very difficult to regain all of the benefits of the JCPOA by returning to strict compliance with the JCPOA.  We’re not at that point yet, but it’s getting closer.  And that’s why we’ve been very clear that the ability to rejoin the JCPOA, mutual – return to mutual compliance is not indefinite.  Rob Malley is in the process, as you noted, of consulting with Russia and also with our European partners, and we’re very much focused on that right now.

Heiko?

FOREIGN MINISTER MAAS:  (Via interpreter) We have taken note of the also new reports of the IAEA, and unfortunately it seems to be the case that this transitional period in which no negotiations have been taken place that Iran uses these – this time to breach the agreement.  And we are currently consulting with our partners under the agreement on how we will react.  We still think it would be possible.  I mean, negotiations have been taking place, and we still think it is possible to conclude these negotiations.  I had a phone call with my Iranian colleague last week, and I told him that his remarks that only after two or three months it would be envisageable to come back to the negotiation table is a point of time that from our point of view is too far away.  And we could interpret this as Iran having different plans with regard to the JCPOA.  So I asked him to make sure that they will return earlier to the negotiation table, and that would be a good opportunity to make clear what the – what Iran’s government’s position with regard to the JCPOA is.

We expect that the new government in Tehran will support the negotiations that have been conducted and will continue to do so, and we will do everything we can to bring these negotiations to a success.  But two or three months is a timeframe that is too big for us.

MODERATOR:  (Via interpreter) Ilja Tuchter, Rheinpfalz.

QUESTION:  (Via interpreter) Minister, I need to ask another question when it comes to asylum seekers.  You said one by one and – by 100 percent, the agreement is being implemented and these people are flown out to the U.S.  Does that mean these people cannot use their right to asylum in Germany?  And about which number of people will we be talking about over the coming months that will be on the waiting list of the federal government?  And we – the ministry of the interior says it has 40,000 people on a list.  How do they come up with this number?

FOREIGN MINISTER MAAS:  (Via interpreter) Well, these are two separate issues.  The legal situation is quite clear when it comes to asking asylum.  So the applications – less than 1 percent of the people who came here will be looked at under the process.  There are different reasons for asking for asylum – some people may have relatives in Germany – and it is not the case that we think that the situation in Ramstein will continue the way it is for months.  The way people work here, we believe that the process will take a few more weeks.

So this is a manageable situation, but the legal basis is as it is, and it will apply and will continue to apply in this place.  Now, those who have – will receive a right to stay in Germany, that is of course true for German nationals, for local staff, and for very vulnerable groups.  We have pointed out that when it comes to local staff, it could be up to 40,000 people, but that does not mean that there will be 40,000 people, because these people need to register as vulnerable groups, as people in danger, and not all local staff we had have done so over the period of time we have set out.  And this is the number that exists, and that could be reached without being able to say whether it really will be 40,000 people in the end.  It could be 40,000 people.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Thank you all.

Secretary Blinken to Participate in U.S.-Mexico High-Level Economic Dialogue

8 Sep

Office of the Spokesperson

On September 9, Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken will participate in the U.S.-Mexico High-Level Economic Dialogue (HLED) as a part of a delegation from the United States. He will join Department of Commerce Secretary Raimondo, United States Trade Representative Tai, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Mayorkas, and representatives from other U.S. agencies and departments in a series of discussions with the Government of Mexico’s Foreign Secretary Ebrard, Secretary of Economy Clouthier, Undersecretary for Finance and Public Credit Yorio, as well as other representatives during the one-day dialogue in Washington, D.C.

In March 2021, President Biden and Mexico President López Obrador agreed to relaunch the U.S.-Mexico High-Level Economic Dialogue which was established in 2013. HLED advances strategic economic and commercial priorities central to the promotion of regional economic development and growth, job creation, global competitiveness, and reductions in poverty and inequalities. This year’s Dialogue will focus on four central pillars: (1) Building Back Together, (2) Promoting Sustainable Economic and Social Development in Southern Mexico and Central America, (3) Securing the Tools for Future Prosperity, and (4) Investing in Our People.

This dialogue reinforces our strong bilateral relationship with Mexico and will build upon various discussions in the previous months between our two governments.

ICYMI: The top 1 percent are evading $163 billion a year in taxes, the Treasury finds.

8 Sep

**ICYMI**

Key Point: “The wealthiest 1 percent of Americans are the nation’s most egregious tax evaders, failing to pay as much as $163 billion in owed taxes per year, according to a new Treasury Department report released on Wednesday. The analysis comes as the Biden administration is pushing lawmakers to embrace its ambitious proposal to invest in beefing up the Internal Revenue Service to narrow the ‘tax gap,’ which it estimates amounts to $7 trillion in unpaid taxes over a decade.”

New York Times: The top 1 percent are evading $163 billion a year in taxes, the Treasury finds.
By Alan Rappeport 
Sept. 8, 2021

The wealthiest 1 percent of Americans are the nation’s most egregious tax evaders, failing to pay as much as $163 billion in owed taxes per year, according to a new Treasury Department report released on Wednesday.

The analysis comes as the Biden administration is pushing lawmakers to embrace its ambitious proposal to invest in beefing up the Internal Revenue Service to narrow the “tax gap,” which it estimates amounts to $7 trillion in unpaid taxes over a decade. The White House has proposed investing $80 billion in the tax collection agency over the next 10 years to hire more enforcement staff, overhaul its technology and usher in new information-reporting requirements that would give the government greater insight into tax evasion schemes.

[…]

Democrats are counting on raising money by collecting more unpaid taxes to help pay for the $3.5 trillion spending package they are in the process of drafting. The Treasury Department estimates that its tax gap proposals could raise $700 billion over a decade.

The Treasury Department report, which was written by Natasha Sarin, deputy assistant secretary for microeconomics, makes the case that narrowing the tax gap is part of the Biden administration’s ambition to create a more equitable economy, as audits and enforcement actions will be aimed at the rich.

“For the I.R.S. to appropriately enforce the tax laws against high earners and large corporations, it needs funding to hire and train revenue agents who can decipher their thousands of pages of sophisticated tax filings,” Ms. Sarin wrote. “It also needs access to information about opaque income streams — like proprietorship and partnership income — that accrue disproportionately to high-earners.”

The report combines academic research on how the tax gap has historically been distributed across the income scale with 2019 tax data.

Tax compliance rates are high for low- and middle-income workers who have their taxes deducted automatically from their paychecks. The rich, however, are able to use accounting loopholes to shield their tax liabilities.

The Biden administration has pledged that individuals with “actual income” less than $400,000 per year will not see their audit rates go up.

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Under Secretary Fernandez’s Call with Republic of Korea (ROK) Second Vice Foreign Minister Choi Jong-moon

8 Sep

Office of the Spokesperson

Under Secretary of State for Economic Growth, Energy, and the Environment Jose Fernandez spoke with Second Vice Foreign Minister Choi Jong-moon of the Republic of Korea (ROK) on September 7. During the call, the Under Secretary affirmed the U.S.-ROK Alliance as a global partnership grounded in mutual trust and shared values, as evidenced by the May U.S.-ROK Presidential Summit. They committed to advancing the ambitious vision set by President Biden and President Moon, including action in the areas of global health and COVID-19 relief, supply chain resilience, addressing the climate crisis, and protecting and promoting critical and emerging technologies. Under Secretary Fernandez and Second Vice Foreign Minister Choi welcomed the opportunity to have further discussions at the Sixth U.S.-ROK Senior Economic Dialogue in Seoul later this year.

Secretary Antony J. Blinken Opening Remarks at Ministerial on Afghanistan

8 Sep

Antony J. Blinken, Secretary of State

Germany

Ramstein Air Base

SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, greetings, everyone, and Heiko, thank you so much for co-hosting this ministerial today, and also I just want to say to all of our colleagues thank you so much for the remarkable contributions that Germany’s made to our shared mission in Afghanistan over the last 20 years, but also over the last days, particularly the ongoing evacuation effort here at Ramstein Air Base where we’re both located.

Just before arriving here in Germany, I was in Doha; I had a chance to meet with our friend, Foreign Minister Al Thani, and the emir as well and to thank them personally for Qatar’s remarkable partnership with all of us and particularly in allowing the transit of more than 58,000 people evacuated from Afghanistan, including Americans, including our locally employed staff, including Afghans at risk, and of course including citizens from many of the countries represented here today. For the time being, like many countries here, we are managing our diplomacy with Afghanistan from Doha, and so we’re also grateful to our friends for allowing us to do that.

We thought it would be a good idea to get together today to do two things. First, to thank you for the ongoing and extraordinary cooperation in this effort. The evacuation that concluded on August 30 was, I think as everyone knows, a massively complex military, diplomatic, humanitarian undertaking. And like our efforts in Afghanistan over the previous two decades, it was a truly joint enterprise, almost in this case a global endeavor. Many of you were partners in the airlift working side-by-side with our team in Kabul at the airport. Many are now serving as transit countries. We’re helping with overland efforts. Others have agreed to resettle Afghan refugees permanently, and we hope more will do the same. Indeed, every country and institution represented here today is a partner in this ongoing effort, and we are truly grateful for that.

It’s also, I think in our judgment, the way we need to approach the way forward in Afghanistan. And so what I just wanted to do quickly today before turning it over to Heiko and then turning it over to everyone else is to just highlight three areas where our alignment and our cooperation would be especially important.

First, we must hold the Taliban, including the recently announced caretaker government and any eventual Afghan government, to their commitment to allow foreign nationals, visa holders, and Afghans to travel outside the country if they wish. The Taliban has said repeatedly that any Afghans who want to travel and have the appropriate documents will be able to do so, and more than a hundred countries have affirmed their expectation the Taliban will honor that pledge. And of course, it’s also enshrined now in a UN Security Council resolution.

We’ve heard – and I was sharing this with Heiko earlier – we’ve heard in some of our engagements with the Taliban their concern about a so-called brain drain and people with knowledge and expertise leaving the country. And one of the things that we shared with them was the best way to get people to stay in Afghanistan is to allow them to leave Afghanistan, as well as to uphold their basic rights. Whether they will take that to heart remains to be seen. But as a practical matter, a key step to enabling such a movement is resuming commercial airport operations in Kabul, and here we’re especially grateful to the governments and UN agencies working on that, and again, notably, to our friends from Qatar and also from Turkey who have been working very hard on the airport.

In the meantime, an immediate way the Taliban can demonstrate its willingness to respect freedom of movement is by allowing the departure of charter flights with properly documented passengers. I think all of you know there are a number of such flights that have been waiting in Mazar-i-Sharif. And this is a point that we’ve made crystal-clear in recent engagements with the Taliban and we encourage others to do the same.

A second point for emphasis: The Taliban’s also committed to preventing terrorist groups from using Afghanistan as a base for external operations that could threaten any of us, a pledge they have since extended not just to us but to all other countries. Here, too, we need to hold them accountable to that commitment.

Of course, we can’t just rely on the Taliban to meet these commitments. The horrific attack that ISIS-K carried out on August 26th, which killed 13 United States service members and many, many Afghans, did show the serious threat that these groups continue to play inside Afghanistan. All of us have to remain vigilant and monitor threats, especially any reemergence of externally directed plotting, and address them swiftly when they arise. As President Biden has made clear, the United States will maintain robust counterterrorism capabilities in the region to neutralize any threats, and we won’t hesitate to use those capabilities if we have to do so.

The third point is this: humanitarian aid and assistance and the need to continue to make them available to the people of Afghanistan. We’re determined to continue that lifesaving assistance in a way that’s consistent with our sanctions obligations. The ministerial that Secretary-General Guterres is convening on Monday is an opportunity for countries to step up to meet the Afghans’ urgent needs while also reminding the Taliban of its obligation to allow safe, unhindered access for humanitarian groups and to protect those groups as they’re doing their work. It’s in the interest of all of our countries to avoid a bigger humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan and the greater suffering and instability that that would produce.

As we look at how to ensure humanitarian and broader economic assistance flows directly to the benefit of the Afghan people, we believe we should be looking at and maybe building upon previous verification and distribution models and mechanisms in other countries, including those developed by the United Nations, where assistance can successfully incentivize positive actions by the government. We’re developing some concrete ideas in that direction, I think the UN is as well, and I certainly welcome any other thoughts on building in such mechanisms.

All three of these core objectives will require engagement with the Taliban, but there’s a crucial distinction between engagement, which we carried on throughout the evacuation, which we continue to pursue – a distinction between that and treating the Taliban as we do most other countries. While the Taliban badly wants or professes to want international legitimacy and support, that legitimacy and support has to be earned by their actions. And in our judgment, it cannot be earned quickly, it cannot be earned by words alone, or even by some positive first steps, welcome as those may be. It really has to be demonstrated over time.

The Taliban can earn that legitimacy gradually, over time, through a sustained pattern of action that demonstrates a genuine commitment to core expectations that are enshrined in the Security Council resolution adopted on August 30th, which include freedom of travel, not allowing Afghanistan to harbor terrorists, humanitarian access, respecting the basic rights of the Afghan people – particularly women and minorities – not carrying out reprisals, and forming an inclusive government that can meet the needs and reflect the aspirations of the Afghan people. Needless to say, the names in the caretaker government do not inspire confidence in that last regard. We’ll have to see what emerges in a more permanent government.

And I would just note parenthetically that inclusivity is not a favor that the Taliban would be doing to any of us. It is, in our judgment, a necessity if Afghan is going to be stable and if it can move forward in a sustainable way, because in its absence, it only increases the likelihood that the divisions will turn back into civil war at some point.

But in any event, all of these expectations reflect what the international community expects of any government seeking international legitimacy, support, and, ultimately, recognition. We’ll continue to monitor carefully the Taliban’s actions, including when it comes to respecting freedom of assembly and the right to peaceful protest. But ultimately, to be effective – and this is really the last word I wanted to say – we must be aligned. And to advance our shared interests, our engagement with the Taliban has to be coherent, clear-eyed, circumspect, and, again, as much as possible, aligned.

So what we want to do is make sure that we have in place the mechanisms among us to try to ensure that we are closely aligned going forward in our approach to the Taliban and our approach to Afghanistan’s future.

With that, let me – I’m sorry for going on so long, but let me turn it over to Heiko.


Afghanistan

Secretary Antony J. Blinken with Lotfullah Najafizada of TOLO News

8 Sep

Antony J. Blinken, Secretary of State

Doha, Qatar

St. Regis Hotel

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, two decades, trillions of dollars, thousands of lives. Was it how it should have been ended?

SECRETARY BLINKEN: I think that’s the question I’m sure that we’ll be asking and answering for some time to come. But there are a few important things here. First, we have to start with why we went to Afghanistan in the first place, and that was after 9/11 to deal with those who attacked us on 9/11, and to make sure to the best of our ability that they could never do so again from Afghanistan. And that effort was largely successful. Usama bin Ladin was brought to justice a decade ago. And al-Qaida, as an organization with a capacity to attack us or anyone else from Afghanistan, was greatly degraded. And so on the terms that we set for ourselves after 9/11, we achieved what we set out to achieve.

At the same time, as you said, 20 years, a trillion or more dollars, many lives lost, but also many lives changed. We’re going to look at all of that in the days, weeks, and months ahead. I’m sure that it will be the subject of ongoing conversation and ongoing debate.

QUESTION: Right. Why did it turn out this way then – the return of the Taliban and Taliban military takeover?

SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, I think, again, that’s a question that goes back many, many years. We’ve seen the Taliban over many years continuing to try to assert its authority over different parts of Afghanistan. Even in the last six or seven years, the government’s control over Afghanistan went from about 60 percent of the population to 40 percent. So this has been —

QUESTION: But in the last hundred days, it was very dramatic. How come nobody could see it happening?

SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, I think an important question is what happened with the collapse of the Afghan security forces and the collapse of the government. I have to say, the – so many Afghans in the security forces acted with incredible courage and bravery, and tremendous sacrifice – so many lost. But as an institution, it collapsed, and the government, worse – the government fled ultimately. All of that happened in a very, very short period of time, and that had a profound impact.

QUESTION: But you could not even evacuate – but you could not even evacuate Americans from Afghanistan, all of them. And a lot of Afghans, particularly ANDSF, they might feel that they were abandoned, they were let down by their U.S. counterparts.

SECRETARY BLINKEN: The evacuation effort was extraordinary, and overall almost 125,000 people were evacuated in a very short period of time under incredibly difficult conditions, including the threat posed by ISIS-K, the situation at the airport itself. And when it came to American citizens in Afghanistan, we evacuated nearly 6,000, virtually all of those who had identified themselves to us as American citizens and who wished to leave. There remain a small number who apparently still wish to leave, and we are absolutely committed to helping them do so, along with other Afghans who worked with us over the years who may be at risk, and I should add this, because it’s very important: The Taliban —

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary —

SECRETARY BLINKEN: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Did you help President Ghani flee the country?

SECRETARY BLINKEN: No. In fact, I was on the phone —

QUESTION: Did you know about it?

SECRETARY BLINKEN: No. I was on the phone with President Ghani the night before he fled the country, and in our —

QUESTION: Did you —

SECRETARY BLINKEN: — let me finish, please – in our conversation, we were talking about work that was being done in Doha on a transfer of power. And in the absence of that succeeding, what he told me in that conversation the night before he fled is that, as he put it, he was prepared to fight to the death. In less than 24 hours, he’d left Afghanistan. So no, I certainly didn’t know about it, and we certainly did nothing to facilitate it.

QUESTION: And he took millions of dollars in cash with him, your taxpayers’ money and Afghans’ money. Do you know about that?

SECRETARY BLINKEN: That, I don’t know. What I do know is that he left the country, and again, in a very short period of time. The security forces as an institution collapsed and so did the government.

QUESTION: Was he part of the challenge when it comes to peace process in the past couple of years? Was he an obstacle to peace?

SECRETARY BLINKEN: Look, I’m not interested at this point in looking backward. There’ll be plenty of time to do an accounting of the last 20 years, because what – what’s happened in the last few months is the accumulation of things that have happened over 20 years.

QUESTION: I’m looking at the future. Now that we’re left with a full Taliban control, will you recognize the Taliban government?

SECRETARY BLINKEN: The Taliban says it seeks international legitimacy and international support. And that will depend entirely on what it does, not just on what it says. And the trajectory of its relationship with us and with the rest of the world will depend on its actions. Now, the Taliban has made a series of commitments, publicly and privately, including with regard to freedom of travel, with regard to combatting terrorism and not allowing Afghanistan to be used a launching point for terrorism directed at us or at anyone else, including as well upholding the basic rights of the Afghan people, to include women and girls and minorities, to have some inclusivity in government, to avoid reprisals. And these are very important commitments.

The international community has also set clear expectations of the Taliban-led government. More than 100 countries signed onto a statement that we initiated on those very commitments. The United Nations Security Council has made clear its expectations. And so for us – and not just for us, for many countries around the world – the nature of the relationship with the government going forward will depend on the actions it takes.

QUESTION: We see some actions already in the past three weeks. Journalists are beaten, arrested today 14 actually. Women protesters on the streets are beaten, separating classrooms based on gender, shutting down local media, raiding people’s houses, even destroying murals on Kabul walls. What else do you want to see? Planning for another 9/11?

SECRETARY BLINKEN: We will see by its actions whether it corrects course on any of these incidents of abusive conduct. That is going to be very important, whether there are clear policies, whether those policies are, in fact, carried out by people. But we have an enduring commitment to the Afghan people, and so do many countries around the world. And we are working together and looking for ways to ensure that commitment, diplomatically, politically, economically, through assistance. All of those things remain very much at our disposal, and all of those things we’re using in coordination with other countries to continue to support people throughout Afghanistan.

QUESTION: The U.S.-Taliban Doha deal – is it still in place?

SECRETARY BLINKEN: The —

QUESTION: The U.S.-Taliban —

SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, the question I think – one of the important questions is: Is the Taliban going to make good on its commitments, including in that agreement on counterterrorism? We ultimately made good on the fundamental part of the agreement that involved us, which was the removal of U.S. forces. That was something that was negotiated and agreed by the previous administration with the Taliban. We’ve made good on that commitment. The Taliban has an enduring commitment, among other things, to make sure that Afghanistan is not used as a launching pad for terrorism. We’re looking very much to see that it makes good on that commitment, even as we take the necessary steps to ensure that we can see and deal with any reemergence of terrorism.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, is the U.S. Government in contact with those who are fighting in Panjshir and other places against Taliban?

SECRETARY BLINKEN: Our focus right now is on working with the international community to set clear expectations for the government that emerges in Afghanistan, and to communicate those expectations to the government and – or the government-to-be – and to work on that basis.

QUESTION: As closing, Mr. Secretary, what America should learn from Afghanistan, or invading Afghanistan, or the past two decades of involvement, in brief?

SECRETARY BLINKEN: It’s a profound question, an important question, one that we’re going to have the time and the place to think about, to reflect on. What I’m focused on right now, even as I’m doing some of that reflection, is on the way forward, is in showing that we can continue to support the Afghan people and uphold the expectations of the international community. That’s my focus.

QUESTION: And you think democracy was not made for Afghans, for Afghanistan (inaudible)?

SECRETARY BLINKEN: No, I think – I think that people around the world, including in Afghanistan, all have basic desires and aspirations, hopes, including to live freely. I don’t think that’s unique to us or to anyone else. I think that’s a basic human aspiration. And much of that is reflected in the Universal Declaration on Human Rights that should apply to the people of Afghanistan, as it applies to anyone else. And my hope and, beyond hope, expectation is that the future government of Afghanistan will uphold those basic rights. And if it does, then that’s a government that we can work with. If it doesn’t, we won’t.

QUESTION: Thank you for your time. Thank you for doing this.

SECRETARY BLINKEN: Thank you. Good to be with you.

Secretary Antony J. Blinken At Top of Meeting with German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas

8 Sep

Antony J. Blinken, Secretary of State

Germany

USAFE, Ramstein Air Base

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Well, first of all, good to see all of my friends and colleagues.  I think we’ll have an opportunity to speak to our colleagues from the media a little later this afternoon.  But in the first instance, it’s so good to see you, good to be with all of you.  And we have a lot to – (inaudible) but it’s particularly good to be back in Germany and see firsthand here today the remarkable partnership that we have, including the work that we’re doing together in the evacuation of people from Afghanistan, and the work we’re going to be doing shortly with many other countries to talk about the way forward on Afghanistan.  But I know we’ll have the chance to talk about all of that a little bit later.  Heiko, it’s very good to see you.

FOREIGN MINISTER MAAS:  Yes, thank you very much, Tony.  And welcome to the most American part of Germany.  Let me say it in German; I can assure you, only some friendly words.  

(In German.)