Secretary Antony J. Blinken At a Press Availability

15 Apr

Antony J. Blinken, Secretary of State

Kabul, Afghanistan

U.S. Embassy Kabul

SECRETARY BLINKEN: Good afternoon. Good to see everyone. I’ve come to Afghanistan today because it was important to me and important to President Biden to convey in person America’s commitment to an enduring partnership with Afghanistan and the Afghan people.

As President Biden announced yesterday, we’re withdrawing our troops by the 20th anniversary of 9/11. We’ve achieved the objective we set out nearly 20 years ago. We never intended to have a permanent military presence here. The threat from al-Qaida in Afghanistan is significantly degraded. Osama bin Laden has been brought to justice. After years of saying that we would leave militarily at some point, that time has come.

But even when our troops come home, our partnership with Afghanistan will continue. Our security partnership will endure. There’s strong bipartisan support for that commitment to the Afghan Security Forces. We’ll intensify our diplomacy with the Government of Afghanistan, the Taliban, countries in the region and around the world that have a stake in Afghanistan’s future. We’ll stand with the Afghan people, including through economic investment and development assistance, as they work toward a more prosperous future. We’ll continue to support civil society and to advocate for equal rights for women, including their meaningful participation in the ongoing negotiations and their equal representation throughout society. We’ll maintain the American tradition of providing humanitarian assistance for those most in need, including women, girls, and refugees.

I shared that message in all my meetings today – with President Ghani, with Chairman Abdullah, with representatives from civil society who are working for change every single day in their communities throughout the country. The United States will remain Afghanistan’s steadfast partner. We want the Afghan people, countries in the region, and the international community to know that fact.

It’s also a very important message for the Taliban to hear. As I think you know, I just came from Brussels. We consulted there with all of our NATO Allies, and the message that I heard from them was strong and clear. They’re proud of what we’ve done together over the past 20 years and they’re equally committed to continuing the partnership with Afghanistan.

For all of us, it’s been a long journey to this moment. There is a great deal of work and planning to do in the months ahead to ensure that the withdrawal is responsible, deliberate, and safe. But that work is going to be matched by our enduring support for Afghanistan economically, diplomatically, politically.

I do want to say that as we proceed, we will remember the extraordinary courage, strength, and sacrifice of our troops who have served in Afghanistan for the past two decades. At its height, the International Security Assistance Force had troops from 50 NATO countries and partner nations. Today, Resolute Support has troops from about 35 allies and partners. These service members risked their lives; thousands gave their lives. And we have succeeded in achieving the objective we set out to achieve because of their service, because of their sacrifice, and now we are embarking on a new chapter in our work here and in our partnership with the Afghan people.

Thank you, and happy to take some questions.

MR PRICE: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: Thank you very much. I’m Palwasha Amiz from Salam Watandar. I’ll ask that, according to the schedule for the North American government, American troops are going to leave Afghanistan within months, and some other countries after this has decided that – to have the same decision and the international (inaudible) are going to leave Afghanistan, and especially the NATO members – member countries have announced it.

And so the question is that – what is your understanding? Is there a probability of civil war in Afghanistan and if we consider it happened so? And the Taliban get the – and other terrorists, like, get back to their last position, like we witnessed many years ago. So what would be the international community reaction to that? And please, about human rights, the situation in Afghanistan if it gets worse, and so what would be the reaction of the international community?

SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, first, I think one of the things that we know from our experience of the last 20 years is that there is no military solution to the conflict that remains here. The only path forward to a durable, lasting, and just end to the conflict is through negotiation, is through a political agreement, and ultimately is through compromise. And I hope that the Taliban understands that as well. If as our forces are withdrawing the Taliban were to attack them, it would be met with a very forceful response. And of course, as I said, we’re going to continue to support the Afghan National Security Forces, but importantly we are doing everything we can now to advance diplomacy, to bring in regional and international partners so that everyone is using their influence and their leverage to advance a peaceful end to the conflict, to advance negotiations and ultimately an end to the conflict. It’s very important that the Taliban recognize that it will never be legitimate and it will never be durable if it rejects a political process and tries to take the country by force.

And I think something struck me very profoundly today. I’ve had the privilege of visiting here on a number of occasions over many years, going back to the early 2000s. And I think something President Ghani said struck me very powerfully, and that is the Afghanistan of 2021 is not the Afghanistan of 2001 or 1999 or pick a year before that. The country has gone through profound, positive changes. Society has changed dramatically. I met with representatives of civil society groups, women leaders, extraordinary people and young people who are reflective of a new Afghanistan. And similarly, the Afghan National Security Forces, thanks to the partnership with the international community, are very well trained and a strong force that exhibits extraordinary courage and sacrifice every day.

So I think it would be a mistake, for example, for the Taliban to see Afghanistan through the prism of 2001 or the 1990s. This is, in many ways, a new Afghanistan, one we’re very, very pleased to have been a partner to and one we’re committed to remaining a partner for.

MR PRICE: Matt, please, go ahead.

QUESTION: All right. Thank you, Mr. Secretary. I’m sure that – and you’ve got the sense, despite your words that are intended to reassure the Afghan leadership and the Afghan people, that there is a palpable sense of unease, if not dread, of a kind of fear of abandonment. And to be honest, if we are being honest, there is a history of that in this country, particularly with the United States and other Western countries.

So what can you do to – more to convince them that your words are not just words and that we’re not going to have a redux of what happened in the ’80s, where the country was essentially forgotten about by the West and left to fester?

And then secondly, upstairs in your remarks to the embassy staff you talked about how you’re – that local – you take care of safety and security of local employees and one of the ways to do that is through honoring the SIV, the Special Immigrant Visa program. How exactly are you planning to do that? Are you going to step this up? You were asked a similar question in Brussels yesterday, but I wasn’t quite sure of the answer. Thank you.

SECRETARY BLINKEN: Sure. Thanks, Matt. A couple things. Look, this is a time of transition. And with any transition comes uncertainty, comes concern. And I very much recognize that and I see that. And let me say a couple of things in that regard.

So, as you know, we met with President Ghani, with Chairman Abdullah, and other leaders from the government today. And I listened carefully what they had to say, particularly in response to the President’s speech last night and the decision we made. And I’ve got to say, at least what I heard today was pretty consistent across the board – respect for the President’s decision, profound appreciation for our years of partnership, but also commitment to and optimism about the next chapter that we are going to write together.

What I heard in private today from President Ghani was entirely consistent with the statement that he released publicly yesterday – no difference. Again, a lot of gratitude for what the United States and partners have done over the past two decades, but also something I mentioned just a moment ago, which, again, I found pretty powerful, that Afghanistan doesn’t live in the past, that it’s no longer 2001 or 2011. And what we talked about was a partnership between our two countries fitting for 2021 and beyond.

And so what does that mean? Well, two things. One, to your point, I did come to, in the first instance, deliver a message with the strong encouragement from President Biden that our partnership with Afghanistan is enduring. We will remain side-by-side going forward. And I laid out a number of areas where that partnership is going to manifest itself in very concrete ways, including, as I said, ongoing support for the Afghan National Security Forces; work together on development, on economic progress; support for civil society; and our strong diplomatic engagement and bringing other countries into the effort to advance the prospects for peace. So that was the message.

Now, to your point, and it’s exactly the right point, that message now has to be followed, and it will, by action. And I think that the Afghan people will see in the weeks and months ahead that, as I said, even as we are drawing down our forces, we are stepping up in all of these other areas our engagement with Afghanistan, with its government, and with its people. And look, ultimately, as they say, the proof will be in the pudding. But it was very important to make clear what we plan to do, and now it is up to us to do it.

And look, on the Special Immigrant Visa program, this is something that I’ve felt very strongly about for years in Iraq, in Afghanistan, and potentially in other areas where men and women have worked side-by-side with our soldiers, with our diplomats, and have put themselves at great – and their families and loved ones – at great risk by the fact of doing that and working with us. So this is just something that I’m committed to, and to the extent that there is demand for that coming from Afghanistan, that’s something that I’m going to work on and make sure we’re committed to.

MR PRICE: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: Thank you. I’m Sharif Amiry from TOLOnews, and welcome to Kabul. Are you not concerned that after 11 September Afghanistan will face a civil war, one? And do you think that the Istanbul conference will take place on the 24th of April?

SECRETARY BLINKEN: So I don’t think that it is in anyone’s interest, to say the least, for Afghanistan to descend into a civil war, into a long war. And even the Taliban, as we hear it, has said it has no interest in that. The Afghan people clearly have no interest in that. Everyone I heard from today expressed a strong desire for peace.

I also think that when you look at the region, when you look at Afghanistan’s neighbors, when you look at other regional powers that have an interest in Afghanistan and perhaps influence with different groups in Afghanistan, none of them have an interest in a civil war that could produce refugees flooding into other countries, extremism and terrorism directed potentially at other countries, drug trafficking spilling out even more. The consequences of that future are literally in no one’s interest. So that’s one.

Second, as I said before, the Taliban says that it wants certain things, including international recognition, including international support for Afghanistan, including have the ability of its leaders to travel freely. And if it were to provoke a civil war, none of those things would be possible. So I think there are lots of things arguing against that. And again, as I’ve said a couple of times already, this is a very different country than it was 20 years ago.

So our focus is in working to advance the prospects for a political settlement, and that has to start with meaningful negotiations. And we’ve invested, I have to tell you, significantly in that from pretty much the first days of this administration. And it was a topic today in conversations with President Ghani and with Chairman Abdullah, both of whom expressed their strong support for the process. Ambassador Khalilzad has spent much of the past two months in the region. He’s been shuttling between Doha, Kabul, and elsewhere.

We’ve offered concrete ideas and support, but we recognize this basic principle, which is that at its core, any peace process has to be Afghan-led and Afghan-owned. We can provide support, we can provide ideas, but ultimately it has to be Afghan-led and Afghan-owned.

As important, we’ve also sought, as I mentioned, to ensure that the broader international community, and particularly countries in the region, recognize a collective responsibility we share to help advance that work.

So our hope is that this can really begin in Istanbul. We’re waiting to see a definitive response from the Taliban about their participation, but we’re preparing for that. I want to express gratitude to Turkey, to Qatar, to the United Nations for convening the conference. And again, the goal is precisely what we’ve been working to do in recent weeks, and that is to accelerate the peace process. The gathering will be supported by high-level attendance from the international community, and the proceedings will complement peace talks that are currently happening in Doha.

My hope is that all of the Afghan parties are preparing for constructive participation in the conference, and this would be, I think, a positive start to moving in the direction that I think everyone I’ve talked to recognizes is the only direction for a durable and just and lasting peace and an end to the conflict.

MR PRICE: We’ll take a final question. Sarah.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR PRICE: Sarah.

QUESTION: Hi, Mr. Secretary. What is your response to the CIA director saying that pulling out of Afghanistan is expected to diminish U.S. intelligence? The CIA, FBI, they’re all going to be on the Hill today. What do you say to anything we might hear from them?

SECRETARY BLINKEN: So, of course, we’ve looked very hard throughout this process over the last two months as the President was deliberating and deciding on our policy. We’ve listened very hard to all of the key agencies in our government, starting with assessments from the Intelligence Community and, of course, from the Pentagon, from the department that I’m privileged to lead, the State Department, from every concerned agency. And in addition, we listened very carefully to our allies and partners about their ideas, their concerns going forward. We consulted with a broad range of experts, including on questions of counterterrorism.

And I think as you heard the President say last night in some detail, first, what brought us here was the 9/11 attack, and we came here to deal with those who attacked us and to do our best to ensure that Afghanistan would never again be a haven for attacks directed against the United States or any of our allies and partners.

And as I said and as the President said, we have largely succeeded in that effort. But the other thing that he pointed out last night was that that threat has changed dramatically from what it was in 2001. It is not the same threat that it was 20 years ago. We’ve seen, even as the threat has been significantly degraded here, even as Osama bin Laden was brought to justice a decade ago, we’ve seen in different parts of the world far from Afghanistan al-Qaida affiliates and – take root, as well as now ISIS or Daesh affiliates. And to concentrate all of our – or the vast bulk of our forces in one place where the threat is actually not current simply doesn’t make sense.

The President had also said that as we’re drawing down our forces, we will be repositioning the tools and assets that we have to guard very carefully against the possible re-emergence of a threat from Afghanistan. And we’re confident that we have the means to do so. In addition, the Taliban did make a commitment in the agreement that it reached with the United States last year to prevent the re-emergence of al-Qaida here in Afghanistan as well. We will hold them to that commitment to the extent they have the – they’re in a position where they need to be enforcing it.

So all of that was factored in. And as I said, the focus of our policy is on the threat that we face today, not the threat that we faced 20 years ago.

MR PRICE: Thank you very much, everyone.

SECRETARY BLINKEN: Thank you.

POLLS ON POLLS: Americans Really Want Infrastructure – and To Make Corporations Pay for It

15 Apr

Today is another big day for more confirmation that Americans absolutely love President Biden’s American Jobs Plan, and they support his plan to make large corporations pay for it. 

Good luck to congressional Republicans.

Congressional Republicans are desperate to protect the disastrously low corporate tax rates they gifted corporations in 2017. Unfortunately for them, Americans from both sides of the aisle support raising that rate to help fund President Biden’s infrastructure plan.

Daily Kos: “Majority support raising corp tax rate to help fund Biden infrastructure plan”

Navigator Research: “3 in 4 Americans support raising the corporate tax rate, raising taxes on the wealthy, or both to pay for infrastructure upgrades.”

New York Times: “‘A pretty good majority of people think that corporations and also rich people don’t pay their fair share,’ he said. The polling helps to underscore the emerging political challenge for Republicans, who have roundly praised infrastructure spending in the abstract but opposed the scope of Mr. Biden’s proposal and the tax increases that would fund it.”

Congressional Republicans want you to believe that infrastructure only means roads and bridges – except Americans believe, and support, much more than that.

Navigator Research: “Navigator tested 11 different components of the ‘American Jobs Plan’ and found overwhelming support for every single one. Just a few…

  • Fixing roads & bridges: 88%
  • Preventing lead in drinking water: 83%
  • Future-proofing against pandemics: 81%
  • Modernizing schools: 77%”

The post POLLS ON POLLS: Americans Really Want Infrastructure – and To Make Corporations Pay for It appeared first on Democrats.

HELP IS HERE: Jobless Claims Hit New COVID-Low, Retail Sales Crush Expectations

15 Apr

Thanks to the leadership of President Biden and Democrats, and no thanks to a single congressional Republican, the economy is coming back, and more Americans are getting jobs back and spending their stimulus checks, helping to boost small businesses.

After a blowout jobs report last month, jobless claims hit their lowest level since the pandemic started last March.

Associated Press: “The number of Americans applying for unemployment benefits tumbled last week to 576,000, a post-COVID low and a hopeful sign that layoffs are easing as the economy recovers from the pandemic recession. The Labor Department said Thursday that applications plummeted by 193,000 from a revised 769,000 a week earlier. Jobless claims are now down sharply from a peak of 900,000 in early January.”

And thanks to the over 156 million stimulus checks distributed across the country, retail sales surpassed expectations.

Associated Press: “Newly vaccinated and armed with $1,400 stimulus checks, Americans went on a spending spree last month, buying new clothes and going out to eat again. Retail sales surged a seasonally adjusted 9.8% after dropping about 3% the month before, the Commerce Department said Thursday. The rise in March was much better than the 5.5% increase Wall Street analysts had expected. Thursday’s report, which covers about a third of overall consumer spending, is the latest sign that the economy is improving as vaccinations accelerate, business restrictions are relaxed and more people are willing to head out to shop or eat. Employers, for example, added 916,000 jobs last month, the most since August. And U.S. consumer confidence surged in March to the highest level in a year.”

As more Americans feel the impact of President Biden’s American Rescue Plan with more vaccines and checks in their pockets, their support only grows stronger.

Monmouth: “Just over 6 in 10 (63%) Americans support the $1.9 trillion Covid stimulus package enacted last month, while 34% oppose it. These overall numbers are similar to when the bill was being considered by Congress last month (62% support and 34% oppose), but strong support for the package has ticked up to 43% from 35% in March.”

The post HELP IS HERE: Jobless Claims Hit New COVID-Low, Retail Sales Crush Expectations appeared first on Democrats.

Digital technologies for health financing:

15 Apr

Digital innovation for health care and illness prevention with its potential to transform health-service delivery has received strong public attention over the past decade in both high-income and low- and middle-income countries. However, the use of digital technologies and their role in enhancing health financing, and their implications for health systems transformation, are less well known, especially in LMICs. 

This paper is particularly focused on digital technologies that significantly change “business as usual” – i.e. technologies that substantially transform the way in which health-financing tasks are undertaken by stewards, purchasers, providers, users and citizens in general. These technologies include mobile telephone applications, webpage interaction platforms, blockchain, big data analytics, and artificial intelligence including machine learning. 

A key premise of this paper is that digital technologies for health financing should contribute to universal health coverage (UHC). To achieve progress towards UHC, digital technologies should support the achievement of widely agreed health-financing principles and desirable attributes – i.e. largely relying on public finance, reducing out-of-pocket expenditure and expanding prepaid and pooled funding, and making purchasing more strategic. Nevertheless, digital technologies may pose risks to health financing and the application and implementation of digital technologies face various challenges that could jeopardize their health-financing benefits. These specific risks for health financing need to be explored.

This paper outlines potential benefits and seeks to anticipate and explore possible risks and challenges on the basis of a scoping literature review, including published and grey literature, with a focus on LMICs. It provides initial conclusions and reflections on how to reap the benefits, and mitigate the risks and challenges, in relation to health financing.

Secretary Blinken’s Meeting with Afghanistan High Commission for National Reconciliation Chair Abdullah Abdullah

15 Apr

Office of the Spokesperson

The below is attributable to Spokesperson Ned Price:

Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken met with Afghanistan High Commission for National Reconciliation Chair Abdullah Abdullah today in Kabul.  Secretary Blinken and Dr. Abdullah discussed the importance of continuing to work toward a negotiated political settlement and permanent and comprehensive ceasefire.  Secretary Blinken reiterated the U.S. commitment to the peace process and that we will use our full diplomatic, economic, and humanitarian toolkit to support the future the Afghan people want, including the gains made by Afghan women.

New U.S. Humanitarian Assistance for the South Sudan Crisis Response

15 Apr

Ned Price, Department Spokesperson

Today, the United States announced more than $95 million to support the response to the South Sudan humanitarian emergency.  On behalf of the American people, this funding will provide critical protection, economic opportunity, shelter, essential healthcare, emergency food assistance, safe drinking water, sanitation, and hygiene services to some of the nearly four million South Sudanese refugees and internally displaced people in South Sudan.  It also supports refugees and host communities in Uganda, Sudan, Ethiopia, Kenya, and the Democratic Republic of Congo.  This announcement includes nearly $53 million through the U.S. Agency for International Development and nearly $43 million from the U.S. Department of State.  It brings the total U.S. humanitarian assistance to more than $482 million in Fiscal Year 2021.

Flooding, political violence, and lack of effective governance in recent years have ruined livelihoods, displaced additional South Sudanese, and heightened food insecurity, raising the likelihood of famine conditions in parts of the country.  COVID-19 and ongoing subnational conflict have further compounded this dire situation.

The United States is the largest single donor of humanitarian aid to the South Sudan regional response efforts and we remain committed to helping the people of South Sudan.  The urgent humanitarian need calls for sustained and coordinated donor support to the underfunded UN 2021 South Sudan Regional Refugee Response Plan.  We call on donors and the South Sudanese government to work with the UN and international community to support the humanitarian response in South Sudan.  Humanitarian assistance will not solve the conflict, but it is vital to keeping civilians alive.  Ultimately, political will and political solutions are the only way to end the suffering of the South Sudanese people.

Secretary Blinken’s Meeting with Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani

15 Apr

Office of the Spokesperson

The below is attributable to Spokesperson Ned Price:

Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken met with Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani today in Kabul to affirm the United States’ continued commitment to Afghanistan.  Secretary Blinken made clear that the United States stands with Afghanistan and its people in support of a peaceful and prosperous future.  Secretary Blinken and President Ghani discussed our shared investment in Afghanistan and the importance of preserving the gains of the last twenty years, especially in building a strong civil society and protecting the rights of women and girls.  They also discussed counter-terrorism cooperation and our shared commitment to ensure al-Qa’ida never regains a foothold in Afghanistan.

Holding Russia To Account

15 Apr

Antony J. Blinken, Secretary of State

Today, we announced actions to hold the Russian Government to account for the SolarWinds intrusion, reports of bounties on U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan, and attempts to interfere in the 2020 U.S. elections.

We have engaged Russian authorities to share our concerns about their actions and the steps we are taking in response. The President is signing a new Executive Order on Russia that will broaden the scope of our sanctions authoritiesUnder this new Executive Order, the U.S. Department of the Treasury is issuing a directive prohibiting U.S. financial institutions from conducting transactions in the primary market for new ruble or non-ruble denominated bonds issued after June 14, 2021. This Executive Order also provides authority for the U.S. Government to expand sovereign debt sanctions on Russia as appropriate.

The U.S. Department of State is also expelling 10 officials from Russia’s bilateral mission.  In addition, the U.S. Department of the Treasury is announcing sanctions against entities and individuals involved in election interference and against companies that support the malign activities of the Russian intelligence services responsible for the SolarWinds intrusion and other recent cyber incidents.  These sanctions will serve to reduce Russian resources available to carry out similar malign activities.

In addition, together with partners and allies, on March 2 the U.S. responded to Russia’s attempt to poison Aleksey Navalny using a chemical weapon and his subsequent arrest and imprisonment.  We remain concerned about Navalny’s health and treatment in prison, and call for his unconditional release.

These actions are intended to hold Russia to account for its reckless actions. We will act firmly in response to Russian actions that cause harm to us or our allies and partners. Where possible, the United States will also seek opportunities for cooperation with Russia, with the goal of building a more stable and predictable relationship consistent with U.S. interests.

Additionally, the State Department is taking steps to bolster cybersecurity partnerships internationally, including by providing a new training course with partners on the policy and technical aspects of publicly attributing cyber incidents and by supporting trainings on responsible state behavior in cyberspace.

For more information on the actions, visit https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/statements-releases/2021/04/15/fact-sheet-imposing-costs-for-harmful-foreign-activities-by-the-russian-government/ 

Israel’s National Day

15 Apr

Antony J. Blinken, Secretary of State

On behalf of the Government of the United States of America, I offer best wishes and congratulations to all Israelis as you mark the 73rd anniversary of Israel’s independence.

As long-standing partners with shared democratic values, our countries stand united, whether in meeting the health and economic challenges of a virulent outbreak, driving entrepreneurship and innovation in our economies, forging stronger regional bonds, confronting shared security threats, or working towards a more peaceful, secure, and prosperous future for the people of the Middle East.  The United States remains unwavering in its commitment to Israel’s security and will work to maintain the strength of the enduring U.S.-Israel partnership, a relationship the United States deeply values.

Yom Ha’atzmaut Sameach.