Sep 1, 2021
State Department Ned Price Afghanistan Press Conference Transcript September 1
State Department Spokesman Ned Price and Ambassador Victoria Nuland held a press conference on September 1, 2021. They provided an update on Afghanistan evacuations. Read the transcript of the full briefing here.
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Ned Price: (00:00)
Taking your questions and then we’ll proceed with our regularly scheduled programming from there. So without further ado Under Secretary Nuland.
Victoria Nuland: (00:11)
Thanks Ned. It is an experience to be back in this room again with old friends and new.
Victoria Nuland: (00:25)
I want to just start today by offering a heartfelt welcome home to our diplomats, who along with their military intelligence colleagues, have just recently returned home from Kabul. To Ambassador John Bass, who I had a chance to greet at Dulles yesterday. To Ambassador Ross Wilson, who’s returning today after serving as our [inaudible 00:00:48] since January of last year, and to the hundreds of other US diplomats, military colleagues and intelligence colleagues who helped on the ground. We thank you for your courage, for your sacrifice and for your service.
Victoria Nuland: (01:05)
I also had the chance when I was at Dulles yesterday to see the receiving center for our Afghans coming off planes from the various reception centers overseas. And I have to tell you seeing these incredible families, beautiful children, being warmly received by volunteers at Dulles, it really makes you enormously proud to be an American.
Victoria Nuland: (01:34)
And while our diplomats have returned from Kabul, as you know and we’ve officially suspended our presence there, our ongoing intensive diplomatic work with partners and allies and Afghanistan continues. First of all, as you know, it is this department and the secretary’s top priority to continue to evacuate any American citizen who wishes to leave Afghanistan. We believe there are between 100 and 200 Americans who remain in Afghanistan, who may have some interest in leaving. And the secretary is leading our diplomatic efforts to ensure safe passage for them and for any Afghan partners and foreign nationals who still want to leave Afghanistan. And as the President said, there is no deadline on the effort to ensure safe passage for those who want it.
Victoria Nuland: (02:21)
Within this building, the Afghan task force continues to work 24/7 on evacuation efforts. And since August 14th, the task force has been engaging American citizens in Afghanistan, they’ve made more than 55,000 phone calls, sent more than 33,000 emails and this outreach continues today and will in the days and weeks ahead, as long as there is a need. And from the region, hundreds and hundreds of US diplomats are coordinating with third countries, specifically those with active diplomatic presences in Kabul to discuss safe passage options and other consular services. And as you know, more than a hundred countries signed onto a joint statement earlier this week, expressing our expectation that the Taliban will honor travel authorizations by our countries. And on Monday, the UN Security Council adopted a very strong resolution that calls on the Taliban to honor their own commitment, to allow safe and secure an orderly departure from Afghanistan for Afghans and all foreign nationals. As this ongoing evacuation and relocation operation continues to date as you know, 123,000 people have been enabled to leave Afghanistan, including 6,000 American citizens and tens of thousands of at risk Afghans. Our temporary residents locations in the Gulf have the capacity to process some 37,000 people on a rolling basis and more than 65,000 Afghans and others have transited through the Gulf with Qatar being the largest evacuation site and are temporary transit locations in joint basis in Europe have the capacity to process 28,000 people on a rolling basis and all of them have been very active as well, total of six countries and I think it’s 10 locations overseas for processing. And each transit center offers humanitarian support, including meals, medical care, other necessities, our diplomats work they’re hand in hand with service members and uniformed officers from CBP, from TSA, from all of the other agencies who are working around the clock first to get American citizens home, as soon as they land and then to run biometric and biographic screening on the Afghan evacuees before they are brought to the United States or processed for a third country.
Victoria Nuland: (04:57)
And we’re enormously grateful to the huge network of countries that have provided critical assistance for our evacuation efforts, partners and allies, Bahrain, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Georgia, Hungary, Italy, Kosovo, Kuwait, Pakistan, Qatar, Spain, Switzerland, Turkey, Ukraine, and the United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom and others who have helped transit Americans and others to safety. Our close coordination with our allies and partners remains critical both on evacuation and relocation, but also as we begin to scope our ongoing relationship with the Afghan people and with the Taliban.
Victoria Nuland: (05:42)
In the last few weeks, as you know, Secretary Blinken has made more than 50 bilateral calls to foreign leaders and met virtually with both his G7 and NATO counterparts. And on Monday, he convened a virtual ministerial that included Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the UK, EU and NATO, as well as Qatar and Turkey to discuss the facilitation of safe travel out of Afghanistan, including reopening Kabul civilian airport. And we expect that in a coming days and weeks, that intensive multilateral effort will continue. Deputy Secretary Sherman’s made dozens of calls and convened conversations on a regular basis with deputy foreign ministers and political directors from more than 27 allied and partner governments, sharing updates, sharing information. I’ve been burning up the phone lines as well, including with political directors and my G7 counterparts. And as you heard the secretary announced earlier this week, while we’ve suspended our diplomatic presence in Kabul we have set up our Afghan office in Doha, led by Ian McCary to manage diplomacy and all of its aspects with Afghanistan and to work with allies and partners who have also relocated their operations to Doha. This will include consular affairs providing humanitarian assistance, working on counter-terrorism issues, working on political insecurity issues.
Victoria Nuland: (07:10)
So just as somebody who spent almost 33 years in this department, I will say that this is one of the most difficult, and certainly the most enormous efforts that I’ve been involved with stretching all across the department, all across the inter-agency agency and all across the globe. And I am personally, I know the secretary is, enormously proud of our people, but we’ve got a lot of work still to do. Over to your questions.
Ned Price: (07:39)
Thank you. Welcome back to the podium.
Victoria Nuland: (07:43)
I’m sure you missed it. I won’t say us, I’ll say it. I’m sure you missed the podium.
Victoria Nuland: (07:48)
I missed you too.
Without a doubt, seeing what you described yesterday when you went to Dulles and seeing the African families getting off the planes, everyone I think understands that. But I think everyone in this room either has personally spoken to or has colleagues who have personally spoken to US citizens particularly, or LPRs, green card holders who are still in Kabul, who did not get it, who were being assured up until the very last minute that, hey, we know where you are, you’re not going to be stranded. And now they’ve been stranded.
So what are you telling them now? Presuming that you’re still in contact with these people, particularly as reports start to increase about the Taliban doing exactly what they said they wouldn’t do, which is exacting revenge on people. And I’ll let someone else ask about the SIVs, but what is the message right now to US passport holders and families who are all green card holders who were not able to get out?
Victoria Nuland: (09:02)
Well, Matt, as I said, these efforts did not end on August 31st and they will not end until we have secured the evacuation of any American citizens and LPRs and folks who worked with us and serve the American people who want to get out. So we’ve been in contact with them in the last 24 hours to tell them that we are looking at all possible options, air routes, land routes, to continue to find ways for them to help evacuate and to support them in that. We’re trying to ascertain who precisely still wants to leave, who their dependent family members are, what routes may or may not feel comfortable to them. We’re also working intensively, as you know, with countries on the ground who were trying to get the civilian airport open. We’re also looking at land routes, talking to our allies about how that might work and how that has worked. So we’re looking at all possible options, but we’re also conveying to them that their safety and security is of paramount concern to us. And as you have said and as we saw during the military phase of the evacuation, we have profound security concerns. It’s a very volatile situation and the Taliban have to demonstrate that they can maintain security for the rest of this.
People’s confidence in the United States has been shaken, perhaps irrevocably, by the fact that they were being told as recently as over the weekend, that you knew where they were and that they weren’t going to be stranded, and yet they were. So what precisely are you telling them other than we’re doing everything that we can to try to get you out, even though it’s clear that you don’t have a way to do it yet?
Victoria Nuland: (10:48)
The messages are being tailored depending upon who they are and where they are. I’m not going to get into the specifics of that. But the first thing we have to do is ensure that we can get air routes and land routes secured, and that’s what we’re working on. But what we mostly need to understand is to continue to evaluate who is where, who they have with them so that we can, on a case by case basis, do what we can to tailor evacuation routes for them.
Ned Price: (11:19)
Thank you. [inaudible 00:11:20] Secretary. So I have two questions. One is basically following up on that, but I want to expand it to the SIVs as well. And I understand you may not be able to share precise plans, but for example, one of the people that Matt mentioned is somebody that I spoke to in his first story that we put out today, and this is a US passport holder and he has six daughters, none of them are American citizens and basically he was assisted but he was told to come to the airport alone. And that was the only way for him to get out. So for someone like this, what is the guidance at the moment? Are you giving any guidance about over land routes?
And my second question is a little bit wider and that’s about Taliban recognition. I just want you to talk a little bit about the US strategy on how to deal with the Taliban, because the focus is so far has been on the evacuation. Where is the United States with that? We see that Europe coming to maybe accept the reality that they have to deal with the Taliban a little bit earlier than the United States. If you could just update us on where your thinking on that and what are you talking about that with your allies? Thank you.
Victoria Nuland: (12:39)
Well, first of all, be interested after this, about any information you have about this specific American. As you know, the guidance to Americans throughout has been that we were eager to assist them, their spouses and their minor children. So I’m not sure about this report that you have, but it doesn’t track with the way we have been dealing with these cases. As I said, we are working on supporting those partners on the ground, who are trying to get that airport open. And we are also looking at land routes. I think on land routes I don’t want to be any more specific because as you know, it is a long journey with lots of dangers and we don’t want to further endanger folks who might be involved in that.
And the recognition?
Victoria Nuland: (13:28)
On the question of recognition, we have obviously had contacts with the Taliban. We had it during the effort that we were trying to midwife and negotiation. Those conversations have continued intensively to enable the evacuation that we undertook and to try to get the kinds of guarantees of safe passage, et cetera, and tolerance, and to talk about the standard set in the UN Security Council resolution to talk about the terrorist threat as well, because the expectation is that they claim to be able to control the security of Afghanistan, we’ll see if that is the case. That is a far cry from formal recognition. We will continue to have conversations that serve our interest as will our allies and partners, but the first thing we want to see is them live up to the obligations that they have under the UN charter, as well as the public statements that they themselves have made about their expectation for an Afghanistan that respects human rights, respects international law, allows international citizens and Afghans who wish to, to leave.
Ned Price: (14:42)
Hi. Thank you. Has the number of American citizens still on the ground changed? For example, have any of the people who were on the fence about leaving or said they were to stay change their mind in the last few days since the US withdrawal was completed? And then realistically, what is the earliest timeline we could see the airport reopened, do you have firm commitments from anyone to help with the operation of that airport?
Victoria Nuland: (15:05)
So just to say I don’t have information about how the phone tree calls have gone over the last 24 hours. I would say that as a general matter, the messages we get from some of these Americans who have not yet left sometimes vary over the course of time. They have differing situations, they may have elderly relatives who don’t want to leave and therefore their own decisions about leaving are complex, let’s put it that way. They may have other reasons that they want to stay. So, without giving you specifics I would say that what’s most important is that we remain in constant contact with everybody on our list, because needs are changing, perceptions of interests are changing as well as availability of how we would work with them. And with regard to the airport.
Victoria Nuland: (16:03)
… how we would work with them. And with regard to the airport, there are a couple of countries with representation in Afghanistan. I think we’ve talked about Qatar. We’ve talked about Turkey who were working with the Taliban to try to get the airport open. I’ll let them speak for themselves. They have relatively optimistic projections about when that will happen, but we need to see it happen, obviously.
Ned Price: (16:25)
Thanks. Could I follow up a little bit on [Humara’s 00:16:26] question on recognition? What’s the message of the United States, if any, is given to other countries and whether to recognize? As you know, there are reports that the Taliban may announce some sort of government in the coming days. First of all, what are the U.S. expectations for that government, including on inclusivity? And is there a message to other countries on whether or not to recognize this government that they announce?
Victoria Nuland: (16:50)
I think I’m not going to go too far down this road other than to say that we stand by what was in the UN Security Council Resolution. Those are the international community’s expectations and the UNSC’s expectations for a Taliban led government and the way it will govern and the way it will interact with the international system. I think we need to see them live up to their own commitments and live up to the standards set by the UNSC before we go very far down this road.
Ned Price: (17:16)
Yeah, thank you. Good to see you.
Victoria Nuland: (17:18)
Good to see you, Sayed.
Very quickly. You, the President, the Secretary of State, they all keep saying, “We expect the Taliban to honor their commitment.” What is in their history that actually points to the fact that they will honor these commitment? That’s quite a journey from the time they went in to obliterate them, destroy them, blow them out of existence to today when you are actually counting on them to honor their commitments.
Victoria Nuland: (17:47)
Well, Sayed, I think you just made our point that we’re not going to take them at their word. We’re going to take them at their deeds. So they’ve got a lot to prove based on their old track record as you know. Now, they also have a lot to gain if they can run Afghanistan far differently than they did the last time they were in power. And they have said that they want to be welcomed into the international community. Well, we set that standard in the UNSC Resolution on Monday and it’s really now up to them to form a government and manage the country in a manner that lives up to those standards.
Ned Price: (18:23)
Speaker 1: (18:26)
[inaudible 00:18:26] Secretary or come to the podium. Thank you.
Victoria Nuland: (18:30)
I’m really having a flashback here, really.
Speaker 1: (18:32)
Victoria Nuland: (18:32)
It’s just faces are the same.
Speaker 1: (18:34)
We’ll come back to a briefing room. If I may ask about SIVs. Is the State Department advising Afghanistan SIV applicants to transfer their cases to embassies or counselor offices outside of Afghanistan? If so, has the State Department received assurances from the Taliban that they will be provided safe passage and necessary travel documents? The reason I ask is just our sources on the ground, SIV applicants receive new advisories telling them to transfer the case to a nearby embassy, but the difficulty is they cannot get out of the country because they may need to get the passport from the Taliban to leave the country. If you would like to address that.
Victoria Nuland: (19:30)
Well, I don’t want to get too much into the complexities of consular work because I will mess it up. But let me simply say that first we have a large number of SIV applicants or SIV eligible people who are currently being processed already for entry into the United States, or they have already arrived. If they already had their SIV foil in their passport, then they can come right in. If they were halfway through processing, then that processing has to be continued wherever they are and they are also on our priority list if they are still in Afghanistan to try to help them to evacuate if they so wish, or if they are at risk. Now, some SIV eligible folk have found themselves in countries other than where we have our transit centers, and in that case, they can appear at U.S. embassies and consulates and make their claim known and we can receive them for processing there, if that make sense?
Speaker 1: (20:41)
Would you consider electronic?
Victoria Nuland: (20:44)
Speaker 1: (20:45)
Would the State Department consider issuing electronic documents?
Victoria Nuland: (20:47)
For those of folks who are still in Afghanistan who have a claim to come and who we want to help evacuate, part of this process will be to ensure that they have a document, a travel document, from us that the Taliban will recognize, because they have said that they will allow folks who have a legitimate travel document to evacuate. So, as I said, some already have that document. Some have an electronic document. Some we may need to work on building a named document. And we’re looking at all of those things and working on them.
Ned Price: (21:22)
We’ll take one final question. Connor.
Just a follow-up on some of my colleagues questions about recognition. I know you said that you will monitor the Taliban’s deeds here, but less than a month ago, Secretary of State Blinken said from that podium that international recognition along with international aid, the lifting of sanctions, he said, “None of those are going to be possible if the Taliban seeks to take the country by force.” They now have done so, and so why aren’t all of those things inherently off of the table? What does it say about America’s word here that they aren’t?
Victoria Nuland: (21:58)
I didn’t say that recognition was on the table, did I? What I said was our relationship with the Taliban will be guided by what they do, not by what they say. Now, that said, there are some urgent questions like the humanitarian condition of the people of Afghanistan. So we are looking at those kinds of things, how we can continue to provide humanitarian aid without benefiting any government that is formed. Those kinds of things are natural, but we have made no decisions about any of the rest of it and we certainly won’t unless and until we see the kinds of behavior expected in the UN Security Council Resolution. Great to be with all of you.
Ned Price: (22:47)
Thank you, Under Secretary.
Victoria Nuland: (22:47)
Ned Price: (22:54)
Please come back. Okay. Before we resume taking questions, let me just speak to a couple of issues. First, on Ethiopia. Nearly one month after USAID Administrator Samantha Power was on the ground there in Ethiopia, she emphasized the dire humanitarian catastrophe that faces over 5.2 million people. The situation on the ground has only gotten worse since then. From the beginning of the crisis in Northern Ethiopia, the United States has called for a negotiated ceasefire and unhindered humanitarian access. The truth is that access has been limited to but a trickle by the government of Ethiopia. Warehouses sit empty in Tigray because the government has put a stranglehold around the region. Trucks with life-saving assistance continue to remain idle, as Administrator Power herself lamented a month ago, while desperate Ethiopians slide closer to famine.
Ned Price: (23:53)
While we are concerned about any and all reports of humanitarian assistance being diverted from those for whom it is intended, humanitarian assistance must be allowed to reach populations in need by the government of Ethiopia and all parties, that includes the TPLF. These parties must cease the violence that only worsens the current situation. All right, so with that, I believe we have one additional topper. We remain deeply concerned over the continued detention of U.S. citizen Danny Fenster, who was working as a journalist in Burma. Yesterday, Danny marked his 100th day in detention. Journalism is not a crime. The detention of Danny Fenster and other journalists constitutes an unacceptable attack on freedom of expression in Burma. We continue to press Burma’s military regime to release Danny immediately. We will do so until he safely returned home to his family. With that, happy to resume your questions.
Thanks, Ned. I just want to drill down a little bit into this 100 to 200 who remain, U.S. citizens. These are passport holders, right? This does not include LPRs?
Ned Price: (25:16)
That is correct.
Well then, you must have some estimate of LPRs who are still there who want to get out. And if you don’t, why not?
Ned Price: (25:27)
Well, Matt, let me first start with this issue of the 100 to 200 and to reiterate a couple of pieces that Undersecretary Nuland said. We’ve been at this point of 100 to 200 over the past couple of days. You heard this from Secretary Blinken. You heard this from the President as well. But it is also true that over the past couple of days, and in fact, overnight we have been in touch with everyone in that remaining 100 to 200 and we do have a little bit more fidelity on that group that we’ve been able to garner over the past couple of days. We have said that the number is likely closer to 100. Everything we have seen over the course of the past 48 to 72 hours indicates that is, in fact, the case. The number is likely closer to 100, perhaps considerably closer to 100.
Ned Price: (26:19)
Again, this number is dynamic. It will go down and, in fact, we have received confirmation that some of the individuals we initially included in this range of 100 to 200 were, in fact, never in Afghanistan or were not in Afghanistan when we were doing that outreach or have safely returned home in recent hours.
I’m asking about green card holders who you also have a responsibility to, along with the SIVs and others. Now I’m just asking about green card holders. Was there a decision made at some point to forget about those people…
Ned Price: (26:55)
… and only allow U.S. passport holders into the airport through your checkpoints, not the Taliban checkpoints, through your checkpoints and onto planes? Because a lot of them feel like they frankly got screwed here and that they were lied to because they had been told by people on the task force, just what I mentioned to Victoria, “We know where you are. We’re not going to strand you. Don’t worry. Stay tight. Hold tight.” And now, what do they do? I mean, are you in touch also with the green card holders in the last 24 hours?
Ned Price: (27:39)
Matt, let me start by saying, we have a special responsibility to American citizens, and that is spelled out in 22 U.S. Code Section 4802. It is spelled out in some detail there the special responsibility we have to U.S. citizens. We also do have a commitment to LPRs, to lawful permanent residents, and we have been in touch with LPRs. We had good reason at the time to be in Afghanistan as the evacuation operation was underway so when we first started messaging American citizens, SIVs, other at risk Afghans, we absolutely did and continue to message lawful permanent residents.
Ned Price: (28:23)
So let me just make another point here. We have been consistent in that messaging that we will do during the course of the evacuation everything in our power and space permitting to bring them to safety on a U.S. military airplane. Now, of course, our commitment has not expired, that commitment endures, and now we remain committed to bringing them out of Afghanistan if they should choose to do so. When it comes to the number, we have gone to some pains to explain how we arrived at the figure of approximately 6, 000 when it comes to American citizens. That is a figure where we have the greatest fidelity, again, because our first responsibility and our first commitment in all of this has been to American citizens and American passport holders.
Ned Price: (29:14)
The number when it comes to LPRs is, of course, going to be larger. It is going to be and it has been a more complex endeavor to determine with any specificity what that number may be. We’ve been able to refine it. We believe that we have effectively been able to message this universe of individuals, but we’re just not able at present to give you a firm figure as to how many LPRs may be in Afghanistan who wish to leave. But, again, our commitment to them remains. If there is an LPR in Afghanistan who indicated a desire to leave before, or who changes his or her mind in the coming days, weeks, months, or beyond, we will help that person. We will help that person depart Afghanistan.
The family that I’m referring to, and possibly the family Humara was referring to, I mean, they were told. You guys do know it defies logic to think that you guys don’t have even a rough estimate of the number of LPRs who are out there.
Ned Price: (30:19)
We have endeavored throughout this to provide only numbers in which we have a high degree of confidence. That is why many of you have asked about reports that the number of Americans was much higher than it actually was. There have been a lot of numbers thrown around. We have done everything we can to provide you with information that is both timely but that is also accurate, and given the complexities involved in boiling down a number like that, not only taking the number of LPRs, but then boiling it down to how many of those LPRs may wish to leave the country that is something that will take time for us to offer publicly with some degree of precision. Humara.
Ned, there is actually a story that’s just out there from Politico citing three people familiar with the matter that Ross Wilson, [inaudible 00:31:12] the SMS in Kabul, recently tested positive for COVID and that he currently has only very mild cold-like symptoms. Can you confirm, deny, or say anything about this?
Ned Price: (31:25)
I hope you’re not surprised to hear me say, we, of course, are not in a position to speak to anyone’s private health records. What I will say is that when our officers come out of Kabul and they spend time in a transit point, they are tested for COVID as a matter of course. And so we are taking all appropriate precautions for individuals who are coming out of Afghanistan. Look, I don’t have to tell you that individuals who are being relocated who recently left Kabul have been involved in one of the most ambitious-
Ned Price: (32:03)
… one of the most ambitious, one of the most intense operations this department and this government has ever undertaken. They have been around, I would presume, quite a few people. The social distancing may have been difficult at times. And so that is why we are taking these precautions for anyone who has recently come out of Kabul.
Sir, he’s just traveled on a plane though. So-
Ned Price: (32:30)
I can assure you that if we knew someone had tested positive for COVID, we would take appropriate precautions to relocate anyone like that back to United States.
Okay. I have one more on your favorite, which is numbers. In the briefing earlier today, senior state department official [inaudible 00:32:47] said a majority of the African SIV applicants were still in Afghanistan. So based on your commitment to get them out, surely you do have an estimate or a number, how many people there are. Can you give a rough number? Tens of thousands? Thousands? Close to 100,000?
Ned Price: (33:07)
So I can give you a little more specificity, but let me just explain why we’re not yet in a position to provide a firm number. As we’ve said, during the evacuation process, our first priority, our priority was putting as many people on as many planes as quickly as we could. And of course, we brought to the United States, or to third countries, about 124, 000 individuals. Of those individuals, most of them have not yet arrived to the United States or to the third countries where they will undergo processing. And so we are not yet in a position to have specificity because they are not yet, in most cases, in our system to determine how many may have been SIVs, how many may have been our locally employed staff, how many may have fallen into the P1 and P2 category.
Ned Price: (34:03)
But in terms of a bit more specificity, DHS is processing individuals back in the United States, as you know, and we do have some preliminary data based on that DHS processing. Since August 17th and through August 31st at midnight Eastern Time, 31,107 people have arrived at to the US as part of this operation. So of that subset, which, of course, is just a small subset of the 124,000, we understand that about 14% are US citizens, or 4,446, about 9% are LPRs, 2,785, and the remaining 77%, 23,876 individuals, are Afghans at risk. And of course, falling into that category are SIVs, other visa holders, P1, P2 referrals, and perhaps others as well. So it is fair to say that the vast majority of individuals who, who were evacuated as of August 31st fall into the category of Afghans at risk, and many of them will be SIVs. I should also hasten to add that the US citizen figure here, the 14%, that’s 4,446, as you know, we ourselves evacuated approximately 5,500 and probably more US citizens. So that’s the vast majority of US citizens. So these initial figures probably over count US citizens because our first priority, as we’ve said, as I was telling Matt earlier, was, and is, to US citizens, to US passport holders. So as additional individuals come to the United States, we expect the proportion of other categories, of LPRs and Afghans at risk, to rise.
Speaker 2: (36:05)
What was the start date [inaudible 00:36:06]?
Ned Price: (36:05)
Speaker 2: (36:06)
17 to 31? That’s right. John.
Sir, can I ask you about the issue of the journalists from [inaudible 00:36:16]? There’s of course been a lot of concern about, first of all, there are estimates of the numbers issued, there’s estimates about how many are there, there’s estimates of hundreds. Do you believe that United States has done everything that it can to help these people get out of [inaudible 00:36:29]? And what’s the game plan now for helping journalists from [inaudible 00:36:33] to leave with these issues?
Ned Price: (36:34)
We will continue to do everything we can. We’re not talking about this in the past tense, because our efforts have not ended. Our efforts will endure. We have made a commitment to those who have served the US Government, to those who have served the American people, to, of course, American citizens and lawful permanent residents as well. So you heard from Undersecretary Newland that we are considering all possible options to facilitate the departure of individuals in these categories from Afghanistan. As a predicate for that, we have worked with the international community, more than half the world’s countries. All of the most important stakeholders have signed on to the idea that the Taliban must uphold their commitments of safe passage. That was job one, to underscore that predicate and to make clear to the Taliban that should they not uphold that commitment, the international community would be in a position to hold them accountable to that.
Ned Price: (37:38)
Number two is working on these potential routes for departure. And I mean routes literally, and we’ve talked about overland routes, but also pathways like civilian airports. Well before the last military plane left, we had engaged in diplomacy with countries in the region to include Qatar, to include Turkey, brought in the private sector as well to do an assessment of the airport. And our goal is to support a safe reopening of this airport just as soon as we can, for two reasons. Number one, to allow the provision of humanitarian supplies to the Afghan people. You need a functioning civilian airport to do that. But number two, of course, is to provide a means by which those, to whom we have a special commitment to depart the country. That’s what we’re working on as quickly as we can. We’re working to support the efforts of our partners on the ground, and this is a priority for all of us.
Speaker 3: (38:38)
I want to change topics, if I may.
Ned Price: (38:41)
Let’s take a couple more questions on Afghanistan and then, and then we’ll come back. Yes.
Speaker 4: (38:46)
So just to drill down a little bit, I’ve been speaking with an American citizen today. His parents, sister, and grandmother are stuck in Kabul. They tried to get out of the chaos. They couldn’t. And the State Department is telling him today that it could be days and they haven’t communicated a plan for them. And so my question is, what assurances, what confidence can you give them? Because it seems to them that you’re telling him you don’t have a plan. And then in the larger numbers categories, since we’re doing numbers, have you gotten any American citizen out since the last flight left on August 30th?
Ned Price: (39:22)
So what I will say is that we are exploring all possible options to bring Americans, to bring LPRs, to bring those to whom we have a special commitment out of Afghanistan, if they should choose to do so. When we have options for these individuals, and I say when because we have a commitment and we are going to continue to do everything we can to support their desire to leave the country, we will communicate directly to them personalized instructions on what they should do, when they should do it, and how the United States Government feels. We are best positioned to help them do that. I can’t speak to specific cases, but what I can say broadly is that specific individuals in Afghanistan to include American citizens and others who may have recently decided they wish to leave the country or were unable to leave the country during the evacuation, or might decide tomorrow or next month or next year that they wish to leave the country, they will receive specific, tailored messages from us as we develop and start to operationalize these plants.
Speaker 4: (40:34)
Did you have a number for, have any Americans gotten out since that last flight?
Ned Price: (40:39)
I don’t have data to provide on that front.
The Taliban had showed interest that the US continuous diplomatic presence in Kabul. What are the reasons for why you moved your diplomatic places from Kabul to Doha? Was it because of security reasons? Or secondly, you don’t recognize Taliban as of now?
Ned Price: (41:00)
It’s not an either or. Our first priority is the safety and security of the American people. We’ve talked about this in different contexts today, but that certainly applies to our diplomats and other professionals who would be serving in any diplomatic mission around the world. And we made the judgment for, I think, reasons that should be understandable to everyone, that it was not appropriate for us to maintain a diplomatic mission in Afghanistan at this time, given the security environment. Now, on top of that, there are other issues of recognition and what our diplomacy towards any future government in Afghanistan might look like. We feel that we are best equipped to approach any future government in Afghanistan from the team we have on the ground that is already operating on the ground in Doha.
Ned Price: (41:51)
We are aided in that endeavor by the fact that a number of other countries around the world have offices in Doha, where they have engaged with the Taliban previously, where much of this multilateral diplomacy has taken place. So we came to the judgment, as have many other countries, that a perch from Doha was the appropriate setting to undertake this. Connor. Question
One more question on former president, [inaudible 00:42:14], I think you call him a former now, he has said that, in his talks with President Biden, last conversation which was reported today, that there were 10 to 15,000 Pakistanis soldiers in the Taliban group who… He’s using the word invasion of Afghanistan. Do you see the foreign troops within the Taliban, foreign forces within the Taliban who are not ruling Kabul in Afghanistan?
Ned Price: (42:40)
I’m just not in a position to comment on that to confirm those reports. If we have anything more, we’ll provide it. Yes, Connor.
On the issue of land rounds, I know you don’t want to give a lot of operational details, but can you just say whether or not that would involve any US Government assets helping people get out of the country?
Ned Price: (42:57)
You are right that I do not wish to provide any more details there.
Sure. And just another followup.
Ned Price: (43:00)
There was a Qatari flight that landed today at Kabul Airport. Was the US at all coordinating with the Qataris on that? Have you made any progress in terms of reopening the airport?
Ned Price: (43:12)
So this is something that the Turks, that the Qataris, that, together with forces on the ground, are working as quickly as they can to reopen the civilian airport. This was an endeavor that we continue to support in every way we can, because we believe it is important for our own interests. Again, that includes the potential to bring additional Americans, LPRs, and others out of Afghanistan, if they should choose to do so, but also as a means by which to provide humanitarian assistance to the people of Afghanistan. We have coordinated closely with the Qataris, with the Turks. We had worked, again, from a pragmatic basis, with the Taliban on this question as well, but I’m not in a position to comment on specific flights that may land.
[inaudible 00:44:01] who apparently tried to make his way to Afghanistan, contacted the US ambassador in Tajikistan. Can you speak to what contacts he may have had with the State Department and whether or not he successfully got to Afghanistan?
Ned Price: (44:15)
As you know, the State Department does not routinely comments on the travel plans of private American citizens or members of Congress for that matter. But we have made it abundantly clear that travel to Afghanistan is not safe and it is something that we certainly do not recommend. We have a level four travel advisory issued for Afghanistan. We have issued a series of increasingly urgent warnings to the American people, and by extension, the broader public over the course of months, and in fact, over the course of 20 years, regarding the potential dangers of travel to Afghanistan. When it comes to our missions abroad, every single embassy of ours, and this includes our embassy in [inaudible 00:45:04], has a foremost responsibility to look after the welfare of American citizens. And our team has been intensely focused on assisting Americans who may have been exiting Afghanistan into Tajikistan in recent weeks. But I will leave it at that. Yes.
Speaker 5: (45:25)
A followup to the embassies. The Undersecretary was saying you’re in contact with countries that have still a presence in Kabul. What do you expect from European countries like the UK or Germany? Or what are your expectations in general there? What can they do that you can’t?
Ned Price: (45:40)
Well, before we get into the dynamics of what engagement with any future Afghan government might look like, a couple of things need to happen. First, there has to be the next Afghan Government. And of course, that has not been formally formed just yet. More importantly, the international community needs to get a sense, not only for what that government is in name, but what it does in deed before we are able to make any judgments about what is in our national interest, what’s in our shared national interests for any potential practical engagement or not with any such future government. So what we’re doing now, rather than talking about, “Well, who is going to have a presence on the ground?” Or, “Who is going to engage practically, in what way?”
Ned Price: (46:28)
Right now, we’re establishing a set of shared expectations for any future government in Afghanistan. And you’ve seen those shared expectations emerge in any number of forms. Undersecretary Newland mentioned the UN Security Council Resolution. We have spoken collectively and singularly as a G7. NATO has spoken to this as well. The Secretary convened a ministerial with some of the region’s important stakeholders and some of our closest allies. So there have been any number of opportunities, any number of fora for us to establish this shared set of expectations, this shared set of criteria for what we collectively may or may not do vis-a-vis any future Afghan government.
Speaker 5: (47:18)
Well, I understand the Undersecretary was referring to the point that you’d still try to get American citizens out of the country. So practically, what can countries like UK and Germany do right now to help you there?
Ned Price: (47:31)
Well, we are in this together, and I know that the British Government, that the German Government, there are other governments who are doing precisely what it is that we are doing, and that is conceiving of plans to help our citizens, to help those who have helped our governments and our peoples over the years to depart Afghanistan, should they choose to do so. For obvious reasons, we’re not detailing what those plans might entail just yet, but it is something that it is a shared priority across governments-
Ned Price: (48:02)
… it is something that it is a shared priority across governments. And in every one of those multilateral engagements, there has been a discussion of the priority we attach to helping our citizens depart Afghanistan should they choose to do so. Take a final question. Maybe on Afghanistan. Jenny.
On the 100 to 200 figure net, is that exclusively based on people who have registered with the State Department? Are you working with any Hill folks or outside groups who are in touch with LPRs and American citizens on the ground? And then I have one more.
Ned Price: (48:31)
So it’s an inclusive figure. In the first instance, it was put together based on individuals who had registered with us. And there were individuals who had registered with us prior to August 14th. And of course this was a large and expansive number because, again, people register and don’t unregister. Sometimes people register who are never in Afghanistan to begin with. So we whittled that universe down, but then we’ve also issued subsequent messages to Americans that they should follow these steps to ensure that they’re in our system. So that is how we arrived at the ultimate figure of some 6,000 and the remaining 100 to 200 that’s likely closer to 100.
Ned Price: (49:15)
But any time someone comes to us and says, “I know of a US citizen who is here, and these are the contact details,” those are details that we very much welcome. And so every one of you who raises a case of an American citizen here, it’s one thing to raise it here. It’s very important that you also ensure that those details are provided to us so that we can ensure that we’re doing everything we can as appropriate to help these American citizens.
Where is Special Representative Khalilzad? Is he in Doha? What’s his role going forward?
Ned Price: (49:49)
So my understanding is that he has returned from Doha. As you know, we have a team in Doha that is now led by Ian McCary, our former DCM in Kabul who will continue to lead that office. As is often the case, however, we do have a… there are some cases in which we have a diplomatic mission, but we have a special envoy or a special representative. So just because we have an office in Doha doesn’t necessarily mean that there is not the need for another position associated with it. [inaudible 00:50:23]
Will he still be at the State Department though? Is he going to remain as that special representative?
Ned Price: (50:27)
He’s returning here. He’s a special representative. [inaudible 00:50:30]
Speaker 6: (50:30)
Ned Price: (50:33)
We haven’t announced any changes to titles or personnel.
[inaudible 00:50:38] it’s appropriate now to have a special envoy for peace? His Twitter handle is-
Ned Price: (50:43)
Well, Matt, you are using some dated information, my friend. It is the Special Representative for Afghan Reconciliation.
That’s too long for… I’m talking about his Twitter handle.
Ned Price: (50:51)
Okay. I don’t know what his Twitter plans are. Yes.
Speaker 1: (50:55)
Thank you. So the Taliban in China, during Secretary of State’s Blinken conversation with the Chinese Foreign Minister Wong Yi, August 29th and August 16th, did the secretary ask China not to recognize the Taliban bilaterally? And was there any discussion on Uyghurs who live in Afghanistan because they are fears and concerns they may be deported back to China? And if you could entertain [inaudible 00:51:29] secretary where would he be next Saturday, which is the 20th anniversary of September 11?
Ned Price: (51:35)
I fully expect the secretary will mark the solemn anniversary of the 20th anniversary of September 11th. We’ll have more details on that as the date approaches. When it comes to our engagement with the PRC, Afghanistan is an issue that we have discussed at high levels with the PRC for some time now. It was not only in the most recent conversations between the secretary and foreign minister Wong or prior to that, Director Young, that this was brought up in other senior level engagements to include Deputy Secretary Sherman’s engagements with her counterparts, this was raised as well. I wouldn’t want to characterize beyond that, the substance of those discussions. I would note, however, that in order for a UN Security Council resolution to emerge from the UN no country, no permanent member can stand in the way. And in fact, a resolution did emerge from the UN Security Council and I’ll leave it at that. Yes.
Speaker 7: (52:34)
Another China related question. So today there’s a Chinese order that goes into effect. It’s a maritime order stating that all international vessels must report to Chinese maritime authorities. They are cargo and other relevant information. And so I’m wondering if the State Department has any response to this. We got word from the DOD that they’re saying unlawful and sweeping maritime claims, including in South China Sea pose a serious threat to the freedom of seas, including freedoms of navigation and overflight. And so being that the State Department has made quite an issue of maintaining free and open Indo-Pacific region, wondering what sort of reaction the State Department is going to have, what sort of discussions they may have with China, or have there been any connections with China or discussions with China about this edict that goes into effect today?
Ned Price: (53:36)
So at the core is the principle of a rules-based international order and our steadfastness in standing by the principle that there should be a universal set of rules for all countries, large and small, to include in the maritime domain. This is something that we have discussed with our partners and allies in the region. It has been a staple of our discussions in the Indo Pacific. It has also been a staple of our discussions with the PRC. And we have not been shy about lodging our protests and together in many cases with our partners and allies standing up to unlawful excessive maritime claims of the PRC. We will continue to do that. [Said 00:54:25]
Speaker 7: (54:24)
Sorry. Can I ask, has there been any connection with respect to the edict that goes into effect today?
Ned Price: (54:31)
If we have a reaction to that we’ll get that for you. Said.
[inaudible 00:54:35] last week there was an agreement in this building, apparently, on allowing Israel into the Visa Waiver Program. Now when the law was passed back during the 113th Congress, I believe, Public Law 13–296, it’s stated clearly the version of that path, that Israel must cease it’s discriminatory action against Palestinian Americans. They were always denied entry and so on. And my question to you, because the version of the path clearly stated that Israel must satisfy the requirements and the parameters that you guys set. And my question to you, will the Biden administration ensure that this law is followed and that Israel will remain ineligible to join as long as it continues to discriminate in its entry policies towards Palestinian Americans?
Ned Price: (55:34)
Said, when it comes to the Visa Waiver Program in Israel, and this, I believe, was mentioned in the readout of the president’s meeting with the prime minister as well, we support steps in the bilateral relationship that would be beneficial to both of our peoples. And one such step is working together towards Israel fulfilling the requirements of the program, of the Visa Waiver Program. The secretary of Homeland Security in consultation with the secretary of state is authorized to designate countries to participate in this program, the VWP, provided that the countries meet all the requirements. Our experts have been in talks. Obviously in recent days there have been higher level talks and we’re prepared to enhance consultations as Israel works on addressing the programs requirements.
I just had a quick follow up on the Palestinian issue. But you still hold Israel responsible to fulfilling these requirements, correct?
Ned Price: (56:29)
There is a set of requirements that any in all countries must fulfill in order to join the Visa Waiver Program.
In the past few days there were meetings or meeting between the Israeli Defense Minister Gantz and the Palestinian Authority President, Mahmoud Abbas. There was a meeting between Abbas and Sisi. There’s talk about a meeting between and Bennett and President Sisi of Egypt. Are you involved in any these talks? Are you, whether directly or indirectly? Are there any talks between this administration and any of these, the Palestinians, the Israelis, the Egyptians on this issue?
Ned Price: (57:09)
Well, when it comes to Israel’s engagements with its neighbors, with other regional stakeholders or the Palestinian authorities’ engagements or meetings, we would refer you to those entities to detail that. But what I can say broadly is that we applaud the parties doing whatever they can to maximize productive communications that we hope throughout the region with Israel, with the Palestinian authority will reduce tensions and improve the situation on the ground. This administration believes that a negotiated two-state solution is the best way to resolve the Israeli, Palestinian conflict. And we have made clear on a number of occasions that Israelis and Palestinians alike deserve to share equal measures of safety, of security, of prosperity and dignity. And that is what we continue to work towards. I’ll take a final question. Sean.
Speaker 8: (58:05)
One small one on India.
Ned Price: (58:05)
I’ll be brief. The European Union has as a recommended or taken a step towards reimposing trouble restrictions on Americans, especially non-vaccinated Americans. Does United States have any stance on this? Would the United States accept this or would it be upset if this were to go forward? Does this at all affect American thinking on reducing travel restrictions for Europeans?
Ned Price: (58:32)
Well, we are following this issue closely. We do appreciate the transparency and concerted efforts of our European partners and allies to combat this epidemic. As the conditions evolve, we regularly update US travelers and encourage all travelers to visit our website for the latest information on COVID-19. We, as a broad proposition, look forward to the resumption of travel, travelers between the United States and Europe, travel between the United States and all regions, just as soon as it is scientifically advisable. As you know, the EU announcement also distinguished between vaccinated and unvaccinated travelers. It continues to be the position of this administration that vaccines are safe and effective. And in this case, they are effective for facilitating the travel to the EU as well.
Just a quick follow up briefly. Did you see Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid said that Biden administration’s plan to reopen the US consulate in Jerusalem is a bad idea? Does the US have a response to that? And the second one is about Danny Fenster. I think you guys have said that you lost contact because of the protests in prison. Have you been able to see him or re-establish contact with him?
Ned Price: (59:54)
When it comes to our CG in Jerusalem, Secretary Blinken has addressed this on a number of occasions. In May he said, “The United States will be moving forward with the process to reopen our consulate in Jerusalem.” We don’t have any updates to share at this time. When it comes to Danny Fenster, yes, we have been in more recent contact. Let me just… As you know, Danny marked his 100th day in detention on August 31st yesterday. We continue to seek regular contact with Danny and spoke with him by phone most recently on August 27th. We were also regularly in touch with the Fenster family as well.
Just on the consulate general. So you’re aware of this argument that’s being made by some in Israel that you guys need to have specific permission, agreement from the Israeli government to reopen the consulate building as a consulate. There is a counter argument, and I want to know if the administration agrees with that, which is that since this consulate general is actually older than the state of Israel itself and although the building was closed as a consulate, its staff was moved into Palestinian affairs unit at the embassy, that it is not technically opening a new consulate or even actually reopening a closed consulate. Is that the argument that this administration is-
Ned Price: (01:01:32)
Well, Matt, as you just apply demonstrated, I don’t think it does me or us any favors to weigh in on what is a complex, legal and historical issue. But as the secretary has said, we will be moving forward with the process to reopen our consulate in Jerusalem. [inaudible 01:01:48]
Speaker 8: (01:01:48)
India [inaudible 01:01:50]. Do you know if he has any meetings in the building tomorrow or day after?
Ned Price: (01:01:57)
We will update you with any meetings, any updates to the schedule, and we’ll provide those as we’re able. Thank you all very much.
Speaker 8: (01:02:05)