Aug 12, 2021

State Department Ned Price Press Conference Transcript August 12: Update on Taliban & Afghanistan

State Department Ned Price Press Conference Transcript August 12
RevBlogTranscriptsState Department Ned Price Press Conference Transcript August 12: Update on Taliban & Afghanistan

State Department Spokesman Ned Price held a press conference on August 12, 2021. He provided an update on the situation in Afghanistan. Read the transcript of the full briefing here.

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Ned Price: (00:11)
Good afternoon. Let me start by saying that our first responsibility has always been protecting the safety and the security of our citizens serving in Afghanistan and around the world. As we have said all along the increased tempo of the Taliban military engagements and the resulting increase in violence and instability across Afghanistan is of grave concern. Our embassy in Kabul has been on order departure since April 27th, and we’ve been evaluating security situation every day to determine how best to keep those serving at our embassy safe. This is what we do for every diplomatic post in a challenging security environment. Accordingly, we are further reducing our civilian footprint in Kabul, in light of the evolving security situation. We expect to draw down to a core diplomatic presence in Afghanistan in the coming weeks. In order to facilitate this reduction, the Department of Defense will temporarily deploy additional personnel to Hamid Karzai International Airport.

Ned Price: (01:14)
Secretary Blinken together with Secretary Austin had an opportunity to speak with President Ghani to coordinate our planning earlier today. Let me be very clear about this, the embassy remains open and we plan to continue our diplomatic work in Afghanistan. The United States will continue to support consular services, and that includes the processing and operations of the special immigrant visa program. And we’ll continue to engage in diplomacy with the Afghan government and the Afghan people. Additionally, we will continue our focus on counter-terrorism.

Ned Price: (01:48)
At the same time, our efforts to relocate interested and qualified Afghan SIV applicants will continue to ramp up. To date Operation Allies Refuge has brought to the United States more than 1200 Afghans who worked side by side with Americans in Afghanistan, that includes interpreters and translators along with their families. Additional flights will begin landing daily, and you’re going to see the total number grow very quickly in the coming days and the coming weeks. We’ll begin implementing these measures soon in close coordination with allies and partners, for operational security reasons I can’t go further into further details on the next steps, but as we have long said, we are committed to supporting Afghanistan and its people and that commitment remains.

Matt: (02:35)
Just a little thing on the flights that you just mentioned, that they’ll be landing daily. You gave some numbers a couple days ago, two days ago, maybe 995.

Ned Price: (02:49)
We were at 995.

Matt: (02:51)
Is that still the number or?

Ned Price: (02:51)
We are at 1200 as of today.

Matt: (02:53)
Oh, I’m sorry. Did I miss that with the opening? Sorry. And these new flights, it’s starting daily, like today, tomorrow?

Ned Price: (03:02)
They’ll start daily in the coming days. Our focus is on increasing the tempo of our relocation operations. As we’ve said, we have a solemn, a sincere responsibility to these brave Afghans. In many circumstances, in many, many cases, at great personal risk to themselves have worked with the United States over the past 20 years, we’re going to honor that responsibility and increase the pace of those relocation flights.

Matt: (03:30)
Okay. And then, and I’m sorry, I missed that. And then on the embassy, you say it will remain open. Will it remain open in its current location?

Ned Price: (03:41)
Well, let me be very clear because this is the point I want to leave no uncertainty about, the embassy remains open. We continue our diplomatic work, our diplomatic mission in Afghanistan. We will continue to do the priority functions, that includes supporting peace, security, assistance, cooperation on counter terrorism, consular services as we’ve been talking about, especially in the context of the special immigrant visa program. We are always, as I said at the top, reviewing the environment and especially complex operating environments and of course that includes Kabul. And so today’s announcement is really a continuation of one of our most important responsibilities and that is doing all we can to ensure the safety, security, the welfare, the wellbeing of our people. As you know, we went on order departure in Kabul on April 27th with an eye to the security environment. But since then, and going forward, we are going to continue to prioritize these key areas, knowing that our partnership with the Afghan government and our partnership with the Afghan people will be enduring. And so that will continue.

Matt: (05:11)
Sorry, but my question was is the embassy going to remain open in its current location?

Ned Price: (05:15)
The embassy remains open, Matt, we are always, we are all-

Christina: (05:18)
Answer the second part of the question, will it remain open at its location or is it going to the airport?

Ned Price: (05:21)
We are always evaluating the situation on the ground. We are planning for all contingencies. This was a contingency, in fact that we had planned for. So I’m not going to entertain hypotheticals. I’m not going to go into what additional contingencies may arise, but it’s very important to say that our embassy remains open and our diplomatic mission will endure.

Christina: (05:43)
It’s not a hypothetical. Is the embassy staying at its current location or is it moving locations to the airport?

Ned Price: (05:52)

Matt: (05:52)
Or anywhere else?

Ned Price: (05:53)

Christina: (05:53)
Or anywhere else.

Ned Price: (05:53)
The embassy remains open in its current location. I’m not going entertain hypotheticals from there.

Matt: (05:58)
That … answers the question. My last one and I’ll let everyone else go because I know, but my last one is the people who are being drawn down, the staffers who are leaving, are they flying out commercially or is it that that’s what the military is going in to do? To take them out?

Ned Price: (06:12)
The military will be there to help affect an orderly and a safe reduction in our personnel. I do expect that the military will help with these relocation operations. But as we know Hamid Karzai International Airport does remain open, commercial flights continue to take off and land at the airport. So the military is not the only way in or out of Afghanistan.

Matt: (06:36)
The situation is such though that you don’t think that these people are safe getting out of the country on a commercial flight?

Ned Price: (06:41)
The situation is such that this president prioritizes above all else, the safety and security of Americans who are serving overseas. As I’ve said, we have planned for any number of contingencies with an eye towards the deteriorating security situation. We have said for some time now that we have been gravely concerned by developments. So given the situation on the ground, this is a prudent step, a prudent reduction in our civilian workforce. Yes, Christina.

Christina: (07:17)
Can you give us some kind of, I know you don’t [inaudible 00:07:19] numbers in embassies, but you can’t tell us how many people you think are leaving. Can you give us like a percentage? And it’s just some kind of an idea of how big of a reduction this is of the footprint. Does this change the exit timeline at all for the overall US withdrawal? Is that being expedited? And do you think you can get the number of SIVs out on these flights, even with the tempo picked up, do you think you can get enough of them out by the time you still have the facilities and the capacity to do so?

Ned Price: (07:44)
So you’re right, we aren’t in a position to speak to numbers. What we are in a position to speak to are the functions that we intend to press forward with given our diplomatic presence on the ground in Kabul. And so that includes engagement with the government of Afghanistan and includes engagement with the people of Afghanistan, specifically our efforts to press forward with diplomacy, security, assistance, counter-terrorism cooperation, consular services, including the processing of SIV applicants. So I’m sorry, I’m not in a position to detail numbers, but those functions are what we’re prioritizing and what we intend to carry forward with.

Christina: (08:25)
So what kinds of staff are leaving then if those are the ones people to do that are staying, who’s leaving?

Ned Price: (08:29)
Staff who are leaving, staff involved in this reduction of civilian personnel include, for example, those who may be able to perform functions back, well elsewhere, whether that’s back here in the United States or elsewhere. It includes staff who may not be necessary to continue with those core functions. So we are taking a very close look at our staffing footprints, a raid against this set of priorities, knowing that we are committed to an enduring relationship with the people of Afghanistan, committed to a diplomatic relationship as well. And so we’re taking a very close look and we’ll start that reduction in civilian personnel in the coming days. Yes, Kylie.

Speaker 2: (09:18)
How’s that different from what you did in April? You already said-

Ned Price: (09:21)
It is not different. As we’ve said, we went on order departure in April. We have undertaken a reduction in staffing since then. We obviously haven’t detailed numbers. But as we have said, including in the context of SIV processing, we determined for example, that there were people based at the embassy who could have been based back here in the Washington DC area, who could help adjudicate the chief of mission level processing for SIV applicants. Now, what is true is that we are going down to a smaller diplomatic presence given the security situation. But as you’ve said, our overall status has not changed. We have been on order departure since April 27th, we’ve taken prudent measures since then to reduce the size of our footprint in Afghanistan with an eye towards the security environment, that’s what we’re doing here. Yes, Kylie.

Kylie: (10:24)
You said that today is a continuation of what has been happening, but it appears very clearly to be a preparation for a full evacuation of all US diplomats from Afghanistan. So what is your response to that?

Ned Price: (10:39)
My response to that is that’s not true. This is not a full evacuation. This is not-

Kylie: (10:44)
Preparation I said.

Ned Price: (10:48)
And I think it’s a very important distinction between planning and contingency planning. Right now the embassy remains open. We will continue to have a diplomatic presence on the ground to fulfill-

Ned Price: (11:02)
I have a diplomatic presence on the ground to fulfill these important functions. Now, of course, the safety, the security, the welfare, the wellbeing of American citizens serving overseas is of the utmost priority to this president. So of course, we are undertaking prudent contingency planning. That’s precisely what we did to lead us here today. We have watched as a security situation has changed. We have watched very closely. Not only have we watched, we’ve engaged in planning exercises to prepare us for an eventuality, like the one we’re talking about today. That’s what we’ll continue to do.

Kylie: (11:38)
And what message does this send to the people of Afghanistan today, who are facing these threats from the Taliban, these military offenses, that the US is not only military withdrawing, but also taking out some of their diplomatic personnel.

Ned Price: (11:54)
The message we are sending to the people of Afghanistan is one of enduring partnership. We have said from the beginning, that the United States will be a committed partner to the people of Afghanistan, and you can measure that in any number of ways. Today, of course, we are continuing to have a diplomatic presence. Our embassy remains open. Our diplomatic engagement on the ground will continue. That will allow us to fulfill the consular services, the humanitarian support services. And on the topic of humanitarian support, you look at what the United States has invested in the people of Afghanistan, not only in recent days, but of course over the past 20 years.

Ned Price: (12:45)
On June 4th, we announced more than $266 million in new humanitarian assistance for Afghanistan. That sum total brought the total US humanitarian aid for Afghanistan to nearly 3.9 billion over the course of our involvement in Afghanistan. That will not change, even given the more difficult security environment, we can continue to provide humanitarian support. We can continue to provide humanitarian assistance. And importantly, we will continue to press forward in every way we can with the diplomacy to in an effort to bring about a just and a durable solution to this conflict.

Ned Price: (13:34)
And let me spend just a moment on that. I know we’ve talked about that in a number of times this week, but there has continued to be movements on the ground. As you know, Ambassador Khalilzad and his team have been in Doha this week. They have taken part in a couple of gatherings already. Today, they took part in a gathering of countries from the region and beyond, as well as from multilateral organizations, with a couple of goals in mind. Number one, to press for a reduction of violence and a ceasefire. And number two, and this is important, a commitment on the part of those countries represented and those organizations represented in Doha, not to recognize any entity that takes control of Afghanistan by force, not to recognize any force that seeks to take control of Afghanistan at the barrel of a gun.

Ned Price: (14:35)
The meeting today has included representatives, not just from the United States and Cutter, which is the host, but also the UN, China, Uzbekistan, Pakistan, the UK, the EU, Germany, India, Norway, Tajikistan, Turkey and Turkmenistan. That in and of itself is a broad and inclusive group of countries and international organizations. And this group actually came together, and I think you will be seeing this later today in the form of a formal statement, that will emanate from this gathering. They agreed, first and foremost, that the peace process needs to be accelerated. And they also agreed, importantly, that they will not recognize any government that is imposed through military force.

Ned Price: (15:27)
So this is not just the United States making this point. This is not just the United States speaking with our voice. This is the international community, as you see represented in the consensus that has emerged today, regarding this very simple point. Any force that seeks to take control of Afghanistan with the barrel of a gun, through the barrel of a gun will not be recognized, will not have legitimacy, will not accrue the international assistance that any such government would likely need to achieve any semblance of durability.

Ned Price: (16:05)
And before I go on, let me just say, this is an important statement, that either has or soon will emanate from Doha today, but it’s not the first of its kind. We have seen the international community come together to speak with one voice on this very point over the course of weeks and months. I’ve spoken just recently about the UN Security Council statements that emanated last week, where the members of Security Council recalled Resolution 2513, reaffirmed that there is no military solution of the conflict and declared they do not support the restoration of an Islamic Emirate. It’s not just a UN Security Council statement.

Ned Price: (16:44)
There have been any number of settings and venues that over the course of recent weeks and months, we have heard this message emanate loud and clear. The previous gathering of the extended Troika, there was one this week, but the previous gathering of the extended Troika, meaning the United States, Russia, China, Pakistan, concluded we reiterate there is no military solution in Afghanistan and a negotiated political settlement through an Afghan led and Afghan owned process is the only way forward for lasting peace and stability in Afghanistan. The US, Europe communicate, which includes EU, France, Germany, Italy, NATO, Norway, and the UK. We reaffirm there is no military solution to the conflict. We stand by UN Security Council Resolution 2513, and we do not support any government in Afghanistan imposed through military force.

Ned Price: (17:33)
There was a C5 plus one statement, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan that had a similar point. The embassies represented in Kabul only recently put out a very similar statement and it was signed by the embassies of Australia, Canada, the Czech Republic, Denmark, the EU Delegation, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Korea, Netherlands, NATO, Spain, Sweden, the UK. Just today, we heard a very similar statement from German foreign minister, Heiko Maas. The Indian government has made a very similar point as well. This has been the, I hesitate to call it the emerging consensus because it is the established consensus of the international community. Nick.

Speaker 3: (18:15)
It’s precisely because of that, that it-

Nick: (18:18)
What difference do you think that this new joint declaration is going to make against the Taliban’s offensive? We’ve heard this again and again, as you’ve just laid out and it has not changed the fact that they’ve now seized 10 provincial capitals.

Ned Price: (18:29)
Every time the Taliban hears the international community speak with one voice, it reinforces that very simple message. You’re right, the diplomacy has not achieved what we want to see achieved. We’re not trying to sugarcoat this. It has been a very tough road. It has been a tough slog. They’re important contextual data points however. Number one, as we said before, this diplomacy has been ongoing for less than a year. A year ago, the Islamic Republic, that is to say the government of Afghanistan, and the Taliban were not speaking to one another. They were not sitting in the same room. That has changed. Earlier, that has changed within the past year.

Ned Price: (19:18)
Another important data point, they are sitting in the same room right now. Abdullah Abdullah, the chairman, Mullah Baradar, senior Taliban leader are in Doha together. Ambassador Khalilzad has met separately with both sides. Both sides have presented to the gathering, presented their ideas going forward. Now, I want to be very clear. There’s daylight between the presentations that have taken place so far. But the fact that they remain engaged in this, the fact that the international community is speaking clearly, speaking resolutely, speaking with one voice, we intend to move forward with that process, to continue at it, to continue to support these intra Afghan talks in the hopes and ultimately something we will do all we can to support, that this ends up in an Afghan owned, Afghan led political solution to what has been again, not three weeks, not three months, not six months, but really 40 years of conflict.

Ned Price: (20:27)
The people of Afghanistan deserve an end to this conflict. They don’t want to see 40 more years of civil war. They don’t want to see four more years of civil war. We don’t want to see four more months of conflict. We’re realistic about the difficult road that we’ve already been down in the difficult road that presumably lies ahead. But we are going to continue supporting this diplomatic effort because we know, and our international partners know, the international community at large knows, that the only way to diminish the violence, to establish a ceasefire and to put the parties down a road to a political settlement is through diplomacy. Nick.

Speaker 4: (21:12)
Did you say 1% of the civilian population is being drawn down?

Ned Price: (21:17)
I’m not in a position to speak to numbers. I’m just, I’m not.

Speaker 4: (21:21)
More than half, less than half?

Ned Price: (21:23)
Again, I’m just not in position to speak to numbers. Nick. Let’s do a couple more questions on Afghanistan and then we’ll switch to the Western hemisphere.

Nick: (21:32)
Can I just ask… Understanding you don’t want to talk about numbers, can you give us some sense of the troop deployment? What that’s going to look like? What service branch are they from? Who are these troops? And then also, what are those troops going to do? I mean, they’re going to the airport, so they’re going to be based there. And then, what do they do? Are they running convoys into the embassy to grab people and bring them to the airport so that they can be evacuated-

Nick: (22:03)
… embassy to grab people and bring them to the airport so that they can be evacuated. What is their mission beyond, and can you give some more detail to that beyond the idea that they’re just there to support the withdrawal?

Ned Price: (22:10)
Yep. So Nick, you are in luck. My very able colleague at the Pentagon, John Kirby, will be briefing at 2:45.

Speaker 5: (22:18)
And predecessor.

Ned Price: (22:20)
And predecessor. He’ll be briefing at 2:45, which is another reason I want to make sure we take a few more questions before then. Let me just say, and Kirby will presumably be able to go into this in a bit more detail, but these incoming forces, these incoming assets will be based at the airport for one reason and for one reason only. That is to help effect the reduction in our civilian footprint. They will not be relocated there for any other reason. This is about doing all we can to ensure the safety and security of our personnel as we reduce the size of our civilian footprint in Kabul.

Speaker 6: (23:11)
[inaudible 00:23:11].

Ned Price: (23:12)
I would refer you to Pentagon for that. Missy, please.

Missy: (23:16)
Again, going back to an earlier question about what message this is sending, what would be your response to the critics who are saying this is going to further embolden the Taliban and make them feel like they have even more rein to push for a political agreement that suits their interests? Then will you be letting us know if they embassy is indeed closed? I know that it remains open right now. If you could just talk about how you’re going to communicate that in the future, that would be great.

Ned Price: (23:53)
Well, on your second question, we are always going to put the safety and security of our people first. We don’t want to do anything, we don’t want to say anything that could expose them to any additional risk. At the same time, we want to operate with transparency to the extent we can on sensitive areas like this. So we will strive to do both of those things, and as we have more details to share, we will.

Ned Price: (24:19)
Look, in terms of the signal, the sense, I want to be very clear about what this is and what this is not, starting with the latter, what this is not. This is not abandonment. This is not an evacuation. This is not the wholesale withdrawal. What this is is a reduction in the size of our civilian footprint. This is a draw-down of civilian Americans who will, in many cases, be able to perform their important functions elsewhere, whether that’s in the United States or elsewhere in the region.

Ned Price: (25:03)
So the implications of this shouldn’t be outsized. I think all parties, the Afghan government, the Taliban, our international partners with whom we have been in touch about this need to understand that we intend to continue our diplomatic presence on the ground. At a more basic level, we intend to continue that enduring partnership with the people of Afghanistan and the government of Afghanistan. So this shouldn’t be read as any sort of message to the Taliban.

Ned Price: (25:41)
The message that the Taliban should be receiving is really the message that is emanating from Doha right now, from the United States, from the cutteries, from the litany of countries in the region and well beyond, and the international organizations that had been very clear and speaking with one voice that this rather large, broad, inclusive constellation of countries and important stakeholders will not recognize any entity that seeks to take Afghanistan by force. That’s the message the Taliban needs to be reading.

Matt: (26:19)
[crosstalk 00:26:19] giving you the old college try on this. But when you talk about the message that this sends is enduring partnership, in what language does turning your tail and sending 3,000 troops into … You say it’s not an evacuation, but you lost that point when you said that the military, the 3,000 troops are going to be flying these drawn-down staffers out.

Ned Price: (26:44)
I did not say that there would be 3,000 troops.

Matt: (26:46)
Oh, yeah, sorry. You didn’t, but others said that that’s the number that’s going in, but that the military, the US military is going to be taking these people out. That is an evacuation, and I’m very cognizant of the difference between a draw-down where people leave commercially or if they drive out on their own. That’s not what this is. So I don’t understand the message of enduring partnership when you’re basically leaving.

Ned Price: (27:12)
Matt, we can do two things at once. Let me explain. We can do all we can, take prudent measures to ensure the safety and security of our departing civilian personnel, which this is. This is only about that. It is solely and exclusively about doing all we can to ensure the safe relocation of our personnel, of elements of our civilian personnel from Afghanistan. That should in no way mitigate the enduring partnership, the enduring relationship we seek to have with the people of Afghanistan.

Ned Price: (27:54)
I talked about that in humanitarian terms. I’ve talked about that in terms of the diplomacy that the US is supporting between the Afghan parties, the intra-Afghan dialogue that we are supporting, hopefully on the path towards an Afghan-owned, Afghan-led political solution. I’ve talked about that in the terms of the work we have done and are doing to galvanize the international community, to bring Afghanistan’s neighbors together and countries much farther afield to speak with one voice. So we are in no way abandoning the people of Afghanistan. Far from it. We are going to continue doing everything we can, everything we can to bring about an Afghanistan in which Afghans can enjoy safety, stability, security. Now, again, I’m not wearing rose-colored glasses. I’m not here to tell you that there aren’t significant challenges. That is very clear. It’s very clear from what we’re seeing. But our goal is through diplomacy, through continuing support for the ANDSF, a force that far outnumbers the Taliban by a figure of more than three to one by most estimates.

Christina: (29:19)
Warfare in Afghanistan has never been a problem.

Ned Price: (29:22)
I’m sorry.

Christina: (29:22)
I said because asymmetric warfare in Afghanistan has never been a problem?

Ned Price: (29:26)
Lucina, I have been the first to tell you that this is not without its difficulties. This is not without its challenges.

Christina: (29:32)
[crosstalk 00:29:32].

Ned Price: (29:32)
But let me just finish.

Christina: (29:35)
[inaudible 00:29:35] always listening to you say this, and I respect you. We know you have a job to do. But there is no way you can sit there and say that the people of Afghanistan watching the Taliban take over provinces, watching their country crumble are now going to watch American diplomats got on military planes and leave the country, that that sends a signal that the US is with them in the long haul diplomatically.

Ned Price: (29:53)
Look at what we’ve been doing. Look at the investments we have made in Afghanistan. Look at the investments, however you measure it, whether it is humanitarian, whether it’s political, whether it’s diplomatic, whether it is the security investments that we have made. Again, we’ve cited this bullet point a couple times. President Biden’s budget requests $3.3 billion for the ANDSF, going forward, a fighting force that is at least quantitatively much larger than what the Taliban have to muster. Look at what we’re doing diplomatically in Doha and around the world.

Ned Price: (30:29)
So, again, this is about one thing and one thing only. It’s about the priority this president attaches to the safety and security of Americans who serve in this government, civilian Americans who serve in this government. That is not a priority that we are willing to risk. So what we are speaking about today is about that and about that only. Again, our partnership in any number of forms with the people of Afghanistan that ultimately is aimed at bringing about over the longer-term, we know this will have challenges, an Afghanistan in which all Afghans can enjoy a measure of safety and security and stability. We’re not there yet. We’re not close. But that remains our goal, and we’re going to continue doing everything we can to do that.

Speaker 7: (31:20)
[crosstalk 00:31:20].

Ned Price: (31:22)
We’ll do one more on Afghanistan.

Nick: (31:24)
[inaudible 00:31:24] into Afghanistan in order to now pull these staffers out, the fact that it seems US officials were caught off-guard by the speed of the Taliban offensive. Did the administration fail to plan or fail to understand what US military withdrawal from Afghanistan would entail, what it would create?

Ned Price: (31:44)
Connor, I presume my Pentagon colleague will speak about this in more detail, but I just want to contextualize. This is not the re-introduction of military forces to pursue the mission that they were pursuing prior to May 1. This is the repositioning of forces to Hamid Karzai International Airport in order to help effect the safe reduction in our civilian personnel. That is the only thing this is about. This is not about re-engaging militarily in conflict in Afghanistan.

Nick: (32:20)
Does it speak to a failure to plan or to understand what would happen after US troops started to leave?

Ned Price: (32:25)
I started with this point, and it bears repeating. All throughout, before the president announced his decision, after the president has announced his decision, before the latest surge in violence, in the context of this ongoing surge in violence, we have always been engaged in contingency planning. This was a contingency that we had foreseen. This was a contingency that we had planned for. So it is not the case that we’re being caught flat-footed. We engage in contingency planning. DOD does the same, knowing that this situation is-

Ned Price: (33:03)
DOD does the same, knowing that this situation is going to be fluid. Recently, the trend lines have not been moving in the right direction. Of course, our goal through diplomacy on the part of the State Department is to reverse those trend lines. But in the meantime, we had engaged in contingency planning to be prepared for a situation just like this. Yes, please in the back.

Speaker 8: (33:25)
There are some reports that suggest that the special envoy ambassadors [inaudible 00:33:31] is trying to convince Taliban leaders to spare the US Embassy, attacking the US Embassy in Kabul in exchange for international aid in any future government, even that includes the possibility of Taliban leaders. Is the US considering that option in order to preserve and keep a sort of presence in Afghanistan in case there is a fall of Kabul in the hands of Taliban?

Ned Price: (34:02)
Well, again, we are not going to put too much stock, certainly, in the words of the Taliban. We are going to be looking at their deeds. But in terms of what they have said, the Taliban have said very clearly that they are not out there to target diplomatic compounds. Now, we are not going to rest on the words of a group like the Taliban. That is precisely why we are taking prudent precautions in the repositioning of these assets in order to help affect the safe reduction in our civilian personnel. But not only have the Taliban said that, but of course, in the February 2020 US Taliban Agreement, the Taliban also made assurances that our forces would not be targeted.

Ned Price: (34:55)
We had been very clear that if the Taliban go back on that commitment, whether in the context of this reduction in civilian staffing, whether in any other context, we will respond and we will respond in no uncertain terms. We have not left any ambiguity about that.

Speaker 9: (35:19)
The border of Colombia and Panama, there are thousands of migrants that want to come here to the US. The Colombian government has called it like a humanitarian tragedy and has asked the US for help. What is your message to those migrants that wants to come here into the Colombian government, particularly to the foreign minister, that is calling the US so they can help on a Columbia decision?

Ned Price: (35:40)
Well, of course, Columbia is a strategic partner of ours. We work very closely with Bogota. We work very closely with the Colombian government on any number of fronts. Columbia has, for example, generously hosted Venezuelan refugees. Colombia has been a constructive force when comes to what we collectively are doing to try to support the democratic aspirations of the Venezuelan people. We’ve been in a position to provide humanitarian assistance to the region, including to Columbia, for its willingness to accept refugees from Venezuela.

Ned Price: (36:20)
At the same time, we are still very much in the midst of a pandemic, and there are certain limits on what we’re able to do at the moment, but we’ll continue to work on this very closely and support the government of Colombia how we can. Yes.

Speaker 9: (36:36)
[inaudible 00:36:36] talks in Mexico. Nicolas Maduro has said that the first point in this agenda is a total withdrawal of the US sanctions to Venezuela. Are you reviewing the sanctions? Are you willing to waive sanctions in order so that the conversations keep forward, go forward?

Ned Price: (36:53)
Well, we have long been committed to promoting accountability for the Maduro regime and its enablers for the actions that undermine democracy or fail to respect human rights. We’ve also been clear that the Maduro regime can create a path to easing sanctions by allowing Venezuelans to participate in long overdue free and fair presidential, parliamentary, and local elections, creating the necessary conditions to enable free and fair elections take place in Venezuela. It requires the Maduro regime to engage in sincere discussions with the opposition led, of course, by interim president, Juan Guaido, that results in a comprehensive negotiated solution to the Venezuelan crisis.

Ned Price: (37:40)
As we noted in the June 25th joint statement with our EU and Canadian partners, we welcome substantive, credible advancements to restore democratic processes and institutions in Venezuela, and are willing to review sanctions policies based on meaningful progress and comprehensive negotiation. But that’s what we need to see, meaningful, meaningful progress.

Speaker 9: (38:02)
[inaudible 00:38:02] to designate Venezuela as a state sponsor of terrorism, are you reviewing this request?

Ned Price: (38:08)
We make those determinations based on the facts and based on the …

Speaker 9: (38:17)
[inaudible 00:38:17] Venezuela, and they even did a terrorist attack in a military base in Bogota where American troops were.

Ned Price: (38:23)
We make those determinations on a regular basis based on the facts and our assessment of them. As a matter of policy, we don’t comment on deliberations or potential deliberations related to the use of a designation authority. Last question, please.

Speaker 10: (38:37)
This is on the media law in Poland.

Ned Price: (38:40)

Speaker 10: (38:40)
There was a strong statement by Secretary Blinken yesterday and as I understand Secretary Wendy Sherman spoke with the Polish authorities yesterday. But the media law seems to be going forward. So what steps are you planning to take and what is on the table now?

Ned Price: (38:59)
Well, you did hear directly from Secretary Blinken yesterday on our deep concern, the very troubling developments that transpired in Poland yesterday. The secretary of state statement speaks for itself. We are deeply troubled by the two pieces of legislation that Poland’s parliament passed yesterday. I said this yesterday, the secretary said this in his statement, that Poland is an important NATO ally, a NATO ally that understands the Transatlantic Alliance is based on mutual commitments, mutual commitments to shared democratic values and prosperity.

Ned Price: (39:35)
So with that in mind, we urge the government of Poland to demonstrate its commitment to these very shared principles, not only in word, but also indeed.

Speaker 10: (39:45)
What steps are you going to take now? What is on the table?

Ned Price: (39:49)
So we are engaged diplomatically. You’ve cited one step that we took. But given the level of concern, we will remain engaged on this and both publicly, as I just did, and privately, we are urging the government of Poland to demonstrate its commitment to these shared democratic values. Yes.

Speaker 11: (40:13)
National security advisor Jake Sullivan visited Brazil last week and expressed confidence in Brazilian electoral system. But after that, President Bolsonaro continues to insist that the voting system in Brazil is not trustworthy. And this week we saw a military parade near the Congress just hours before legislators were scattered to the [inaudible 00:40:35] by the current voting system. So I have two questions. First is how does the US see this military parade in this context that we are having in Brazil right now?

Speaker 11: (40:45)
And the second is if President Bolsonaro continues to argue without evidence that the voting system is fraudulent, is the US going to continue to engage with Brazil or is the US going to take some other measure?

Ned Price: (40:58)
Well, I don’t have a specific comments on the parade, but let me say broadly and as you alluded to the national security advisor and a delegation was in Brasilia within the past few days, we firmly believe that Brazilian authorities can carry out free and fair elections that represent the will of Brazilian voters as they have on many occasions in the past. During National Security Advisor Sullivan’s trip to Brazil, he stressed the importance of not undermining confidence in the election process, especially since there were no signs of fraud in prior elections.

Ned Price: (41:38)
That was his message. That will continue to be the message we reiterate. Thank you all very much.

Matt: (41:43)
I have a non-Afghan, non-contentious question and it’s extremely brief. It has to do with Bahrain. So if you don’t have an answer, I guess it could be taken. And it’s just about there are numerous prisoners who are deemed by human rights groups as being political prisoners in Bahrain. There’s an academic who’s on a hunger strike now a month into it, and groups have been asking the US to get behind calls for these for the release of this one guy, but also others more generally. Is this something that has been brought up with Bahraini officials recently by this administration?

Ned Price: (42:23)
I don’t know enough about the case offhand, so we’ll see if we can get you some information on that.

Matt: (42:29)
In general, on the general situation.

Ned Price: (42:31)
Great. Thank you all very much.

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