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Transcript of Blinken’s Speech on ‘New Chapter’ in Afghanistan

todayAugust 31, 2021 2

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Fifth, we will stay focused on counterterrorism. The Taliban has made a commitment to prevent terrorist groups from using Afghanistan as a base for external operations that could threaten the United States or our allies, including Al Qaeda and the Taliban’s sworn enemy, ISIS-K. Here, too, we will hold them accountable to that commitment. But while we have expectations of the Taliban, that doesn’t mean we will rely on the Taliban. We will remain vigilant in monitoring threats ourselves and will maintain robust counterterrorism capabilities in the region to neutralize those threats if necessary, as we demonstrated in the past few days by striking ISIS facilitators and imminent threats in Afghanistan — and as we do in places around the world where we do not have military forces on the ground.

Let me speak directly to our engagement with the Taliban across these and other issues. We engaged with the Taliban during the past few weeks to enable our evacuation operations. Going forward, any engagement with a Taliban-led government in Kabul will be driven by one thing only: our vital national interests. If we can work with the new Afghan government in a way that helps secure those interests, including the safe return of Mark Frerichs, a U.S. citizen who has been held hostage in the region since early last year, and in a way that brings greater stability to the country and region and protects the gains of the past two decades, we will do it.

But we will not do it on the basis of trust or faith. Every step we take will be based not on what the Taliban-led government says but what it does to live up to its commitments. The Taliban seeks international legitimacy and support. Our message is any legitimacy and any support will have to be earned. The Taliban can do that by meeting commitments and obligations on freedom of travel, respecting the basic rights of the Afghan people, including women and minorities, upholding its commitments on counterterrorism, not carrying out reprisal violence against those who choose to stay in Afghanistan, and forming an inclusive government that can meet the needs and reflect the aspirations of the Afghan people.

Sixth, we will continue our humanitarian assistance to the people of Afghanistan. The conflict has taken a terrible toll on the Afghan people. Millions are internally displaced. Millions are facing hunger, even starvation. The Covid-19 pandemic has also hit Afghanistan hard. The United States will continue to support humanitarian aid to the Afghan people. Consistent with our sanctions on the Taliban, the aid will not flow through the government but rather through independent organizations such as U.N. agencies and N.G.O.s. And we expect that those efforts will not be impeded by the Taliban or anyone else.

And seventh, we will continue our broad international diplomacy across all these issues and many others. We believe we can accomplish far more and exert far greater leverage when we work in coordination with our allies and partners. Over the last two weeks, we’ve had a series of intensive diplomatic engagements with allies and partners to plan and coordinate the way ahead in Afghanistan. I met with the foreign ministers of NATO and the G7. I’ve spoken one-on-one with dozens of my counterparts.

Last week, president Biden met with the leaders of the G7 countries, and Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman has been convening a group of 28 allies and partners from all regions of the world every other day. Going forward, we’ll coordinate closely with countries in the region and around the world as well as with leading organizations, N.G.O.s and the private sector. Our allies and partners share our objectives and are committed to working with us. I’ll have more to say on these matters in the coming days.

The main point I want to drive home here today is that America’s work in Afghanistan continues. We have a plan for what’s next. We’re putting it into action. This moment also demands reflection. The war in Afghanistan was a 20-year endeavor. We must learn its lessons, and allow those lessons to shape how we think about fundamental questions of national security and foreign policy. We owe that to future diplomats, policymakers, military leaders, service members. We owe that to the American people.

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