Ned Price, Department Spokesperson
Ambassador Victoria Nuland, Under Secretary for Political Affairs
2:52 p.m. EDT
MR PRICE: Good afternoon. We have with us today a very special guest, I’m pleased to say, someone who is no stranger to this briefing room, someone who is no stranger to many of you. Our Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Toria Nuland will offer some remarks at the top and then she will look forward to taking your questions, and then we’ll proceed with our regularly scheduled programming from there.
So without further ado, Under Secretary Nuland.
AMBASSADOR NULAND: Thanks, Ned. It is an experience to be back in this room again with old friends and new. 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 is returning today after serving as our charge d’affaires since January of last year, and to the hundreds of other U.S. diplomats, military colleagues, and intelligence colleagues who helped on the ground, we thank you for your courage, for your sacrifice, and for your service.
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 and beautiful children being warmly received by volunteers at Dulles, it really makes you enormously proud to be an American.
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 in 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.
Within this building, the Afghan task force continues to work 24/7 on evacuation efforts. And since August of – 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 U.S. 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 100 countries signed on to 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 and 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 residence 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 our temporary transit locations in joint bases in Europe have the capacity to process 28,000 people on a rolling basis, and all of them have been very active as well – a 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 there hand-in-hand with service members and uniformed officers from CBP, from TSA, from all of the other agencies who are working round-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.
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, 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.
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’s civilian airport, and we expect that in 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 for more than 27 allied and partnered 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 announce 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 in 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 counterterrorism issues, working on political and security issues.
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 interagency, 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.
MR PRICE: Matt.
QUESTION: Thank you. Welcome back to the podium.
AMBASSADOR NULAND: Thank you.
QUESTION: I’m sure you missed it – I won’t say “us,” I’ll say “it.” I’m sure you missed the podium.
AMBASSADOR NULAND: I missed you too.
QUESTION: Yeah, right. Uh-huh. Without a doubt, seeing – what you described yesterday when you went to Dulles and seeing the Afghan 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 U.S. citizens, particularly or LPRs, legal green card holders, who were being assured – who are still in Kabul, who did not get out – 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 that’s – what is the message right now to U.S. passport holders and families who are, like, all green card holders who were not able to get out?
AMBASSADOR NULAND: 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 served 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 are 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.
QUESTION: These 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?
AMBASSADOR NULAND: Well, 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.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR PRICE: Humeyra.
QUESTION: Hello. Thank you, Madam Under Secretary. So I have two questions. One is basically following up on that, but I want to expand it to the SIVs as well.
AMBASSADOR NULAND: Yes.
QUESTION: 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 a first story that we put out today, and this is a U.S. passport holder and he has six daughters. None of them are American citizens.
AMBASSADOR NULAND: Yeah.
QUESTION: And basically, he was assisted but he was told to come to the airport alone to – 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 overland 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 U.S. strategy on how to deal with the Taliban because the focus has so far been on the evacuation. Where is the United States with that? We see that Europe is 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 you are thinking on that. And what – are you talking about that with your allies? Thank you.
AMBASSADOR NULAND: 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 trying to get that – 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.
QUESTION: And the recognition?
AMBASSADOR NULAND: 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 a negotiation. Those conversations have continued intensively to enable the evacuation of – that we undertook and to try to get the kinds of guarantees of safe passage, et cetera, and tolerance, and to talk about the standards 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 a 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.
MR PRICE: Jenny.
QUESTION: 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 going to stay changed their mind in the last few days since the U.S. withdrawal was completed? And then realistically, what is the earliest timeline we could see the airport reopen? Do you have firm commitments from anyone to help with the operation of that airport?
AMBASSADOR NULAND: So just to say I don’t have information about the – 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 I – 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 interest are changing, as well as availability of 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 are working with the Taliban to try to get the airport open. They have – 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.
MR PRICE: Shaun.
QUESTION: Thanks. Could I follow up a little bit on Humeyra’s question on recognition? What’s the message that the United States, if any, is giving to other countries on 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 your – what are – what is – 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 they’ve announced?
AMBASSADOR NULAND: 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.
MR PRICE: Said.
QUESTION: Yeah, thank you. Good to see you behind the podium.
AMBASSADOR NULAND: Good to see you, Said.
QUESTION: Very quickly, you, the President, Secretary of State, they keep – they all keep saying, “We expect the Taliban to honor their commitments.” What is in their history that actually points to the fact that they will honor these commitments? And that’s quite a journey from the time they went to obliterate them, destroy them, blow them out of existence, to today when you are actually counting on them to honor their commitments.
AMBASSADOR NULAND: Well, Said, 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 deed. 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, 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.
MR PRICE: Nike.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: Good afternoon, Madam Under Secretary. Welcome to the podium. Thank you. My —
AMBASSADOR NULAND: I’m really having a flashback here. Really, it’s just —
QUESTION: I know.
AMBASSADOR NULAND: Faces are the same.
QUESTION: Welcome back to the briefing room. If I may —
MR PRICE: You’re welcome to stay. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: If I may ask about SIVs. Is the State Department advising Afghanistan SIV applicants to transfer their cases to embassies or consular 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 because our sources on the ground who – SIV applicants, like, received new advisory telling them to transfer the case to 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. So if you would like to just —
AMBASSADOR NULAND: Okay. 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 SIVs have found themselves – or SIV-eligible folk – have found themselves at – 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 makes sense.
QUESTION: Would you consider electronic?
AMBASSADOR NULAND: I’m sorry?
QUESTION: Would you – would the State Department consider providing, issuing electronic documents to —
AMBASSADOR NULAND: So for those 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.
MR PRICE: Take one final question. Conor.
QUESTION: Just a follow-up on some of my colleagues’ questions about recognition. I know you said that you’ll 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, 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?
AMBASSADOR NULAND: I didn’t say that recognition was on the table, did I? We – 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.
MR PRICE: Thank you, Under Secretary Nuland.
AMBASSADOR NULAND: Okay, thanks.
MR PRICE: Please come back.
Okay, before we resume taking questions, let me just speak to a couple 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 lifesaving assistance continue to remain idle, as Administration Power herself lamented a month ago, while desperate Ethiopians slide closer to famine. 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 family – 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 returns home to his family.
With that, happy to resume your questions.
MR PRICE: That is correct.
QUESTION: Well, what’s, then – you must have some estimate of LPRs who are still there who want to get out, and if you don’t, why not?
MR PRICE: Well, Matt, we – let me first start with this issue of the 100 to 200. And to reiterate a couple pieces that Under Secretary Nuland said, we’ve been at this point of 100 to 200 over the past couple 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 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 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.
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.
QUESTION: It all has to do with – I’m asking about green card holders.
MR PRICE: Right.
QUESTION: Who you also have a responsibility to, along with the SIVs and other – but now I’m just asking about green card holders. Was there a decision made at some point to forget about those people —
MR PRICE: No.
QUESTION: — and only allow U.S. passport holders in and onto – into the airport through your checkpoints, not the Taliban checkpoints, but 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 – this is what I mentioned to Toria – that we know where you are, we’re not going to let you – 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?
MR PRICE: So, Matt —
QUESTION: In the last 24 hours?
MR PRICE: So 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 those – 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.
QUESTION: How many?
MR PRICE: 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. The number, when it comes to LPRs, is, of course, going to be larger. It is going to be a more – 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.
QUESTION: Right. The family that I’m referring to and possibly the family that Humeyra 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.
MR PRICE: 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. Humeyra.
QUESTION: Ned, there is actually a story that’s just out there from Politico citing three people familiar with the matter that Ross Wilson, charge d’affaires – former charge d’affaires of the U.S. embassy 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?
MR PRICE: You – 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, 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.
QUESTION: Sure. He’s just traveled on a plane, though, so —
MR PRICE: 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 the United States.
QUESTION: Okay. I have one more on your favorite, which is numbers. In the briefing earlier today, a senior State Department official basically said a majority of the Afghan 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 they are. Can you give a rough number? Tens of thousands, thousands, close to 100,000?
MR PRICE: 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 have – may have fallen into the P-1 and P-2 category.
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 U.S. 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 percent are U.S. citizens, or 4,446; about 9 percent are LPRs, 2,785; and the remaining 77 percent – 23,876 individuals – are Afghans at risk. And, of course, falling into that category are SIVs, other visa holders, P-1/P-2 referrals, and perhaps others as well. So it is fair to say that the vast majority of individuals 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 U.S. citizen figure here – the 14 percent – that’s 4,446 – as you know, we’ve – we ourselves evacuated approximately 5,500 and probably more U.S. citizens, so that’s the vast majority of U.S. citizens. So these initial figures probably overcount U.S. citizens, because our first priority, as we’ve said – as I was telling Matt earlier – was and is to U.S. citizens, to U.S. 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.
QUESTION: What was the start date for that? You said —
MR PRICE: August 17th.
QUESTION: 17 to 31?
MR PRICE: That’s right.
QUESTION: Sure. Could I ask you about the issue of the journalists from Radio Azadi? There’s, of course, been a lot of concern about – first of all, there are estimates on the numbers issue. There are estimates about how many are there; there’s estimates of hundreds. Do you believe the United States has done everything that it can to help these people get out if they choose to? And what’s the game plan now for helping journalists from Radio Azadi to leave if they so choose?
MR PRICE: 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 U.S. Government, to those who have served the U.S. – the American people – to, of course, American citizens and lawful permanent residents as well. So you heard from Under Secretary Nuland 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 country – half the world’s countries. The – 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.
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 military – 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.
QUESTION: I want to change topics if I may.
MR PRICE: Let me just – let’s take a couple more questions on Afghanistan and then we’ll come back.
QUESTION: All right.
QUESTION: Ned, 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 in 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 them you don’t have a plan. And then in the larger sort of numbers category, since we’re doing numbers: Have you gotten any American citizen out since the last flight left on August 30th?
MR PRICE: 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 are – 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.
So 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 plans.
QUESTION: Do you have a number for – have any Americans gotten out since that last flight?
MR PRICE: I don’t have data to provide on that front.
QUESTION: I have two questions. One, the Taliban had shown interest that the U.S. would continuous its diplomatic presence in Kabul. What are the reasons for why you moved your diplomatic presence from Kabul to Doha? Was it because of security reasons or, secondly, you don’t recognize Taliban as of now?
MR PRICE: 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. 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 approach from Doha was the appropriate setting to undertake this.
QUESTION: One more question on former President Ashraf Ghani. I think you call him a former now, right? He has said that in his talks with President Biden, last conversation, which was reported today, that there were 10- to 15,000 Pakistani soldiers in the Taliban group who – he is using the word “invasion of Afghanistan.” Do you see the foreign troops within the Taliban, foreign forces within the Taliban, who have – who are now ruling Kabul and Afghanistan?
MR PRICE: I’m just not in a position to comment on that, to confirm those reports. If we have anything more, we’ll provide it.
QUESTION: On the issue of land routes, 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 U.S. Government assets helping people get out of the country?
MR PRICE: You were right that I do not wish to provide any more details there.
MR PRICE: Yes.
QUESTION: Can I do another follow-up?
MR PRICE: Yep.
QUESTION: There was a Qatari flight that landed today at Kabul airport. Was the U.S. at all coordinating with the Qataris on that? Have you made any progress in terms of reopening the airport?
MR PRICE: 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.
QUESTION: Last one is: Congressman Markwayne Mullin, who apparently tried to make his way to Afghanistan, contacted the U.S. ambassador in Tajikistan. Can you speak to what contacts he may have had with the State Department and whether he successfully got to Afghanistan?
MR PRICE: As you know, the State Department does not routinely comment 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 is – 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 Dushanbe – 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.
QUESTION: A follow-up to the embassies. The under secretary was saying you are 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?
MR PRICE: Well, before we get into the dynamics of what engagement with any future Afghan government might look like, a couple things need to happen. First, there has to be a – 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 interest 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, right now we’re establishing a set of shared expectations for any future government in Afghanistan. And you have seen those shared expectations emerge in any number of forms. Under Secretary Nuland 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.
QUESTION: But I understand the under secretary was referring to the point that you’d still try to get American citizens out of the country, that —
MR PRICE: That’s right.
QUESTION: So practically, what can countries like UK and Germany do right now to help you there?
MR PRICE: 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, 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.
QUESTION: On the 100 to 200 figure, Ned, 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.
MR PRICE: 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.
But anytime someone comes to us and says, “I know of a U.S. 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.
QUESTION: And where is Special Representative Khalilzad? Is he in Doha? What’s his role going forward?
MR PRICE: 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.
QUESTION: Will he still be at the State Department, though? Like, is he going to remain as that special representative?
MR PRICE: He is returning here. He is the special representative.
QUESTION: Thank you. On —
QUESTION: But is the title changing?
MR PRICE: We haven’t announced any changes to titles or personnel.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) it’s appropriate now to have a special envoy for peace?
MR PRICE: Matt —
QUESTION: His Twitter handle is —
MR PRICE: Well, Matt, you are using some dated information, my friend. It is the special representative for Afghan reconciliation.
QUESTION: That’s too long for – I’m talking about his Twitter handle.
MR PRICE: Okay. I don’t know what his Twitter plans are.
QUESTION: Thank you. So on Taliban – the Taliban in China, during Secretary of State Blinken’s conversation with the Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi on 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 there are fears and concerns they may be deported back to China.
And if you could entertain, preview Secretary – where will he be next Saturday, which is the 20th anniversary of September 11?
MR PRICE: 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, this is – 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 Wang – or prior to that, Director Yang – that this was brought up, but 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.
QUESTION: Yeah, 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, their 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 the 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 a 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?
MR PRICE: 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.
QUESTION: Thank you. Can I —
QUESTION: Sorry, can I ask: Has there been any connection with respect to the edict that goes into effect today?
MR PRICE: If we have a reaction to that, I’ll – we’ll get that for you.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR PRICE: Said.
QUESTION: I want to change topics to the Palestinian-Israeli issue.
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 113-296, it stated clearly, the version that passed, that Israel must cease its discriminatory action against Palestinian Americans. They were always denied entry and so on.
And my question to you – because the version that passed clearly stated that Israel – it 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 toward Palestinian Americans?
MR PRICE: 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 program’s requirements.
QUESTION: Now just a quick follow-up on the Palestinian issue. But you still hold Israel responsible to fulfilling these requirements, correct?
MR PRICE: There is a set of requirements that any and all countries must fulfill in order to join the Visa Waiver Program.
QUESTION: And in the past few days there were meetings between – or a 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 Bennett and President Sisi of Egypt. Are you involved in any of 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?
MR PRICE: Well, when it comes to Israel’s engagements with its neighbors, with other regional stakeholders, or the Palestinian Authority’s 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 Israel – 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. Shaun.
QUESTION: One small one on India, I have.
MR PRICE: Shaun.
QUESTION: I’ll be brief. The European Union has recommended or taken a step toward reimposing travel restrictions on Americans, especially non-vaccinated Americans. Does the United States have any stance on this? Is the – would the United States accept this if it – or would it be upset if this were to go forward? Does this at all affect American thinking on reducing travel restrictions for Europeans?
MR PRICE: 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 U.S. 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 Europe – 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.
QUESTION: Just two quick follow-ups really quick. Did you see Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid said that Biden administration’s plan to reopen the U.S. consulate in Jerusalem is a bad idea? Does the U.S. 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 since then?
MR PRICE: When it comes to our CG in Jerusalem, Secretary Blinken has addressed this on a number of occasions. In May, he said, quote, “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. The – as you know, Danny marks 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 are also regularly in touch with the Fenster family as well.
QUESTION: Just on the C – 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 was actually – is actually older than the state of Israel itself, and although the building was closed as a consulate, its staff was moved into the 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 – is that the argument that this administration is – holds?
MR PRICE: Well, Matt, as you just aptly 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.
QUESTION: India’s Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla is in town. Do you know if he has any meetings in the building tomorrow or day after?
MR PRICE: 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.
QUESTION: Thank you.
(The briefing was concluded at 3:55 p.m.)
Source: U.S. Department of State (State.gov)