NPR’s Ailsa Chang speaks with U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield about the ongoing crisis in Afghanistan.
AILSA CHANG, HOST:
The Taliban held its first press conference today and took questions from reporters. Zabihullah Mujahid, a longtime spokesperson for the group, congratulated all Afghans on what he called their freedom. He also outlined some of the Taliban’s policies and ideas and attempted to reassure various groups that they would be safe under Taliban rule. He talked about what that future might look like, what he called a strong Islamic and inclusive government. Well, for a look at how Afghanistan’s future appears to diplomats around the world, we’re joined now by the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Linda Thomas-Greenfield.
LINDA THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Thank you.
CHANG: So let me ask you, after hearing what the Taliban spokesperson had to say today, do you feel like there might be a window here for diplomacy, that there could be potential for what the Taliban is calling an inclusive government?
THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Well, look. There is always a window for diplomacy. That is what we do. But I think we have to be clear that any future relationship with the Afghan government is going to require that government to be exclusive. And we will be looking at what this government does, not just what it says. And what it is saying is certainly important for us now, but what it does will determine what kind of relationship we have with them in the future.
CHANG: Well, what do you think the U.N. can do to support the formation of an inclusive government?
THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Well, one thing that we have done at the United Nations – we’ve spoken with one voice. We issued a press statement yesterday in which all members of the Security Council signed on to, and we called on the Taliban to uphold its obligations under international law. We encouraged them to ensure that those who wanted to leave could do so in safety, and we insisted that humanitarian assistance be continued. And we will continue to speak in one voice as the United Nations. And I think that will be a clear message to the Taliban…
THOMAS-GREENFIELD: …As they move forward.
CHANG: A united voice, a unified voice…
CHANG: But what is the role of the U.S. here? I mean, because it seems currently the U.S. is talking with the Taliban about practical details at the moment, like getting people out of the airport. But what about forming a government that includes women? What do you think the U.S. specifically can do?
THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Well, we have been clear on that as well, that this government must be inclusive. And it must ensure that the rights of women and girls are honored. But again, it will be their actions that we will judge them on, not just their words. And that includes that this government does not harbor terrorist groups that have designs on the United States. These are the messages that we are conveying to this government, and we’re being very consistent in that in every engagement that we have had.
CHANG: OK, messages have been sent, but let me ask you about two permanent U.N. Security Council members – Russia and China. They’re keeping their embassies open in Kabul. They are dealing with the Taliban. So is Pakistan. Are you concerned that countries, at least in the region, are moving too quickly to legitimize the Taliban takeover right now?
THOMAS-GREENFIELD: No, that is not a concern for us. Our concern right now is to ensure that we focus on our priority. And our priority is to get people out who want to leave, who want to look for a safe haven elsewhere. And as these other countries engage with the Taliban government, we hope that they are being consistent in delivering the same message that the Security Council and their members of the Security Council – that they are delivering the same messages that the Security Council is focusing on.
CHANG: Let’s talk about terrorism. You have said that Afghanistan cannot become a base for terrorism again. The Taliban basically agreed with you today, but do you believe them?
THOMAS-GREENFIELD: We will judge them on their actions, not just their words.
CHANG: What are you hearing from your counterparts in other countries right now about how the U.S. has been handling this pullout of troops?
THOMAS-GREENFIELD: You know, they are all coming to us to look for assistance in supporting their efforts to get their people out safely, and we are engaging with them on that. These countries understand the U.S. position. We’ve been clear on our position. We…
CHANG: But I’m curious if you’ve gotten a fair share of criticism from your counterparts in other countries when it comes to this pullout.
THOMAS-GREENFIELD: I would not argue that we’ve gotten criticisms. We’ve gotten questions, and we’ve answered those questions. And we have been very clear in expressing to them the reason for this decision. And I think all of these countries understand the reason that the president made this decision. He was clear, and I think they understand that.
CHANG: And what are you hearing, again, from your counterparts in other countries about their willingness to work with the Taliban, to recognize their government? – I mean, countries beyond Russia and China at the moment.
THOMAS-GREENFIELD: You know, they are indicating that they are in a wait-and-see mode as well. They want to see what a Taliban government looks like and what a Taliban government does in the future in terms of how it addresses issues of inclusion of women, how it addresses issues of human rights, the extent to which it wants to cooperate with the international community on anti-terrorism activities.
CHANG: And we have just about a minute left. May I ask you – the U.S. is processing special immigrant visas at the Kabul airport, but I understand that people are having trouble getting through Taliban checkpoints. The Taliban is saying they’re letting people through, but what is your understanding? Are you seeing evidence either way?
THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Look. We have had conversations, as you know, with the Taliban to ensure that our people, and particularly American citizens and the SIVs, are given free passage to get to the airport. And so far, we’ve been able to get people to the airport, and we will continue to engage with the Taliban on this. Our goal is to ensure that we get people to safety.
CHANG: U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Linda Thomas-Greenfield, thank you very much for joining us today.
THOMAS-GREENFIELD: And thank you very much.
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