SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Good evening, everyone. Thank you for joining us, especially at this hour. Sorry we’re starting a bit late as well. We wanted to take another opportunity to recap today and to preview tomorrow in terms of the Secretary’s activities on the margins of the UN General Assembly. As a reminder, this call is on background. What you hear can be attributed to senior State Department officials. For your knowledge only, we have with us today [Senior State Department Official Two]. She will have some opening remarks, and then we look forward to taking your questions. And the contents of this will be embargoed until the conclusion of the call. So with that, I will turn it over to my colleague.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Great. Thank you very much, colleague. Hello. Good evening, everybody. Sorry we were late back from headquarters.
The Secretary just wrapped another very busy day here at the UN General Assembly High-Level Week. This morning he participated in a meeting of the C5+1, which includes the five Central Asian partners – Kazakhstan, the Kyrgyz Republic, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. The C5 continues to be a very valuable diplomatic forum for regional collaboration, and obviously, it was a particularly important time to talk about their neighbor, Afghanistan.
The Secretary then joined a ministerial on Libya, which was hosted by France, Germany, and Italy. The Secretary took that opportunity to affirm U.S. support for a sovereign, stable, unified, and secure Libya, free of foreign interference, particularly in advance of Libya’s presidential and parliamentary elections, which are due to take place on December 24th.
He then had a very productive meeting, and wide-ranging, with EU High Representative Josep Borrell, where he reiterated the U.S. strong commitment to U.S.-EU relations. They also discussed a number of issues of mutual concern, including Afghanistan, China, Iran, the Balkans, Venezuela, and the upcoming meeting in Pittsburgh next week of the Trade and Technology Council between the U.S. and the EU.
He then delivered remarks at a closing session of the President’s virtual COVID-19 summit. Earlier today at the summit, the President announced that the United States will purchase and donate an additional 500 million doses of Pfizer vaccine to give to lower and lower middle income countries. This is another huge commitment by the United States, and as the Secretary said in his remarks, “We will use every tool we have to stop the spread of the virus.”
The Secretary then participated in a virtual G20 meeting on Afghanistan hosted by the Italian chairs of the G20, where it was clear that the international community remains united in its expectations for the Taliban that they adhere to their commitments, specifically regarding the rights of women and girls in Afghanistan.
Over to my colleague now for a little bit more on what the Secretary had to say at the G20.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: So as you know, this is the latest in a string of bilateral and multilateral engagements that the Secretary has convened or taken part in to reinforce the expectations of the international community when it comes to what we need to see from the Taliban and from any future government of Afghanistan. And in particular, he said that legitimacy and support that the Taliban seeks from the international community will depend on conduct in five areas in particular.
First, he said that we must hold them to their commitment to allow foreign nationals and Afghans to travel outside the country if they wish. He said it should be a – that should be a prerequisite to any meaningful engagement with the Taliban.
Second, he affirmed that we must hold the Taliban accountable to their commitment to prevent terrorist groups from using Afghanistan as a base for external operations that threaten other countries.
Third, he made the point that collectively, we in the international community must be fierce advocates for the human rights of all of the Afghan people, and of course that includes women, girls, members of minority communities; and the Taliban must make good on their commitment not to carry out reprisal violence and to grant amnesty to all who worked for the former government or coalition forces.
Fourth, he went on to say that we must keep pressing the Taliban on unimpeded humanitarian access. We’ve all seen the dire assessments from the UN; nearly half of Afghanistan’s population needed humanitarian protection assistance. As you’ve heard from us, we are committed to our humanitarian leadership when it comes to Afghanistan; we recently made another commitment of nearly $64 million, and we’re also committed, the Secretary said, to limiting the effects of sanctions on the Afghan people. And we’re continuing to work with financial institutions, foreign government partners, international organizations, and the NGO community to ease the flow of humanitarian assistance while upholding and enforcing our sanctions against the Taliban and other sanctioned entities in Afghanistan.
Finally, he said, we’ve called on the Taliban to form an inclusive government that can meet the needs and reflect the aspirations of the Afghan people. He reiterated the point that the caretaker cabinet does not fit the bill when it comes to that. He reminded all of those what we’ve clearly seen: it is overwhelmingly from one ethnic group, exclusively male, and of course includes people who are notorious for attacks on U.S. and coalition forces as well as civilians. He made the point that it is a basic requirement for a stable and secure Afghanistan that does not revert to violence and civil war that we see a government that is broadly inclusive and representative of the people they purport to govern.
He concluded by saying that together, we must continue to hold the Taliban to the commitments that they’ve made, including the core tenets put forward in the UN Security Council resolution several weeks ago now. And we were very pleased to hear a broad consensus on those points from the other members of the G20 that participated today.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: After that, the Secretary sat down for a bilateral with Egyptian Foreign Minister Shoukry. Their discussion focused primarily on regional issues, including Israeli-Palestinian relations, our efforts jointly on Libya, Egypt’s leadership in the Eastern Mediterranean Gas Forum and the importance of that, and our mutual desire for a results-oriented negotiation on the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam under the auspices of the African Union, better known as the GERD. They also talked about U.S.-Egyptian security cooperation, and of course about human rights.
After that, the Secretary participated in a trilateral meeting with his counterparts from the Republic of Korea and Japan. Those discussions focused primarily on the DPRK as well as Indo-Pacific security more generally. There was some discussion about Burma and about climate goals heading towards COP26. He also had separate pull-aside conversations with each minister.
We then went over to NATO headquarters, where he sat down with UN President of the General Assembly Abdullah Shahid to talk about his goals for his presidency. And then the Secretary had the P5 meeting with his counterparts, the foreign ministers of the UK, France, Russia, and China. The Chinese foreign minister came in virtually; everybody else was there in person. And, of course, so was Secretary-General Guterres. The – most of the conversation was on Afghanistan, but they also exchanged views on Iran and on COVID.
Looking ahead to tomorrow, the Secretary will deliver remarks at the UN Security Council open debate on climate and security. He’ll also have some more bilateral meetings, which we will come to. And the Secretary will join an ASEAN foreign ministers meeting. He will host a meeting with the Gulf Cooperation Council foreign ministers, and a meeting with Central American foreign ministers and the Mexican foreign minister on our shared migration challenges.
And finally, at the end of the day, the Secretary will have a press availability with all of you, and you’ll get to hear directly from him about this exciting week.
Now, on to your questions.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Operator, if you don’t mind repeating the instructions to ask a question.
OPERATOR: Sure. Thank you. Ladies and gentlemen, if you wish to ask a question, please press 1 then 0 on your telephone keypad. You may withdraw your question at any time by repeating the 1-0 command. If you are using a speakerphone, please pick up the handset before pressing the numbers. Once again, if you’d like to ask a question, please press 1 then 0 at this time. And one moment, please.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: We’ll start with Francesco Fontemaggi.
OPERATOR: Mr. Fontemaggi, your line is open.
QUESTION: I wanted to – yesterday, you said that the Secretary and the Foreign Minister Le Drian would have an opportunity to exchange views during the P5. So did that happen? Did they discuss how to build on the conversation the presidents had today? And did you find – have you found some space in your dynamic schedule for a bilateral between them here in New York? Thank you.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: So they first saw each other this morning at the Libya ministerial and they obviously shook hands, and then they had a good exchange on the margins of the P5 ministerial before it began. And obviously, the U.S. and France have extremely congruent positions on the issues that were discussed there – Afghanistan and Iran. So they had a chance to plan what they were going to say. And we do expect that they’ll have some time together bilaterally tomorrow as well.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: We’ll go to the line of Humeyra Pamuk.
QUESTION: Hello. Can you hear me?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: We can.
QUESTION: Sorry, I was waiting for the – my line to open by the operator. Thank you. Thanks for doing this this evening. Just to follow up on Francesco’s question about Le Drian, but also I think there was a reference in the White House statement about continuing negotiations and continuing high-level discussions with the French. Is there a particular strategy or is there a particular next step on how to go about that? What should we expect, and what role the State Department would play in there? And in the meeting with Josep Borrell, did the Secretary discuss Iran with him, and was there a particular date that was talked about for the nuclear negotiations to resume? Thank you.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: So I think if you do a deep textual reading of the White House’s statements after the call between President Biden and President Macron, you get a very good sense of the agenda going forward. They’re both going to be at the G20 meeting. It was – it’s clear that they will have a chance to meet then.
We – the statement also talks about the importance of collaboration between the U.S. and France and between the U.S. and the EU in the Indo-Pacific. So I think what was – what’s important in the context both of the phone call today and the conversations that we’ve had bilaterally is to make the point that the U.S. very, very much welcomes France’s deep engagement, the EU’s deep engagement in the Indo-Pacific, that events like the Trade and Technology Council that we’re going to have next week in Pittsburgh are an opportunity to concert views between the U.S. and the EU, with France very much engaged, about how we collaborate both in security terms and in economic terms around Indo-Pacific issues and in managing China. So that’s very much something that we plan on.
And there’s also a reference in the presidential statement on the importance of a strong EU security identity that collaborates well and reinforces and strengthens transatlantic security and what we do in NATO. So I think there are a lot of opportunities to work together that are laid out pretty clearly in that statement.
With regard to Borrell, yes, we talked about Iran. I think I mentioned that he had seen the Iranian foreign minister earlier in the day, and obviously, we are all interested in getting back to the table. And that was his message to the Iranian, and that was appreciated by us.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: We will go to Michele Kelemen, please.
OPERATOR: Thank you.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) ask again a question about Afghanistan. You said that the international community remains united, but China is calling for an end to sanctions and says that Afghanistan’s foreign exchange reserves should not be used as a bargaining chip. You talked a little bit about easing the flow of humanitarian aid, but what about Afghanistan’s reserves? What about the donor funds that pay for things like salaries for doctors and teachers? How far is the U.S. willing to go on that?
And then real quickly on Egypt, did he get into specifics about what Egypt needs to do to get the rest of its aid?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: I will do the Egypt piece first. I think we’ve been pretty clear with the Egyptians all the way through of what we hope to see. That conversation began in-depth and with intensity when the Secretary was in Cairo and he spoke quite frankly to President Sisi then, and subsequently our embassy followed up and we’ve had a number of bilateral encounters at the Secretary’s level and at other levels with regard to our hopes and expectations on the human rights side. So I don’t think that there’s any question there about what we’re hoping for.
The first question is now long out of my brain. Oh, it was on Afghanistan, right? Yeah. Look, I think I would just say that the mood in the P5 session was constructive. I think there’s quite a lot of convergence about what we need to see from the Taliban, particularly on the subject of respect for women and girls, particularly on the subject of counterterrorism, counternarcotics. I don’t think anybody is satisfied with the composition of this interim government, including the Chinese. So there was quite a bit of convergence in the room.
We are also all committed to ensuring that humanitarian aid continues to flow, that the UN stays out in front, and the Taliban actually have to facilitate and enable that. The Chinese are not holding any Taliban or Afghan reserves, so it’s easy for them to make comments on the money that belongs to the Afghan people. But I think for our part – and I think we certainly have strong P3 agreement on this and it was very clearly stated within the G20 context – we need to ensure that that money which belongs to the Afghan people, to the extent that it is released, it’s released in the context of supporting them and it’s released in a manner that is consistent with the commitments that the Taliban have made.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: We’ll go to Missy Ryan, please.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) the background noise. I just actually want to build on Michele’s question about assistance to Afghanistan. Was there any – could you tell us if there was any agreement in any of the engagements today to sort of achieve a consensus regarding what to do about assistance, non-humanitarian assistance, in terms of aid that has been given directly to the Afghan government before or through the IFIs, setting aside the question of the reserves? Thanks.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: I think that was sort of asked and answered on the humanitarian side. I think everybody is committed to doing what we can, particularly through UN agencies and through NGOs on the ground. With regard to any of the rest of it, the expectation is that we need to see that the Taliban meet their commitments before we can have a serious conversation about that.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: We’ll go to Will Mauldin.
QUESTION: I just wanted to ask about the U.S.-Japan-Korea meeting and if there was any tangible progress on the rift or strains on the Japan-South Korea relationship, and if so, what that progress was. And then I think you mentioned that the Secretary had some time alone with each. Was – what was the preparation or what was the aim that the U.S. hopes to see from Japan at the upcoming Quad summit on Friday? Thank you.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: We’ve been having these meetings both at the Secretary’s level and at Deputy Secretary Sherman’s level and at working level in a regular cadence now for some five, six months, something like that. And I would say that the mood is good. They work constructively together. It was quite warm and quite allied this evening, particularly as we tried to work through and think about what we’re seeing from the DPRK, especially with the recent launches, et cetera. So it’s become actually a forum that is about getting common work done and is no longer about breaking ice, if that makes sense.
With regard to the Japan bilateral, we – I think they’re well on their way in terms of preparations for the Quad summit, so this was less about that and it was more about the bilateral relationship. It was quite a bit about trade in the Indo-Pacific. The Japanese are quite interested and supportive of AUKUS, and so we talked a little bit about that and its implications and how what we do together bilaterally might dovetail with what we’re trying to do in AUKUS.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: We’ll go to Rick Gladstone.
QUESTION: Hi, can you hear me?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: We can.
QUESTION: Okay, thank you very much. Sorry, I have two quick questions, I think.
First of all, on Iran, is there any room in Secretary Blinken’s day tomorrow to possibly meet with the Iranian foreign minister? Has that been totally ruled out at this point? That’s my first question.
And then on Afghanistan, the Taliban had made essentially two requests. They want a UN – ambassador, and I know the procedure and it goes to the Credentials Committee, et cetera. But they also wanted their foreign minister to be able to speak at the General Assembly and I wondered if there was any discussion about that as a separate possibility among this G20 or others participating in the General Assembly.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: With regard to the Iranians, there’s nothing to announce this evening, nothing scheduled at the moment. With regard to the issue of the Taliban being credentialed, we spoke about this a little bit yesterday. There is a credentialing committee that has to go through its work on these issues before there can be any of those kinds of moves at all. And where we are at the moment is very firmly rooted in Resolution 2593 and our expectations of the Taliban with regard to all of those issues.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Take a couple final questions. Nick Wadhams, please.
QUESTION: Thanks very much. As you mentioned, we’re doing a deep reading of the statement between President Biden and President Macron, and there was this line in that statement that said the two leaders agreed that the situation would have been benefited from open consultations on matters of strategic interest. Is that an acknowledgment that there were not open consultations on matter of strategic interest over the submarine issue? The reading of that statement was that it was essentially a concession that maybe the U.S. screwed up a little bit on how it handled this announcement. Could you talk a little bit about whether there was a little bit of contrition expressed by President Biden that maybe the U.S. didn’t quite get the announcement or the rollout of this quite right? Thank you.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: I think you’ve done a deep reading of the statement. I don’t think I can improve upon the words on the page here. I think they actually do very well speak for themselves, especially coming from two presidents.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: We will go to Nike Ching, please.
QUESTION: Thank you for the call briefing. I would like to build on Will’s question regarding the U.S.-Japan-South Korea trilateral. In terms of moving the dormant denuclearization talks with the North Korea, was there any progress? Also, is there a U.S. reaction to South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s remarks at UNGA where he called for a declaration to formally end the Korean War?
And separately, if I may on China, do you have anything on State Department’s plan to expand the number of officials dedicated to monitor China? Thank you very much.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Can we have the last question again? We were talking here, apologies.
QUESTION: Sure; of course. On China, do you – can you confirm State Department’s plan to expand the numbers of officials dedicated to monitoring China? Thank you.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Thanks for that, Nike. So a couple elements to your question. Number one, in terms of our resources, in terms of personnel we have whether at Main State or around the world, that’s obviously not something that we often speak to publicly in great detail. Of course, our bilateral relationship with China is perhaps the most consequential in the world, and the Secretary has talked about the really three aspects to it: It is competitive, it is fundamentally competitive in some areas; it is cooperative, and we’ve talked about some of those even in this phone call; and in some areas it is adversarial. So it should not come as a surprise that we are positioned to manage all of those areas effectively.
When it comes to the DPRK, we have made very clear that we are open to negotiations. We feel that negotiations – we are confident that face-to-face diplomacy is the best way to advance our goal of the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. We’ve made that clear. We’ve also made clear that we have no hostile intent towards the DPRK. And the latest in a series of trilateral engagements today was another session for us to compare notes with our treaty allies the ROK and Japan, knowing that if we are to be successful in this strategy, we’ll need to continue to have our allies at our side.
In terms of the end-of-war declaration, look, we’ve said we remain committed to achieving the complete denuclearization of – complete denuclearization and lasting peace on the Korean Peninsula through dialogue and diplomacy with the DPRK. We’ll continue to seek engagement with the DPRK as part of that calibrated practical approach in order to make, as I said before, tangible progress that increases the security of not only the United States, but also our allies and our deployed forces as well.
I think with that, we will call it an evening. Again, thank you everyone for joining us and for staying up late with us tonight, and we will see many of you here in New York tomorrow. Thanks very much.