World powers agree at UN on inclusive Afghan government
US lawmakers storm out of classified briefing on Afghanistan: German FM says Taliban 'show' at UN would serve no purpose
The five permanent UN Security Council members found common ground Wednesday on Afghanistan with officials saying all the powers would press the Taliban to be more inclusive after their military takeover.
China and Russia have described last month's Taliban victory as a defeat for the United States and moved to work with the insurgents, but no country has moved to recognize a government that includes international pariahs.
The Security Council powers all want "a peaceful and stable Afghanistan where humanitarian aid can be distributed without problems and without discrimination," Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told reporters after the meeting during the annual General Assembly.
They seek "an Afghanistan where the rights of women and girl are respected, an Afghanistan that is not a sanctuary for terrorism, an Afghanistan with an inclusive government representing all sections of the population," he said.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and the foreign ministers of Britain, France and Russia met in person while their Chinese counterpart Wang Yi joined them virtually for the talks of just over an hour.
A US official described the meeting called by British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss as "constructive" and with "a lot of convergence," including hopes that the Taliban respect the rights of women and girls.
"I don't think anybody is satisfied with the composition of this interim government, including the Chinese," the official said.
Speaking to AFP before the meeting, China's ambassador to the United Nations, Zhang Jun, agreed that the five powers all wanted an inclusive government. "Unity is everywhere," he said.
China has previously criticized the United States for freezing billions of dollars in Afghan assets. But Beijing is also keen for the neighbouring nation not to be a base for outside extremist groups.
German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, addressing the G20, renewed concern about the Islamists' caretaker government which includes no non-Taliban and no women but has ministers blacklisted by the United Nations on terrorism allegations.
"It is important that they hear this from all of us. And we should also speak with one voice when it comes to the basic political parameters and benchmarks for any future engagement with them."
The Taliban have requested to speak at the UN General Assembly but the United States, which sits on the credentialing committee, has made clear that no decision will be made before the summit ends early next week.
The Republican and Democratic lawmakers grew frustrated after State Department, Pentagon, Department of Homeland Security, and Office of the Director of National Security officials failed to answer their basic questions during the briefing for members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, reported CNN, quoting sources.
State Department officials -- both privately and publicly -- continued to say that about 100 Americans were still in Afghanistan who wanted to get out. Some lawmakers have told CNN they do not understand that accounting, given the department has said that they evacuated more than 75 Americans from Afghanistan through evacuation efforts in the last few weeks. State Department officials have said that the dynamic situation on the ground is the reason they cannot give a more precise figure.
A State Department spokesperson told CNN on Wednesday that "as a general matter, we do not comment on communications with Congress, especially those conducted in a classified setting."
Rep. Michael McCaul of Texas, the top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, who attended the briefing, told CNN that "everybody walked out" from the meeting, and he questioned whether administration officials knew the number of Americans still in the country.
"You know, the fact is, I believe there's still hundreds of Americans still left behind enemy lines. The majority of the interpreters that you and I talked about did not get out," he said, in reference to Afghan interpreters who had worked for the US military, adding that he has received "horrific stories" from those in the country.
"I don't think they know all the answers, quite honestly," he said of the administration.
Evacuation flights continue to depart Afghanistan at a slow pace, including one over the weekend with more 21 US citizens on board. Officials say it takes a tremendous amount of work especially due to the coordination required between the US, Qatar and the Taliban to do background checks on people who do not have all the necessary documents.
The Biden administration's goal is to make the flights out of the country routine but that can only be achieved when commercial flights are going in and out of the Kabul airport and it could take weeks before that happens, State Department officials say.
The planned efforts to coordinate between the State Department and private individuals or groups -- which came to fruition after initial tension between the two sides -- are now underway. The State Department holds twice weekly calls with the AfghanEvac coalition, and those involved describe the current situation as less chaotic that it initially was.
"I don't think we could get better coordination than what we are building now," said Shawn VanDiver, the founder of the Truman National Security Project San Diego Chapter who is leading the AfghanEvac effort. "We feel like we are part of the team and that we have a shared goal."
The UN credentials committee is reviewing a request from the Taliban to address the General Assembly on behalf of Afghanistan, which is still represented at the world body by the ambassador from the government that collapsed last month.
"To schedule a show at the United Nations won't serve anything," German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas told reporters.
"What's important are concrete deeds and not just words, including on human rights and in particular the rights of women and on an inclusive government and distancing from terrorist groups," he said.
A senior US official suggested that the credentials committee, which includes the United States, would not make a decision before the General Assembly ends on Monday.
"It will take some time to deliberate," the official said.
No nation has recognized the Taliban, whose brutal 1996-2001 regime enjoyed recognition from only three countries -- Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
With inputs from AFP.