Secretary of State Antony Blinken has said that the US is still reviewing the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan as the May 1 deadline is looming.
The secretary is in Brussels to attend a two-day meeting of NATO foreign ministers to rebuild ties strained by former president Donald Trump. But top of the agenda for NATO is the future of the alliance’s 9,600-strong mission in Afghanistan after Trump struck a deal with the Taliban.
NATO is anxiously waiting for President Joe Biden to decide whether to stick to that date — but Blinken said the US was still reviewing the deal.
“We have a review under way in the United States. I’m here today in part to share some of our initial thinking with our allies,” Blinken said at the start of talks on Tuesday.
“Maybe even more important, I’m here to listen and consult because that is what allies do.”
Biden expressed reservations when he said last week that it would be “tough” for Washington to meet the deadline. That prompted outrage from the Taliban, who warned that the US would be “responsible for the consequences” if it fails to meet the deadline.
NATO allies have said they are willing to stay in Afghanistan longer if the US remains too, but they are keen for Washington to make up its mind.
But German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas expressed the fear of the Taliban return to violence and attempts to gain power if troops are withdrawn early.
Meanwhile, the State Department said that “Secretary Blinken urged Turkey not to retain the Russian S-400 air defence system.”
US has long criticised NATO ally Turkey for purchasing the advanced S-400 air defence system from Russia, arguing it threatens the alliance’s defences.
Former president Trump in December imposed sanctions on Ankara’s military procurement agency over the acquisition.
Later, Blinken urged China to make good on its promises to the Euiropean Union to open up its economy to the bloc.
“Our judgment is that the onus is really going to be on China to demonstrate that the pledges it has made on forced labour, on state-owned enterprises, on subsidies are not just talk,” the secretary told a news conference following a NATO meeting.
PENTAGON BRIEFING: The Pentagon has once again announced its readiness for the complete withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan.
Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said in news briefing that once the US president approves the decision to withdraw troops from Afghanistan by the first of May, US commanders are ready to implement the decision in an orderly and effective manner.
“Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin has said during his visit to Kabul that if a decision is made to completely withdraw US troops from Afghanistan, Gen Kenneth McKinsey, the commander in chief, and Gen Scott Miller, the commander of US forces in Afghanistan, can do it in a safe, orderly and effective manner,” Kirby added.
Meanwhile, Washington has warned that continued violence in Afghanistan is hampering progress in the Afghan peace process.
“Current violence, including targeted killings of civilians, is simply unacceptable,” said Linda Thomas Greenfield, US Permanent Representative to the United Nations.
Violence prevents progress towards lasting peace. Journalists, human rights activists and government employees cannot live in fear. “We condemn this violence. For the peace process to be sustainable, the universal human rights of all Afghans, including women, girls and members of minority communities, must be respected,” she added.