U.S. will keep tabs on terror threat even after Afghan withdrawal, Sullivan says


President Biden remains on high alert to the threat of global terrorism threat even as the U.S. and allied troops prepare to exit Afghanistan, his top national security aide said Sunday, insisting the U.S. will have ample warning if al Qaeda or the Islamic State try to build up their operations as the last American troops depart by Sept. 11.

But National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan also acknowledged there were “no guarantees” about the domestic future of the U.S.-backed Kabul government and whether Afghanistan’s struggling democracy can survive in the face of an increasingly emboldened Taliban insurgency.

Speaking on Fox News, Mr. Sullivan strongly defended Mr. Biden’s decision last week to set an end date for the 20-year U.S. military mission in Afghanistan, arguing that U.S. intelligence can still monitor the terrorism threat in Afghanistan from outside its borders and noting that much of the focus of both Islamic State and al Qaeda activity these days is in the Middle East and Africa, not Afghanistan.

“We will have months of warning before ISIS or al Qaeda could have an extremist plotting capability from Afghanistan,” Mr. Sullivan said. “We are not going to take our eye off the ball.”

But whether the Afghan government can survive social reforms and women’s rights can be preserved can’t be predicted, he said.

“I can’t make any guarantees about what will happen inside the country,” Mr. Sullivan said. “No one can.”

“All the United States can do is provide the Afghan security forces, the Afghan government and the Afghan people with the resources and  capabilities … so they can stand up and defend their own country,” he added.

Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken, speaking Sunday to ABC News, said he found “across-the-board” support for Mr. Biden’s pullout plan on a hastily arranged trip to Afghanistan last week. He also noted that the Taliban had made a series of promises in the deal they cut with the Trump administration last year and argued “it was in no one’s interest” for Afghanistan to descend into an endless civil war.

“If the Taliban has any expectation of getting any international acceptance, of not being an international pariah, it’s going to have to respect the rights of women and girls,” Mr. Blinken said.

On another issue, Mr. Sullivan said that multilateral talks last week in Vienna with Tehran about reviving the tattered 2015 Iran nuclear deal were “constructive” in the sense that all the issues on Iran’s nuclear programs and what it would take for the U.S. to rejoin the deal were put on the table for discussion.

The Biden administration is demanding that Tehran roll back multiple violations of the 2015 deal regarding its suspect nuclear programs, but Iran says the U.S. must first revoke a broad program of economic sanctions re-imposed by then-President Donald Trump when he repudiated the agreement in 2018.

Mr. Sullivan said the U.S. will not start lifting Mr. Trump’s sanctions until it has “clarity and confidence” that Iran is returning to its promised under the original deal.

“Until we have that confidence , the U.S. is not making any concessions at all,” he said.

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