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Gymnich on Afghanistan

Brussels 03.09.2021 Press statement by High Representative Josep Borrell at the informal meeting of Foreign Affairs Ministers (Gymnich) on Afghanistan:
“As I said at the beginning, the discussion today was going to be focused on Afghanistan. It is the most urgent priority. This is a polyhedric (many-sided, multifaceted) issue, we have to look at the situation in Afghanistan under the new circumstances: the lessons learnt, the state-building management, the relations with the United States. All of that.

“But today the Ministers had immediately driven their efforts on the discussion on the most pressing issue of this very much complex agenda. We will have time to go deeper on these other subjects not finished today, but today the Ministers have concentrated on how to deal with the new situation, how to deal with the new government in Afghanistan under the Taliban’s rule.

“I am going to try to summarise the main elements of the discussion with Foreign Ministers about this specific approach. This is my take of the debate, and Minister [of Foreign Affairs of Slovenia] Anže [Logar] will complement also. But as you know very well, this is an informal meeting, no decisions, no conclusions of the Council, [these are] conclusions of the High Representative taking stock of the general feeling of the debate among the Ministers.

“What is clear is that the future of Afghanistan remains a key issue for us. It affects us, it affects the region, international stability and it has a direct impact on European security. At the same time, the Ministers strongly insisted on the idea that we remain committed to supporting the Afghan population.

“In order to support the Afghan population, we will have to engage with the new government in Afghanistan, which does not mean recognition, it is an operational engagement. And this operational engagement will increase depending on the behaviour of this government. In order to measure the behaviour, we need benchmarks and the following are the benchmarks that we discussed as the basis for the European Union engagement with Afghan power-holders following the Taliban takeover.

“We will judge the behaviour and engage according to commitment of the Afghan government for Afghanistan not to serve as a basis for the export of terrorism to other countries.

Second, the respect for human rights, in particular women rights, the rule of law and freedom of the media.

“The third benchmark will be the establishment of an inclusive and representative transitional government through negotiations among political forces in Afghanistan.

“The fourth will be the free access for humanitarian aid, respecting our procedures and conditions for its delivery. We will increase humanitarian aid, but we will judge them according with the access that they provide to this help according to our procedures and conditions.

“The last benchmark will be the fulfilment of the Taliban commitment about the departure of foreign nationals and Afghans at risk, who wish to leave the country, in line with what was already decided by United Nations Security Resolution 2593.

“It is an engagement with the Taliban themselves, the international community is pressing for it. We will judge their behaviour according to these five benchmarks. Some will say ‘oh, but the Taliban will not fulfil them’. Let us see. Our engagement will depend on the fulfilment of these conditions.

“This is one very important aspect of our discussion today: how do we engage with the new power in Afghanistan?

“The second one is how do we continue supporting the people that we wanted to evacuate and were unable to do that due to the end of the air lifting and on the last days of August. People at risk, people who were working with us, people who were supporting the process of democratisation of Afghanistan and they are still there. We know them. They have to be evacuated.

“On that, the Foreign Affairs Ministers took good notice of what the Council of the Home Affairs Ministers decided on the 31st of August. And individual Member States will decide, on a voluntary basis, on the persons at risk that they are willing to receive under their protection, in accordance – as I said – with the statement of the situation adopted by the Council the past 31st of August.

“The benchmark of the new power in Afghanistan allowing movement of people is something different from the evacuation of national personnel from Afghanistan under the protection of Member States, which will be done on an individual and voluntary basis.

“In order to implement this evacuation, and in order to assess the implementation of the above benchmarks, we have decided to work in a coordinated manner. To coordinate our contacts with the Taliban, including through a joint European Union’s presence in Kabul, coordinated by the European External Action Service – if the security conditions are met.

“If you want to do it in a coordinated way, to evacuate the people who we are willing to accept, each Member State, we need a strong engagement, a strong contact, a close presence. And this will be done in a coordinated manner through a joint European Union’s presence in Kabul, coordinated by the European External Action Service – if the security conditions are met.

“Another agreement is on the need to coordinate the engagement of the regional and relevant international partners. And for that, the Ministers considered appropriate that under the auspices of the European External Action Service, the European Union will initiate a regional political platform of cooperation with Afghanistan’s neighbours.

“This will be built on the already existing broad relations of the European Union and Member States with these countries and this political platform will consider, among other issues, the management of population flows from Afghanistan; the prevention of the spread of terrorism; the fight against organised crime, including drug trafficking and human being smuggling.

“This will represent a strong diplomatic effort of all Member States going together, coordinated by the European External Action Service, in order to create this regional political platform with Afghanistan’s neighbours, which is very much needed if we want to stabilise the whole region.

“Certainly, we will continue working with specialised agencies in addressing the challenges in Afghanistan. We welcome the United Nations Security Council Resolution 2593. We had the opportunity to listen the report of the Head of the United Nations Agency for Refugees in Afghanistan, who explained us the humanitarian situation in Afghanistan, which is dire.

“We will coordinate strongly with the United States, as well as with other partners and regional organisations in the framework of the G7 and the G20.

“So, engagement with the Taliban, benchmark to measure how this engagement is going on, coordinated effort in order to continue the evacuation of our nationals and Afghan people under our protection on an individual basis among Member States, but coordinated among all of us to make this evacuation possible, which will require certainly engagement with the Afghanistan power [holders], and creation of a regional political platform together with the neighbours of Afghanistan.

“It has been an intense discussion and I thank [for] the help that you, Anže, provided to me in order to get these conclusions. I am sure that you will like to add some considerations about it”.