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U.S. President Joe Biden held a virtual meeting with leaders of the world's richest nations to push top priorities in Afghanistan, the White House said Tuesday, as the impoverished nation stares down a humanitarian crisis after the U.S. withdrawal and the Taliban's subsequent takeover.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki described Tuesday's call with leaders of the G-20 as "an opportunity — and a constructive opportunity — to discuss counterterrorism efforts and efforts to provide international humanitarian assistance."
This is the first such meeting of international leaders since the U.S. withdrawal in late August. Also in the past week, top U.S. officials went to Doha, Qatar, for the first round of face-to-face negotiations with the new Taliban regime. Neither party said whether any agreements were reached, though the United States continued to refrain from officially recognizing the Taliban's legitimacy as the government of Afghanistan.
In a statement after Tuesday's meeting, the White House said the U.S. "remains committed to working closely with the international community and using diplomatic, humanitarian, and economic means to address the situation in Afghanistan and support the Afghan people."
The U.S. did not announce any new funding for Afghanistan on Tuesday or provide concrete details on how it will meet those commitments. But Psaki stressed the U.S. is already the largest single humanitarian donor to Afghanistan, having provided more than $330 million this year.
"And we will continue to take steps to alleviate the suffering of the Afghan people and call on other donors to step up their contributions to help deliver critical assistance," she said.
United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has warned that Afghanistan is facing "a make-or-break moment."
"If we do not act and help Afghans weather this storm and do it soon, not only they but all the world will pay a heavy price," he said before the leaders gathered on Tuesday.
Before the Taliban takeover, international aid accounted for 75% of Afghanistan's state spending. But governments and international organizations have cut off such funding and have frozen Afghanistan's assets.
Now, about half of the population needs humanitarian or protection assistance, says the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. One-third of Afghans are currently facing "emergency" or "crisis" levels of food insecurity,
“This moment is not the moment to abandon Afghanistan's children,” UNICEF spokesman Salam Al-Janabi told VOA. “This is not the moment to avert your eyes from what is happening here. And they need the assistance to survive. Basically, it is now a matter of life and death for many of these children who are severely, acutely malnourished.”
All that, Guterres warned Tuesday, could have dire consequences beyond just human suffering.
"Without food, without jobs, without their rights protected, we will see more and more Afghans fleeing their homes in search of a better life,” he said. “The flow of illicit drugs, criminal and terrorist networks will also likely increase.”
Conspicuously absent from Tuesday's virtual meeting, hosted by Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi, were the leaders of China and Russia, top U.S. adversaries who are geographically closer to the landlocked Central Asian nation. Both have had a long and complicated relationship with Afghanistan and oppose putting conditions on aid.
Michael Kugelman, deputy director of the Asia Program at the Wilson Center, said it is likely the Group of 20 will see past those differences.
“There's a very strong motivation for the G-20 countries — including those that don't get along with each other — to put their minds together and come up with a clear plan to deliver much-needed humanitarian assistance,” he told VOA.
And Psaki brushed aside concerns over the absence of those two countries
"It was a meeting organized by the Italians," she said. "So, I would certainly point you to them for confirmation of who may or may not have attended. But I would note that it is still fruitful, of course, to have an opportunity — or this is how the president views it — to discuss the efforts to work together on counterterrorism work, including against threats from ISIS-K (Islamic State Khorasan), to ensure safe passage for those foreign nationals and Afghan partners with documentation seeking to depart Afghanistan."
To that end, on Tuesday, the U.S. State Department announced it was naming Ambassador A. Elizabeth Jones as the new coordinator for Afghan relocation efforts. The veteran diplomat will help eligible Afghans depart the country and transition to their resettlement in the United States.