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Divided leaders of the G7 industrialized democracies clashed on Tuesday over US President Joe Biden’s insistence on withdrawing from Afghanistan by 31 August in the face of the Taliban takeover of the country.
In a show of hesitant unity, G7 leaders have agreed on conditions for recognising and dealing with a future Taliban-led Afghan government, but there was palpable disappointment that President Biden could not be persuaded to extend the US operation at the Kabul airport to ensure that tens of thousands of Americans, Europeans, other nationals and at-risk Afghans could be totally evacuated.
The virtual meeting of the leaders of Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the US served not only as a final chapter to Western powers' 20-year involvement in Afghanistan, but also underlined acknowledgment from European powers that Washington calls the shots.
In a joint statement, the Group of Seven leaders said: “Our immediate priority is to ensure the safe evacuation of our citizens and those Afghans who have partnered with us and assisted our efforts over the past twenty years, and to ensure continuing safe passage out of Afghanistan.”
No concrete guarantees
The statement, however, did not address precisely how they would guarantee continuing safe passage without any military presence.
Going forward, the leaders said they would “judge the Afghan parties by their actions, not words,” echoing previous warnings to the Taliban not to revert to the strict Islamic form of government that they ran when they last held power from 1996 until the US.-led invasion that ousted them in 2001, following the 9/11 attacks.
Meanwhile, a senior French official, speaking anonymously, said French President Emmanual Macron had pushed for extending the 31 August deadline but would “adapt” to the American sovereign decision.
“That’s in the hands of the Americans,” he said.
US dialogue with the Taliban continues
On Monday, CIA chief William Burns met with Taliban leader Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar in Kabul for talks in which the Taliban underscored they would not accept a US military presence at the airport beyond 31 August.
Only minutes after the G7 leaders finished their hour-long meeting on Tuesday, a White House official confirmed that President Biden plans to stick to that date.
This comes as Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said Tuesday his group would accept “no extensions” to the deadline.
US and European officials are increasingly concerned about Islamic State militants, and other jihadist groups, targeting their troops and Afghan civilians near the chaotic scenes outside Kabul's international airport.