Biden Adviser Refuses to Define U.S. Relationship with Taliban: ‘Hard to Put a Label on It’

White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan takes questions during a press briefing at the White House in Washington, D.C., June 7, 2021. (Leah Millis/Reuters)

During an appearance on MSNBC Tuesday, White House national-security adviser Jake Sullivan refused to define the U.S. relationship with the Taliban as adversarial.

When asked whether the militant organization that just violently toppled the U.S.-backed Afghan regime and defeated its armed forces constituted a U.S. enemy or something more ambiguous, Sullivan replied, “Well, it’s hard to put a label on it in part because we have yet to see what they are going to be now that they are in control, physical control of Afghanistan.”

Spokespeople for the Taliban have suggested that the group reformed itself since its last reign in Afghanistan, when it ruled the population with brutality and a strict moral code called sharia law. Taliban representatives have claimed they will observe international standards of human rights and foster a gender-inclusive society where “women will be happy.”

“They will in the coming days announce a government. That government is going to go around seeking diplomatic engagement, even recognition from other countries, including the United States. In fact, the Taliban spokesman today said he was looking for positive relations on behalf of the Taliban, especially with the United States. We’re not just going to grant positive relations to the Taliban,” Sullivan added.

He said that while the Taliban were not “nice guys,” they needed to collaborate with the U.S. to continue to facilitate the evacuation and American military withdrawal.

“Going forward I think they’ll have an interest in responding to our requests because we have an enormous amount of leverage over them. We intend to use that leverage to keep getting people out,” Sullivan said.

His comments echoed White House press secretary Jen Psaki on Monday, when she claimed that the U.S. can exercise an “enormous leverage over the Taliban” such as potentially withholding their “access to the global marketplace” to ensure their engagement and cooperation in rescuing Afghan allies and Americans left behind.

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