Exclusive: Blinken defends Biden's refugee cap and Afghanistan exit

Martha Raddatz interviews Secretary of State Antony Blinken on "This Week."
8:05 | 04/18/21

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Transcript for Exclusive: Blinken defends Biden's refugee cap and Afghanistan exit
Let's take all of this to secretary Antony blinken. Thanks for being with us, Mr. Secretary. You've heard the reaction from the generals who commanded troops in Afghanistan including the former chairman of the joint chiefs and David Petraeus who went on to become CIA director who say this will leave America more vulnerable to terrorist threats with Joe Dunford saying it will also have a catastrophic event in - Afghanistan itself. Your reaction. Look, Martha, I just got from kabul and met with the president there and met with other leaders there. That was just after coming from nato meeting with all of our allies, and across the board I heard support for the president's decision and the path ahead. Here's the reality and, by the way, I have great respect for general Petraeus, general Dunford and others, but we had a very deliberate and fully informed process leading up to the decision by the president and the fact is this, we went to Afghanistan 20 years ago, and we went because we were attacked on 9/11. And we went to take on those who had attacked us on 9/11 and to make sure that Afghanistan would not again become a haven for terrorism directed at the united States or any of our allies and partners, and we achieved the objectives that we set out to achieve, Al Qaeda has been significantly degraded. Its capacity to conduct an attack against the United States now from Afghanistan is not there. And, of course, Osama bin laden was brought to justice ten years ago, so the president felt that as we're looking at the world now, we have to look at it through the prism of 2021, not 2001. The terrorism threat has moved to other places, and we have other very important items on our agenda including the relationship with China, including dealing with everything from climate change to covid, and that's what we have to focus our energy and resources. To that point, you know, I've heard for decades the military talk about how hard it was to train Afghan forces, asking for more time and more time but also there's the argument that clearing out all of our forces leaves us with intelligence gaps. You had the new CIA director saying that was simply a fact, that our intelligence capability will diminish. Do you agree with that and what do you do about it? Well, I think if you look at the full statement including from the CIA director, bill burns, and also what you've heard from the national security adviser and others, we will have the means to see if there is a resurgence, a re-emergence of a terrorist threat from Afghanistan and we'll be able to see that in realtime with time to take action, and we're going to be repositioning our forces and our assets to make sure we guard against the potential emergence. By the way, the Taliban in the agreement reached by the trump administration with the Taliban is also committed not to allow Al Qaeda or other terrorist groups that might target the United States to re-emerge. We're going to hold them -- You yourself have said you don't really trust the Taliban. Well, that's exactly why we'll make sure that we have assets appropriately in place to see this coming if it comes again, to see it and to be able to deal with it. This is, again, a very different world than the one we had in 2001. We have different capabilities, different assets, and I think a greater ability to see something coming with time to do something about it. But, look, the other thing is this, we are very much invested in trying to pursue the peace process for Afghanistan to bring the parties together, to see if they can come to some kind of political settlement. Ultimately it is in no one's interest in Afghanistan, whether it's the Taliban or anyone else, certainly not the people of Afghanistan for the country to descend once again into civil war, into a long war. And if the Taliban is going to participate in some fashion in governance, if it wants to be internationally recognized and if it doesn't want to be a pariah, it'll have to engage in the political process and our goal ultimately is an Afghanistan that finds a just and durable settlement to this conflict that's been going on for four decades and in that situation and that environment terrorism is less likely to emerge. I want to go back to the Taliban again and talk about women and girls in Afghanistan. We've talked to many people about that. The director of national intelligence says the Taliban is likely to attempt to retake power by force if we leave. And right now in some of the Taliban held areas you have young women, you have girls who are beaten, there's no chance for an education. Why is that acceptable? It's not acceptable, and when I was in kabul, I met with some extraordinary women who are leading as a mayor, a member of parliament, a youth activist and doing other things, and what they've done with our support is quite remarkable, and I think Afghanistan in many ways is a transformed society. But, again, here's the thing, no one starting with the Taliban has an interest in going back to a civil war because I think what everyone recognizes is there's no military resolution to the conflict, so if they start something up again, they're going to be in a long war. That's not in their interest either. Second, we'll be continuing to support the Afghan security forces. We've trained more than 300,000 over the years, and it's a strong force. It's going to continue to have international support including ours. We're going to be engaged in the peace process to see if we can move this in a better direction and the final thing, I want to repeat, if the Taliban has any expectation of getting any international acceptance of not being treated as a pariah, it will have to respect the rights of women and girls, any country that moves backwards on that that tries to repress them will not have that international recognition, will not have that international status and, indeed, we will take action to - make sure to the best of our ability that they can't do that. And I want to move on to refugees. The Biden administration is poised to break a major promise to increase the number of refugee admissions to 62,000 calling it unlikely, instead signing an emergency presidential determination that keeps the cap at 15,000, which was president trump's historic low number. Refugees international president Eric Swartz said the president's decision to reaffirm the refugee admissions calling -- ceiling of his predecessor is deeply disappointing. Now, I know on Friday the white house said there was some confusion with that and we'll talk about it again in may. Can you clear it up? Is the cap on, how far could it So, Martha, one of the biggest problems we faced was inheriting a broken system. And the refugee system that we found was not in a place, did not have the resources, the means to effectively process as many people as we hoped. But what we've done now, what the president has done now in signing the initial directive is to make sure we can start the process of bringing people in and beyond that lifting restraints and -- that the previous administration had imposed so that no one, for example, from Africa or the Middle East could come in. That is now -- I know what you've done in that, but how many refugees do you think will be let in this year, and if you don't make that 62,000, will there be 125,000 next year, which was your goal? I think what the president has and the white house has said today is that based on what we've now seen from -- in terms of the inheritance and being able to look at what was in place and what we could put in place and how quickly, it's going to be hard to meet the 62,000 this fiscal year, but we're going to be revisiting this over the coming weeks. I think there will be an additional directive coming out in the middle of may and -- but the good news is we're now starting and we're able to start to bring people in who have been in the pipeline and who weren't able to come in, that is starting today and we'll revisit it in the middle of may. 125,000 next year? Is that your goal? Look, the president has been clear about where he wants to go but we have to be, you know, focused on what we're able to do when we're able to do it. Okay, thanks so much for joining us this morning. Thanks, Martha. Mr. Secretary. Thanks for having us.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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