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China Renews Call for US to 'Unconditionally' Release Afghanistan Assets and Lift 'Unilateral' Sanctions


File- Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi attends the second meeting of Foreign Ministers of Afghanistan's Neighboring Countries virtually in Tehran, Iran, Oct. 27, 2021.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said Monday his country is working with other neighbors of Afghanistan to help speed up the delivery of humanitarian aid to Afghans and urged the United States to release Afghan foreign cash reserves without any further delay.

“Afghanistan is in a critical transition from chaos to order,” Wang told a news conference in Beijing. He referred to the Taliban’s seizure of power last August, days before the chaotic withdrawal of U.S.-led foreign troops from the war-ravaged country after almost 20 years.

“The United States walked away irresponsibly from Afghanistan, leaving the Afghan people in a serious humanitarian crisis and creating enormous security challenges to regional stability,” the chief Chinese diplomat said.

“We call on the immediate lifting of the freeze on Afghanistan’s assets in the U.S. and various unilateral sanctions to unconditionally return assets that belong to the Afghan people,” Wang said. This would help Afghans get through the winter and embrace the coming of spring, he added.

After the Islamist Taliban swept back to power, Western governments immediately ended financial aid constituting more than 70% of government expenditures, and Washington blocked more than $9 billion in Afghan foreign assets, held mostly in the U.S. Federal Reserve.

The punitive measures have accelerated an economic collapse, fueling a cash crunch and deepening a humanitarian crisis, which stems from years of war and persistent drought. The United Nations says more than half of Afghanistan's estimated population of 39 million are currently on the verge of starvation.

Wide-ranging U.S. economic sanctions against the Taliban date to their first time in power in the 1990s when they harbored the al-Qaida terrorist network and banned Afghan women from education and work.

The U.S. Treasury late last month issued a new general license authorizing all commercial transactions with Afghanistan's governing institutions, expanding already announced exemptions from sanctions against the Taliban and associated entities that Washington has labeled as global terrorists.

U.S. President Joe Biden recently issued an executive order that would split the frozen Afghan assets, freeing up $3.5 billion for the families of the victims of the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks, while allocating the remainder for a humanitarian trust fund for Afghanistan.

The move drew strong criticism, but U.S. officials have since clarified that any decision to transfer the funds to 9/11 victims will be subject to court proceedings.

Since October, the Biden administration has announced more than $780 million in humanitarian aid for Afghanistan and Afghan refugees in the region.

Wang said Monday that China was preparing to host a third meeting of foreign ministers of Afghanistan's immediate neighbors “to harness and contribute our strengths… for the durable stability and security” of the crisis-hit country.

Pakistan initiated and hosted the inaugural session of the foreign minister-level dialogue in September after the Taliban’s return to power, while Iran held the second meeting. The two-day conference in Beijing is scheduled for March 30. Taliban representatives and Russia will also be in attendance, according to Pakistani officials.

No government has yet recognized the Taliban as the legitimate rulers of Afghanistan, citing human rights and terrorism concerns as well as a lack of political inclusivity in the interim government the hardline group has installed in Kabul.

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