Interview: Kirby Says ‘Difficult to Say’ How Long Until Americans Return From Iran

National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby says it’s “difficult to say” how long it will take for the Americans released from prison and now under house arrest in Iran to return to the United States.

Kirby, speaking with VOA on Thursday, said, “We don’t know exactly how long it’s going to take to get them home and until they get home, and this negotiation is complete, we’re going to be careful about what we say publicly.”

“This is Iran you’re talking about and so we’re going to be pragmatic as we move forward,” he added.

Also, as the second anniversary of the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan approaches, Kirby said, “We are very focused now, and we certainly have been focused over the last two years, in making sure that we can continue to get our Afghan allies and their families out of the country, and certainly resettled in the country of their choice.”

The following interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.

VOA: We learned about the prisoners released today. What is the timeframe for the return of these people? And what will Iran get in return?

John Kirby, National Security Council spokesperson: We don’t know exactly how long it’s going to take to get them home and until they get home, and this negotiation is complete, we’re going to be careful about what we say publicly. It’s a good thing that they’re out of prison today, intolerable, brutal, atrocious conditions. They’re out of prison, but they’re not out of Iran. And so we’re going to continue to monitor their health and their condition as best we can, and we’re going to continue to negotiate as appropriate with the Iranians to get them home safe and sound with their families where they belong. How long is that going to take? Difficult to say, we think a matter of weeks, but again, this is Iran you’re talking about and so we’re going to be pragmatic as we move forward.

VOA: We are at the second anniversary of the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan. What is the administration’s assessment of the past two years?

Kirby: We are very focused now, and we certainly have been focused over the last two years, in making sure that we can continue to get our Afghan allies and their families out of the country, and certainly resettled in the country of their choice. Many, many thousands have decided to choose to settle here in the United States, and we’re very focused on helping them in that resettlement process, that transition, and helping them to get on their step to citizenship.

VOA: During the past two years, Washington has remained in contact with the Taliban. However, there’s no normal ties yet. How long will this deadlock take?

Kirby: You call it a deadlock. I don’t know that I would call it a deadlock. We have not recognized the Taliban, you’re right about that. You’re also right that as appropriate and as needed, we have continued to talk to the Taliban, as you must, particularly if you’re trying to continue to get your allies and their families out of the country, and to make sure that humanitarian assistance that nongovernmental organizations and other nations that are helping provide it to the people of Afghanistan is actually getting to people of Afghanistan. So there have been discussions as appropriate and as needed, and that will continue.

VOA: Since the withdrawal from Afghanistan, the U.S. has remained the biggest donor to the people of Afghanistan in humanitarian assistance. But there are concerns that the Taliban have access to the funds. What is the administration doing to ensure that the funds reach those in need?

Kirby: We don’t give any funds to the Taliban. We give funds to our partners, our humanitarian partners that have the ability to get into Afghanistan and to marshal those funds. And we’re constantly monitoring that. We’re constantly talking to our partners about how that aid is being spent, where it’s going, who’s benefiting from it, and we’ll continue to do that. We’ll be just as judicious about that as we possibly can.

VOA: Recent attacks in Pakistan have raised tensions between Pakistan and the Afghan Taliban. Do you think that the continuation of these tensions will harm the U.S. interest in the region, and what can Washington do to decrease these tensions?

Kirby: Look, I think we all have shared interests and concerns here, especially between the United States and Pakistan, with respect to these terrorist groups that tend to thrive on that spine between Afghanistan and Pakistan. The Pakistani people, sadly, they know what it’s like to fall victim to these terrorist networks. So we’re going to continue to work with Pakistan, we’re going to continue to try to explore opportunities against this shared concern. And as you heard the president say when we pulled out of Afghanistan, that we’re going to make sure we can continue to improve our over-the-horizon counterterrorism capability, and we’re doing that, and we’re going to keep at it.

VOA: China has started to increase military activities around Taiwan this week. What is your message to China?

Kirby: The message to China is the same that it’s always been. There’s no reason to escalate. There’s no reason to increase tensions around the strait and around Taiwan. Since there’s been no change in American policy. No change to our one China policy. We don’t want to see the status quo changed unilaterally. We certainly don’t want to see a change by force. We don’t support Taiwan independence. There’s no reason for the PRC to overreact or to be more bellicose and more and more aggressive. All that does is increase tensions. All that does is increase the possibility for miscalculation, and then that could lead to somebody getting hurt. And nobody wants to see that.  

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