September 27, 2021

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Secretary Antony J. Blinken And Kuwaiti Foreign Minister Sheikh Dr. Ahmed Nasser Al-Mohammed Al-Sabah At a Joint Press Availability

25 min read

Antony J. Blinken, Secretary of State

Kuwait City, Kuwait

Ministry of Foreign Affairs

FOREIGN MINISTER AL-SABAH:  (Via interpreter)  To start, I would like to welcome my friend, Mr. State Secretary Antony Blinken, in his visit, first visit to Kuwait, while I am a minister of – foreign affairs minister.  We were honored today in the morning to meet his highness the amir of the country, Sheikh Jaber (inaudible) Al-Jaber Al-Sabah, and also his highness the prime – the crown prince, Sheikh Mishal Al-Sabah, and also the prime – his highness the prime minister, Sheikh Sabah Al-Khaled Al-Hamad Al-Sabah, may God protect them.

We heard during the visit with his highness the amir the instructions to give support to the relations with the U.S., all – all what can be – and care.  And we should remember that this year, we celebrate the 60th anniversary of our diplomatic relations, and also 30th anniversary of liberation of Kuwait.  And the visit of my friend, Secretary of State Antony Blinken to Kuwait, comes quite – few days from the anniversary of the Iraqi invasion to Kuwait, which – where there was a very strong stand by USA in liberating Kuwait and having legitimacy back to Kuwait.  So we thank you, your excellency, my friend, Mr. Secretary.

The bloods of the Kuwaitis and the U.S., the Americans, were together and mixed together in the liberation of Kuwait, and we remember through the coalition of 39 countries around the world to liberate Kuwait, headed and led by USA.  This will remain in the hearts of all Kuwaitis, all in appreciation for that.  And we will remain appreciative for the USA and the administration, the U.S. administration, and his excellency, his highness, the – or the President of USA and also State Secretary Mr. Blinken.

We remember also in this occasion the many relations we have between our both countries in all fields.  We talked about the importance of lending care of strategic discussions and dialogue and what is important for both countries and give extra push to the bilateral relation.  We look forward to the fifth dialogue session between Kuwait and USA.

And we believe that both countries and the whole world are going through the corona pandemic.  Maybe it is important to exchange expertise with respect to fighting this pandemic and all the other issues of development and enhancement of how to distribute the vaccine in both countries and all the world, actually, because both countries believe that we are not immune unless we are all vaccinated.  And we believe there’s another side that comes from corona, which is the aftermath of this pandemic with respect to the food security, and there’s a lot of collaboration in that respect with USA.  We thank USA for this part of the food security in the whole region and in the whole world.

We are also proud on the level of collaboration in education between USA and Kuwait, and there are several students who are studying in the USA, and many of Kuwaitis have benefited throughout the decades, the past decades of the unique education enjoyed in the U.S. by the USA.

And during the pandemic there were some aspects that we had to – we should learn from it and share expertise, and also the collaboration in this field itself, the pandemic.  Also those with respect to the information technology, cyber crime, cybersecurity, because none of the countries are really secure completely unless we join efforts together.  And we thank our friends in the USA for all the efforts they make with Kuwait to ensure cybersecurity in Kuwait.

This is – these are the bilateral issues that we will continue at the end of this year in the strategic discussion, and we also discussed several issues, regional and international.  And thank God we – there are so many, so many similarity in viewpoints regarding these issues on the regional and international level because we both believe as countries that – the elements in the international law and mentioned in the charter of establishing the United Nations itself.

I welcome you, my friend, State Secretary Antony Blinken, to Kuwait.  Welcome, and we wish for you a nice visit and successful one.  Thank you.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Thank you.  Good afternoon again.

It’s a real pleasure to be back in Kuwait to be able to spend time in person with my friend, the foreign minister.  We’ve had the opportunities to talk and work on issues, but nothing substitutes for being able to be in the same room, the same place, and have very good and detailed conversations.

So, Ahmed, I really want to thank you for your hospitality today and, of course, his highness the amir, the crown prince, the prime minister, the speaker of the parliament for their very, very warm reception and the very good conversations that we’ve had.

I’m here because of the strong ties of friendship and partnership between the United States and Kuwait.  And as the foreign minister has already noted, 60 years ago when Kuwait became an independent nation, our two nations quickly established diplomatic relations.  And 30 years ago, the United States was proud to lead a coalition of nations to help liberate Kuwait from the occupation of Saddam Hussein.  We were at the parliament and saw a video of President George H.W. Bush when he was here after the liberation, being received at the parliament, and it was quite, I must say, moving to see those images again of our president, of Secretary Baker, our Kuwaiti colleagues in that remarkable moment.  And as President Bush put it, by standing with a peaceful Kuwait against an invasion by a violent dictator, we were standing up for our principles, including the principle that America stands by her friends.

In the years since, the partnership between Kuwait and the United States has grown even stronger.  And today, as the foreign minister alluded to, we’re working together on a wide variety of issues.  We’re working together to end the COVID-19 pandemic, to advance regional security, to bridge divides, to address the needs of people across the Middle East and beyond.  And I really want to thank Kuwait for stepping up to provide very generous support to COVAX, the facility that helps provide vaccines around the world.  It’s leading the global effort to procure and equitably distribute safe and effective vaccines with strong support from both of our countries.

Kuwait has demonstrated and Ahmed, you’ve demonstrated personally remarkable statesmanship in healing the Gulf rift earlier this year, bringing a close to a political crisis that’s divided Gulf nations since 2017.  Kuwait’s a critical partner in the effort to end the war in Yemen and to advance the cause of a two-state solution between Israelis and Palestinians.  As Iraq works to strengthen its relations with its Arab neighbors, Kuwait and the United States are working together to increase its stability, its security, its integration with the region, including through Kuwait’s efforts to connect Iraq to the GCC electricity grid.  And we’re working together to help the Afghan people and support regional stability as coalition forces withdraw from Afghanistan.

This partnership is made possible by our deepening ties.  Kuwait is a major non-NATO ally of ours.  It’s a gracious host to American troops based here, and that allows us to continue our mission of helping to defend our partners in the region.  The bilateral trade relationship continues to grow.  In 2019, it accounted for about $4.5 billion.  We’re determined to raise that number substantially by putting forward a positive vision for how to get business done.

We know that allies and partners in the region have their own complex relationships around the world, including with China, and the question for us is not an either/or choice, but we believe that by promoting a level business playing field and relying on innovation and openness, the United States will remain a strong partner of choice throughout the region.

Earlier today, as I mentioned, I had a chance to tour Kuwait’s National Assembly, an institution vital to democratic governance.  I appreciate the work that our countries do together, both bilaterally and in international institutions, to advance respect for freedom of religion and belief.  Perhaps most significantly, our people-to-people ties are enduring.  Nearly 10,000 Kuwaitis studied in American universities and English-language institutions in the 2019-2020 academic year.  That’s the third-highest number of any country in the region.  It’s even more significant when we remember that Kuwait has one of the smaller populations in the region.  We’re grateful that so many Kuwaiti students have chosen to study in the United States.  We’re working hard to welcome as many of you back as possible, and we hope even more of you will study in the United States because strong bilateral partnerships like ours ultimately are founded on these people-to-people ties.

At a time of immense global challenge, it’s more important than ever to have friends that you can work with to solve problems, to advance shared interests and shared goals.  Kuwait is one of those friends.  The United States is proud of our partnership and I’m grateful for the good work that we’re getting done today and that we’ll get done in the future.

As noted, this is a time of in some ways looking back in celebration at the establishment of diplomatic relations, at the liberation of Kuwait, but much more important even than that is a moment for looking forward, to building on all that we’ve done together in recent years, to grow the partnership, to make it even stronger, to make it even broader, and to work together to tackle the challenges that we face and that the world faces.  Thank you.

FOREIGN MINISTER AL-SABAH:  Thank you so much.  Samira.

QUESTION:  (Via interpreter) Thank you, Your Excellency, and welcome to your guest.  Samira from Anhaar – Kuwait Anhaar magazine, a question to both ministers.

It is regarding your excellency – what Blinken said to follow Afghanistan, and The Wall Street Journal had published that Kuwait will receive number of translators coming from Afghanistan and mentioned that it will receive them at an American base called Buehring, I think she said.  Did you discuss this issue?  And what’s the stand of Kuwait and the number of different individuals that Kuwait will receive and host?

The other question is regarding reducing the number of soldiers of – American soldiers – sorry, number of Patriot platforms.  Why did you reduce this in the region?  And you say – or this administration say that they are to enhance security in the region and protect the Gulf countries.  Thank you.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Thanks very much for the question.  With regard to Afghanistan and the question of special immigrant visas, the United States is committed to helping those who helped us during our time in Afghanistan over the last 20 years.  And indeed, we’ve had very brave Afghans who have stood with us, with our soldiers, with our diplomats, mostly as translators and interpreters, and as a result of that service, benefit from the possibility of securing a visa to come live in the United States.  We’re actively engaged in that process, notably in relocation planning for those brave Afghans and their families.  That is a subject that came up today, as it’s come up in conversations with a number of other allies and partners.

With regard to the Patriots and other issues, I would refer you to the Department of Defense on those questions.

FOREIGN MINISTER AL-SABAH:  Sir.

QUESTION:  Thank you.  Mr. Secretary, I would like to follow up on the question on Afghan interpreters.  So there were expectation that you would reach an agreement here with Kuwait, but you’re not announcing it.  At this pace, how are you going to be able to relocate all those people before the U.S. forces leave in one month, if that’s the administration intention, of course?  And can you confirm that the first group will arrive in the U.S. today to be transferred to Fort Lee?

And Mr. Foreign Minister, has the Biden administration asked Kuwait to join the Abraham Accords with Israel, and is that something that you are considering?  Thank you.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Thank you very much.  I’m happy to start.

So as you know, earlier this month, President Biden announced what we call Operation Allies Refuge to support the relocation for Afghan nationals and their families who are eligible for Special Immigrant Visas.  And that process is actively underway.  And indeed, we expect the first beneficiaries of the program to begin arriving very, very soon.

At the State Department, we’ve activated an Afghanistan Coordination Task Force that is working on this.  It’s led by a three-time ambassador, Tracey Jacobson, and has experts from across the relevant departments in government.  And that task force is coordinating our efforts to take SIV applicants out of harm’s way and, if qualified, bring them to the United States once their vetting is complete.  So we’re very actively engaged in that.  We put significant resources into this effort.  We are talking to a number of countries about the possibility of temporarily relocating these applicants as the process is complete.  It takes some time to work through the process.  And as I said, that was a product – one of the issues that came up in our conversations today, as it is with a number of other friends and allies, but we are very much focused on making good on our obligations to those who stood with us in Afghanistan.

FOREIGN MINISTER AL-SABAH:  Thank you so much.  Regarding the Abraham Accords, all of the signatories, as far as Kuwait is concerned, it’s a sovereign issue for all of the signatories on the Abraham Accord.

But as far as Kuwait, it is the whole struggle of the Palestinians, now over 73 years of ordeal.  The most important aspect is not to go into the desperation.  We thank the U.S. administration for its commitment with the peace process, with the reviving of the political process.  We were in dire times end of May during all of the escalation of violence on Gaza.  And we truly do think that the only viable solution is a two-state solution.  And if we lose focus on that, then it might be put into ordeal and/or to jeopardy.

Therefore, continuous focus of the whole international community on reviving the spirit of peace as it was 30 years ago during Madrid or during Oslo is very important as far as Kuwait is concerned, and not to lose this momentum because the aspect of it, the ramification affect is very dire for the Palestinians and for the region.  (Inaudible.)

QUESTION:  My name is Shahad Al-Matrouk from Al Arabiya’s channel.  I would like to talk about the Houthi behavior that is backed by Iran recently.  We saw new attempts to attack Saudi Arabia with ballistic missiles and drones.  Will Washington condemn only without taking any measures to stop these behaviors that target civilians?  Also, the U.S. military presence in the Gulf region, will it shrink in the coming period of time?  Thank you.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  I’m sorry.  Could you repeat the second part of the question?

QUESTION:  The U.S. military presence in the region, will it shrink in the coming period of time?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Thank you.  With regard to Yemen, we are very, very focused on the diplomacy and efforts to bring the war to an end and to bring the resulting human suffering to an end.  As you know, at the very – toward the very beginning of the administration, we appointed a senior special envoy to lead our diplomacy for ending the war in Yemen, Tim Lenderking.  He’s been very actively engaged, as have I and other officials in the administration.  And it is incumbent on the Houthis to engage meaningfully and in good faith in an effort to end the war.  We appreciate the steps that Saudi Arabia has taken to move in that direction, and we’re also committed to the defense of Saudi Arabia, including when it comes to attacks against Saudi territory coming from Yemen, coming from the Houthis.  That’s – that remains vital.

So right now, I think the Houthis have failed to demonstrate a willingness to engage meaningfully in the peace process.  I think that every – virtually every country in the region as well as the United States are trying to move in that direction, and we would like to see the Houthis engage meaningfully in that effort as opposed to launching missiles at Saudi Arabia or continuing an offensive in Yemen itself.

With regard to our force posture, as every administration does upon taking office, we’re engaged in a global review of our force posture.  Again, I’ll leave that to the Pentagon to talk about, but we are very much committed to our presence in the region, in the Middle East, and here in Kuwait.

FOREIGN MINISTER AL-SABAH:  Sir.

QUESTION:  Since you’ve come to the region, Secretary Blinken, I wonder if I could ask about Iran.  The supreme leader said yesterday that Iran is not going to accept what he called Washington’s stubborn demands to revive the nuclear deal, as you won’t remove any of the sanctions imposed by the previous U.S. administration.  With trying to get them back into the nuclear deal, haven’t you failed to give them a good reason to get them back to the negotiating table?

And further, I wanted to ask, why has it taken nearly two weeks for the administration to speak out about protests that have been going on in Iran over – against the government in the last couple of weeks?

And to the foreign minister, I wonder, is Kuwait concerned about the U.S. recent agreement with Iraq to end its combat mission there?  This comes at a time when Iranian-backed militias appear to be in the ascendancy in Iraq.  The country’s politics is looking towards a more nationalist direction.  Does this give you concerns that what happened here 30 years ago is closer to happening again with the situation in Iraq?  Thank you.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  So we’ve engaged in multiple rounds of conversations and negotiations in Vienna – indirect, as you know.  The Iranians have refused to talk directly, but with our European partners, with Russia and China, we’ve been engaged in – as I said, in multiple rounds.  I think we have clearly demonstrated our good faith and desire to return to mutual compliance with the nuclear agreement, with the JCPOA.  And the fact of the matter is it is Iran that has decisions to make, fundamental decisions to make about whether it too wants to return to compliance.  And there is no amount of deflection that can change that basic fact.  The ball remains in Iran’s court and we will see if they are prepared to make the decisions necessary to come back into compliance.

We are committed to diplomacy, but this process cannot go on indefinitely.  At some point, the gains achieved by the JCPOA cannot be fully recovered by a return to the JCPOA if Iran continues the activities that it’s undertaken with regard to its nuclear program – activities that, of course, have broken through the constraints imposed by the JCPOA.  So we look to see what Iran is ready to do or not ready to do.  We remain fully prepared to return to Vienna to continue negotiations, but as I said, this process cannot and will not go on indefinitely.

FOREIGN MINISTER AL-SABAH:  Thank you so much.  Regarding the – your second question, the United States has proven time and time again of its commitment to the security of Kuwait and the region, and I think that throughout the six decades, there are lots of times and aspect that really, the United States showed in action its total commitment.

As well, we have an agreement treaty with the United States for the security and stability of Kuwait, and both of us are members under the leadership of United States in combating Daesh.  In Kuwait, we are hosting lots of allied country in combating Daesh, so this is an ongoing, as well, a commitment – an international commitment, a multilateral commitment in combating terrorism as well.

So no, we are not concerned about this matter.  We think that it is based on the sovereign decision of United – the United States, and the time has showed time and time again the fervent stance of United States with the security and stability of Kuwait.

Thank you so much, ladies and gentlemen.  Thank you so much, and see you soon.  Thank you.

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The objectives for the upcoming fiscal year that TAS included in its most recent report are not always clearly identified and do not link to the various planned activities that are described. Further, the objectives TAS does identify do not include measurable outcomes. In addition, TAS's reports do not include the actual results achieved against objectives so it is not possible to assess related performance and progress. Improved performance reporting could help both TAS and Congress better understand which activities are contributing toward achieving TAS's objectives and where actions may be needed to address any unmet goals. Consult with Congress and other stakeholders. TAS briefs congressional committees each year after publishing its annual report and solicits perspectives from stakeholders. TAS officials said they incorporate the perspectives into its objectives. However, TAS does not follow leading practices to consult congressional committees about its goals and objectives prior to publication at least once every 2 years. Thus, it misses opportunities to obtain congressional input on its objectives and performance reporting. Consultations would provide TAS opportunities to confirm if its goals incorporate congressional and other stakeholder perspectives and whether its reports meet their information needs. Publish updates on recommendation implementation status. By law, TAS's annual report must include an inventory of actions IRS has fully, partially, and not yet taken on TAS's recommendations to address the most serious problems facing taxpayers. If those recommendations take multiple years to implement, which some have as shown in the table below, updating the inventory would be required. In its objectives reports, TAS provides only a one-time inventory of IRS responses to TAS's recommendations made during the preceding year, including plans and preliminary actions taken for those IRS accepts for implementation. TAS does not publicly update the inventory in subsequent annual reports to reflect actions IRS takes or does not take to address TAS's recommendations. This reporting approach does not provide complete information on the status of actions IRS has taken to address serious problems facing taxpayers and also does not provide the information in the annual report, as required. Publishing such updated status information would support congressional oversight. Taxpayer Advocate Service's (TAS) Recommendation Reporting and Status as of the Fourth Quarter of Fiscal Year 2020 GAO also identified options for TAS to consider to improve its reporting. These options include explaining changes to the list of the most serious taxpayer problems from year to year and streamlining report sections congressional staff use less frequently. Why GAO Did This Study TAS, an independent office within IRS, helps taxpayers resolve problems with IRS and addresses broader, systemic issues that affect groups of taxpayers by recommending administrative and legislative changes to mitigate such problems. Congress mandated that TAS issue two reports every year—one known as the annual report which includes sections on, among other things, the 10 most serious problems encountered by taxpayers, and the other known as the objectives report that discusses organizational objectives. GAO was asked to review how TAS carries out its mission, focusing on resources and reporting. This report (1) describes TAS's resources and workload, and (2) assesses TAS's reporting to Congress and identifies opportunities for improvement. GAO reviewed documents from TAS, IRS, and other sources, including TAS's annual and objectives reports and internal guidance; analyzed TAS's budget, staffing, and workload data for fiscal years 2011 through 2020; and interviewed knowledgeable TAS and IRS officials. GAO assessed TAS's reporting of its objectives and performance against statutory requirements, relevant internal control standards, and selected key practices for performance reporting developed by GAO. In addition, GAO reviewed relevant TAS web pages, analyzed the length and composition of TAS's reports, and interviewed key congressional committee staff to identify additional options to improve TAS's reporting.
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  • Afghanistan Development: USAID Continues to Face Challenges in Managing and Overseeing U.S. Development Assistance Programs
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    This testimony discusses oversight of U.S. assistance programs in Afghanistan. Strengthening the Afghan economy through development assistance efforts is critical to the counterinsurgency strategy and a key part of the U.S Integrated Civilian-Military Campaign Plan for Afghanistan. Since fiscal year 2002, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) has awarded over $11.5 billion in support of development assistance programs in Afghanistan. Since 2003, GAO has issued several reports and testimonies related to U.S. security, governance, and development efforts in Afghanistan. In addition to reviewing program planning and implementation, we have focused on efforts to ensure proper management and oversight of the U.S. investment, which are essential to reducing waste, fraud, and abuse. Over the course of this work, we have identified improvements that were needed, as well as many obstacles that have affected success and should be considered in program management and oversight. While drawing on past work relating to U.S. development efforts in Afghanistan, this testimony focuses on findings in our most recent report released yesterday on the USAID's management and oversight of its agricultural programs in Afghanistan. It will address (1) the challenges the United States faces in managing and overseeing development programs in Afghanistan; and (2) the extent to which USAID has followed its established performance management and evaluation procedures.Various factors challenge U.S. efforts to ensure proper management and oversight of U.S. development efforts in Afghanistan. Among the most significant has been the "high-threat" working environment, the difficulties in preserving institutional knowledge due to the lack of a formal mechanism for retaining and sharing information during staff turnover, and the Afghan government ministries' lack of capacity and corruption challenges. USAID has taken some steps to assess and begin addressing the limited capacity and corruption challenges associated with Afghan ministries. In addition, USAID has established performance management and evaluation procedures for managing and overseeing its assistance programs. These procedures, among other things, require (1) the development of a Mission Performance Management Plan (PMP); (2) the establishment and approval of implementing partner performance indicators and targets; and (3) analyses and use of performance data. Although USAID disseminated alternative monitoring methods for projects in high-threat environments such as Afghanistan, USAID has generally required the same performance management and evaluation procedures in Afghanistan as it does in other countries in which it operates. Summary USAID has not consistently followed its established performance management and evaluation procedures. There were various areas in which the USAID Mission to Afghanistan (Mission) needed to improve upon. In particular, we found that the Mission had been operating without an approved PMP to guide its management and oversight efforts after 2008. In addition, while implementing partners have routinely reported on the progress of USAID's programs, we found that USAID did not always approve the performance indicators these partners were using, and that USAID did not ensure, as its procedures require, that its implementing partners establish targets for each performance indicator. For example, only 2 of 7 USAID-funded agricultural programs active during fiscal year 2009, included in our review, had targets for all of their indicators. We also found that USAID could improve its assessment and use of performance data submitted by implementing partners or program evaluations to, among other things, help identify strengths or weaknesses of ongoing or completed programs. Moreover, USAID needs to improve documentation of its programmatic decisions and put mechanisms in place for program managers to transfer knowledge to their successors. Finally, USAID has not fully addressed the risks of relying on contractor staff to perform inherently governmental tasks, such as awarding and administering grants. In the absence of consistent application of its existing performance management and evaluation procedures, USAID programs are more vulnerable to corruption, waste, fraud, and abuse. We reported in 2009 that USAID's failure to adhere to its existing policies severely limited its ability to require expenditure documentation for Afghanistan-related grants that were associated with findings of alleged criminal actions and mismanaged funds. To enhance the performance management of USAID's development assistance programs in Afghanistan, we have recommended, among other things, that the Administrator of USAID take steps to: (1) ensure programs have performance indicators and targets; (2) fully assess and use program data and evaluations to shape current programs and inform future programs; (3) address preservation of institutional knowledge; and (4) improve guidance for the use and management of USAID contractors. USAID concurred with these recommendations, and identified steps the agency is taking to address them. We will continue to monitor and follow up on the implementation of our recommendations.
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