OVERNIGHT DEFENSE: Biden administration to evacuate Afghans who helped US l Serious differences remain between US and Iran on nuclear talks l US, Turkish officials meet to discuss security plans for Afghan airport

OVERNIGHT DEFENSE: Biden administration to evacuate Afghans who helped US l Serious differences remain between US and Iran on nuclear talks l US, Turkish officials meet to discuss security plans for Afghan airport
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Happy Thursday and welcome to Overnight Defense. I'm Ellen Mitchell, and here's your nightly guide to the latest developments at the Pentagon, on Capitol Hill and beyond. CLICK HERE to subscribe to the newsletter.

 

THE TOPLINE: The Biden administration is preparing to move Afghan interpreters and others who assisted American military efforts to other countries while it processes applications to relocate them to the U.S., a senior administration official and two congressional sources confirmed Thursday.

The move comes amid reports that U.S. intelligence agencies assess the Afghan government could fall as soon as six months after the U.S. withdraws from the country after 20 years, leaving those who aided the U.S. in significant danger. 

It also comes after lawmakers increasingly put pressure on the Biden administration to evacuate Afghans who are waiting for Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) applications to be processed.

The details so far: “We have identified a group of SIV applicants who have served as interpreters and translators to be relocated to another location outside of Afghanistan before we complete our military drawdown by September in order to complete the visa application process,” the senior administration official said. “These are individuals who are already in the SIV pipeline.”

Any relocation will be done “in full compliance with U.S. consular law and in full coordination with Congress,” the official added.

‘Planning for all contingencies’: The official also stressed that visa processing will continue at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul and that the administration is still working with Congress to streamline the application process, including “eliminating duplicative paperwork and adjusting requirements that do not impact national security.”

“We are planning for all contingencies, so that we are prepared for all scenarios,” the official said. “Should it become necessary, we will consider additional relocation or evacuation options.”

Biden’s promise: President BidenJoe BidenTrump hails Arizona Senate for audit at Phoenix rally, slams governor Republicans focus tax hike opposition on capital gains change Biden on hecklers: 'This is not a Trump rally. Let 'em holler' MORE told reporters Thursday that he will discuss details of the plan with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, including what location the Afghans will be moved to during visa processing.

"They're going to come. We've already begun the process. Those who helped us are not going to be left behind," Biden said.

Major delays for thousands of families: It can take as long as 800 days for the State Department to process such a visa, and while the SIV program has been plagued with years-long delays for some time, the problem took on more urgency after Biden ordered a full U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan. 

Some 18,000 interpreters, security guards and Afghan embassy personnel are awaiting assistance through the program, though Secretary of State Antony BlinkenAntony BlinkenBiden walks fine line with Fox News Blinken to travel to India, Kuwait next week Biden announces delegation to attend Haitian president's funeral MORE told reporters Wednesday that 9,000 “are just in the beginning of the process.”

Applications have also been filed for 53,000 family members. 

“We have 20,000 allies who stand in need of help, and we cannot leave them to the tender mercies of the Taliban,” Rep. Earl BlumenauerEarl BlumenauerLawmakers spend more on personal security in wake of insurrection On The Money: Schumer pressured from all sides on spending strategy | GOP hammers HUD chief over sluggish rental aid | Democrat proposes taxes on commercial space flights Hillicon Valley: Biden to appoint Big Tech critic to DOJ antitrust role | House passes host of bills to strengthen cybersecurity in wake of attacks | Bezos returns from flight to space MORE (D-Ore.) told reporters Wednesday.

Still unclear: It’s not clear to which countries Afghans who assisted the U.S. would be relocated while the State Department vets their application or if those countries have agreed to the U.S. plan.

Lawmakers and others have suggested the U.S. territory of Guam makes the most sense; the United States evacuated thousands of South Vietnamese refugees to Guam amid the fall of Saigon in 1975.

Sources told The Hill the relocation is planned for later this summer, just before the September deadline Biden has set for troop withdrawal.

Read the full story here.

 

SERIOUS DIFFERENCES REMAIN IN US-IRAN NUCLEAR TALKS BUT DEAL ‘POSSIBLE’

The U.S. and Iran must overcome serious differences to reach an agreement on returning to the terms of the 2015 international nuclear agreement, but a deal remains possible, a senior State Department official said Thursday. 

The two parties are expected to return to Vienna shortly to participate in a seventh round of indirect negotiations, along with diplomats from the European Union, United Kingdom, France, Russia and China, as part of efforts to revive the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the formal name for the Obama-era deal. 

The Biden administration says a return to the JCPOA, which former President TrumpDonald TrumpTrump hails Arizona Senate for audit at Phoenix rally, slams governor Arkansas governor says it's 'disappointing' vaccinations have become 'political' Watch live: Trump attends rally in Phoenix MORE pulled out of in 2018, is the best way to prevent Iran from building a nuclear weapon, and has said it is prepared to lift sanctions on the Islamic Republic that are inconsistent with the terms of the deal. 

Great expectations: The U.S. expects Iran to take significant steps on reversing its nuclear activity that breach the terms of the agreement. Iranian officials have said it expects the U.S. to lift all sanctions and would not roll back its nuclear activity until sanctions relief is verified.  

No agreements yet: The senior official on Thursday played down reports that the U.S. agreed to lifting specific sanctions, particularly on Iran’s oil and shipping industries, saying that “nothing is agreed until everything is agreed.” 

“Since everything is not agreed, we still don't have anything nailed down, and there's still some very important issues that need to be resolved,” the official said. 

A deal still possible? “A deal remains possible,” the official continued, but stressed that the talks are not open-ended in the face of Iran’s advancing of its ability to build a nuclear weapon, breaching the terms of the agreement in its technical capacity and knowledge. 

Read the rest here.

 

US, TURKISH OFFICIALS MEET TO DISCUSS AFGHAN AIRPORT SECURITY PLAN

U.S. and Turkish officials met in Ankara on Thursday to discuss security plans for Kabul’s airport following the withdrawal of U.S. and NATO troops from Afghanistan.

Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar said a technical delegation from the U.S. had arrived for talks about the Hamid Karzai International Airport, which is the main gateway into Afghanistan, according to The Associated Press.

Akar reportedly said, “We will continue to take on the responsibility of operating the Hamid Karzai International Airport, which we have been doing for the past six years, if the necessary conditions are met."

No troops: Turkey has offered to guard and run the airport, and has been discussing logistics and financial support for the mission. On Wednesday, Akar said that Turkey would not be sending additional troops to Afghanistan as part of the plan.

“At the moment, we already have a presence there and it is out of the question for us to send any soldiers there in any way now,” he said, according to Reuters.

What the Pentagon says: Pentagon press secretary John Kirby later on Thursday said the Defense Department would not be able to provide any updates on the talks as they are “just at the very beginning.”

“If and when we have something that we can speak to and point to and announce after that, we’ll certainly try to do that, but I don’t have an update for you right now,” he told reporters at the Pentagon.

Context: The discussions come as the Biden administration is on track to meet its goal of withdrawing U.S. troops from Afghanistan by Sept. 11, the 20th anniversary of the terrorist attacks that sparked the conflict.

 

ON TAP FOR TOMORROW

Heritage Foundation will hold a virtual discussion on “Preview of the Heritage Foundation's 2021 China Transparency Report,” with Rep. Steve ChabotSteven (Steve) Joseph ChabotWe must address the declining rate of startup business launches Lobbying world OVERNIGHT DEFENSE: Biden administration to evacuate Afghans who helped US l Serious differences remain between US and Iran on nuclear talks l US, Turkish officials meet to discuss security plans for Afghan airport MORE (R-Ohio), and former Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs David Feith at 12 p.m. 

The Defense One Tech Summit will hold its final day with speakers Tim Grayson, director, Strategic Technology Office, Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency; and Lisa Sanders, director of science and technology for special operations forces, acquisition, technology and logistics, U.S. Special Operations Command at 1 p.m.

 

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