White House press secretary Jen Psaki on Wednesday refused to comment about the leaked phone call between President Biden and former Afghan President Ashraf Ghani.
Psaki dodged questions from reporters about the July 23 call, in which Biden told the Afghan leader to change the “perception” about the fight against the Taliban, “whether it’s true or not.”
“I’m not going to get into private, diplomatic conversations or leaked transcripts of phone calls,” Psaki said at a White House briefing.
Instead, she maintained that the report was “consistent” with the administration’s past assertions that “no one anticipated … that the Taliban would be able to take over the country as quickly as they did or that the Afghan national security forces would fold as quickly as they did.”
“What the president conveyed publicly and certainly privately as well repeatedly to Afghan leaders is that it’s important that the leaders in Afghanistan do exactly that — lead, show the country they are ready to continue the fight,” Psaki insisted.
Asked if Biden had been trying to push a “false narrative” in the conversation with Ghani, Psaki said she wouldn’t “go into the details of a private conversation.” But she stressed that there was a “collapse in leadership” in the Afghan government long before Ghani fled the country.
A transcript of the call between the two leaders obtained by Reuters showed Biden could well have anticipated the Taliban was capable of completing its takeover of the country three weeks later, on Aug. 15, when it stormed Kabul, prompting Ghani to take off.
During much of the roughly 14-minute conversation, Biden emphasized what he saw as Afghanistan’s “perception” problem.
“I need not tell you the perception around the world and in parts of Afghanistan, I believe, is that things are not going well in terms of the fight against the Taliban,” Biden said.
“And there is a need, whether it is true or not, there is a need to project a different picture.”
Biden also offered aid if Ghani could publicly project he had a plan to control the situation in Afghanistan, saying: “We will continue to provide close air support, if we know what the plan is.”
Despite her insistence she would not discuss what she called a “private”: call between the world leaders, Psaki took a very different stance when it came to a famous call involving former President Donald Trump.
In 2019, she called on the White House to release the transcript of Trump’s phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky — who coincidentally met with President Biden on Wednesday.
“It is not just the call transcript. The whistleblower complaint would likely have more details. We need both. And not just the call,” Psaki said in a tweet on Sept. 24, 2019, the day the White House released that transcript.
That call led to his eventual impeachment, and later acquittal in the Senate.