Chris Wallace Confronts Jake Sullivan on U.S. Leverage With Taliban After Deadline

Fox News anchor Chris Wallace confronted President Joe Biden's national security adviser Jake Sullivan over the administration's claims that it will have "substantial leverage" over the Taliban after the U.S. military fully withdraws by the end of August.

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki asserted during a Friday press conference that the U.S. will have "enormous leverage" over the Taliban moving forward. Critics have questioned that claim, arguing that the Taliban have illicit ways to finance operations and that the U.S. does not have adequate allies in the region to assist in pressuring the group. Wallace pressed Sullivan over the administration's assessment during an interview on Fox News Sunday.

"Do you really believe we have, quote, 'enormous leverage' over the Taliban? Enough that we're gonna be able to get out Americans and Afghan allies after we pull out? Do you really believe that and do you really believe that there's a chance that we might be able to set up—re-set up—a U.S. embassy in Kabul?" Wallace asked the Biden administration official.

Sullivan responded by saying that "no one here [at the White House] trusts the Taliban. No one here is counting on any words that the Taliban offer." He said the Biden administration is focused on "actions."

Chris Wallace and Jake Sullivan
In this screenshot, Fox News Sunday host Chris Wallace questions White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan over the Biden administration's belief that the U.S. will have substantial leverage over the Taliban past August 31. Fox News Sunday/screenshot

The national security adviser said that the answer on leverage is "emphatically yes." He said that the White House does believe that the U.S. "possesses substantial leverage to ensure that American citizens and others get safe passage out of that country." Sullivan said the U.S. could "bring to bear enormous pressure on the Taliban with a swift and forceful response" if necessary.

Sullivan added that the Taliban would need to "follow through" on its commitments before the U.S. would consider reopening its embassy in Kabul. The Taliban has expressed its desire to form an "inclusive" government that is open to the international community.

Wallace pressed Sullivan further, pointing out that "some people question" whether the U.S. actually has leverage against the Taliban. The Fox News host said that he understands that the U.S. can "squeeze" the group financially by freezing billions of dollars in assets, but pointed out that the State Department has a $5 billion bounty on one top Taliban official's head due to his authorization of suicide bombings against U.S. forces.

"Do you really believe that the kinds of soft power pressure that you're talking about is enormous leverage over a zealot?" Wallace asked.

Sullivan pushed back against defining the economic leverage as "soft power." He said, "billions of dollars is not soft power. That's real hard cold cash that matters."

"Secondly, and probably more importantly, no one is more clear-eyed about who the Taliban are...than the national security professionals that have been working on this issue for the past 20 years," the Biden administration official said. He said that the White House knows the Taliban are "bad guys," but argued that the question is "whether or not they will ultimately see it as being in their interest to let Americans through."

Secretary of State Antony Blinken reiterated the administration's belief that it has leverage against the Taliban moving forward during an interview with ABC News' This Week broadcast on Sunday. Blinken pointed to an international coalition that has committed to pressuring the new Taliban government.

"One hundred fourteen countries have made very clear that it is their expectation that the Taliban will permit freedom of travel going past August 31st," the secretary of state explained.

"That is a clear expectation across the entire world, across the entire international community," Blinken said. He asserted that the U.S. has "very significant leverage to work with over the weeks and months ahead to incentivize the Taliban to make good on its commitments."

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, dismissed the notion that the U.S. would have leverage against the Taliban.

"Remember, the Taliban love taking hostages. They've done this before. It puts us in an extraordinarily difficult position," McConnell said during an interview with Fox News Sunday after Sullivan.

"Afghanistan is landlocked. There's only one way in by air and one way out by air. We don't have sort of friends in the neighborhood that would provide us the kind of intelligence that we would normally get, for example, in Syria or in Africa or in Yemen," said the GOP Senate leader.

Newsweek reached out to the White House for comment but did not immediately receive a response.