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G20 meets to find a way to prevent economic collapse and help citizens in Afghanistan

SARAH MCCAMMON, HOST:

President Biden met with other world leaders virtually today to try to figure out a path ahead on Afghanistan. The Taliban have been back - control of the country for almost two months now, and they want international help to stave off an economic collapse. As NPR's Michele Kelemen reports, this is a challenge for much of the world, which doesn't want to lend legitimacy to a group facing international terrorism sanctions.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: G-20 countries are trying to walk a fine line with the Taliban. Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi, who hosted today's meeting, says everyone wants to help Afghans and prevent an economic collapse, but they also want to see progress on basic rights, including the rights of women and girls.

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PRIME MINISTER MARIO DRAGHI: Right now, there isn't any progress that we can see. It was said that the government would be inclusive; it was not inclusive.

KELEMEN: And so he says it's too early to recognize the Taliban government. Russia and China did not attend the virtual G-20 meeting. The White House says the leaders that did are, quote, "laser-focused" on counterterrorism efforts in Afghanistan and want the Taliban to allow safe passage of Afghans and foreign nationals who want to leave the country. White House press secretary Jen Psaki says the U.S. is also boosting aid.

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JEN PSAKI: The United States is the single largest humanitarian donor in Afghanistan, providing nearly 330 million this year alone, and we will continue to take steps to alleviate the suffering of the Afghan people.

KELEMEN: But billions of dollars in Afghan government funds remain frozen in the U.S. Psaki says there's been no change in U.S. policy on that. Over the weekend, the Biden administration sent a high-level team to Doha, Qatar, to meet with Taliban officials. Among them was Afghanistan's acting foreign minister, Amir Khan Muttaqi, who told the Doha Institute for Graduate Studies that the U.S. should release those frozen funds and start cooperating with rather than pressuring the Taliban. He spoke through an interpreter.

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AMIR KHAN MUTTAQI: (Through interpreter) We had really good talk. We spoke to each other in a very open and blunt way, and we talked on the different political issues. We talked about the humanitarian issues. So we hope that slowly and slowly we will make progress on our relationship with the international community.

KELEMEN: The Taliban official says Afghanistan won't become a base for terrorists that threaten other countries, but he was making no promises about the rights of women and girls. The U.N. secretary-general, Antonio Guterres, is alarmed about that. But he, too, wants to see the U.S. and other donors figure out ways to inject cash into Afghanistan to give the economy some breathing space. Before the Taliban took over, the country was almost entirely dependent on international aid.

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ANTONIO GUTERRES: The Afghan people cannot suffer a collective punishment because the Taliban misbehave.

KELEMEN: The U.N. secretary-general says the world is moving too slowly to stave off an economic collapse.

Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington.

(SOUNDBITE OF ODESZA SONG, "HOW DID I GET HERE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.