Cash-strapped Afghan embassy to close, US says

WASHINGTON — Without the backing of a recognized government or the money to keep the lights on, the Afghan embassy in the United States is closing, State Department officials said Friday.

Afghan diplomats, who were appointed by the former US-backed government and could be threatened by the ruling Taliban if they return home, have 30 days to apply for residency or temporary humanitarian parole to stay in the United States before facing deportation, officials said. Although they will not be sent back to Afghanistan, it is unclear where else the diplomats would go, the officials said, who openly hoped the situation would not come to that.

About 25 diplomats — about a quarter of the estimated 100 who worked at the Afghan embassy in Washington or the country’s consulates in New York and Los Angeles — have yet to ask to stay, two State Department officials said. who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the sensitive issue more candidly.

The development caps a sad saga for the Afghan envoys, whose posting to the United States marked the peak of their diplomatic careers before being challenged with the Taliban takeover of their government in August.

Two months later, Citibank froze the embassy’s bank accounts to avoid violating US sanctions against the Taliban. The economic sanctions were imposed years ago, when the Taliban were designated global terrorist organization. Now that he leads the Afghan government, the Taliban theoretically controls the country’s central bank, prompting Citibank to seize what an Afghan envoy described as several hundred thousand dollars from the embassy’s account.

That means at least several dozen Afghan diplomats have not been paid since October and are living off savings or forced to borrow money to stay afloat. In some cases, emissaries moved their families to cheaper homes to make ends meet.

Afghan Ambassador to the United States Adela Raz did not respond to a message seeking comment on Friday evening, and other diplomats working for her could not be reached.

Most of the world, including the United States, does not recognize the Taliban as a legitimate government. Until that happens — if it ever does — officials said the State Department will not accredit any diplomats the Taliban sends to Washington.

For now, the State Department will oversee the upkeep and security of three properties the Afghan government owns in the United States: an imposing colonial-revival-style embassy in Washington, a consulate in Los Angeles, and the residence on Long Island. of the Consul General in New York. .

One of the officials described the development as an unfortunate situation and urged Afghan diplomats to apply for residency or temporary parole in order to qualify for work permits and, in turn, find jobs to support themselves. their needs.

They will join more than 100,000 Afghan candidates who hope to stay in the United States in a process that has overwhelmed the Biden administration since Kabul, the Afghan capital, fell in August.