Boris Johnson has admitted that “maybe” the withdrawal of British and American troops from Afghanistan after the Taliban takeover could have been handled differently.
In an interview with broadcaster NBC during his trip to America for the United Nations General Assembly, Mr Johnson was asked whether it was the case that he had tried to contact US president Joe Biden and had to wait 36 hours for a response.
Mr Johnson told NBC: “I don’t discuss my calls with other leaders. For the best of my recollection, we talked very frankly about the whole thing.”
He denied he felt snubbed and when asked if Mr Biden had been too “stubborn” over the withdrawal, saying: “America has been there for 20 years and it’s a respectable argument to say that enough is enough. Look, I mean, could we have done it a bit differently? Maybe we could.”
It comes after Mr Johnson raised the Afghanistan situation with other world leaders while at the summit.
Downing Street said that the PM had met with both Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the Amir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani.
On the meeting with President Erdogan, a Downing Street spokesperson said: “The leaders thanked one another for their support around the evacuation of Afghanistan last month. The Prime Minister outlined his priorities on Afghanistan, including ensuring any international recognition of the Taliban is predicated on them respecting human rights and allowing safe passage out of the country.”
On the meeting with Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, they added: “The leaders discussed the situation in Afghanistan. The Prime Minister expressed his thanks to Qatar for their ongoing support evacuating British nationals from Afghanistan.
“The Prime Minister and Amir agreed on the importance of the international community working together to uphold stability and prevent a humanitarian crisis in the region. The Prime Minister underscored that any recognition of the Taliban should be conditional on them respecting human rights and allowing safe passage to those who want to leave the country.”
Asked whether there would be awkwardness when he meets President Biden at the White House over Afghanistan, the Prime Minister told the BBC that relations between the UK and US were “about as good as they’d been for a very long time”.
Mr Johnson told the BBC: “We all came out here two years ago. Today, we’ve ended the ban on British beef; we’ve ended the tariffs on Scotch whisky.
“We’ve just had a very important announcement that UK travellers can come to the US if they’ve been double vaccinated. Things are working very, very well.”
He added: “If you look at the Biden White House, one of the great advantages of working with Joe Biden and his White House is that they are compassionately committed to fixing climate change, so watch what the president has to say later on.
“I haven’t seen it yet, but there is a very different mood in Washington about that issue that is crucial for the UK and for the rest of the world as we go forward to Cop26 in Glasgow in November.”
Earlier, he told NBC that it was “a breath of fresh air (to work with President Biden) in the sense of some things on which we can really, really work together”.