(E News): Taliban officials do not appear to want to negotiate a peace deal with the U.S.-backed central government, according to a senior American general, raising questions about the security of Western officials and their interpreters as they withdraw NATO forces. “The Taliban need to show an equal commitment to talking very honestly in a straightforward way to try to find a political solution as we go forward,” Marine Corps Gen. Frank McKenzie, commander of U.S. Central Command, told reporters Monday. “I think the government of Afghanistan is willing to do that. I’m not sure the Taliban is willing to do that. And unfortunately, time is now becoming very short.” Pentagon officials are withdrawing all U.S. forces from Afghanistan by this summer, in advance of President Joe Biden’s Sept. 11 deadline. That timeline, combined with the Taliban’s belligerence, could leave thousands of Afghan interpreters vulnerable to militant retaliation for their work with American forces, lawmakers fear. “The military retrograde in Afghanistan could be complete as early as July,” Texas Rep. Michael McCaul, the top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, told Secretary of State Antony Blinken during a Monday hearing. “I’ve been told by your senior officials in your department that there’s no way the Special Immigrant Visas can be processed that quickly.” at least to a neighboring country, while their applications for entry to the United States are under review. “We are looking very actively at every possible contingency to make sure that we can accommodate and care for those who have helped us and are seeking to leave,” Blinken replied. “And whether that’s through the Special Immigrant Visa program, whether that’s through the refugee program, whether that’s through parole, other things — we’re looking very actively at everything.” Blinken implied the U.S. would have time to extract the interpreters even after the military withdrawal, emphasizing American diplomats and officials from other countries will remain in Kabul. “The embassy is staying,” he said. “We’re working to make sure that other partners stay. We’re building all of that up. And whatever happens in Afghanistan, if there is a significant deterioration in security — that could well happen, we discussed this before — I don’t think it’s going to be something that happens from a Friday to a Monday.” In the meantime, Blinken noted his team has directed dozens of additional State Department officials to review a subset of 5,500 visa applications delayed by a lack of approval from the top State Department official in the country. “We expect to be able to clear the backlog over the next few months at about the pace of 1,000 a month,” Blinken said. McKenzie, the CENTCOM commander, likewise resisted the idea that the U.S. military’s exit represents a deadline for interpreters to get out of the country. “We will have the capability to exercise whatever orders we’re given,” he told reporters, referring to a post-withdrawal evacuation of the interpreters. “Clearly, it’s easier sometimes than others, but the United States military has remarkable capabilities for this type of thing. We can do whatever is going to be necessary, whenever it would be necessary.” Blinken tried to “accelerate” the intra-Afghan talks in March by implementing a plan to establish a transitional government to underpin negotiations about Afghanistan’s long-term constitutional structure. Taliban officials have been noncommittal in response, most recently telling the U.S. “that they might submit their plan” to the central government, according to Blinken’s point man for the talks. “There are two ways in a long-term perspective: Either there should be a political agreement, or there would be a continued war,” State Department special representative Zalmay Khalilzad told TOLO NEWS, an Afghanistan-based media outlet. “And God forbid, if an endless war happens, interferences in Afghanistan’s affairs by the region might increase, and this is not in Afghanistan’s favor.” The prospect of worsening violence in the absence of the U.S. and other Western militaries has already prompted Australia to close its embassy in Kabul. Still, McKenzie said that Pentagon “plans are very far advanced” on how to protect NATO diplomats after the full-scale withdrawal.