Background Briefing: Senior State Department Officials on Afghanistan
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: We are in Kabul, Afghanistan with the Secretary of State. We have with us [Senior State Department Official One]. Your title for the record?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: The [title withheld].
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: One more time, louder.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) and you’re what?
QUESTION: It doesn’t matter, you can’t use it anyway. (Laughter.)
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: One more time for the record, loudly.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: The [title withheld].
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Hereafter known as State Department Senior Official to talk about the Secretary’s program here in Afghanistan tomorrow.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Thanks. Let me just give you the opening sentence on what I think the Secretary’s objective is for the visit. She’s coming to Kabul to consult with President Karzai on the U.S. long-term commitment to Afghanistan, to talk about military and civilian transition issues linked to the decisions made at Lisbon last year so that we’ll run their course through 2014, and to talk about various regional and diplomatic initiatives of the United States Government that she laid out in her Asia Society speech in February, including reconciliation. So that’s her main objective for being here.
She’ll see President Karzai tomorrow. She’ll do a lunch with the senior leaders of the Afghan Government, I believe including his vice president. She’ll do a civil society event with a range of folks, civil society participants from various ethnic groups, and women, obviously.
I would say some of the key things she wants to do: She wants to signal U.S. support for a secure and stable Afghanistan. She wants to do that with President Karzai. She will want to emphasize that the United States remains committed to reconciliation – Afghan reconciliation – that we’re here to support President Karzai in his efforts, recognizing the difficulties that that process has undergone since the assassination of Rabbani.
She’ll want to show the – she’ll want to talk to President Karzai about the importance of Afghanistan being linked to the region, the future of Afghanistan being linked to the region, so she’ll want to talk about our diplomatic efforts coming up in Istanbul, which will be a conference or a summit of near neighbors of Afghanistan that will talk about a range of things related to Afghanistan’s future, but largely lay out a commitment to Afghan sovereignty, a commitment by – hopefully a commitment to support Afghanistan-led reconciliation.
She’ll talk about Bonn and what Bonn is, and it’s the international community showing its long-term commitment to Afghanistan beyond 2014. She will obviously talk about Pakistan with President Karzai. She agrees with President Karzai that Pakistani cooperation is critical on the issues in Afghanistan, so she’ll consult with him before (inaudible).
She’ll then talk about, as I said, (inaudible) transition issues. She’ll talk about, specifically, our Strategic Partnership negotiations that are ongoing with the Afghans, and she’ll want to point to those as a signal to the Afghans and to the region that the United States will remain engaged and committed in Afghanistan beyond 2014 and to never allow Afghanistan again to be a safe haven for international terrorism.
So that’s her basic program in Afghanistan.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Great. Before we go to questions, just to remind, we’re talking about the stop tomorrow, and the stop tomorrow only, or the stop here in Kabul.
QUESTION: What’s taking the Strategic Partnership negotiation so long? And does she still – she told us last week that they were hoping to have a deal done, or at least ready by Bonn. Is that still –
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Yeah. That is still our objective. We want to get it done in the diplomatic calendar that is coming up in the fall. There are some issues related to whether the activities – the current ISAF activities in Afghanistan. We had talked about the Strategic Partnership as a framework that lays out the U.S. presence here and beyond 2014. The Afghans are taking the opportunity to talk about some current issues that they want to discuss in their relationship between Afghanistan and ISAF, so we’re trying to work out those issues.
QUESTION: It doesn’t have anything to do with U.S. reluctance to do some kind of a binding agreement with Karzai?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: We have said that we are looking at all types of arrangements with President Karzai up to executive agreements. We’re not looking at treaties or things that would require approval by the Congress.
QUESTION: So it’s not the case that President Obama – that our – that the U.S. Commander-in-Chief, the current chief executive, is not particularly thrilled about the idea of signing something with President Karzai?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: We’re looking at a binding agreement, an executive agreement, and we have not made that decision. We’re discussing it.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Let’s do one more and then Elise.
QUESTION: When you say current activities, are you suggesting they want to basically renegotiate the SOFA?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: They do want to --
QUESTION: Status of Forces Agreement?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: No. They do not want to renegotiate a SOFA.
QUESTION: Are they trying to alter parts of that or --
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: They’re trying to discuss things with us that are concerns related to Afghan sovereignty in these discussions, so the issue of detentions, for example.
QUESTION: I’m sorry. What was the --
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Detentions.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Detentions.
QUESTION: Thank you.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Elise.
QUESTION: Yeah. I was (inaudible) it was last year, I guess, it was about a year ago – I mean, things with Karzai were pretty bad and he was, like, just spewing his mouth off or kind of saying negative things about the United States. And there was a real concern, I think, at that time that he wasn’t necessarily a partner, you didn’t know if he’d be able to (inaudible) through this. Even though you felt that reconciliation was important, you didn’t know if you were going to be able to move forward. It was going to be difficult for him.
And so what do you think’s changed over the last year? He seems maybe to have calmed down in his rhetoric a little bit.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Well, I think that he was – he had put on the table the issue of transition to Afghan sovereignty, so you have the international community agreeing at Lisbon that we’re moving into a process of sovereignty.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Andy.
QUESTION: Yeah. I just want to get – on the reconciliation issue, is the Secretary bringing in any new ideas or suggestions about how to move that process forward? What’s her assessment of where it stands now? And what’s going to be her message to Karzai on the Pakistan relationship? I mean, there have been sharp words on all sides bilaterally, really, there. Well, what’s – where do they stand with that?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: I think the Secretary’s basic message – that will continue to be that the United States supports a reconciliation process led by the Afghans, obviously, and that we’re all going to have to take some steps to see that move forward.
QUESTION: But what sort of steps would you be (inaudible)?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: I can’t go into specifics on reconciliation.
QUESTION: Is it going fast enough?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Well, I think that --
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: I think on some of these things, let’s have the meetings go forward, and then we can read you out on the conversation that they have.
QUESTION: Andy also asked about Pakistan and what specific message she’s going to give about how to revive relations with Pakistan and improve them in the wake of the attacks last month that were linked to certain groups based in Pakistan.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Yeah. I think we’d wait to talk about Pakistan tomorrow.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Jackie.
QUESTION: No. I just --
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Okay. Anything else on Afghanistan and the Kabul agenda tomorrow?
QUESTION: Could you just talk about the overall security environment here, after all these (inaudible) high-profile attacks, the killing of Rabbani the peace negotiator, the fact that there are 100,000 American troops here and things don’t seem to be getting any better?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: I would really refer you to the military to talk about the security --
QUESTION: I’m sorry?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: I would really refer you to the military to talk about the security situation. They’re the best judge to give you that.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: But I think in macro terms, we do believe that we’ve made with the Afghans significant progress as a result of the surge of forces that came in. We have pulled parts of Afghanistan that used to be largely Taliban-controlled that are not Taliban-controlled anymore. We think that they are --
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: The Secretary --
SENIOR STATE DEAPRTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: -- significantly on the run. Go ahead.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: The Secretary would point to that. She would say, just like she said in her Asia Society speech, that the military surge that the President authorized in December of 2009, and it’s concurrent civilian surge, has led to the reversal of Taliban’s momentum, and the arrest – the reversal of its momentum in a range of areas throughout Afghanistan, particularly in southern Afghanistan.
I was in Kandahar for a year from 2009 to 2010, and I think it’s quite obvious when you go down there, clearly there’s an assassination campaign going on by the Taliban. But I think it’s very easy to see that the reversal of the Taliban has been – I mean, the momentum of the Taliban has been reversed.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Indira.
QUESTION: So are there any new initiatives on reconciliation that she’s going to suggest, given that Karzai was so despondent about last month (inaudible)?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: I think that’s the same question that Andy just asked and [Senior State Department Official One] put it in a big frame, and I think with regard to what actually comes out of the meeting, why don’t we wait for the meeting to happen.
QUESTION: Just to look at kind of a broader question, the level of concern about Afghanistan vis-à-vis Pakistan – relations with Pakistan are so bad right now, what is the level of concern that (inaudible) is not solvable without solving the relationship with Pakistan?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Well, I think that the Secretary will talk about Pakistan with President Karzai, and she will clearly talk about the issue that the United States has been talking about on safe havens, on the Haqqani Network, and the need for Pakistan to put additional pressure on the Haqqani Network. So I think they will have a conversation about that.
QUESTION: But I mean, if they don’t, if you could just give us a little broader idea of the level of concern with this. Obviously, these are important issues, but overall, if Pakistan – if the relationship goes south, which it already has, what does that bode for Afghanistan?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Well, I think the Administration’s been pretty clear on our concerns regarding Pakistan and the safe havens.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Okay. Why don’t we stop there.
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