Special Briefing on Secretary Clinton's Recent Trip to Afghanistan and Pakistan

Special Briefing
Richard Holbrooke
Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs
Washington, DC
November 23, 2009

MR. CROWLEY: Good afternoon and welcome to the Department of State. Last week, Secretary Clinton, on the tail end of her trip to Asia, was in Kabul to observe the inauguration of President Karzai for a second term of office. Some of you were along on that leg of the trip. With her, of course, was our Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan Richard Holbrooke.

But we thought it was important, now that there is a government in place in Afghanistan, for Richard to come back down to kind of put her trip in context and chart the way forward on the civilian side of the strategy as we await the decision by the president on the military component.

So with that, Richard.

AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: Thanks, P.J. I’m here to report on Secretary Clinton’s trip to Afghanistan, and also, since I haven’t been here since Pakistan, happy to talk about that too.

And before I go into any of the trip, I want to explain this – these members of our team from our office. This is not our whole team. These are just some of the people. But I’d like each one of them just to stand, identify who they are, and what they do because we’re here today to talk about the civilian effort, but most of the focus is understandably on the troop issue. But that’s not what we’re here to talk about. And this is the whole-of-government approach. Some of the people you know, some of the people you don’t know.

I’d just like to start here with Dereck and just let each person stand, say who they are, and what agency they’re with and what they do, and then we’ll get into the discussion.

MR. HOGAN: Good afternoon. My name is Dereck Hogan. I’m a State Department Foreign Service officer and I focus on governance and (inaudible).

MS. WHITE: I’m Maureen White and I’m the (inaudible) and I focus on refugee and (inaudible).

MR. SHY: My name is Rami Shy. I’m with the Department of Treasury, working for (inaudible).

AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: Some of you know Rami. It’s not for today’s – necessary, but it’s a very important issue, and we have these big State-Treasury task forces on illicit finance.

MS. GOODMAN: Hi, I’m Mary Beth Goodman. I’m a Foreign Service officer focusing on energy and economics.

MS. KOENEN: Good afternoon. Julie Koenen, working on development issues in Pakistan.


MS. KOENEN: From USAID, yeah.


MS. KEYVANSHAD: Hi, I’m Sepideh Keyvanshad, also from USAID on detail working on development of foreign assistance.

MR. STIGLITZ: Hello, Matt Stiglitz. I’m on detail from the Department of Justice working on rule of law and other related issues.

MR. REIMANN: Hello. Chris Riemann, detail from the FBI working on police training and capacity building.

MS. ARZT: Good afternoon, JoAnne Arzt from the State Department. I focus on civilian staffing.

AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: She – JoAnne has overseen this enormous increase in our civilian personnel.

MS. MARRIOTT: Hello, my name is Jane Marriott. You can tell from the accent I’m a British Foreign Service officer and (inaudible) seconded to work for Ambassador Holbrooke, and I focus on Afghanistan political issues, including elections and reintegration issues.

MS. AMIRI: Good afternoon. My name is Rina Amiri. I’m the Senior Advisor on Afghanistan to Ambassador Holbrooke and I work on election-related issues and political issues.

MR. LIST: Tim List from the Department of Homeland Security. I work mainly on cross-border and border management issues.

AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: And the Coast Guard, right, Tim?

MR. LIST: Yes, sir.

MS. SIMON: I’m Jessica Simon, Foreign Service officer – some of you know me – working on capacity (inaudible).

MR. GONZALEZ: Hi, I’m Otto Gonzalez. I’m on assignment from the U.S. Department of Agriculture as the agricultural advisor.

MS. FAILLACE: Karlygash Faillace. I’m the press officer in SCA (inaudible).

MS. BOMMER: Ashley Bommer, special advisor to Ambassador Holbrooke, also working on communication and (inaudible) propaganda (inaudible).

AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: Now, a lot of people are missing – my two deputies, Vikram Singh – some are in the field, some are traveling – Vali Nasr and Barney Rubin are both off working on projects right now. But I do want to just emphasize that this is the whole-of-government process which Secretary Clinton and President Obama committed themselves to when they announced this office two days after the inauguration. I’ve never brought this team down here before. We did one joint appearance at the CAP earlier in the summer, but it was a smaller group then.

And our purpose here today is to make clear that there’s a major civilian component to our efforts, and I do want to say one thing about Jane Marriott. This is her last two or three days here. She was on loan from the British Government, fully integrated into our staff. She will be going – am I allowed to say your next assignment? Or is it a top secret?

MS. MARRIOTT: It’s not official yet.


MS. MARRIOTT: (Inaudible.) (Laughter.)

AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: Unofficially, the – Her Majesty’s government is sending her to Tehran as the deputy chief of mission. So we’re really – she will be replaced – she will be succeeded, but she can’t be replaced. It’s really – quite seriously, she’s done an unbelievable job. And I’ve worked with a lot of people who were on loan at the Department. I’ve never seen anyone who did a job as good as Jane, and we will sorely miss her.

Let me see, what else do I want to say about this team? We are also reorganizing our international outreach. And the counterparts – there are about 25 or 26 counterparts to my job now, established since this job was set up. And the Germans have been coordinating that effort. And with the elections now behind us, we’re going to be intensifying our efforts on coordinating the international effort. The Germans are appointing a new counterpart as part of the agreement between the CDU and the FDP. We don’t know who that will be yet, unless it was announced today. And they will remain the coordinator, but we have agreed to set up an international cell here in the building which will do a lot of the work. So we are going to accelerate our international process.

Now, to report on the Secretary’s trip. I know some of you I see here were on the trip with us, some were not, so let me just start at the beginning. This was her first trip to Afghanistan as Secretary of State, her fourth trip in her life, and it was a very important trip. She timed it to coincide with the inauguration, precisely because we felt that the inauguration marked the end of a long, complicated process – the president used the word “messy” at one point – and produced a new government.

We have been waiting a long time to work with a government that had been – that was a result of the elections. And whatever one thinks of the elections, they were not perfect. And we said from the beginning they wouldn’t be perfect. We – all of us said this publicly well before the elections. They produced a winner and a legitimate government with which we intend to work as closely as possible.

As the Secretary said, we are encouraged by what we saw during this trip. Secretary Clinton described the moment that we saw a few days ago as a window of opportunity.

On the night we arrived, she and I and Ambassador Eikenberry and General McChrystal had dinner with President Karzai at the palace. A very warm, very cordial meeting, substantially different in tone from meetings during the election period. The election was behind us, and he brought with him his senior ministers in key areas. And the first part of the evening was devoted to very detailed discussions with the minister of agriculture, the minister of finance, the minister of education, and the chief of intelligence. The minister of interior was supposed to be there, but he was out in the city making sure that there would be no attacks during the ceremonies the next day, so we missed him.

The conversation was detailed and engaged. Those of you who knew Hillary Clinton as a senator and followed her closely may or may not know this, but she had been all over the agriculture issue as a senator. She had worked with the State University of New York – I think it’s Stony Brook, but I’m not positive – to get a big tree planting program. She had followed it very closely. She was fascinated to hear details, which normally don’t interest all of you but interested her greatly, about 12 tons of apples that were airlifted to India a few days before we arrived. This was a very big story in the Afghan press. It opened up a new opportunity for Afghan agriculture.

As I think you all know, after the security issue, we believe agriculture is our highest immediate priority in the civilian area, for the simplest reason: it’s 80 percent of the people. They’re great farmers. They had mass – they had big export markets until 1978. They exported pomegranates and raisins, they dominated the world raisin export market – almonds, pistachios, saffron, wheat. And they want to get back to that, but they need help. We inherited a situation where we were – the United States was putting less money into agriculture than were in poppy crop destruction. That didn’t make a lot of sense to us. So as I mentioned the last time I was here, we phased out supporting poppy crop eradication. Some may still go on, but that’s Afghan-run now. The U.S. is not involved. The military is focusing on interdiction. They’re working closely with the DEA and the FBI and other parts of the U.S. Government, and they have had very substantial success in interdiction.

And meanwhile, we’re putting a lot of money into agriculture. Otto Gonzalez, who introduced himself a moment ago, is our liaison with the Agriculture Department. Secretary Vilsack will be going to Afghanistan soon. Date is not yet clear. We’ve had to reschedule it because he’s involved in some high domestic priorities. But he will be going early next year, and that will be a very important trip for us. So she engaged in a very detailed discussion of agriculture with Minister Rahimi.

Then the finance minister discussed both economic issues, the ongoing negotiations on the transit agreement, which President Obama had mentioned specifically in the May 6th and 7th trilateral summit. Mary Beth Goodman is our point person on that, both here and in Islamabad and Kabul. We talked about anti-corruption efforts and the general financial state of Afghanistan. Then the minister of education gave a very encouraging report on the extraordinary progress that has been made despite the Taliban in that field – and this was an impressive performance in these fields, and then the intelligence chief talked about the Taliban. And then – and she talked about that in her public comments in Afghanistan which have been issued by P.J. and the Department.

On the personnel side, we are dramatically increasing our personnel, and JoAnne Arzt is in charge of that effort. When we came into office, there were about 300 American civilians in all of Afghanistan, and most of them were on six-month tours and they had very substantial leave arrangements to go to Dubai or Abu Dhabi or somewhere else regularly. And there was no real continuity. There are no more six-month tours. Spouses are allowed to come, indeed encouraged to come, if they take jobs. And the school-aged children issue is a big problem, but there are plenty of spouses there now. And that, of course, has multiple payoffs. Leaves have been changed, and more and more people are signing up for lengthier tours. And some of the people here have had tours in Afghanistan and will rotate back.

And so we are going to be at about 900 people. I think Jack gave you the figures in his lengthy press conference the other day. And some of you went to Camp Atterbury with Jack Lew on Thursday, the same day we were in Kabul, and you saw the training process out there, which Dereck Hogan has been responsible for setting up.

The – so the civilian effort is going quite well, and I must say a tripling while we eliminate six-month tours – is really more than a tripling in terms of person days in the field. It’s far more. So it’s – this is an extraordinary increase. And if you consider that each one of the Americans has a footprint of nine or 10 support people – Afghans, third-country nationals, NGOs – it’s a very large increase, proportionally larger than the military.

We will have 900, about 900 by the --

PARTICIPANT: One thousand.


PARTICIPANT: About 974 by the end of the year.

AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: Yeah, 974 by the end of the year is the current target. Actually, to be even more precise, 974 by the early weeks of next year. We’re going to run a couple of weeks behind the original buildup schedule, not because we don’t have the people, but simply because of the vetting and personnel process. It’s as simple as that. I don’t want to go into all these figures because that’s not why you’re here and you’ve already heard from Jack on that, but it is very important. And more American civilians will be on their way next year. We’re in advance talks with Ambassador Eikenberry, Jack Lew, AID and elsewhere on that.

On Thursday of last week – the dinner was Wednesday night – on Thursday of last week, after the inauguration ceremonies, Secretary Clinton and I, General McChrystal and Ambassador Eikenberry met with an extraordinary and impressive group of American civilians and military who had come in from the field. All of the seniors except the Secretary of State sat off the table. The table was only the people from the provinces run by Ambassador Tony Wayne.

And for a very long time, I would say an hour and a half or more, and she – and this actually delayed our departure from Kabul, and this is the reason, for those of you who remember, why we didn’t land till after 4:00 in the morning. It was this meeting because she was enjoying it so much. She really drilled down on rule of law, on agriculture, on civilian-military integration. And I know that she has already described this to her colleagues on the principals committee, and I’m sure she will do so again in the meetings that are coming up. It was a terrific meeting, and she was enormously proud of this integrated civilian-military process. We all talk about civ-mil integration, and the bottom line on it is the closer you get to the battlefield, the closer the integration. And at the province level and the district level, it is really remarkable.

Now, on Pakistan – we haven’t met in this room on Pakistan since she returned – I have traveled with and watched many secretaries of state. I have never seen a Secretary of State have a trip in which the public diplomacy part of it was more extraordinary than this trip. Everywhere that she went, she was greeted as an iconic person, but then hit very aggressively on issues. And she just kept taking the questions and making an extraordinary impact on the Pakistani people.

As many of you in this room know firsthand, everything she did was covered live. Her visit to the shrine was particularly successful and got huge approval. She met with women’s groups – hundreds of women – students in Lahore, businessmen and women in Lahore, parliamentarians, tribal leaders from FATA and elsewhere. And she gave interviews to the radio journalists of Afghanistan – of Pakistan. And as it evolved, it was a conversation. She seemed to be saying – and this is me, this is in my words, not hers – she seemed to be saying we are friends with a disagreement and this is the way friends talk about things. And you could see the impact.

She also had very important private meetings with President Zardari, Prime Minister Gilani, Foreign Minister Qureshi, General Kiyani and General Pasha, and Nawaz Sharif and Chief Minister Sharif in Lahore. So she had one of those trips that those of you who accompanied know how intense it was. I was very proud to be part of that trip, and I think it marked a – the beginning of a turn in our relations with Pakistan. You’re not going to see it show up immediately in public opinion polls, but the goal here was to lay the foundations for a partnership, a deeper, more productive, genuine partnership among two sovereign nations.

She also agreed to a new strategic dialogue. In the previous administration, the strategic dialogue was conducted by the Deputy Secretary of State on the American side. She will personally lead the strategic dialogue. Now, there’s been a lot of talk about trilateral and bilateral and not coupling Afghanistan and Pakistan. The truth is we have bilateral relations with each country. But they are interrelated, and this addresses it directly. She’s elevated the strategic dialogue with Pakistan to the ministerial level and will personally lead it, and we will tee that up for early next year – not too early. It takes – we don’t want to just have a meeting for a photo op. And meanwhile, we will continue the trilateral process. So we will parallel track here.

We are completing a new civilian assistance program which will broaden the scope of our relations with Pakistan and help Pakistan address its long-term development needs. The reason we were late to this meeting is we were meeting with Ambassador Raphel. She’s back from Islamabad. She is essentially our chief of operations in Pakistan now. And she and Vali Nasr – is Vali here? No, Vali is – Vali and she are working right now on this.

We are working out the operationalizing of the general agreements as we speak, and we’re talking about how to improve our economic assistance and to help the overall – the people of Pakistan in their major needs like energy and water. Water came up more than any other issue on the trip, even more than energy, and we took that very seriously. And our NGO officer, Ronan Farrow, who is not here right now, is – was working on the water NGO issue, because expertise on water is much greater in the private sector. All of this is going to complement our new public diplomacy effort, which Judith McHale and Ashley Bommer are jointly spearheading. And we hope that the Pakistani people will recognize our deep respect for their sovereignty and our deep commitment to help them deal with the pressing problems they face.

We – so that’s a brief report on the two trips. I think with that, I’ll be happy to take your questions, and if it’s too technical, I would defer to one of my colleagues.

QUESTION: Ambassador Holbrooke, one on Afghanistan and one on Pakistan, if I might. There has been a lot of talk about whether the Afghan military force is kind of a reliable partner. But I’m wondering in terms of the civilian, from what you’ve seen on the ground as you ramp up your civilian presence, do you think you have enough of a well-trained kind of Afghan civilian reliable partner to do what you need to do? Or do you think that there will be as much need for training of the Afghans and --

AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: As – sorry, go ahead.

QUESTION: And then on – if I might, on Pakistan, there’s a lot of uncertainty about the future stability of the Zardari government, given that – some rulings that are going to be coming up. I was wondering how much of that – of a concern is that that there could be a vacuum on the --

AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: I’m not going to comment on the internal affairs of Pakistan. I just want to make that clear right now. We’re well aware of it. We’re following it very carefully. But if it’s an internal political issue, it needs to be dealt with by the Pakistani people. It’s – and that’s all I think I should say on that.

On your first question, like any government, there are ministers that are better than other ministers. There are some ministers who are put up to extraordinary records. I go back again, for example – well, I’m afraid if I single one out, it won’t be good for his health, but – so I won’t single any out. But we want to work with the strong ministries, and we also recognize that the leadership in Afghanistan is thin because of the high illiteracy rate, the horrific consequences of 30 years of continuous war, the enormous set of refugees, the diaspora people who left the country, and very few of whom have returned, and the conditions in Afghanistan.

This is one of the main reasons we’re increasing our civilian role. And it’s extremely delicate to get the mix right. We want to help the Afghans help themselves. We do not want to replace a sovereign government with internationals. And by the way, many other countries are increasing, too. So if you go into a ministry now, you may run into people from the UN, from EU countries, Japan. It’s quite complicated. And one of our major goals is to coordinate this better, and that’s what I meant when I alluded earlier to our new efforts to coordinate international.

So what is our belief in the capacity here? Well, that’s – it’s very hard to answer this question. We know how important it is. Building the Afghan Government’s capacity to run their own affairs is one of the three or four sine qua non of a process by which eventually, on a timetable I can’t give you, the international combat troops, including the U.S., can be replaced by local security and the international civilian advisors can phase down over time. But international economic assistance from – to Afghanistan will continue for a long, long time, as Secretary Clinton has said publicly during her trip. And I want to stress that point.

QUESTION: Thank you very much. I’m (inaudible) Dawn newspaper. Two things. There was – there’s a statement by Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh who said that he believed that the Pakistanis do not necessarily share the U.S. commitment or U.S. intention for Afghanistan and they have their own intentions and they may be pursuing that. Your comment on that?

And also, he said that he is not sure whether the – who is running the Pakistan army, the (inaudible) government or not. And there was also a report in the Pakistani media today that probably U.S. Government representatives in Afghan and the Pakistani Government representatives had a meeting with the Taliban somewhere.

AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: The first two questions, I’m not going to answer because I haven’t seen the statement. And what was your third?

QUESTION: And a meeting between the U.S. and Afghan and Pakistani Government representatives and the Taliban.

AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: To my knowledge, and I believe – and this is absolutely true – there has been no direct meetings between American officials and Taliban officials. There was one accidental engagement about a year ago, actually before the inauguration of President Obama. It was inadvertent and it wasn’t a real Taliban, and that was – that became public and we cleared that up. There are no – we are not having direct contacts with the Taliban. Secretary Clinton in her speech to the Council on Foreign Relations in – what was it, June or July –

STAFF: July.

AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: July 15th, she made a speech which – in which only a few of you noticed the paragraph on Afghanistan. One or two of you reported it. But that was very important. She laid out the conditions by which the U.S. believes people fighting with the Taliban can rejoin, reintegrate into Afghan society. And the first point she mentioned was renounce al-Qaida. Remember and never forget, we are in Afghanistan because of 9/11. And the other thing was to renounce violence and to lay down their arms and participate in life peacefully. In fact, many, many Taliban have done that since 2002 – people who were senior officials . And but – and some of them are in the National Assembly. You have former Taliban in the National Assembly. And there’s regular contact between them and internationals, including Americans. But what you’re talking about, no, sir.

Yes, sir.

QUESTION: And – how reassured –

AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: Can you identify yourself? If you could identify yourself.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) from the BBC. How reassured were you by what you were hearing about the fight against corruption? And can I ask you what is it that concerns you? I mean, corruption can cover a whole host of different activities?

AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: Corruption is an enormously complicated issue. It’s easy just to put the word in a headline. But when you really get down to it, what does it mean what – when – what’s the difference between traditional bakshish and big corruption – these are very complicated issues. Let me be very, very clear on this: We are deeply concerned about corruption. And Secretary Clinton did not hesitate to discuss this.

The – a lot of – we have – because the international community, led by the United States, has such a large footprint in Afghanistan, and a lot of the targets of opportunity for corruption come from the international community. And so we have a legitimate concern on that score, and that’s what the GAO and SIGAR, the Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction, focus on, and because we have American troops and our allies on the line risking their lives, we have a legitimate reason to ask for better performance on corruption. President Karzai in his speech, in his inaugural speech, addressed this problem, saying he would set up a commission, he would – excuse me – he would strengthen the existing Commission on Corruption and he would hold some special conferences on it, I believe was his word. I don’t have the speech in front of me. But we discussed this subject at considerable length with him.

Yes, sir.

QUESTION: Ambassador Holbrooke, John Terrett from Al Jazeera, English Television. This is a question about the visit of Manmohan Singh and it straddles both your two key areas of responsibility. India wants more influence in Afghanistan, as you know, and has already pumped in $1.2 billion into the country. You talked about the apples – the 12 tons coming back the other way.

AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: That’s just trade and balances. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Pakistan on the other hand, remains suspicious of Indian kind of hegemony – they talk about putting, you know, the Afghan – the Indian reach. How can the U.S. balance the interests of these two key partners, one of which is the key ally in the war on terror?

AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: Well, first of all, all Americans and certainly everyone in this Administration are just delighted that the first state visit of this Administration is for India. I think this is very appropriate. And no one in Pakistan, and no one in any other country, should read this in any way as a diminution of the importance we attach to them. It’s entirely appropriate that someone has to have the first trip. And it – it usually used to be in the past, a European ally, but they come over in informal trips. A state dinner, a state visit is a big deal, different level of intensity. And President Obama thought this was the right way to go, and we’re thrilled. It in no way should be read as a diminution.

We seek to improve our relations with Pakistan. We seek to improve our relations with China. We seek to improve our relations with India. This is not a zero-sum gain. Every country benefits from improvement in the area. I’m not going to go into the specifics of it. First of all, it’s not part of my formal responsibilities, although I look forward to participating on some of the meetings, and seeing some of my old friends from New Delhi.

But I do just want to say that I read the press, I understand what New Delhi and Islamabad, Lahore say about each other. But it’s really – it really is not justified by the facts in many cases. These two countries live side by side and have to live together. And our role is to assist both of them in different ways, according to their own desires and their own view of their own sovereignty.


QUESTION: Thanks, Ambassador. Before we met up with you in Kabul, you had been in Moscow, and we never got a readout of that leg of your trip in between Pakistan and Afghanistan. Could you tell us what did you accomplish in Russia? Did you get any specific commitments with regard to Afghanistan?

AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: Actually, I was in Berlin and Paris, then Moscow.


AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: And I also met with the British along the way. And then, I would add, since I’ll do the whole international , that in Kabul, as you saw, we had foreign ministers from France, the Netherlands, deputy foreign minister of Japan. And I would draw your attention to the fact that the Japanese quadrupled their aid last week and went up to $5 billion commitments – a tremendously important decision by the new government. Canada, their foreign ministers there, the Indian foreign minister was there, and the senior officials from many other countries.

Specifically to Russia, as you know, I’ve been trying to go to all the concerned countries, but I haven’t been able to get to all of them up to now. I still haven’t gotten to all of them, simply because of two things: the need to make – in the early part of my job, I had to go to Afghanistan and Pakistan a lot, because there were so many issues to straighten out. We were in a period of transition in our leadership in Afghanistan, and we had to put a whole new team in place, and we had to rethink our Pakistan policy in conjunction with Anne Patterson and – our ambassador there, who was – who has been kept on, because of the high confidence we all have in her.

Now, I was unable to get to Moscow earlier for logistical reasons, and just scheduling. And in that talk, we outlined to the Russians our strategic view and put forward the simple proposition that Russia and the United States, like all the countries in the neighborhood, have a common strategic symmetry, that stability is something that’s important to all the neighbors and near neighbors.

The Russians pointed out to us that they had legitimate strategic concerns in the area, which we agree with. And they have one overriding issue, which is mentioned prominently in the joint communiqué of President Obama and President Medvedev, dated July 2nd or June 2nd – I can’t remember which, but one of those two dates – and that is narcotics. That is a big, big issue for the Russians. And we talked a lot about how we could work together on that issue, and we explained our policies.

I met with the deputy national security advisor, the national security advisor being out of the country in Singapore. I met with Sergey Lavrov, the foreign minister, my old counterpart at the United Nations and a close friend. I met with members of the ministry of defense and reassured them that the United States does not seek a permanent NATO presence in Afghanistan. I met with the drug czar, with the Russian equivalent of FEMA, and with many other officials on the trip. It was a very productive opening meeting, and we agreed we will continue the dialogue. I took an interagency team with me from various agencies. And we will continue the dialogue in the near future. We also had a team in China before the President’s trip. And we have had consultations with Turkey and – which we are going to continue. So there’s a lot of activity going on.

QUESTION: Did the Russians make any specific pledge or promise or agree to give any particular kind of assistance or –


QUESTION: -- routes, land routes for the –

AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: They – well, I leave to General Petraeus the logistical issue, and you know about that. They didn’t give any promises, but they showed considerable interest and readiness to do more to help repair some of the damage that has been brought over the last 30 years. It’s a complicated issue for reasons you all understand. But in the non – but we are – but we were very pleased with these initial talks.

MR. TONER*: We have time for just a couple more questions.

QUESTION: Yes. Ambassador Holbrooke, Charlie Wolfson with CBS. Given that you’re here to talk about the civilian side, but recognizing that a lot of the civilians who will be in the field depend on the increased military, and given that the President’s announced a meeting tonight at the White House, he’s had eight – and I believe this is the ninth – where does thoroughness and decision making stop and indecisiveness start, since he’s been accused of that?

AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: Last time I was at this podium, I said very frankly that my experience on these issues, and I – as a very junior officer, I lived through the Lyndon Johnson decision-making process in 1965, and when I was in Saigon, and in 1968 when I was assistant to a deputy secretary of state. As I’ve seen a lot of these things, this is the most thorough, the most sustained, most thoughtful process I have ever seen. And over the long course of it, we have seen – we have all learned a great deal from each other in a way which I think is exactly the way decisions should be made.

I’m not going to get into public debates. I’m not going to go in that direction. I just feel that what you’ve seen is a very serious debate, and that’s really all I want to say about it. But I’m honored to have been a small part of it.

QUESTION: Sir, (inaudible) with (inaudible) MBC Television. Since you talked about corruption, and you said you were very concerned about it, and considering you had a minister who was accused – allegedly accused of taking $30 million in a bribe, would the Administration pick the ministers in President Karzai’s new government?

And on the reconciliation issue, President Karzai talked about a loya jirga type of meeting, he invited the Taliban and Abdullah Abdullah. Both declined and they’ve been very negative. Does this undermine the effort in terms of having a stable new government and the security efforts?

AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: On the first half of your question, we’re not picking the ministers in the government. But we certainly hope that the ministers are the best possible ministers. And who they are and how effective they are and the issue you just mentioned will all be factors in determining our interaction with them.

And on the loya jirga question, to be quite honest with you, I want to learn a little more about what is in – the government has in mind before I opine on it. But it’s not a hundred percent clear yet how it will work or what its purpose would be. And it’s part of another process where there are some international conferences. In his – in President Karzai’s inaugural speech, he talked about a conference in Kabul next year, and that’s also part of the process.

I think there’s one or two – one more.

QUESTION: Thank you, Ambassador Holbrooke. You said that the United States can assist Pakistan and India toward peace and security (inaudible). Would you –

AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: Now, please be careful here. I don’t think that’s what I said. I said that we think that good relations between the U.S. and India, and good relations between the U.S. and Pakistan are not incompatible, and that we are not going to get involved in negotiating these kinds of things. Please, it’s really important, because when we get misquoted or twisted by some of the press in these countries, we really have to spend a lot of time – poor P.J. has to spend the whole night with the time difference cleaning it up. Let’s stick to the precise words I used here.

Yes, sir.

QUESTION: Would you support a resumption of talks between the two countries? Because Pakistan says that it will feel more at ease to fight terrorists on its (inaudible).

AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: If the two countries decide to resume talks or have any sort of talks, of course we’ll support them. But we’re not their midwife. We’re not their intermediaries. We’re not trying to play a role that goes beyond our legitimate area of involvement.

QUESTION: Sue Pleming with Reuters. Just to follow on from my colleague’s question on the talks with the Taliban, apparently the Saudis and the British are involved in those talks with the Taliban, along with the Pakistanis. Do you have any details on those discussions?

AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: I can’t speak about the British. You have to ask them. As far as the Saudis go, President Karzai mentioned them by name in his speech. It’s well known that he asked King Abdullah to play a role here, and I will let the Saudis speak for themselves. I have talked to the Saudis. I’ve been to Riyadh. I talked to King Abdullah about it myself. We would be supportive of anything that the kingdom chose to do in this regard.

QUESTION: But I was talking about Pakistan there.


QUESTION: About the talks with the – between – with Pakistan and –

AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: Oh, I don’t know anything about that.

QUESTION: And then –

AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: I mean, I read a news account. But I don’t know what the facts are.

QUESTION: And then you also mentioned the trade transit agreement. What is the status of those negotiations between Afghanistan and Pakistan? It seems that they are stalled and that you won’t make the deadline at the end of the year.

AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: I don’t think that’s a fair conclusion. Have any of you have ever seen a negotiation which didn’t go down to the wire – international negotiations? I think we have a good shot at making the deadline. There are two or three outstanding issues.

Is that right, Mary Beth?


AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: And if you want more details on that, why don’t you call our office and – I don’t want to involve everyone in it. But we are hopeful it will be done. This is – let me – let’s be clear for those of you who haven’t followed this negotiation. This negotiation began before half of you in this room were born. It’s 44 years old. It’s the – really, older than you are; I can tell. (Laughter.) Not older than me, unfortunately.

This is 44 years, and President Obama asked the two leaders of their countries to try to finish it by the end of the year. It’s a very ambitious goal. It’s not easy to do. And we have gotten it down to two or three issues. And my hat’s off to Mary Beth Goodman for the role she has played here.

So you want to do one more? Okay. Last question, I guess.

QUESTION: I’m Lachlan Carmichael from AFP. As you – as the Obama Administration conducts the review on Afghanistan, how much are you consulting with the Pakistanis? The reason I ask is Foreign Minister Qureshi said November 1st that Pakistan could offer a lot more and implied there have been almost zero consultation –

AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: I don’t think he implied that. The Secretary of State was in Islamabad and Lahore, the National Security Advisor was in Islamabad. Foreign Minister Qureshi has been here twice in the last – how long – five weeks, six weeks? Yeah. We are in constant contact, also through their excellent ambassador in Washington.

They’re – I don’t believe that anyone seriously thinks we’re not having detailed consultations with Pakistan. So if that was said, I think it has to be put into context. But there’s no country we’re consulting more closely than Pakistan, nor is there any country that’s more integrally related to this issue. Admiral Mullen is in constant contact with the Pakistani military. I’m in constant contact with leaders of their government by phone and other means. So I just don’t see that as a real issue.

Oh, well, thank you very much.

QUESTION: Thank you.


# # #

PRN: 2009/1166