Remarks to the Press

Press Conference
Frank Ruggiero
Acting Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan 
U.S. Embassy
Kabul, Afghanistan
January 10, 2011

MR. RUGGIERO: Good morning. I’ll say a couple of opening words about what my visit is for, coming to Afghanistan and Pakistan, and then I’ll open it for questions.

As I’m sure all of you know, Ambassador Richard Holbrooke -- who was the U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan -- passed away in December of [last] year unexpectedly. Ambassador Holbrooke was dedicated to the mission of the United States Government both in Pakistan and in Afghanistan. He was working on these issues right up to the very end.

I’m the Acting Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan. I’ve been asked to do that by the United States Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton. The Secretary of State asked me to come to Pakistan and to Afghanistan as a signal that the American policy towards Afghanistan and Pakistan would not change with the passing of Ambassador Holbrooke, and to signal that the office that he created, which is the Special Representative’s Office, would continue.

As you all know, there’s a wide-ranging international organization called the International Contact Group that includes all the international SRAPs -- that’s the abbreviation for “Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan.” Some 40-some nations have now designated senior officials to be their Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan. The next meeting of that organization will be in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia in March of this year.

Before coming to Afghanistan I was in Pakistan for two days. There I authorized $190 million in additional American flood relief for the people of Pakistan. I also signed several large dam projects. Again, this shows the continuation of U.S. support for the people of Pakistan.

In Afghanistan I’ve had a series of meetings. I was fortunate enough to meet with President Karzai. We had a very good meeting. I’ll meet with a range of other officials in the Afghan Government today -- actually yesterday and today.

With that, I can take questions.

QUESTION: It was your first meeting with President Karzai. How did you find President Karzai? What kind of a leader he is? Can he really lead the nation to prosperity? Is he an effective person who can lead this government?

Secondly, as you know Ambassador Holbrooke was worried and concerned about President Karzai and he talked even recently about his co-relationship with President Karzai. A second question is that even though there is corruption in the Afghan Government, and this is a big story, how much information do you have about corruption in Afghanistan? And what do you think, how the Government of Afghanistan together with the international community can tackle this problem?

Thirdly, you talked about --

MR. RUGGIERO: That’s four.


QUESTION: You talked about Pakistan: dams and assistance with floods, affected people. Do you have such programs in hand for Afghanistan as well?

MR. RUGGIERO: Let me answer the questions in reverse order.

In Pakistan, the United States has, I think, around…we have a civilian assistance program of about $7.5 billion over five years. In Afghanistan, we have the largest civilian assistance program that we’ve ever had with another country. So both countries have significant American assistance.

On your first point regarding President Karzai, I’ve met President Karzai before. I was the senior American civilian in Kandahar for a year -- from July of 2009 until July of 2010 -- and I was fortunate to work with President Karzai on the military and civilian planning that we did for the operations that occurred in Kandahar this past summer.

On the issue of corruption, the United States Government follows the issue of corruption closely. We have various programs to try to address this issue. We understand the importance of it to the Afghan people and we’ll continue to work on it.

QUESTION: My question is about the latest (inaudible) in Afghanistan. Can you (inaudible) for the betterment (inaudible)?

MR. RUGGIERO: The United States has an enduring commitment to the Government of Afghanistan and I think that’s been made pretty clear by the amount of resources, troops, money, effort, that the people of the United States have put into Afghanistan. I think on the specific issue of military bases, I think there are no plans to have permanent military bases in Afghanistan. We’re not discussing that.

QUESTION: After your appointment as the Acting SRAP, in the media there were a number of concerns, especially among the Afghan politicians, that the United States will keep focusing and paying more attention to Pakistan rather than to Afghanistan. Do you have such a plan to balance this attention? Or you are focusing more on Pakistan, as well?

MR. RUGGIERO: I think we focus on both countries. The United States has interests with both Afghanistan and Pakistan. I would note that the relationship between Pakistan and Afghanistan is improving of late. When I was in Islamabad, your High Peace Council was actually there at the same time, which we, the United States support -- Afghan-led reconciliation. So again, the U.S. position is that we have important relationships with both countries.

Just to go back to a point I made earlier in terms of assistance, the American provision of assistance to Afghanistan is the largest that we’ve ever had.

QUESTION: What will be discussed (inaudible)? (Inaudible) between (inaudible)?

MR. RUGGIERO: The agenda is not set at this point, but it will be hosted by the OIC, the Organization of [the] Islamic Conference. We haven’t set the agenda yet but we have these meetings probably two or three a year, where the representatives of many countries get together and talk about issues related to Afghanistan.

QUESTION: As you well know, the Afghan Government and the politicians in Afghanistan have always been saying that the terrorist sanctuaries are beyond the border in Pakistani territory. And in 2010 the United States has conducted 100 drone attacks in Pakistan to target insurgents. What are you plans for 2011? Will you continue targeting insurgents in Pakistan territory, in [the] border area?

MR. RUGGIERO: The United States just finished a review of our policy in Afghanistan and Pakistan and the issue of sanctuaries was addressed in that review. I think what we have said was that the Pakistani Government has made good progress in terms of going into areas of the western part of Pakistan to go after various Islamic fundamentalist groups or radical groups, but that we have called on them to take additional steps.

QUESTION: It’s reported (inaudible) analysis, contact office and (inaudible). (Inaudible) position?

MR. RUGGIERO: I wasn’t aware that there was any agreement on that issue. My understanding of that event was that there was a question asked at the press conference and that there was a response, but I would refer you to the Government of Afghanistan to ask them what was said at that meeting.

QUESTION: In your two days visit to Pakistan you had meetings with a number of senior Pakistani officials. How much you could convince the Pakistani authorities to take serious steps in fighting terrorism, because people believe that terrorists are coming from Pakistan to Afghanistan to conduct (inaudible) activity in this country?

MR. RUGGIERO: I had a range of discussions with my Pakistani interlocutors. Again, I would refer you to the review that the United States put out in December of last year, 2010, where we talked about the specific issue of the sanctuaries in Pakistan and the steps that the Pakistani Government has taken over the past two years in terms of going into six of the seven Federally Administered Tribal Areas; and where we, in that document, also called for them to do more based on the sanctuaries that exist, that are used by insurgent groups for attacks in Afghanistan.

One of the other issues that I made sure that I talked about when I was there was to describe President Karzai’s vision for transition. President Karzai encouraged the international community to come up with a transition plan through 2014, where lead security in all the districts and provinces of Afghanistan would be taken by Afghan security forces by the end of 2014. In the United States we say the phrase, in this transition process the Afghans will: “stand up but not stand alone.” So at Lisbon in late 2010, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization made a commitment to the people of Afghanistan for its security. The United States has been very clear that we have an enduring commitment to the security of the people of Afghanistan. Again, we have put in a significant number of resources into Afghanistan. Our senior leadership has been very clear that we have an enduring commitment to Afghan security. Those are points that I made in my visit.

QUESTION: Afghanistan has always been a victim from its neighboring countries and has been vulnerable from these countries. How much attention has been paid to this point, to this issue in the review of the strategy?

MR. RUGGIERO: I actually refer you to the review. There are two or three sentences in the review that specifically say that in 2011 the United States will have an increased focus on the issues of reconciliation and regional diplomacy. I think that will be the focus of the United States Government in 2011, and that’s allowed to occur because of the success that we’ve made on the battlefield in Afghanistan to give the space to begin to have the political discussions.

Thank you.