Press Availability with Italian Foreign Minister Giulio Terzi di Sant'Agata

Press Availability
Marc Grossman
Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan 
Rome, Italy
March 28, 2012

Foreign Minister Terzi: [Inaudible] the friendship that we share and reciprocate with full conviction, so I am very glad to give the word to Ambassador Grossman to give a short update of what is the view of the American administration.

Ambassador Grossman: Thank you all very much for coming. May I first of all thank the Minister for his hospitality this morning, and I would also like to congratulate you, Minister Terzi, on this position. You were a good friend in Washington, and we’re very glad to see you here. We thank you very much.

As the Minister said, I came here today with really one purpose – to express our admiration for the effort that Italy has made in Afghanistan these past ten years and to express our solidarity going forward with the effort that we will continue to make together. I also, of course, wish to express our condolences for the loss of the Italian soldier and the wounding of others last week. I know Ambassador Thorne went to the funeral here in recognition of the enormity of the loss for Italy and the Italian people, and so I wish to express these condolences to you. May I also just take the opportunity to express to Ambassador Thorne and all of the people who serve the United States of America in Italy my thanks for your service and the service of your mission.

As the Minister said, I have been on a trip these past few days to a number of our strongest partners, friends, and allies to discuss the future of security and prosperity in Afghanistan.

And as the Minister said, I’ll start with a simple proposition, which is that the agreements that our countries made together in Lisbon at the summit is the strategy that the United States of America follows along with our friends and allies. And that strategy is a very clear expression of what it is that we intend to do as a group of countries through 2014. As the Minister said, we also discussed the future while looking back on the Bonn conference, when we all got together in December of last year in Germany, building on the extremely important work that was done in Istanbul the month before, and we talked about the transformational decade – the time after 2014.

And we look forward here, as the Minister said, to a number of important meetings this year – Chicago, the G8 meeting, as well, in Washington, D.C., – but also the very important development conference in Tokyo in July. We have the opportunity to do something very important, which is to meet the obligations we took upon ourselves in Bonn, the security commitments in Chicago, and the development and other commitments to be discussed in Tokyo. The Minister and I also agreed that it is very important for the government of Afghanistan to take ownership of this effort, as well.

We also had the opportunity to talk about how best to protect all of the sacrifices and investment that we have made, our two countries and the ISAF countries and Afghans, as well, over the past ten years. And so, the Minister and I discussed the question of how to have a sufficient number of Afghan National Security Forces going forward and how to sustain that number in a rational and useful way, and I appreciate the Minister’s guidance and his consultation on this very important question.

Finally, if I might just say, as the Minister did, we had a very good discussion on the values that we are trying to promote in Afghanistan. And one of the most important is the rights and protection of women, a very important commitment that we have in that regard, and may I just say I appreciate very much the Minister making that a priority, and I certainly agree with his points on that as well. So our proposition is Lisbon. Our proposition is how to protect and defend the gains that we have made, and the Minister very well went through those gains and the answer to that question is sufficient and sustainable Afghan national security forces in the future. So Minister, I thank you again for your hospitality and we look forward to your questions.

Media: [inaudible] Is the timetable you put forth regarding ISAF troop withdrawal confirmed despite the recent tensions that have taken place in Afghanistan or will there be an early pull out?

Foreign Minister Terzi: [Speaks in Italian.]

Ambassador Grossman: Thank you very much for your question. May I first say that it would be my fervent wish to be able to answer you in Italian. Maybe someday. I just want to associate myself with everything the Minister said. If you’d allow me, you pose the question, saying “Is the withdrawal schedule still to be maintained?” And I would say, as the Minister did, that this is a “transition schedule” and that’s the important point. Lisbon laid out a transition, and we are well on the way to completing that transition as the Minister said, so that Afghan security forces are in the lead in all of Afghanistan by the end of 2014.

Media: Good morning. Stella Prudente, TMNews news agency. I have two questions for Ambassador Grossman about the transition, from a political point of view and economic point of view. From the political point of view, what is going on with the reconciliation process? From what we heard, the Taliban have stopped it or something. And I wanted to know how you interpret this and what is your vision of the future of the reconciliation process? And from the economic aspect, do you fear that the Eurozone’s economic crisis will have a negative impact on the reconstruction and on the security financing aspect? Thank you very much.

Ambassador Grossman: Thank you for both of those questions. Let me, if the Minister would allow me, discuss first the questions of reconciliation. And I’d say three things: First, it’s extremely important to start any answer to this question recognizing that the reconciliation process is an Afghan-led, an Afghan-owned process. This is an Afghan peace process. So second, the job of the United States of America has been simply and only to see, in our contact with the Taliban, if we could open the door for Afghans to talk to other Afghans about the future of Afghanistan. That’s the only purpose for America being involved in these conversations with the Taliban. I think that’s a very important second point. Third, to answer your question specifically, yes, the Taliban suspended these talks – that was the word that they used, “suspended.” And, clearly, we read this statement.

And as Secretary Clinton said last week, after her meeting with the Afghan Foreign Minister Rassoul, we’ve seen that statement. The Taliban has a decision to make – whether it would like to return to a conversation with us. But when they are ready, we are ready to continue that conversation. In other words, we have no hesitation in being back in that contact with the Taliban, again, for the sole and express purpose of opening the door for Afghans to talk to other Afghans about the future of Afghanistan.

On your second question, on the economic side, I am certainly not speaking on behalf of anyone in the Eurozone. That’s certainly the responsibility of the members of the Eurozone. But I think it’s clear that countries all around the world, including the United States, have choices to make about how to spend their money. And continuation of this commitment to Afghanistan is an important decision. It’s an important decision for us, and it’s an important decision, if you’d allow me, for all of the governments in the Eurozone and other countries that are members of ISAF. So this is hard but the issue is how do you protect the investment that we’ve already made in life, in money, in time, in effort, going forward? And I believe countries will conclude that a certain amount of their resources should continue for this effort particularly in terms of the Afghan national security force and, as the Minister very rightly pointed out, in development assistance, as well, because there is still work to do in Afghanistan on governance, and on development.

And so the second part of your question, the answer on that seems to me that we also ought to increase the capacity of the private sector to be involved in Afghanistan – and that is foreign direct investment and other efforts. And that’s why with Italy’s strong support we have focused on what we call the New Silk Road strategy, or as other countries call it, historic trade routes, to try and connect Central Asian economies with South Asian economies with Afghanistan and Pakistan in the center so that we can create some sustainable economic growth. So this is just not a matter of asking for public money, although that’s important, it’s also a matter of asking for the private sector to see the opportunities in this area as well.

Foreign Minister Terzi: Again, if I can add this vision which is very coherent and well established to work on both the security transition and announcement of projects, I would like to remember that Italy has a very strong hold on programs, on infrastructure relevant to regional cooperation, and free trade of neighbors of Afghanistan in specific areas which are connected to small and medium enterprises. Italy also has a typical culture which can be transferred from the Mediterranean region to Afghanistan and also other resources like the marble industry, construction, and so on. So, we have a well-established view as Italians as to what we can do for development.

Afghanistan, after all, over the last ten years has been the most important item for Italian funds in engagement and cooperation. Over 600 million euros were invested during this period. And we want to continue, but we want to continue also with an emphasis on a certain aspect of institution building which is connected to human rights and women and women’s conditions. And it is not a coincidence that these issues have been mentioned in the memorandum of understanding that we have signed together – President Karzai and Prime Minister Monti-- signed when we were together last January. So it is very important.

And, on security, I would like to emphasize once again that it is the security of the country that is keeping alive the huge investments that we have made until now, but it is also a very wide and important security question which connects relationships with Afghanistan, Pakistan, the future of the fight against terrorism and really the capacity of terrorist organizations which can again affect our countries and proliferate to regions nearby.

Ambassador Grossman: Again, may I just associate myself with the points that the Minister made. They’re all absolutely right. Thank you very much.