Heart of Asia Foreign Ministerial

John Podesta, White House Counselor
Beijing, China
October 31, 2014

(Remarks as Prepared)

Thank you Foreign Minister Wang, for such a warm welcome to Beijing and for hosting this important Heart of Asia Conference. I am honored to be here on behalf of President Obama. Secretary of State John Kerry also asked me to share his appreciation with the foreign ministers here today for their continued support to Afghanistan and the Heart of Asia initiatives.

One month ago this week, I was honored to witness the historic inauguration of Dr. Ghani as President of Afghanistan and the appointment of Chief Executive Officer Dr. Abdullah. Though the process was challenging, the millions of votes cast by the Afghan people are reflected in the government of national unity that emerged. It took statesmanship to reach the agreement required to form a government, and the vision and leadership of both President Ghani and Dr. Abdullah helped to make the government of national unity possible.

The inauguration of the government of national unity marked a new beginning for Afghanistan. It aligns with the conclusion of the transition of security responsibilities. Today, the Afghan National Security Forces are in the lead for security throughout Afghanistan. After great sacrifice by our young men and women, as President Ghani noted, the International Security Assistance Force mission will come to a close two months from now and NATO will transition to a new, non-combat train, advise, and assist mission for Afghan Forces.

New leadership creates new opportunities for progress. The new government has moved quickly to begin tackling Afghanistan's economic and governance challenges. These steps show the unity government’s commitment to improve governance at every level, strengthen the justice system, and ensure human rights for all, especially for Afghan women and girls; to combat corruption; to eliminate terrorism; to unlock economic opportunity; and to improve ties with Afghanistan's neighbors.

As President Obama reiterated in a video conference with President Ghani and Dr. Abdullah last week, the people of Afghanistan will not stand alone in this pursuit. Transition does not mean – and has never meant – that partners and Allies are abandoning Afghanistan. Much to the contrary, this conference shows our collective solidarity with the Afghan people. The countries represented here – Afghanistan’s neighbors, regional partners, and friends from around the world – will play a critical role in the next phase of Afghanistan's history. The new government of national unity has responsibility for executing a common vision for Afghanistan’s future. But we have a responsibility to make every effort to support Afghanistan, and to help the Afghan people seize this opportunity to solidify the gains of the past thirteen years.

That sense of common purpose – our collective commitment to support Afghanistan – is important. It is why we welcome and support the efforts of the group of “Heart of Asia” nations represented at this conference. It is the very essence of the promise we made in Istanbul in 2011, and reaffirmed again in Kabul in 2012 and Almaty in 2013.

Promoting peace and reconciliation is key to achieving a positive and resilient outcome in Afghanistan. This is an ongoing process that is and must continue to be designed and led by Afghans.

I hope that all of the “Heart of Asia” and Istanbul Process nations will stand firmly alongside the Afghan government in supporting the reconciliation process. Collectively we must make clear that violence is in no one’s interest and must be rejected, and that what the Afghan people need is what President Ghani named in his remarks; the virtuous cycle of peace, prosperity, and stability. There can be no military path to victory for the Taliban. If they break ties with al-Qaida, renounce violence, and accept the Afghan constitutional framework, the Afghan Taliban can find a legitimate path to participation in Afghanistan’s political life and in the global economy.

This moment of transition is important to the United States as well. The decision by President Ghani and Chief Executive Officer Abdullah to sign the U.S.-Afghan Bilateral Security Agreement and the NATO-Afghanistan Status of Forces Agreement paves the way for a new phase in international support for Afghanistan. These agreements reflect the collective commitment of the United States and our allies to cement an enduring partnership that strengthens Afghanistan.

America’s partnership with Afghanistan is not about any other country. It is not about competition with other nations. For our part, America’s commitment to support Afghanistan is about ensuring that Afghanistan can never again be used as a safe haven from which terrorists can threaten international security. We know that the most effective way to advance this objective is to support Afghanistan's political unity and to invest in Afghanistan's growth and development.

Afghanistan lies at the center of a region that includes half of the world’s population. An increasingly stable Afghanistan that is at peace, where its children are in school and where the rights of women and girls are respected; that enjoys productive relations with its neighbors will be an effective counter-weight against extremism in the region. A stable Afghanistan will help to drive economic development in Central Asia while also anchoring the region's stability.

In conclusion, I want to express my thanks and appreciation to Foreign Minister Wang and the Chinese government. The U.S.-China relationship has a broad global agenda. One area where we share fundamental agreement is on Afghanistan. We welcome China’s engagement in Afghanistan, and look forward to finding ways to expand our work together to support Afghanistan’s peaceful development, facilitate the Afghan-led reconciliation process, and enhance the capabilities of the Afghan National Security Forces.

During his opening remarks with President Xi on Tuesday, President Ghani said that he hopes Afghanistan “would be a model for cooperation between China and the United States.” I think that sentiment is widely shared in Washington. I know it is a subject that President Obama looks forward to discussing with President Xi during his upcoming visit to Beijing.

This is an important moment in this region’s history. We look forward to continuing to work with all of you to ensure that Afghanistan and the Heart of Asia realize their shared aspiration for a stable, secure, peaceful, and prosperous future.