Remarks at the "Heart of Asia" Ministerial

William J. Burns
Deputy Secretary
Kabul, Afghanistan
June 14, 2012

Date: 06/14/2012 Description: Deputy Secretary Burns  at the ''Heart of Asia'' Kabul Ministerial, Afghanistan.  - State Dept Image

Thank you, President Karzai and Foreign Minister Rassoul, for welcoming us to Kabul. I want to thank you, Foreign Minister Rassoul, and Deputy Foreign Minister Ludin, for your efforts in making this first ministerial meeting of the Istanbul Process an important diplomatic milestone for Afghanistan and the region.

Because of the efforts of the countries gathered here today, the Istanbul Process has become a reality. For many years, countries in this region did not always work together to solve problems and address shared challenges. But today, through the Istanbul Process, and based upon a firm commitment to the principles of non-interference and good neighborly relations, you have taken a deliberate decision to put differences aside and work together for a better future for Afghanistan and the entire region.

Under the strong leadership of the Afghan government, and with the support of the United Nations, Turkey, and other partners, the “Heart of Asia” has a new framework to better coordinate among the countries of the region, with regional organizations and the international community.

It will be through deeper regional cooperation that Afghanistan can achieve increasing stability, security, and prosperity. And so, along with many of our allies and partners, the United States is here today to support the success of this process.

Parallel to the Istanbul Process, we are undertaking our own bilateral efforts to support regional stability. On May 2, President Obama and President Karzai signed the U.S.-Afghanistan Strategic Partnership Agreement, which provides a long-term framework for relations between our two nations through 2024. It makes clear that even as the U.S.-Afghanistan relationship evolves and normalizes over the course of the transition process, the United States will not abandon the Afghan people. Instead, we are deepening our cooperation on economic, security, and other issues, while building an enduring partnership to help strengthen Afghan sovereignty, stability, and prosperity.

Among its many benefits for Afghanistan and its neighbors, the Strategic Partnership Agreement includes a commitment to reinforce security and cooperation in the region. Under the strategic partnership, we agreed to contribute to regional cooperation on a range of threats, from narcotics trafficking and criminal networks to the common threat posed by international terrorists.

When ISAF nations and many of Afghanistan’s neighbors met in Chicago on May 21 for the NATO Summit, we achieved together a major success in contributing to the long-term security of Afghanistan and the entire region. Building on the mutual commitments made at the Bonn Conference of November 2011, the Government of Afghanistan and the international community agreed to invest in building a sufficient and sustainable Afghan National Security Force. I want to take this opportunity to express the United States’ particular gratitude and appreciation to Afghanistan’s neighbors and near-neighbors, who have committed to contribute to this joint effort. Investing in Afghanistan’s future security is indeed indispensable to further stability in the region.

This conference has prioritized seven of the Confidence Building Measures, or CBMs, devised in Istanbul. These particular CBMs are pragmatic and well-balanced, focusing on complex issues that will require a step-by-step approach over the long-term. We welcome the commitments many countries have made here today to turn aspirations into action. The United States is willing and prepared to participate in all seven CBMs, offering our support and assistance in a way that makes sense for the region and is welcomed by the “Heart of Asia” countries. If helpful, and if requested by the Istanbul Process participants, we are willing to explore programmatic or financial support to CBM efforts, through existing programs or through new channels – whatever is appropriate.

As we move toward the Tokyo Conference on Afghanistan in July, the United States looks forward to working with our Afghan and international partners to deliver on the second part of our mutual commitment towards the transformation decade: the civilian effort to build on the security and development gains achieved so far. We will support Afghanistan’s efforts to continue reforms, reduce donor dependency, and transition towards a private-investment driven, sustainable economy. It will require substantial effort from the Afghan government to achieve this vision, as it will require sustained levels of international assistance. And very importantly, it will require intensive support and engagement from the region.

Last July, Secretary Clinton spoke about a “New Silk Road vision,” with a secure, stable and prosperous Afghanistan at the heart of a secure, stable and prosperous region. By any name, this vision is one shared by everyone in this room: Central and South Asia reconnected along historical trade routes that have been largely cut off in the modern era due to war, mistrust, and enmity. In rebuilding these connections, using 21st-century technology, the region is beginning to unlock its great untapped potential.

It is no accident that out of the seven CBMs we are discussing today, three are focused on economic cooperation. Numerous bilateral or multilateral initiatives are underway that will increase trade and promote a shared prosperity for the people of this region. The United States will do its part through continuing trade and assistance programs and by supporting governments that make the necessary, but often tough, decisions to pursue open markets and greater cross-border trade.

Today, Afghanistan’s neighbors have renewed their commitment to a secure and stable Afghanistan. With today’s agreement, Afghanistan and its region have demonstrated their resolve to be successful together. The United States is committed to working with you, every step of the way.

Thank you.