Briefing on the Upcoming U.S.-Pakistan Strategic Dialogue
Deputy Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan
MR. TONER: Good afternoon. Welcome to the State Department. It’s our pleasure to have Frank Ruggiero with us this afternoon, deputy director in SRAP, who is going to walk us through the U.S.-Pakistani Strategic Dialogue that will be taking place beginning tomorrow, I guess, and continuing through Friday.
Without further ado, Frank.
MR. RUGGIERO: Thanks. Afternoon. I thought I’d just make a couple comments on what the Strategic Dialogue is between the United States and Pakistan and then talk a little bit about the floods in Pakistan, because one of those primary areas of discussion will be on the response to the floods that just occurred in Pakistan.
In terms of the Strategic Dialogue, this is actually the third Strategic Dialogue with the Government of Pakistan in 2010, which is really quite unprecedented in terms of bilateral engagement between the United States and a partner of its. The U.S.-Pakistan partnership is essential to advancing our strategic goals in the region in South Asia. The Strategic Dialogue is – actually provides us the mechanism to achieve our common goals and to build trust in the relationship. As you all know, we’re coming through a period of tension in the U.S.-Pakistan relationship, and the Strategic Dialogue provides a venue to really exchange views with the Pakistanis on a strategic level and to move beyond these tensions in the relationship.
As I said, this is the third iteration of the Strategic Dialogue this year. We view the Strategic Dialogue as a method, a mechanism to strengthen the bilateral relationship, focused really on the shared values, common objectives for, and mutual respect and trust between the two countries. The dialogue is actually led by Secretary Clinton and Foreign Minister Qureshi. They have personally invested a lot of their effort to redefine the bilateral relationship between the United States and the Government of Pakistan into a mature, sustained, long-term economic and political partnership. The United States supports Pakistan’s efforts, and we do this in this dialogue to strengthen democratic institutions, foster economic development, expand opportunity, and defeat extremist groups who threaten both nations’ common security.
The dialogue itself is broken down into 13 working groups, and those are really specific sector-focused groups between ministerial-level representations on both sides that discuss specific issues. The Secretary was there in July and announced a series of U.S. initiatives across these various sectors, so that’s agriculture, water, energy, and so on. This dialogue will be looking at the implementation of those pledges that the Secretary made in July.
And let me just say a few words about the floods and I’ll just open it up for some questions specifically related to the Strategic Dialogue. The floods – it’s really hard to overstate the impact of the floods. You have 1,800 Pakistanis who were – who died in the flooding in an area roughly the size of Italy as – at one point was underwater, 20 million people have been affected by the floods. This will have long-term economic and political – economic and infrastructure challenges for the Government of Pakistan. Responding to a crisis of this magnitude would be difficult for any government, so we are trying to work with the Pakistanis to help them address this significant natural disaster.
The United States has been the first and the foremost in providing assistance to the flood victims in Pakistan. At this point, we’ve provided $390 million in immediate relief and recovery efforts. The U.S. military has been actively engaged with 29 – I’m sorry, 26 helicopters engaged in rescue operations in Pakistan. Over 23,000 people have been rescued by U.S. military helicopters and they have delivered over 16 million pounds of refugee supplies.
We continue to work very closely with the Government of Pakistan and civil and military leadership on responding to the floods. This is really just another example, our reaction and response to the floods, of the strategic nature of the relationship with Pakistan. So from security issues, to long-term economic development that’s really exemplified by the Kerry-Lugar-Berman funding that – who has been going to Pakistan, to security assistance, to a range of efforts by the United States to engage the Pakistanis in a strategic relationship that allows us to achieve our common objectives in South Asia.
So I’ll leave my opening comments there and open it up for questions.
QUESTION: On the dialogue and specifically as it relates to the security front, what are the – what’s the bottom line here? What are the Pakistanis going to walk away with on Friday that they don’t have right now from the U.S.?
MR. RUGGIERO: When the Secretary of State was in – when they had the Strategic Dialogue in March, the Secretary spoke to the need for a multiyear planning process for Pakistani security assistance. There’s been a lot of work done between our Department of Defense and the government and the military in Pakistan over what a long-term military strategy – or, I’m sorry, a military procurement strategy might look like to achieve our common objectives. I think that discussion will lead into the next round of discussions here at the Strategic Dialogue, so this will be an issue for discussion between the two – the Secretary of State, obviously Secretary Gates will be there. But I really wouldn’t want to go into any more specifics at this point.
QUESTION: Well, I mean, do you expect some kind of a dollar amount or some kind of quantifiable – some kind of --
MR. RUGGIERO: That will be an issue for discussion, but I really wouldn’t want to go into specifics because we’re going to talk about that with the Pakistanis at the Strategic Dialogue, so we’d have more to say on that in the next couple days.
QUESTION: Okay. It’s already out there, though. That’s the problem, I guess. You are aware of that, right?
MR. RUGGIERO: I am aware that there’s newspaper articles on this topic, yes.
QUESTION: Are you saying that those stories are incorrect?
MR. RUGGIERO: I’m not saying that. I’m just saying that we – this will be a topic of discussion with the Pakistanis, and the Secretary of State will talk about these issues with her counterparts.
QUESTION: Are you talking about the NATO official who has said that al-Qaida leader and his deputy, Ayman Zawahiri, are living comfortably in homes in northwest Pakistan under the protection of locals and members of Pakistanis’ intelligence services? Will you discuss this issue? And what do you think about this story?
MR. RUGGIERO: You’re quoting – I’m not familiar with the story, sir. I really couldn’t comment on it. I’m not sure there was a story referred to.
QUESTION: Would the Strategic Dialogue include the squabble between the president of Pakistan and the judiciary supreme court justice?
MR. RUGGIERO: I think we’ll discuss a range of issues with the Pakistanis, but the Strategic Dialogue is mainly focused on U.S. assistance, U.S. partnership with Pakistan, and our shared strategic objectives. So those are the issues that will be primarily discussed.
QUESTION: Are you concerned that the president might be planning to dismiss the supreme court justice, as was alleged?
MR. RUGGIERO: As I said, I was going to talk about the Strategic Dialogue and what the Strategic Dialogue will focus on. And so we will focus on a range of issues related to U.S. common objectives with the Government of Pakistan.
QUESTION: Within the security framework, very often, the Pakistani Government is criticized by not doing enough to fight the Afghani Taliban, not the Pakistani one, and is very often seen as the test for them in terms of showing goodwill. Is this a focus in this current talk that you have with them, and whether there is any indication that they might move soon against the stronghold of the Afghan Taliban in North Waziristan area?
MR. RUGGIERO: Certainly, I think Pakistan has been a partner with the United States on counterterrorism operations in Pakistan against a range of extremist groups that operate from Pakistani territory, so from al-Qaida to – from al-Qaida to the Pakistani Taliban, to other groups that operate there. So we have raised concerns on the sanctuary issue of the Afghan Taliban being offered sanctuary, or having sanctuary across the border in Pakistan. We have raised this issue with the Government of Pakistan on many occasions. We will continue to do so.
QUESTION: Well, what’s the response – what’s your evaluation of the response of the Pakistani Government?
MR. RUGGIERO: Well, the Pakistanis, I think, over the past two years have taken some significant steps on going after organizations that are a threat to our common interests. So I think that they have provided good cooperation in the U.S. fight against al-Qaida in terms of weakening the leadership structure of that organization, against the Pakistani Taliban which was linked to terrorist attacks in New York City. So I think on the entities that are common security – a clear common security threat to the United States and Pakistan, they have taken significant steps. They have moved military forces into the FATA, into the North-West Frontier provinces. They have taken on various extremist groups. We would call for them to do the same thing in North Waziristan on organizations like the Haqqani network, and we’ll continue that discussion with them.
QUESTION: A follow-up on this. If this NATO official statement is accurate, how it will affect the Strategic Dialogue with Pakistan?
MR. RUGGIERO: The --
QUESTION: About bin Ladin and Zawahiri, who are living in –
MR. RUGGIERO: I think it’s no secret that part of the Strategic Dialogue is the counterterrorism cooperation between the United States and Pakistan. And so the discussion of al-Qaida’s leadership, I think, would be part of this discussion.
QUESTION: You mentioned the al-Qaida many times. What about the LeT? Six Americans were killed in Mumbai terror attacks. Are you going to raise the issue of the 300 the LeT has in any crackdown on them?
MR. RUGGIERO: Well, I think that’s a topic that we have addressed with the Government of Pakistan is the LET and LET’s activities in Pakistan, in Afghanistan, and where LeT is going as an organization. I’d refer specific questions, though, on the India aspects of LeT to my colleague.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) going back to --
QUESTION: Can I ask my question?
QUESTION: Oh, yeah, I didn’t know you --
QUESTION: Sorry. I’ve been waving at him all day.
MR. RUGGIERO: (Inaudible.) (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Yeah, I know. Sorry. Could you give us a sense of how the floods have affected the projects that Secretary Clinton announced in July, especially the energy ones? There are almost a dozen. Have they even gotten off the ground?
MR. RUGGIERO: I think we – our understanding is that some of the projects that were announced or were being worked on were wiped away by the floods. I’d have to get you the specifics on each of the projects.
QUESTION: Can I request that?
MR. RUGGIERO: Sure.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: Can I ask you about recent closure, temporary closure of one of the checkpoints near Khyber Pass? How did it affect your decision making and even of the general framework of how you ship stuff to ISAF in Afghanistan? Did you shift – are you going to shift in this situation to – are you going to focus more on the northern distribution network? Is it in the cards?
MR. RUGGIERO: When you said the Khyber Pass, did you mean Torkham Gate?
QUESTION: Yeah, yeah, the checkpoint.
MR. RUGGIERO: Yeah. There was an exchange of fire between – was a firing of an ISAF helicopter on – after it had strayed into Pakistani airspace. And this was on September 30th and there were two Pakistani Frontier Corps scouts that were killed. Ambassador Patterson issued an apology for that attack. General Petraeus, the ISAF commander, extended his condolences to the Government of Pakistan.
There’s been a joint assessment, joint investigation on the way – on how to proceed and how this – to make sure this doesn’t happen again in terms of delineating the border and U.S. military – ISAF military operations. I think that the Torkham Gate has reopened now, so coalition supplies that go through Karachi, through Pakistan, into either Torkham Gate or down Spin Boldak have continued now, and I think that the actual impact of that 10-day closure was pretty minimal. But we are in discussions with the northern supply network as well, so I think our military planners look at various contingencies on how to keep the Afghan theater adequately supplied.
QUESTION: Could you give us the figures – percentage of how many things you send via southern distribution network and how much stuff you send via northern distribution network? Do you have figures like that?
MR. RUGGIERO: I really – I would be hazarding a guess that the military would really be better positioned to answer that question, or ISAF.
MR. TONER: Time for a couple more questions.
QUESTION: There have been reports that Pakistan will seek the same kind of nuclear energy cooperation deal that India has with the U.S. Is there any room for a U.S.-Pakistani nuclear cooperation on energy?
MR. RUGGIERO: We’re not in any discussions with the Pakistanis on civil nuclear cooperation.
QUESTION: Could I get one more?
MR. RUGGIERO: Sure.
QUESTION: You said the talks are being headed by Secretary Clinton and Foreign Minister Qureshi. What is General Kayani’s role in these talks?
MR. RUGGIERO: On the U.S. side, you will have Secretary Clinton, Secretary Gates. The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mullen will also be there. So their counterparts from the Pakistani Government participate. So Strategic Dialogue implies that this is across the U.S. interagency, so Secretary Gates’s counterpart, the defense secretary, will be there; Admiral Mullen’s counterpart, General Kayani, will be there.
QUESTION: I have a semi-logistical question. You said – when the Secretary was there in March, you said she talked about multiyear planning and long-term military procurement strategy. How would that be different than what exists now?
MR. RUGGIERO: Pakistan had a multiyear security assistance package, I believe from 2005 through fiscal year 2010, and I think that what is being talked about would be a continuation of that process. I think there was a break of one or two years.
QUESTION: Fiscal 2010 – just ended, right?
MR. RUGGIERO: Right.
QUESTION: And then the last thing on this. Because Pakistan is a major non-NATO ally, isn’t it already eligible for certain, I guess, for lack of a better word, perks? IMET training, they’re able to purchase used –
MR. RUGGIERO: Yeah, there are a series of entitlements, for lack of a better word, perks, when you get major non-NATO ally status on – underneath Title 10 for DOD and – I’m sorry, underneath the State Department authorities and underneath Department of Defense authorities. I don’t think those are necessarily related to the discussion of multiyear security assistance. Security assistance is a Secretary of State authority to provide Foreign Military Financing.
QUESTION: Right. But if you’re looking at FMF and IMET, that’s not related to non --
MR. RUGGIERO: No, that’s not related to --
QUESTION: So is there anything that the Pakistanis can look forward to from major non-NATO ally status out of this Strategic Dialogue, or is it completely separate?
MR. RUGGIERO: They’re separate issues.
QUESTION: Are you satisfied from the Pakistani cooperation with the United States regarding fighting terrorism?
MR. RUGGIERO: I think we’ve made good progress with the Government of Pakistan. I think this Administration came into office and had sought enhanced cooperation with the Government of Pakistan on a range of extremist groups operating from its territory. I think the Government of Pakistan has responded, certainly in the area of cooperation on al-Qaida and on the Pakistani Taliban, so the TTP. I think we continue to encourage the Government of Pakistan to take additional steps to close down the sanctuaries across the border from Afghanistan.
MR. RUGGIERO: Appreciate it.