Interview With TOLO TV

James F. Dobbins
Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan 
Washington, DC
November 22, 2013

QUESTION: Mr. Ambassador, thank you for your time.

The first question is of course about what President Karzai said yesterday that a BSA would be signed despite the Jirga’s approval after the election. So the question for the U.S. is, is that practical and how would it affect -- Whether it’s acceptable for the U.S. government?

AMBASSADOR DOBBINS: I think we feel strongly that the agreement ought to be signed as soon as it’s been approved by the Jirga and then it ought to be sent to the Parliament and then approved, and that this ought to occur sometime in the next few weeks.

I think the reason is pretty clear. The Afghan people are anxious about whether the United States and the international community remain committed to their security and well-being, and frankly, the American people and the international community are uncertain about whether the Afghan people really want us. So I think we need to relieve that anxiety on the part of the Afghan people about our commitment and we need to relieve that uncertainty on the part of the American people about the Afghan people’s desire to have us continue to help them.

QUESTION: Is signing the agreement after the elections an option for the U.S. government?

AMBASSADOR DOBBINS: I think that would be most unfortunate. I think it would prolong the period of anxiety within Afghanistan. It would probably intensify that anxiety as Afghanistan moves into elections. And I think that would be very unhealthy.

I think it would also make much more difficult the American effort to build a broad international coalition.

We don’t intend to stay in Afghanistan alone. We want to stay with a number of other countries that are equally committed to Afghanistan’s security and Afghanistan’s prosperity, and we need time to build that coalition and to ensure that other countries also make commitments.

QUESTION: Mr. Ambassador, you didn’t say that whether it is possible or not or whether it’s an option, you said it’s difficult. So I want to --

AMBASSADOR DOBBINS: I said it would be most unfortunate and we hope that the Afghan government, the Loya Jirga, the Parliament and the President all decide to go ahead and conclude this agreement as soon as possible.

QUESTION: Is it necessary to have President Karzai’s own signature on the document or any one at the Afghan government can make signature on it?

AMBASSADOR DOBBINS: I think that’s really a question for the Afghan constitution. There’s a signature that would normally be required once the Loya Jirga has made its decisions and provided its recommendations. Following that, the signature, it would go to the Parliament. Once the Parliament had ratified it, there would be a final signature before it entered into force. We hope all of that can be concluded over the next several weeks. It’s really a question for Afghan constitutional lawyers as to whose signature is specifically required.

QUESTION: Who would be the signatory from the U.S. government?

AMBASSADOR DOBBINS: I think that would partly depend on who the signatory was on the Afghan side. I think we’re flexible on that.

QUESTION: If there is no final BSA in the next 40 days until the end of the year, can you exactly explain why it is difficult for the U.S. government and for NATO and other allies to prepare for a post-’14 presence?

AMBASSADOR DOBBINS: As I said, I think it prolongs a period of uncertainty on the part of the American people about whether or not we’re wanted. It prolongs a period of anxiety for the Afghan people about whether the international community is going to remain committed. During that period I think there’s a possibility that the commitment on the part of the international community may wane because of that uncertainty, and I think that that anxiety on the part of the Afghan people would be unhealthy and undesirable as Afghanistan heads into a vitally important election campaign.

QUESTION: The Loya Jirga today made some suggestions to be amended in the document. That means there is a possibility for going back to the negotiations with the U.S. government over those suggestions. Is that something you talked about, or on the agenda?

AMBASSADOR DOBBINS: As I understand it, the Loya Jirga still hasn’t come to any conclusions, and any suggestions that are made in the debate will be debated further over the next couple of days and then we’ll deal with that situation as it arrives.

The agreement is a carefully balanced one. It’s been negotiated over a year. It was a difficult, sometimes difficult negotiation. We don’t believe that it would be useful for any serious issues to be reopened. I think we think that would simply complicate the process without advancing the interests of Afghanistan. So we’re hopeful that the Loya Jirga will endorse the agreement as it stands.

QUESTION: President Obama has not yet announced the post-2014 troop level in Afghanistan. Is that something we should expect after the document is signed? Soon after the document is signed?

AMBASSADOR DOBBINS: Yes. I think we will turn to that issue as soon as the Bilateral Security Agreement is concluded and signed, we will turn to that issue and I expect we would have a decision within a few weeks thereafter.

QUESTION: Finally, are we still thinking that a zero option is still on the table if there is no BSA? Or you’re confident that the Loya Jirga will pass the BSA and President Karzai will sign it? Or do you think that there is still the option of the reverse available?

AMBASSADOR DOBBINS: The zero option is not an option for us. It’s an option obviously for Afghanistan. If Afghanistan doesn’t want an international troop presence, Afghanistan has only to say so. If the Loya Jirga or the Afghan government decide they don’t want to conclude a Bilateral Security Agreement, they are in effect deciding that they want the United States and its partners not to stay. Of course we’ll accept and abide by that. But it’s not an option for us. It’s not something we’re planning on. It’s not something that we desire. On the contrary, we want to have this agreement concluded within the next few weeks. We want to announce shortly thereafter the nature of the American commitment and the level of forces that we would intend to have in 2015. And we want our partners, there are nearly 40 countries that have been prepared to commit to this mission in the past. We want them to begin addressing what they’re prepared to do in 2015. So it’s not --

QUESTION: A very short clarification. Were you surprised when Karzai said that he would sign, the document would be signed after the elections?

AMBASSADOR DOBBINS: I think everybody was surprised by that.

QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. Ambassador.