Press Availability Following International Conference on Afghanistan

Press Availability
Hillary Rodham Clinton
Secretary of State
The Hague, Netherlands
March 31, 2009

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, good afternoon. This has been an important day because of the emphasis that the world community has placed on Afghanistan. And this conference has achieved everything we hoped it could. It has rallied and united the international community against al-Qaida, it has strengthened the United Nations, and it has increased our commitment to cooperate with every country represented here as we work to address our common challenge.

We have listened to leaders from around the world. We have heard them speak with a single voice. We all recognize the need to support the people of Afghanistan as they build up their security services, strengthen their economy and institutions, and work with their neighbors to build a safer region.

For the people of Afghanistan, I hope that this conference marks a new beginning. We are extremely grateful to the Dutch Government for organizing and hosting this event, and for the people of the Netherlands for their sacrifice and commitment to this mission. The United Nations has played a critical role today, as it does every day, and we support the United Nations in assuming even more responsibility going forward.

Over the course of the day, I’ve had a series of bilateral meetings that have opened up a number of opportunities that we will pursue. I met with President Karzai, who plays a critical role in providing leadership for his country. We discussed how we will work together to implement the recommendations of the strategic review that was recently completed at the direction of President Obama.

I met with Foreign Minister Qureshi of Pakistan and General Pasha and their delegation. As I said earlier, Pakistan’s fight against violent extremism is an integral part of the challenge that we all face in Afghanistan. The work we began here in The Hague will continue at the Pakistan donors meeting in Tokyo on April 17th.

I also met with Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in preparation for the meeting between our two presidents tomorrow in London. We are very pleased at the progress that we have made on a range of issues that will be discussed, including Afghanistan, between our presidents.

I also met with Foreign Minister Nakasone of Japan. Again, we discussed Afghanistan and the donors conference that Japan will host on April 17th for Pakistan. And we spent time, as you might guess, discussing our joint efforts to promote security on the Korean Peninsula.

We emerge from this conference even more committed to the common task of helping Afghanistan prevail against a ruthless enemy, and even more united in our efforts to address the broad agenda facing the international community.

So again, we thank the Dutch Government and people for their warm and gracious hospitality. This conference came together in just a little over three weeks, which is a real tribute to both the efficiency and the flexibility of the Government of the Netherlands.

So with that, I’d be happy to take your questions.

MR. WOOD: The first question will be from Anne Gearan of AP.

QUESTION: Yes, Madame Secretary, can you describe your interactions, if any, with the members of the Iranian delegation here, those of other U.S. officials, and whether you see any hope for cooperation in Afghanistan with the Iranians?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, let me start by saying that today was an important day for Afghanistan, and we did make a lot of progress toward our commitment to achieve success and security. And the fact that we had a broad attendance by the international community, including neighbors, was central to the success of this conference.

As I said coming into this, the United States, Iran, and all of the nations who were here today have mutual interests in a stable and secure Afghanistan. And the intervention by the Iranian representative set forth some very clear ideas that we will all be pursuing together.

In the course of the conference today, our Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan Richard Holbrooke had a brief and cordial exchange with the head of the Iranian delegation. It did not focus on anything substantive. It was cordial, it was unplanned, and they agreed to stay in touch.

Separately, at my direction, a letter was delivered to the Iranians focusing on three U.S. citizens currently unable to return to the United States from Iran: Robert Levinson, Roxana Saberi, and Esha Momeni. In the letter, we asked Iran to use all of its facilities to determine the whereabouts and ensure the quick and safe return of Robert Levinson. We also asked that Iran grant the release of Roxana Saberi and permission to travel for both Roxana Saberi and Esha Momeni. These acts would constitute a humanitarian gesture by the Islamic Republic of Iran in keeping with the spirit of renewal and generosity that marks the Persian New Year.

MR. WOOD: The next question will be Nicholas Kralev, Washington Times.

QUESTION: Thank you. Madame Secretary, can you tell us in your interactions in Ambassador Holbrooke’s meeting, was it clear to you how Iran can be helpful in drug trafficking and reconstructing Afghanistan while disagreeing fundamentally with President Obama’s new plan and the increase of American troops on the ground?

If you can also indulge me with a quick North Korea question, given that you just met with the foreign minister of Japan, do you – are you concerned about the fact that North Korea just said today that if Japan were to intercept the missile to be launched, that would be the beginning of a war?

Thank you.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, first let me underscore that I, myself, did not have any direct contact with the Iranian delegation. I described to you the two contacts, the one by Special Representative Ambassador Holbrooke and the other the delivery of the letter. But I did think that the Iranian intervention this morning was promising. The questions of border security and in particular the transit of narcotics across the border from Afghanistan to Iran is a worry that the Iranians have which we share, and we will look for ways to cooperate with them. And I think the fact that they came today, that they intervened today, is a promising sign that there will be future cooperation.

I think, too, on the response by North Korea regarding the Japanese right to defend itself, it is an unfortunate and continuing example of provocation by the North Koreans. We have said repeatedly that their missile launch violates UN Security Council Resolution 1718, and there will be consequences certainly in the United Nations Security Council if they proceed with the launch. But Japan has every right to protect and defend its territory from what is clearly a missile launch that could very well be aimed at their nation and cause some consternation among the Japanese Government and public.

MR. WOOD: The next question will be from Marijn Jongsma from Telegraaf.

QUESTION: Over here.

MR. WOOD: Right here.

QUESTION: Mrs. State Secretary, this morning you said that we should reach out to the moderates in the Taliban. But isn’t that the same as negotiating with terrorists, which clearly has not been a U.S. policy so far? Thank you.

SECRETARY CLINTON: No, it isn’t. I mean, what I said is the policy of the Government of Afghanistan and a recognition by a number of nations that the Taliban consists of a hard-core of committed extremists with whom there is not likely to be any chance of any kind of reconciliation or reintegration. But it is our best estimate that the vast majority of Taliban fighters and members are people who are not committed to a cause so much as acting out of desperation.

And therefore, an offer of not only reconciliation, but a chance for them to be reintegrated into Afghan society, to perhaps have employment, to get help with their property in terms of preparing it for agricultural production, we think that there are a number of people who are currently in the Taliban who would accept such an offer.

Now, it has to be proven that they are willing to walk away from the Taliban. We did see quite a bit of this in Iraq, where people who had taken up arms against the United States and against the coalition and against the elected Iraqi Government decided to walk away from their involvement in return for the position in society and a job that was offered to them. And I think that this is very likely the course that we can take with respect to members of the Taliban, too.

MR. WOOD: Okay, the last question will be from Amina Mayr from the Killid Group.

QUESTION: Okay. Sorry, we don’t not speak English, but (inaudible).

(Via interpreter) What’s the plan for the Afghan women in new strategy for their improvement? Because as we’ve seen the past, there were some – there were just some (inaudible) for the women in Afghan society. Is there new changes in the new strategy?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, there’s a continuing commitment to women and girls, to their well-being, to their education, their healthcare, to their full integration into society that I am very committed to, as is President Obama. So this is an area of absolute concern on the part of the United States. We’re looking for ways that can produce even more opportunities for women and girls in Afghanistan.

I’ve briefly met with some of the women parliamentarians who are here at the conference. And my message is very clear: Women’s rights are a central part of American foreign policy in the Obama Administration; they are not marginal; they are not an add-on or an afterthought.

I believe, as does President Obama, that the roles and rights of women in any society is a key indicator as to the stability and potential for peace, prosperity, and democracy of that society. So I would be committed to women’s roles and rights because of my lifelong concern about women. But as Secretary of State, I am equally committed because it’s absolutely the smart strategy for the United States and other nations to pursue.

You cannot expect a country to develop if half its population are underfed, undereducated, under cared for, oppressed, and left on the sidelines. And we believe strongly that that’s not in the interests of Afghanistan or any country, and it certainly is not part of our foreign policy or our strategic review. So we will continue to work very hard on behalf of women and girls in Afghanistan and around the world.

MR. WOOD: Okay, thank you very much, everyone.


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PRN: 2009/T5-3