Press Conference at U.S. Embassy Kabul
SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you all very much for being here. I want to start by thanking Ambassador Eikenberry and General McChrystal and all of the dedicated men and women of the U.S. and NATO ISAF missions here in Afghanistan. The work that Ambassador Eikenberry and General McChrystal are doing together, both their personal collaboration and the joint efforts of their teams, is a model for civilian-military cooperation and a source of confidence that we will make progress toward our objectives.
I also want to thank Ambassador Holbrooke and his team in Washington, who have provided vision and leadership to our efforts in this region.
This is an important moment. Today’s inauguration opens a real window of opportunity for a new compact between the Afghan Government and its people, and for a new chapter in the partnership between Afghanistan and the international community. And we must seize this moment. For the United States and Afghanistan, this means a renewed partnership based on mutual responsibility, where we each do our part to deliver for the Afghan people and to advance our common fight against our common enemy.
President Karzai’s inaugural address provides an important new starting point, and we intend to build on it. The speech laid out Afghanistan’s commitment to take responsibility for the security of its own country by speeding efforts to stand up a capable and effective Afghan national security force that can replace international forces over time. The United States shares this same objective, and we welcome this strong commitment.
Of course, our civilian effort will remain long after our security effort has concluded, and it will be just as decisive to Afghanistan’s future and our interests. So I was pleased that the inaugural speech also outlined the steps the Afghan Government will take to improve its efforts to deliver for its citizens, to bring them basic services, access to justice, and the educational and economic opportunities they deserve.
It’s an effort that will require steady progress on government capacity, transparency, and accountability. It will also require us to pursue a broader and deeper partnership with capable Afghan ministries responsible for carrying out their own programs. Last night, I met with the education and agriculture and finance ministers, and received detailed briefings on past progress and future plans.
Through their work and our support, we are starting to see results. Farmers are beginning to switch from poppies to pomegranates, girls are attending schools – many taught by newly trained teachers, families are visiting new health clinics and driving on freshly paved roads. Thousands of new civil servants, trained through a partnership with USAID, are helping build democratic institutions from the ground up.
Moving forward as we work with President Karzai and his government in Kabul and leaders at the local, district, and provincial levels, we will keep in mind that our most critical partnership is with the people of Afghanistan. We will use clear benchmarks and measures to ensure that our efforts are delivering results for them. We will also coordinate with our international partners to ensure we are engaged in a common and effective effort in service of their needs as well as our common interests. I had a series of extremely productive discussions with my counterparts here, with the foreign ministers from troop-contributing countries, donor countries, and those who have a stake in the future of Afghanistan.
Now, as we call for accountability from others, we will hold ourselves accountable as well. That’s why we are working to ensure that development funds are tracked, accounted for, and used as intended; that our detention facilities and procedures are consistent with our security and our values; that we do everything we can to minimize civilian casualties.
I am here in Afghanistan and so many brave Americans are serving here because we believe that we can make progress. Now, we are under no illusions about the difficulty of this mission. The road ahead is fraught with challenges and imperfect choices. Setbacks are inevitable, and we have to be realistic about what we can accomplish. But we are also clear-eyed about the stakes. For the Afghan people, it is about a better future. For the United States, it is about protecting our people, our allies, and our interests. That is why we are working so hard to renew this partnership and why it is so vital that we seize this moment, this crucial window of opportunity.
Again, I want to thank everyone serving here and really express, on behalf of not only President Obama and the Obama Administration but our country as well, our gratitude for the service of the men and women who serve the United States of America. Thank you all very much.
MODERATOR: The first question is going to be (inaudible) TV.
QUESTION: (Via interpreter) First of all, let me thank you and – for coming here to Afghanistan and the inauguration ceremony. My first question is that whether President Karzai has not bring any reforms in his new cabinet, and the second is that if there is a six-month deadline as you’ve given to President Karzai to bring reforms? And the third is that – the question of whether the U.S. – Mr. Ambassador Eikenberry has said that more forces should not be sent to Afghanistan, in contrast to the request that was made by General McChrystal.
So in those cases, the first few cases, whether the United States will leave Afghanistan or will work with the new government if President Karzai does not make any changes or if that deadline is not achieved in six months time?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, first, I thought that the inaugural speech that President Karzai gave today set forth an agenda for change and reform. He was particularly strong on the steps that he intends to take regarding corruption, the idea that government officials will have to register their assets so that any money or other influence can be more easily tracked is a very bold proposal.
So we are heartened by what we see as the agenda for change and reform that was outlined by President Karzai. We think that the issue now is to ensure that it is implemented, that we see results. I had a number of conversations with President Karzai, and I know that he has every intention of moving on these reform measures to stand against corruption and to make the Government of Afghanistan even more effective.
Also, I think what you have seen in the debate in the United States is a very serious effort to try to analyze all the different aspects of the decision that has to be made. And I’m very proud that we have a country and we have a President who really encourages people to express themselves, so that we don’t leave any questions. We try to answer all the questions. And I think when President Obama makes his announcement, he will be very well prepared to express the significance of his decision because he will have asked, and asked many others to contribute to the debate.
I want to make something very clear: Our relationship with Afghanistan is not exclusively military. Obviously, we have troops here along with our allies to try to assist the people of Afghanistan in defeating the terrorist threat. But we also are committed to a long-term relationship with Afghanistan to assist the people of this country in having a better future, having the education and healthcare opportunities, ensuring that the farmers can be productive and have a good income going forward, helping with infrastructure that will enhance the economy of Afghanistan.
So we see our relationship as very broad and deep, and our approach now is to focus on security so that the people of Afghanistan can feel that they are free from intimidation and threats from our common enemy, but it is much more than that as well.
MODERATOR: The next question is Chris Lawrence of CNN.
QUESTION: Madame Secretary, Iran now says that it will not export its uranium for further processing, and its courts have now decided to give the death sentence to two – or five, I should say – of its election protestors. How do these two developments affect your efforts to engage Iran in the process?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I think it’s clear that the President and our Administration have made a good-faith effort to reach out to the Iranian leadership. The effort to engage Iran through the P-5+1 process with the offer (inaudible) to Iran, or to ship out its low-enriched uranium in order for it to be reprocessed outside of Iran, had the unified support of the international community. And according to press reports, Iran may well be prepared to reject that offer at the IAEA Board of Governors meeting next week.
And it is important to remember that our approach to Iran was always a dual-track one. On the one hand, we said we would reach out to see whether or not there could be any common discussions about their nuclear program, other problems that we and many countries in the region have with Iran. But we also said that there was a second track, and that track was to work toward consequences for Iran if engagement did not work. As recently as the United Nations meeting in New York in September, I joined with the foreign ministers of the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Russia, China, as well as the EU in signing a document which said basically that. So we will proceed accordingly.
But I do think it is a very unfortunate, distressing development to see these sentences handed down in Iran, imposing the death penalty on people who participated in expressing their opposition to the government in demonstrating in the streets, and it underscores the approach that this government in Iran takes for their own people. So we will proceed on our international track and we will continue to stand up for the rights of the people of Iran to speak for themselves, to have their votes counted, to be given the opportunity to have the measure of freedom and rights that any person deserves to have.
MODERATOR: Okay. The next question is BBC (inaudible).
QUESTION: (Via interpreter) My question, please, Secretary Clinton, is that today in the inauguration ceremony, we saw the two warlords standing on each side of President Karzai. So if people like this remain in the future government, what will be the reaction of the United States Government in the future?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, we understand the concerns that have been expressed about this. We have certainly conveyed those concerns ourselves. What we are looking for in the second term of President Karzai is an effective government that respects the rights of the people of Afghanistan, delivers services to them, responds in a transparent and accountable way to the concerns of the people. Anyone who’s in the government should agree with that kind approach that President Karzai outlined today.
And we expect that the government he is putting together will abide by the directions that his inaugural speech set. And we want to work with a government that is ready to meet the needs of the people of this country, and that is our priority and that’s what we’re going to expect from the government.
MODERATOR: Final question is to Nick Kralev of Washington Times.
QUESTION: Madame Secretary, I wanted to ask you about two issues that the president mentioned in his speech. And the first was his goal that in five years Afghan troops will take responsibility for the security of the entire country and the foreign troops out. Is that goal too ambitious? Do you think it’s doable? And what’s the link between that goal and to what might happen to the American troops?
And the second question on corruption. He wasn’t very specific in what he said. He was very general and vague. In your private meetings with him and his ministers, were they any more specific about the measures they have in mind to prove to you that they have really resolved to fight corruption?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, as to the first question, I was personally pleased to see the president set an ambitious goal for the training of the Afghan national security forces. It is a goal that he believes can be met. We want to assist him and the military and police leadership in Afghanistan to move as quickly as they can to stand up and deploy a professional, motivated, effective force on behalf of the people of this country.
And I think that both the analysis that General McChrystal has made and the analysis that’s been made within the Afghan Government is that we can do more, we can provide greater support to assist them in doing that. And we intend to follow through. It is clearly one of the highest priorities, both for the government and people of Afghanistan, as well, as for our NATO ISAF leadership here, because the goal is to create conditions of security that will be able to be transferred and maintained by the Afghan security forces. And we are – we’re going to work with the president to try to move toward the goal that he set.
Secondly, I had a somewhat different reaction. I’ve sat through a lot of inaugural speeches, and they often don’t get down to specifics at all. As I recall, the president talked about the registration of assets, which is a very tangible demand that will be placed on government officials, the major crimes tribunal, the end of a culture of impunity. I thought that the commitment that we heard today from President Karzai gives us all a very strong base on which to measure the actions taken by his government. He could have been very vague and talked about how we’re all against it and we all want to end it, but he got much more specific. And we’re going to – along with the people of Afghanistan – watch very carefully as to how that’s implemented.
So thank you all very much. It’s been wonderful being back here, and I really appreciate the chance to participate in this historic day here in Afghanistan. Thank you.