Gaggle with Traveling Press

Hillary Rodham Clinton
Secretary of State
Embassy Kabul
Kabul, Afghanistan
July 20, 2010

QUESTION: (Inaudible) concerns of women, and what do you really think you would be able to do once the reconciliation is (inaudible)?


SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I think there are a lot of things we can do, and it is in keeping with what we’ve been doing. The United States supports most of the NGOs that are supporting women’s activities and rights, some of whom were represented in the room this morning. We are actually increasing our support to assistance that helps women, that empowers women. I have consistently raised with all levels of the Afghan Government, with everyone else from the EU to ISAF and the UN, the absolute necessity of our standing firmly together in our demands that women not be marginalized in the process of reintegration and reconciliation. I have pushed hard for women to have, literally, seats at the table in the loya jirga and the London conference and the Kabul conference, et cetera.


And I think we just have to continue to make that case. And I’m even thinking maybe we should be looking for ways we can make a stronger public education case, because in listening to the women this morning, I asked them if they thought mindsets had changed, and several of them said that they had, that there had been people who said, well, it was a mistake not to let our girls go to school during those five years, or it was a mistake to take our women teachers out of the classroom. And one woman said that one of – some man had said to her that the way he convinces people to be in favor of women is to say, “If your wife has to go to the hospital, do you want her treated by a male doctor or a female doctor? And if you want a female doctor, then we have to have female doctors.” So there’s a discussion going on in the society, and I want to really encourage that.


And then finally, the parliamentary elections in September hold out a lot of promise. How many women have signed up, Karl?


AMBASSADOR EIKENBERRY: About 330, a significant increase over 2005.


QUESTION: Yeah, 20 percent more.


SECRETARY CLINTON: Yeah. A lot of women are running for office and a certain number of women’s seats are guaranteed. So we’re pushing every way we know to, because we feel so strongly about it.


QUESTION: But, Madam Secretary, if there is a political solution that would come at the expense of women but allow foreign troops to cede an end in sight for their presence here, don’t you think you would take that political solution?


SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, Kim, I don’t think there is such a political solution that does – I don’t think there is such a political solution that would be a lasting, sustainable one that would turn the clock back on women. That is a recipe for a return to the kind of Afghanistan, if not in the entire country, in significant parts of the country, that would once again be a breeding ground for terrorism. So we’ve got our red lines and they are very clear: Any reconciliation process that the United States supports, recognizing that this is an Afghan-led process, must require that anyone who wishes to rejoin society and the political system must lay down their weapons and end violence, renounce al-Qaida, and be committed to the constitution and laws of Afghanistan, which guarantee the rights of women.


QUESTION: Madam Secretary, a couple of questions on Iran.




QUESTION: Did the U.S. have any back-channel or direct contact with Iran during this conference? Have you done anything to reassure them about the presence of U.S. troops on their eastern border? And what do you see their role in Afghanistan as?


SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, Iran was here today for the simple and unavoidable fact that they are a neighbor with longstanding historical, cultural, even religious connections inside Iran. And the very first conference I went to about Iran back in the Hague --


QUESTION: About Afghanistan.


SECRETARY CLINTON: About Afghanistan. Yeah, that I went to about – thank you, Matt – that I went to about Afghanistan was in the Hague, and Iran was there. So we were fully expecting Iran to be present here. It was at a higher level at this conference because the foreign minister came. There were many messages that people were conveying back and forth about what they thought was going on, but the bottom line is that we certainly believe that it’s important for all of Afghanistan’s neighbors to play a constructive role in the future of Afghanistan. And we’ve certainly had conversations about that with Pakistan and with Afghanistan’s northern neighbors, and I know that a number of other countries were meeting with and talking to Iran today.


QUESTION: Can I follow up? Yeah, but a couple years ago, after 9/11, the U.S. and Iran were able to kind of talk --




QUESTION: -- sit down, have conversations about Afghanistan. And that was seen as a way to kind of break the ice. Do you think that there’s enough common interest on Afghanistan that perhaps you and Iran could talk, and maybe that could kind of break the ice to begin the kind of engagement that you originally talked about and talk about other things?


SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, you’re right; that did happen right after 9/11. I think that we have to wait and see what Iran is willing to do. We’re in a post-sanctions environment and I’m not sure yet what will come from Iran’s attendance at this conference, but we’ll wait and see.


QUESTION: Would you be willing to send Ambassador Eikenberry, for instance, to talk to the Afghan –


SECRETARY CLINTON: We’re not going to --


QUESTION: -- the Iranian ambassador to Afghanistan?


SECRETARY CLINTON: I’m not speculating. We’ll just have to see whether anything develops in the future.


QUESTION: There was no handshake (inaudible)?


SECRETARY CLINTON: No, unfortunately no handshake. No.


QUESTION: (Inaudible) discuss art?


SECRETARY CLINTON: No, no discussion of art.


QUESTION: (Inaudible) what the foreign minister had to say?


SECRETARY CLINTON: I did not. I missed it. So I’m sure you can give me a readout.


QUESTION: Was it characterized for you?




QUESTION: Basically, he accused the U.S. of using Afghanistan and Pakistan as a staging ground for terrorist attacks inside Iran.


SECRETARY CLINTON: Really? I missed that.


QUESTION: Madam Secretary, can I ask about that 2014 target date? It’s been endorsed now.




QUESTION: How do you read that? How achievable is it and what should Americans read into that regarding the American timeline in Afghanistan?


SECRETARY CLINTON: That’s not the first time that a date has been put on President Karzai’s aspiration to have control over his own country through the Afghan National Army and Police. I think at his inauguration, he said in five years, if I’m not mistaken, so that would be 2015.


QUESTION: (Inaudible) 2014. He said in 2009 (inaudible).


SECRETARY CLINTON: Yeah, so 2014. So he’s been consistent. And others have also said, look, we need to be working toward a time when the – excuse me, Richard, I’m trying to talk, thank you very much – (laughter) – one person at a time here. And he’s been very consistent in saying that he wants to see as effective a move toward Afghan control as possible. And so do we. I mean, that’s what we’re working toward. So we have increased dramatically our training effort for both the army and the police. We have made it clear to President Karzai, as I said today, that in July 2011 we’re going to start looking on a conditions-based appraisal as to whether we can responsibly transition to Afghan control in certain parts of the country. So this is all very much in line with what we’ve been saying for at least as long as I’ve been Secretary of State.


QUESTION: Does that mean that the transition, the beginning of the transition, which people had once hoped to begin toward the end of this year, has now slipped into July of next year?


SECRETARY CLINTON: No, in fact, Matt, in my statement I said that the transition process may be able to begin by the end of this year. And remember, it’s not just a military transition; it’s also a civilian transition. And one of the benefits of this particular conference is that the Afghan Government presented a comprehensive plan, the likes of which we haven’t seen before. It was much more detailed and specific with accountability built into it. The UN, under Staffan de Mistura, is pushing very hard on benchmarks and milestones and agreed-upon accountability measures that the international community will accept.


So there – I know it’s – I mean, some of you have been covering what’s going on, what’s been going on in Afghanistan, since 2001. Certainly, the ambassador was here as a military commander. I was here several times as a senator. But I have to just tell you, it was not until the Obama Administration came in that we had a strategy for Afghanistan. The prior administration had received requests for additional troops which they had not acted on. President Obama inherited troop requests. The Government of Afghanistan was in a holding pattern. There wasn’t the kind of partnership that was demanding results and expecting to see changes made that we now have put into place.


So I really think of what we’re doing as an 18-month strategy that I think has the pieces in place. We have what Ambassador Holbrooke’s team has done and the regional approach looking at Afghanistan and Pakistan together, which was not done prior to this Administration.


So I understand the frustration. I feel it myself, especially every time we lose somebody or some young man or woman serving in the uniform of our country gets blown up and loses legs and arms and so many other grievous injuries. Yet at the same time, I think today was a real turning point. I had so many foreign ministers come up to me and tell me that they feel so much better based on what happened today. There were, if you looked around, many more representatives from Muslim-majority countries, from Arab countries. There is a coalition that is very committed to trying to make the Afghan Government successful, and I think that we’re seeing progress.


STAFF: We’ve got to get to Korea, guys.


QUESTION: Yeah, could we have one question about Korea, actually, just before we go? What are you expecting to achieve in South Korea? Why the visit to the Demilitarized Zone? And is there any talk of further sanctions on North Korea?


SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, we are – Bob Gates and I were planning to go to Korea for quite some time before the Cheonon because we needed to have what’s called a 2+2, where the defense and foreign ministers meet, and because it’s the 60th anniversary of the start of the Korean War, where we lost more than 55,000 Americans. So we had always planned to do this.


Now, following the attack on the Cheonon, I think it’s particularly timely to show our strong support for South Korea, a stalwart ally, and to send a very clear message to North Korea: Now look, we’ve offered a different path ever since the beginning of this Administration; you know what the price of admission is – denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. But I think that tomorrow is a real show of solidarity.


And on that point on South Korea, we did – we fought a war for South Korea, lost 55,000-plus Americans. We saw South Korea struggle to become a functioning democracy, huge amounts of instability, coups, corruption, scandal – you name it. And now we see a country that is among the G-20, one of our strongest allies, a real anchor in Northeast Asia.


And I think it’s good to remind ourselves that the United States has stood with countries that went through a lot of ups and downs for a lot longer than eight years, and it is important to recognize what’s at stake here in Afghanistan. This is a country that we left before, much to our dismay, and we can’t do it again. And I think that the Karzai government has some very well-thought-out plans, some very competent people who put this together for the government. And we’re going to do everything we can to support the implementation.


Thank you.

PRN: 2010/T32-7