Remarks With Foreign Minister of Afghanistan Zalmai Rassoul After Their Meeting

Hillary Rodham Clinton
Secretary of State
Treaty Room
Washington, DC
March 21, 2012


Good morning, everyone. I am very pleased to welcome back to the State Department Foreign Minister Rassoul. He and I have worked closely together for several years. We have developed a very constructive, productive relationship, which I greatly appreciate.

Before I discuss the serious and important business that the minister and I are doing together, I want to commend the United Nations Security Council for its strong statement on Syria this morning in support of the six-point plan put forward by the UN and Arab League Joint Special Envoy Kofi Annan. This is a positive step. The Council has now spoken with one voice. It has demanded a UN-supervised cessation of violence in all its forms, beginning with a pullback from population centers by the Syrian Government forces, humanitarian access to all areas in need, and the beginning of a Syrian-led political process to address the legitimate aspirations of all the Syrian people that will lead to a democratic transition.

We call on all Syrians who love their country and respect its history and understand the tremendous potential that working together provides for the kind of peaceful and prosperous future in freedom and democracy that Syrians deserve to call for and work for the immediate implementation of the Annan plan. And to President Assad and his regime, we say, along with the international community: Take this path, commit to it, or face increasing pressure and isolation.

And now with respect to Afghanistan, I know this has been a difficult period. And as I have publicly stated, as President Obama has also, we deeply regretted the unfortunate incidents regarding the Qu’ran and the recent killings of innocent Afghan men, women, and children. This has been very personally painful to me and to the President. It does not represent who the United States is, who the American people are, and we appreciate the understanding and response of the Afghan Government and the Afghan people.

Foreign Minister Rassoul has come to Washington today to participate in the 10th Anniversary Celebration of the U.S.-Afghan Women’s Council. I will be joining Laura Bush and others for this anniversary commemoration, and I want to thank the minister for being with us.

In the past decade, the women of Afghanistan have made strong progress by many measures. Life expectancy has increased dramatically. Fewer women are dying in childbirth. More children are surviving. The numbers of girls in school and women in universities has increased significantly. Maternal, infant, and under-five mortality for children have dropped. And on the political front, the 2004 constitution enshrines equal rights for all Afghan women, who are serving in the government, in the parliament, important positions in business, academia, and so much else. And as I will emphasize at the anniversary celebration, our goal must be to secure and build upon this progress, not only for the women of Afghanistan but for the men and children, who represent the future.

We’ve entered a critical period of transition. There is no question we have a lot of work to do. But over the past decade, our two countries have built a relationship that is both tough and resilient. We cooperate every single day in so many ways to work toward a future of security, peace, and prosperity for the people of Afghanistan.

These fundamentals are what guides us. We’ve invested a great deal in the relationship, and the United States is committed to a strong, stable, secure Afghanistan and committed to working through together the very difficult issues we face together in a way that reinforces Afghan sovereignty. We’re working toward turning over full responsibility for security nationwide to Afghan forces by the end of 2014, in accordance with the commitment we made, along with our allies and partners, at the Lisbon summit. As the Afghans take the lead on security, we will be moving into a supporting role, and we will be discussing this in more detail at the upcoming NATO summit in Chicago and then at follow-on meetings in Kabul and in Tokyo.

At the same time, we are committed to supporting Afghan reconciliation. Our only goal is to open the door for Afghans to sit down with other Afghans and to work out the future for their country. Our position has been consistent; we have been clear about the necessary outcomes. Any negotiation must require the Taliban to break ties with al-Qaida, to renounce violence, and to abide by Afghanistan’s constitution, including the protections of women’s and minority rights. We’ve also made clear that the steps the Taliban must now take to advance the process. They must make unambiguous statements distancing themselves from international terrorism and committing to a process that includes all Afghans.

So the Taliban have their own choice to make, but let there be no doubt that the United States is prepared to work with all Afghans who are committed to an inclusive reconciliation process that leads toward lasting security. And we will continue to support economic and educational opportunities so all the Afghan people have the chance to build better futures for themselves and their nation. And of course, we will continue to defend the rights of Afghan women.

We are committed to a long-term, productive, and mutually beneficial partnership with the government and people of Afghanistan. And again, I thank my colleague and friend, the foreign minister, for the many contributions he has made and is making to the future of your country.

FOREIGN MINISTER RASSOUL: Thank you very much, Honorable Madam Clinton, for those kind words, and thank you for the warm welcome and generous hospitality that you have extended to myself and my delegation during this important visit. It’s always a pleasure to be in D.C., especially during this year, cherry blossom season.

And it’s an honor also to be here with you, Honorable Madam Secretary, to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the U.S.-Afghan Women’s Council. Thank you for inviting me to participate in this important event. Let me just underline once again that our commitment to the right of the Afghan women is solid and will continue in accordance with our constitution and Afghanistan international obligations.

Thank you also for being outstanding friend of Afghanistan. As Madam Secretary pointed out, we spoke about a number of important topics. And as you mentioned, we spoke about the recent tragic event in Afghanistan of the – from the burning of the Holy Qu’ran to the killing of Afghan civilian in Kandahar. We appreciate very much the statement that President Obama and you, Madam Secretary, and other government congressional leaders in this town have made and condemned this event. We know we are awaiting for the swift and transparent investigation of this case and the punishment of anyone involved. That will greatly reinforce the Afghan people’s confidence and the existence of strong friendship and partnership with the United States.

Indeed, the great shared sacrifices in blood and treasure to the American and Afghan people have given in Afghanistan in the past decade in the fight against terrorism and for the country’s peace development and young democracy have created solid foundation for a close, long-term friendship and partnership between our two governments, our two nations. I have no doubt about that.

We have also discussed about the transition issues. We know that we are starting the third phase of transition and we’ll continue to commit to that. We have discussed the issue of Strategic Partnership. We have made lot of progress recently on two issues of detainees and special forces action, and we are very hopeful that we’ll be able to sign the Strategic Partnership as soon as possible, hopefully before the Chicago conference.

We have discussed, as Madam Secretary mentioned, the peace process, and we are happy to see that you fully support an Afghan-owned and Afghan-led peace process and we are going to continue despite the difficulties in this path.

We have also discussed the regional issues, the economy, political and security, our relation with our neighbors in the region, upcoming conferences in the month to come on the RECCA conference in Dushanbe and the conference of Kabul conference, Chicago conference, and Tokyo conference.

Thank you very much again, Madam Secretary, for your friendship

SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you, sir. Thank you very much.

MS. NULAND: We’ll take one question from each side today. We’ll start with Jill Dougherty of CNN.

QUESTION: Thank you. Madam Secretary, I just wanted to follow up quickly on your Syria statement. You did call it strong and positive. But is it really workable? Who will enforce that, especially pulling back and the humanitarian two-hour break?

And then on Afghanistan, you mentioned reconciliation. The Taliban are saying that they don’t want to talk essentially, so where do you go from there? Is there any prospect of that reconciliation continuing?

And Foreign Minister Rassoul, just wanted to ask you – President Karzai says that the U.S. is not cooperating on this investigation of the shooting. Is that still – is that – do you share that opinion? Is that the official opinion still of the Afghan Government, that the U.S. is not cooperating?

And if I could just – you mentioned the security agreement. Night raids are a big issue right now. It looks like there might be some progress on having a warrant system for the night raids. Are you – is that – is there some progress? Are you – is that hurdle over?

Thank you.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, those are, I think, four questions. (Laughter.)

Let me start with Syria. The Joint Special Envoy Kofi Annan’s team is in Damascus discussing implementation of his plan which has now been endorsed by the Security Council. He will be, obviously, meeting with the government – or his team will be meeting with the government but also with community and opposition leaders as well. The unanimous support by the Security Council for this plan will add quite significant import to the discussions.

In the meantime, we are coordinating with the United Nations on the delivery of humanitarian aid. We’re working with the Syrian opposition to strengthen its preparation to participate in the Syrian-led transition process that the council has endorsed. Obviously, we’re doing a lot of work in preparation for the upcoming meeting of the Friends of Syria in Istanbul, and we are also calling on the Syrian military to refuse orders to fire on their fellow citizens. And we’re also calling on members of the business community who still support the regime to work on behalf of implementing the Security Council statement and Kofi Annan’s mission. So we are moving on multiple fronts, but we think it is quite significant that we are now all united behind Kofi Annan’s mission, and I will continue to be in close touch with my colleagues from the Security Council and the United Nations as we go forward.

I think with respect to reconciliation, this is going to be a very long-term process. There’s nothing quick or easy about it. And I think both the minister and I know that you are going to have bumps in the road, but as I said at the outset, our role is to support the Afghans. It’s Afghan-led, it’s Afghan-owned. And so after consultations with President Karzai, we articulated several steps that the Taliban must take in order to advance such an Afghan peace process, including opening a political office in Qatar, where everyone could test their presence and commitment. They have to make clear statements distancing themselves from international terrorism. That’s not just an Afghan request. It is a request of the international community. And they have to support a political process.

Now, what the Taliban do is up to them. We have been clear we are prepared to continue discussions, and our goal is to open the door so that Afghans can be negotiating among and between themselves. And as I’ve said from the very beginning, if there are Taliban insurgents who have no interest in reconciliation, they will continue to face military pressure. We are not stopping our efforts to support the security of Afghanistan while we try to see whether there is an opportunity for negotiations. So, really, at this point, Jill, the choice is up to them.

FOREIGN MINISTER RASSOUL: On your first question, I believe in the first stage of the incident, it was not clear if there is a full cooperation or not. As I mentioned to you, the Afghan Government and the Afghan people expect to see an investigation which is credible and be informed. So the real investigation is starting now, and we hope that we’ll be informed on the fallout of this investigation.

On your second question, we have made progress on the framework of a special operation at night. The next meeting will happen tomorrow in Kabul, and I’m confident that we’ll reach soon a conclusion, but it’s premature to give you details of the content of that agreement.

MS. NULAND: Last question, Lalit Jha, Pajhwok Afghan News Agency.

QUESTION: Thank you, Mister Minister. Thank you, Madam Secretary. As you mentioned about the recent tragic events in Afghanistan, burning of Qu’ran and killing of 16 civilians there, can you give us a sense of where do we stand on the progress on the strategic partnership document? And what should the people of Afghanistan expect out of it? Do you expect this to be signed before the Chicago summit?

And secondly, on Pakistan, there are a few conditions that Pakistan is asking U.S. to fulfill after this November 26th incident. Is U.S. willing to accept those conditions? And Mister Minister, what kind of impact Afghanistan is having on because of the strained relations between the U.S. and of Pakistan?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, first with respect to the strategic partnership agreement, I agree with Minister Rassoul that we are making progress. The United States is committed to a long-term relationship with the Government and people of Afghanistan. We’re continuing our discussions to negotiate an agreement that is in the best interests of our countries and reflects the commitment we have to an enduring relationship. We’ve made good progress the last few weeks resolving some of the few outstanding issues. The recent memorandum of understanding on detention operations was signed.

As you heard the Minister, we are looking forward to finalizing the so-called night raids agreement. These are complicated issues, but we are resolving them. We’re clearing the way toward a strategic partnership agreement. We would very much like to be in a position to sign such an agreement at – either before or at the Chicago summit, and I think we are on track to do so.

With regard to your question concerning Pakistan, we have made it clear we respect the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Pakistan. We also respect the democratic process that Pakistan is engaged in. We think it is actually quite significant that the democratically elected government, the democratically elected parliament, is engaging in these matters. We want an honest, constructive, mutually beneficial relationship with Pakistan. We remain committed, through the recent ups and downs. We’ve been working through these difficulties and challenges. We believe we have shared interests. We believe we have the same enemies. We believe that it’s important to support counterterrorism against the insurgents who kill and maim tens of thousands of Pakistani people, who send teams across the border to kill and maim people in Afghanistan and to kill and main our soldiers and others.

So we actually think we have a very strong security interest and mutually shared objectives with Pakistan, but we also think supporting democracy and prosperity in Pakistan and stability in the region is good for Pakistan, it’s good for Afghanistan, and it’s good for the United States. So we’re waiting to see the results of the parliament’s debate, their recommendations to the government. Since it is ongoing, I think it would be not appropriate for me to comment at this time. They should be able to engage in their debate. But we stand ready to continue our work with the government and people of Pakistan.

FOREIGN MINISTER RASSOUL: I think Madam Secretary responded to your question from my side too. United States is a friend and allies of Afghanistan, and Pakistan is a neighbor of Afghanistan and a brotherly neighbor. So as Madam Secretary mentioned, at the end of the day, you have the same interest. A peaceful, stable, democratic Afghanistan is definitely the interest of Pakistan. And a destabilized Pakistan is not the interest of Afghanistan, neither United States. So we need to work together to come out with a full understanding that we have a common enemy, and we are linked to each other, and the stability and prosperity of one is the interest of other.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you all very much.

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PRN: 2012/423