Remarks With Head of UN Assistance Mission to Afghanistan Jan Kubis, Afghan Presidential Candidate Abdullah Abdullah, and Afghan Presidential Candidate Ashraf Ghani

John Kerry
Secretary of State
Kabul, Afghanistan
July 12, 2014

MODERATOR: Ladies and gents, thank you for coming tonight to this press conference. Thank you for your patience. We have here this evening Jan Kubis, the UN Special Representative for Afghanistan here; we have John Kerry, the U.S. Secretary of State; and the two candidates for president, Dr. Abdullah Abdullah and Dr. Ashraf Ghani.

PARTICIPANT: (Inaudible.)

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, good evening everybody, and thank you very much for your patience. Let me begin by thanking both candidates, Dr. Abdullah Abdullah and Dr. Ashraf Ghani, for the spirit of compromise and leadership which has brought us here tonight and as they have shown throughout these discussions.

I’m very grateful also to President Karzai for his warm welcome and his serious efforts over the last hours. And I also want to thank UN Special Representative Jan Kubis and the UN facility here for their hospitality this evening and especially for his input and important work in the effort to bring us here. I also thank the ISAF commander, General Dunford, who very ably, together with Jan Kubis, represents the international community here in Afghanistan.

I also want to recognize Ambassador Jim Cunningham and our entire United States Embassy staff and team for the hard work that went into this visit.

Over the last few days, continuously, we have been engaged in serious, intense, but always constructive negotiations and discussions. We have been consulting intensively in order to try to find a way forward, to find a resolution that moves Afghanistan towards unity and away from the prospect of division and instability.

I’ve had the privilege of traveling to Afghanistan many times over the last decade and visiting with its leaders, and we all know that the challenges that Afghanistan’s confronted over this time, the transition to democracy, especially in the early days, has been particularly difficult. It requires courage, commitment, sacrifice, and leadership. Today, we’re here at a pivotal moment where Afghanistan employs democracy as it seeks to complete an historic transition. The first-ever peaceful and democratic transition of power from one president to another. And we are, all of us standing here, and many others who are not here, determined to honor the Afghan people’s achievement by helping the transition to occur.

It is no secret that since the second round of Afghanistan’s presidential election last month, charges of fraud and other irregularities have cast a pall over what should have been a triumphant moment for the Afghan people. As President Obama and I have said many times, it is not up to the United States to determine who will lead Afghanistan, nor should it be. And we have supported no individual candidate in the course of this process.

In recent days, it has become clear however that breaking this impasse and restoring the legitimacy and credibility of the electoral process will require Afghan electoral institutions to address serious and expensive allegations, including the irregularities that have been raised in various provinces regarding vote levels that have been above the level of eligible voters and other irregularities in other areas regarding ballot boxes. All of these need to be resolved.

This is unquestionably a tense and difficult moment, but I am very pleased that the two candidates who stand here with me today, and President Karzai, have stepped up and shown a significant commitment to compromise. But even as they compromised to come here, they both of them have supported and upheld their values and their principles, and they both of them have supported the constitutional process. Both of them come here determined to make certain that the votes of the people of Afghanistan count.

And so they are working within the constitutional process to readdress grievances, urging restraint among their supporters, and refraining from any actions that could tear the country apart rather than help bring it together, which they are doing tonight. That is what patriotism requires, and I will tell you that both Dr. Ghani and Dr. Abdullah are proud Afghan patriots.

So let me underline very briefly, so you can hear it from the candidates and from Jan Kubis, what has been agreed in our meetings yesterday and today.

First, with respect to the election, both candidates have committed to participate in and abide by the results of the largest, most comprehensive possible audit. Every single ballot that was cast will be audited, 100 percent, all 8 million. This is the strongest possible signal by both candidates of the desire to restore legitimacy to the process and to Afghan democracy.

Second, the audit will be carried out in Kabul and it will begin within 24 hours. It will start with the ballot boxes that are currently located here and ballot boxes from the provinces will be transported to Kabul by ISAF, audited on a rolling basis, and secured throughout this process by ISAF and Afghan national security forces.

Third, the auditing will be internationally supervised in the manner proposed by the UN Assistance Mission. The candidates’ campaigns will each provide joint oversight of the audit in accordance with UNAMA proposals, including access by candidates’ agents to the ballot boxes under ISAF and Afghan security force supervision. And let there be no doubt, in keeping with each of the candidates’ requests, this audit will be conducted in accordance with the highest international standards.

We anticipate that this process will take a number of weeks and UNAMA has requested that President Karzai and Afghan electoral institutions postpone the inauguration date to accommodate this request.

Finally, with respect to national unity, both candidates have agreed to abide by the results of the audit and that the winner of the election will serve as president and will immediately form a government of national unity. And make no mistake: these are the first steps in what will be, obviously, a hard, difficult process. And we will be working very hard hand in hand with both candidates and with Afghan officials (inaudible) in the days and weeks ahead in order to guarantee that words are translated into the actions that the people of Afghanistan expect.

This job will not be done until Afghanistan’s leaders finalize and election and honor the millions of Afghans who were determined to make their voices heard. These remarkably brave Afghans, men and women from all walks of life, defied threats of violence, knowing that they could set the course of their future and they could do so not from the safety of their homes, but by going to the ballot box and voting. Afghans want a democracy that works not for some but for all, and both candidates ultimately benefit from a process that ensures exactly that.

So it is the hope of President Obama and the people of the United States that all Afghans, those who supported Dr. Ghani, those who supported Dr. Abdullah, and those who supported other candidates at some point in the election, will now join together and support this process and build a better future for their nation. The United States supports a sovereign, unified, and democratic Afghanistan, and our commitment to that future is absolutely clear. Our partnership with the Afghan people is strong, and together we have determined that the long, hard road ahead is going to bring us to a better place.

Now, major moment of crisis: Among the many things we decided, we did not decide which candidate would speak first. (Laughter.)

MR. ABDULLAH: Thank you, Secretary Kerry. I would like to thank you sincerely for your inputs and for the President of the United States to take a keen interest at this important juncture in our history, to help and break the impasse which was created earlier. This is a problem of the elections and the electoral process. It’s handy to thank our own people once again for participating in the elections, in turning those two days of preparations and (inaudible). Two eventful days, but at the same time memorable days in the history of Afghanistan, where millions of people turned out and casted their votes for the candidates.

There were serious challenges in relations to the elections, and today we are happy to announce that we do too set up agreements between both candidates, with serious effort and genuine efforts on the part of Secretary Kerry, Ambassador Jan Kubis. And through the cooperation of my colleague, Dr. Ghani, we have a particular agreement, which was explained in the days earlier by Secretary Kerry. We also have a framework of national unity government, once the votes are cleared, the ballot papers are cleared.

At the same time, I would request the President of the Afghanistan, President Karzai, since we have agreed upon extensive, comprehensive and very serious (inaudible), auditing – full auditing – 100 percent auditing of all ballot papers throughout the country, and that will need to take time. My request to the President of Afghanistan is to delay the inauguration date, which earlier it was decided to be August the 2nd.

MR. GHANI: In the name of God the compassionate. Civility is the desire of the (inaudible). And today I’m delighted that my brother and colleague, Dr. Abdullah, and I stand with the Secretary of State of the United States, and the representative of the international community, that shows the Afghan people that we, the two candidates, abide by the will of the people and are committed to honor every Afghan who participated in this democratic process.

I want to express my gratitude to Secretary Kerry, representative of the international community Ambassador Kubis, Ambassador Cunningham, all the other members of the community, President Obama for his personal engagement in the process. I’d like to thank, Dr. Abdullah Abdullah for his (inaudible) and his commitment to a dialogue that puts national interest and our national unity above anything else.

I want to also thank President Karzai for his stewardship of this process and for his commitment to bring – as – facilitate the coming of the (inaudible) together.

Our agreement is simple: We have committed to the thoroughest audit in the history of any election in the developed or developing countries. One hundred percent of all the ballots will be audited, thereby removing any ambiguity regarding the transparency of the process or our accountability to the will of the people. We, the two candidates, categorically abide by the (inaudible) and honor the will of the people and every vote that has been cast, and simultaneously, I strongly emphasize that we will not defend a single vote that has been fraud. Because fraud has no place in our national culture of accountability and democracy.

Second, we have agreement on (inaudible). From day one that our team submitted our nominations, we’ve believed that the formula of (inaudible) will not serve our nation. I’m delighted that we’ve agreed that forming a government of national unity upon the declaration of the results of the election. This should assure every Afghan that regardless of who they voted for, their votes are honored by both of us, indeed both, as brothers and as complete (inaudible) in Afghan nationally are committed to the well-being of every single Afghan, because this is the bond of citizenship. The people are the principle and we are their agents, and we must act in their interest – and we shall and will.

So the government of national unity will provide the assurance that we will work together, we have agreed on the general framework, and you will have the details in a state of mutual (inaudible), because politics is not a commercial transaction. Its essence is based on building your trust, and we will do our utmost to build mutual trust so mutual trust can be established between every Afghan across this beautiful land, of course.

Because there – of the audit, (inaudible) I request His Excellency President Karzai to postpone the date of the inauguration and set a new date of inauguration upon the completion of the audit. He has been reluctant, but this again is part of the patriotic duty to serve, again, the nation, during this critical period.

Let me again, in closing, thank Secretary Kerry for your immense efforts, all the members of the international community (inaudible).

SECRETARY KERRY: We just have one more speaker and that’s Jan Kubis. Ambassador Jan Kubis.

MR. KUBIS: First of all, allow me to most sincerely congratulate your excellencies, Dr. Abdullah Abdullah and Dr. Ashraf Ghani (inaudible). This evening, today, but also in the past days, they showed real, true statesmanship, commitment to the stability and unity of the country, commitment to a strong Afghanistan and prosperous and peaceful Afghanistan for the future. This is a very good signal and this is a good day for Afghanistan.

Second, I would like to applaud the commitment of the United States – President Obama, Secretary Kerry – to this peaceful, united, and prosperous Afghanistan. Secretary Kerry, through his facilitation, assisted the two candidates to come to this excellent result of today. Thank you for that.

Thirdly, the United Nations is here to support, to provide assistance. And this is what we will do as regard to this totally unprecedented, absolutely unique (inaudible) audit that will be launched tomorrow. But to make it a success, I would like to appeal notably to international observers organizations, to the European Union, to the National Democratic Institute, to other organizations, send as quickly as possible observers to augment the teams that are here. This support of the international community is needed to provide credibility to this process of audit. Thank you.

MODERATOR: Ladies and gents, I want to apologize, time is very tight. The schedules are very tight, so we don’t really have much time for any questions. I’d like to thank you all for coming tonight, and I’d like to thank our guests as well – Secretary of State John Kerry and the two candidates, Dr. Ashraf Ghani, Dr. Abdullah Abdullah.