Remarks With Afghan Officials After Their Meeting

John Kerry
Secretary of State
UNAMA Special Representative Jan Kubis; Afghan Presidential Candidate Abdullah Abdullah; Afghan Presidential Candidate Ashraf Ghani
United Nations Assistance Mission
Kabul, Afghanistan
August 8, 2014

MR. ABDULLAH: Ladies and gentlemen, I am very pleased to inform our people at this very critical moment of our history that today myself, our teams, and Dr. Ashraf Ghani and his team – we are taking another step forward in the interests of start strengthening national unity in the country, strengthening the rule of law in the country, and also bringing a hope for the future – a better future for the people of Afghanistan.

Today’s joint statement is the result of efforts by both teams – Dr. Arshaf Ghani at the top of his own team and our own team work together. And we are also delighted to have the support of the international community here, and I would like to thank Secretary Kerry for his effort in supporting our joint efforts for the better future for Afghanistan, as well as Ambassador Kubis who has facilitated part of these efforts earlier.

As a result of today’s joint statement, which gives better hopes for the people of Afghanistan, we are committed to the audit process which is underway, and we will be cooperative in pursuing and pushing it in order to complete it, hopefully, at such a time that it will help Afghanistan also to attain its own international (inaudible), which are important for us. Legitimacy of the process will be restored as a result of this comprehensive internationally supervised audit.

In regards to the political agreement, once again, I reiterate that today was another step forward for the affirmation of both sides’ interests and commitment to the previous agreement – political framework agreement, and also further developing it and also moving forward in the implementation of it. So from now on, I hope that the atmosphere of campaigning is behind us, hopefully completely to a large extent, and then a new phase in the political life of the people of Afghanistan will start, and we are committed to working together on the basis of our common vision for the future of the country in order to utilize the opportunities which are ahead of us and to be able to deal with the challenges which we are faced with.

And we thank once again the commitment of the international partners, not only in support of our effort, which today’s event is another example, but also their reaffirmation, reaffirmation of their commitment, that a legitimate outcome of the elections will help them, enable them, to fulfill their commitments to all the people of Afghanistan, in support of the people of Afghanistan, in strengthening the rule of law, in helping the economy of the country, and helping security in Afghanistan and also the strengthening of our institutions.

So I would like to thank Secretary Kerry, Ambassador Kubis, but more than anything else, Dr. Ashraf Ghani, for his spirit of cooperation throughout the talks, and his colleagues. And hopefully from now on the people of Afghanistan will be witness to a new phase in the political life of the country.

Thank you.

MR. GHANI: Ladies and gentlemen, it gives me great pleasure to share with you as my dear colleague Dr. Abdullah has shared with you that he and I have reached agreement and signed a communique on defining our future cooperation. This communique reflects our sense of national obligation and our duty to put the interests of Afghanistan – every child, every woman, every man – above everything else.

The country cannot take uncertainty; uncertainty is a threat. Our action today and in following weeks should create an environment of certainty and trust. We trust each other. We will work with each other to fulfill this national duty and obligation to every Afghan.

The basis of our cooperation is defined by our mutual commitment to the constitution of Afghanistan. The constitution reflects our supreme values, because our constitution is a reflection of our Islamic values and national values and our sense of aspirations for being a society that we deserve. We therefore are committed to make sure that every article of the constitution acquires embodiment in practice in our relationships, our sense of reforms that every Afghan will proudly claim that she or he is a citizen of this country, and therefore enjoys equal rights and obligations.

Because of our commitments, previous commitments that, again, we thank Secretary Kerry for having facilitated, we’ve moved now to direct intra-Afghan discussions and obligations. We thank Secretary Kerry and, of course, Ambassador Kubis and all the international community for having performed a facilitating role. But we the leaders of the two teams, the candidates that the people of – the people – the two candidates that the people of Afghanistan voted for overwhelmingly bear the sole responsibility for peace, stability and democratic values in this country. And I hope that our commitment today honors back the commitment of our people who participated, braved all elements to ensure that democratic values were not just theoretical statements but actions of millions of individuals.

To honor those individuals, we have committed ourselves to one of the most comprehensive audits imaginable in history. And we affirm today again both our support for this process of audit and our commitment to abide by its results. But to underline our sense of unity of purpose, we are affirming that we will form a government of national unity to implement what we promised during the campaign.

What unites us is far greater than what divided us during the campaign, because each one of us and both of us are committed to the well-being of every Afghan child, every woman, every man – particularly the poor, the disabled, the displaced, those who cannot live in dignity and are in search of food on an everyday basis.

Political agreement, political consensus is key to coming out of a vicious circle to a virtuous circle. We live in a dangerous world and in a dangerous neighborhood, the Islamic world – countries that did not practice consensus and tolerance of each other or in full, in bringing unbelievable hardship to their people. We just need to recall Syria and Iraq today. Because of this we are determined that our beloved Afghanistan will be the first country that will start a virtuous circle of unity, reform commitment, and full tolerance.

We hope that by end of August the results of the audit will be completed and the next president of Afghanistan will be inaugurated, that Afghanistan takes its rightful place again in the community of nations and we bring an end to the sense of uncertainty. Our teams have started work in earnest to prepare work on transition, how to address the daily lives of our people, their daily concerns for food, for milk, for security, for well-being, but more than anything else, for a sense of certainty. So there will no longer be election crisis, the crisis of uncertainty. The crisis of uncertainty must end, and we hope that together we can achieve what the people of Afghanistan expect us to achieve.

I am honored again by the nature of the dialogues that I’ve had with my brother and colleague, Dr. Abdullah, and we will continue. Every dialogue does not mean that immediately we agree on everything, but it’s remarkable how much we agree on. So we have an enormous foundation to go forward, and today I was delighted that Dr. Abdullah and I, like in the past when he was foreign minister and I was finance minister, could complete each other’s sentences in front of Secretary Kerry. That I take as a very good omen.

And I’d like to thank Secretary Kerry for his selfless help, for facilitating the agreement, but for particularly understanding that a nation and its leaders need to find their own way to stability, independence.

We thank you, Mr. Secretary, for your stewardship of the global well-being and for being such a friend of our country. And we hope to be working with you – both of us – and we look very much forward to continuing working, Ambassador Kubis, with you and with the international community.

MR. ABDULLAH: Here I realize that Mr. Rohshad, which is a famous longtime journalist in Afghanistan which has covered Afghanistan for many, many years and Afghans are familiar with his voice, he lost several members of his family in a terrorist attack last week, just a few days ago. He’s here. I express my deepest condolences to him, to his family, and to the people of Afghanistan. And I pray that the (inaudible) of sadness and tragedy is out of Afghanistan and Afghanistan is not witness to such tragic incidents. I wish you strength in the wake of this – after this tragic event.

MR. GHANI: I’d like to also take this opportunity to express my deepest condolences to Secretary Kerry for the cowardly murder of General Greene and for the attack on our military academy. Our military academy is the pride of our cooperation with the international community, particularly with the United States, U.K., and other members of ISAF.

General Greene was an engineer, never participated in combat. He was here to help us build one of the finest schools of engineering within our military academy. This sad event again reminds us why we must redouble our efforts to create peace, security, prosperity, and stability, which all of us need. And we thank again the United States for its cooperation in this area, and again, please Mr. Secretary, we express our deepest sympathies to the members of your armed forces, to the President of the United States, and to the families of General Greene.

SECRETARY KERRY: As-salaam alaykum. Good afternoon. Before I say some words about the statements that you’ve just heard from Afghanistan’s future leaders – and I mean leaders plural – one of these men is going to be president, but both of these men are going to be critical to the future of Afghanistan no matter what. And to my right and left, you see their supporters here in great strength, all of them supporting the very eloquent, very precise, and very important statements that were made here today. And I will say more about that in a minute.

But first, I want to say a brief word about the situation in Iraq. President Obama acted expeditiously and appropriately to authorize targeted military action and to provide significant humanitarian assistance to the people of Iraq at this very difficult time when it is vitally needed. The stakes for Iraq’s future could also not be more clear, and today’s crisis underscores them significantly. ISIL’s campaign of terror against the innocent, including the Yezedi and Christian minorities, and its grotesque targeted acts of violence show all the warning signs of genocide. For anyone who needed a wakeup call, this is it. ISIL is not fighting on behalf of Sunnis. ISIL is not fighting for a stronger Iraq. ISIL is fighting to divide and destroy Iraq, and it’s fighting to create a state of its own brutal oppression, a place where chaos and brutality – ruthless brutality – governs.

Now with a gut-wrenching humanitarian crisis unfolding before our eyes and the roles of the starving and the sick growing daily and the potential of further executions – cold blooded executions – taking place because people are a minority huddled for safety on a mountaintop – because of that the United States, with President Obama’s decision, has made its decision that it must save these lives, and the world needs to join us in a condemnation of ISIL’s actions. President Obama has been unequivocal that he will do what is necessary and what is in our national interest to confront ISIL and its threat to the security of the region and to our own security in the long run.

It has been equally clear, as I have said in each of my visits to Iraq, in all my conversations with Iraqi and with regional leaders, that the only durable way to stop ISIL is for Iraq’s leaders themselves to unite and form a government that represents all of the people as rapidly as possible within their constitutional framework. They have moved very effectively so far to elect a speaker, to elect a president, and now the next step is to provide a prime minister, and we urge them to do so quickly.

I want to emphasize that in the President’s decision the safety and security of the men and women serving overseas for the United States is also a fundamental consideration, and I will remain very closely engaged with our Ambassador Stephen Beecroft, with our Assistant Secretary of State Brett McGurk, and our team on the ground as we work to ensure that our personnel who are in Erbil and Baghdad and across Iraq are secure.

Now that brings me quickly back to here and Afghanistan and to this important moment. We all know the risks to our personnel and particularly the risks to Afghans every single day. Mr. Rohshad, our heart goes out to you and to your family. You are one of many who have suffered over the course of these 13 years. And I believe that the words today of these two leaders, Dr. Ghani and Dr. Abdullah – more importantly the actions of these two leaders today – to unite for Afghanistan, to bring themselves together in the interest of their country, to define an Afghan roadmap for the way ahead is a very important transitional moment for Afghanistan.

Now, obviously – and I appreciate enormously their words with respect to the shooting of U.S. Army Major General Harold Greene three days ago. I want to say to General Greene’s family that universally in my visit here the first words out of the mouth of every Afghan has been to say how sorry they are, how much they regret what happened to this general who was here helping the people of this country, and they express to America and particularly to his family their deepest condolences.

General Greene, for all those who met him – I did not have the privilege of meeting him, but I’ve heard about him, and I’ve heard about him from General Dunford when I was here in the last two days – was a soldier’s soldier, even though he wasn’t in combat. He knew his people, he knew what he stood for, and for three decades, he loyally served his country in the United States Army. He was a humble man, a quiet man, and he earned the respect of military leaders for his singular ability to display wisdom. He was a thinker and an innovator who earned a doctorate from the University of Southern California and who used new technologies in order to try to help the young recruits that he was trying to teach at this school. Above all, he was a family man and a loyal mentor of his community. One of his Army colleagues summed it up this way just by saying, “He was a good guy. Harry was loved.” So we wish his loved ones the strength and the compassion that they need in order to be able to mourn the loss of a special man and themselves find the comfort of the days ahead.

Now I came here today at the direction of the president that I work for, President Obama, to continue the work of General Greene and so many other brave men and women, Afghans and Americans and many others from many other countries, more than 50, who have come together under ISAF in order to work for the future of Afghanistan. These are all people who have dedicated their lives to building a stable, united, sovereign Afghanistan.

During my last visit here, we stood right here in this room after several days of very intensive negotiations, and both candidates took a very important step towards that goal of a sovereign, unified, stable Afghanistan. They shook hands – they raised them high right here in front of all the people of Afghanistan and the world – to express their enthusiasm for the agreement, which began to set forth the road ahead.

But during recent weeks, as is often the case, a number of questions arose, both about the technical aspects of the audit process as well as the political questions about the political road ahead. So today, I’m very pleased to join them in a different kind of moment. I’m here to support them and to commend them on their leadership, on their initiative to be able to come together and work through some of these difficult issues. And it’s been our privilege to be able to facilitate, but this is really an Afghan solution to an Afghan problem. And that’s very important for the road ahead.

We now have in place the largest audit that the United Nations has ever conducted in any country in history, the deepest audit that they have ever conducted. And that’s why we have a big man here to do the job. (Laughter.) Ambassador Kubis is really dedicated to this, and we have in place the ability with both parties now agreeing to the rules of the road. Both parties have agreed to stay at it and both parties have agreed to live by the outcome. And they have understood that the United Nations will pour even additional energy into the effort to make this happen as competently and as rapidly as is humanly possible.

But in addition to the candidates coming together to define the audit road ahead with clarity, they have also come together to define the political road ahead. And as you’ve heard them, they’ve just described to you the ways in which they are going to work together from this moment forward in order to change the dialogue, change the rhetoric, begin to map out the future, work towards the transition, begin to figure out how to fix the economy, how to move the country forward – all of those issues which people have been working for 13 years, but because of the nature of an election and a transition have been stalled for a period of time. So both candidates have defined a road to a unity government, and they will begin now to meet together and to map out that transition ahead.

I don’t think anybody here would doubt that this is a major step for the road ahead for Afghanistan. It is coming almost singularly because both of these candidates are transforming themselves now into the statesmen that will be required to be the president of the country. And they are both focused on Afghanistan, not on themselves. Their supporters, who are passionate in support of their candidate, as they should be, are shifting their focus to the future and to Afghanistan.

The United States and the United Nations and the international community are deeply engaged in the post-election process solely to help the Afghan election institutions restore credibility to the voting process. We want every vote that was legitimately cast to be honored appropriately, and both candidates have agreed that that is their goal.

I want to commend the dedication of ISAF, the UN, particularly the efforts of Jan Kubis and Jeff Fischer and the others, all the people who’ve come from other countries in order to help this. ISAF has delivered every single ballot box from everywhere in the country to here in Kabul, and they are currently under lock and key and under security and will remain so to preserve the integrity of the election outcome. The UN has brought in specialists from around the world, and dozens more are on the way even as we speak today.

And I urge now to all countries invested in the effort, who have been part of this journey over the last years, and to others who may not have signed up to ISAF but can care about the future of Afghanistan – we need more election experts to come here as rapidly as possible to help to finish this on time. Their job is to ensure that the audit meets the laws of Afghanistan, the highest international standards, and most importantly the expectations of the people of Afghanistan. And the Afghan Independent Election Commission, the UN, and dozens of international observers are going to work together, hand in hand, in order to try to provide the outcome that the people of Afghanistan expect.

So let me be clear – this audit is not about winning and losing. It’s about achieving the credible result that the people of Afghanistan demand and deserve. The audit is only one part of the challenge. Equally important, if not more important, will be the actions of these two candidates in the days ahead. Dr. Abdullah and Dr. Ghani and their campaigns have made a profound decision today about that future. They’ve agreed to continue to translate the political agreement that they’ve reached – that they have reached, that they have worked on, that they have defined, the Afghan approach. They have committed to continue, no matter who becomes president, in order to find a government that can help Afghanistan move forward.

I want to make clear that this agreement respects the Afghan constitution, which the United States of America strongly supports. It does not establish a parliamentary system, it doesn’t change the role of the president as head of government, but it does create a new position of the chief executive, who will help to manage and work together to bring people onto the same path and to create efficiency and modernity in the governance. The agreement is a critical opportunity for both candidates to do what they’ve just said, which is move beyond the campaign and into the process of governing.

It’s a pivotal moment for Afghanistan. The stakes are high. It will depend on them and the United Nations to help move this forward appropriately. And I think there are high expectations from the world. It is our hope, obviously, that when this job is done NATO partners would very much look forward to welcoming President Karzai’s successor with his unity government partner in Wales at the NATO summit in September so that we can all come together, embrace their vision, and begin to put in place the government that Afghanistan wants and deserves. Thank you.

MODERATOR: Ladies and gents, we now have time for roughly two questions. Please wait for the microphone. Is the microphone ready? No microphone? Okay, you may have to speak up in that case.

The first question, please. Rativ Nudi from TOLOnews. Rativ, yes. Please stand up. Speak up, please.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MODERATOR: Maybe not.

QUESTION: I would like to ask a question about the framework agreement. After (inaudible) Afghanistan (inaudible), there have been some arguments among – before the election campaigns, among both the candidates on the matter of the new government. As you say, (inaudible) change the (inaudible), and also it doesn’t change the responsibility of the president. But exactly, what would be the responsibilities of the (inaudible)?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, let me let the next president speak to that. (Laughter.)

MR. GHANI: (Off-mike.)

SECRETARY KERRY: I didn’t mean to create a news (inaudible), but go ahead.

MR. GHANI: Thank you for your question. We’re committed to giving this post specific functions and the work ahead of us is precisely definition, of course. But what I want to emphasize is not what is going to be in the decree. What I want to emphasize is our commitment to cooperation, to unity in all spheres of government, life, and responsibilities. A decree is a piece of paper if it is not embodied in a bed of impasses. So we will begin with the problem to which we will commit ourselves and then agree on the best division of labor that will enable (inaudible).

MR. ABDULLAH: Thank you. And in the same spirit that was mutually accepted that we work together towards the formation of national unity government in every eventuality, because there will not be two people with the same number of votes as a result of the audit. One will have more votes; one will have a little bit more – less votes. And then in order to help create, establish a sort of win-win situation not only for our two camps, but more importantly for the people of Afghanistan we have agreed on this mutual program. And there are some details attached to it. We are committed to work together to develop it further and our teams will start working on this, on the details of it, of a few days, leaving the outcome of the elections aside or what has happened in the past, but rather looking towards the future for the interest of the national unity of the government in the effectiveness and competence of future government of Afghanistan, with every eventuality which might come up as a result of the audit process.

QUESTION: Sir, can I --

MODERATOR: No. Sorry, folks, but we’re doing this in order. Sorry. We have --

QUESTION: I have two questions.

MODERATOR: -- very, very short time. Ladies and gents, we are very short for time. We have time for one more question, I’m sorry to say, just one more question. Please don’t stand up, but do speak up. Michael Gordon, New York Times.

QUESTION: I’ll speak up, can’t stand up. First, to Secretary Kerry: Secretary Kerry, last month you brokered an important agreement here which – for the audit of ballots and power-sharing arrangements. And no sooner did you leave than problems arose here in Kabul on carrying forward this agreement. Beyond the enunciation of these broad principles about the value of the unity government, were there any concrete accomplishments during your day and a half of talks here, any concrete agreement on specific items of how the unity government will be structured? And if so, what were they?

And a second question for Secretary Kerry: You just mentioned the situation in Iraq and how President Obama authorized targeted airstrikes to stop an ISIL advance on Erbil or Baghdad, but it would appear from the statements that are made by senior officials that the Obama Administration’s strategy is to contain the ISIL threat, not necessarily roll it back. If the Iraqis were to form a multi-sectarian government, would the Obama Administration be prepared to use air power to help the Iraqis retake Fallujah, Mosul, and these territories that are under ISIS control? And will the Obama Administration now send arms to the Kurds, as they’ve been asking for?

And next, I want to state a question to the candidates, Dr. Abdullah and Dr. Ghani. (Laughter.) Can you cite any --

MR. ABDULLAH: (Off-mike.) (Laughter.)

QUESTION: No, one question for you. Can you each state without equivocation that you are confident you can achieve the inauguration of a new president before the NATO summit? What concrete accomplishments can you state were achieved here over the last day and a half?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, let me begin, Michael, by first – I want to answer the question on the – and I’m only going to answer part of it, because I believe it’s up to the two candidates to articulate the accomplishments, not me. But I will say to you that within the agreement that they have put together, there are very specific set of agreements that they’ve laid down, and they should describe it. So yes, there are specific accomplishments.

Secondly, your judgment about very quickly it sort of began to fray after we were here is not actually accurate. I think both candidates will tell you that for several days – five or six days, a week – there was a sense of energy and enthusiasm and euphoria, and people felt like they had come together. But then there was a lack of clarity about some of the steps to be taken within the audit process itself, and there were a couple of questions about terminology regarding the political framework agreement. Those have now been worked through, both of them. And that’s what brings everybody back here with a greater clarity about the steps that we’ve taken. That is why both candidates are here today to say they are not asking for further criteria or changes, they have agreed to what has been laid down by Jan Kubis and the UN, and they’ve agreed on the process, they will stay with the process, and they will abide by the process. That’s an accomplishment.

With respect to Iraq, President Obama has made it clear initially that his immediate response is to the crisis of a minority group that has been chased up into a mountain, that has been threatened with extinction, told that they will be executed, and who are seeking refuge in a mountain where they are dying because of their exposure in the elements. So he is immediately responding to that need to provide humanitarian assistance and also, because of the advance of ISIL, to make it clear that American personnel who are at risk are going to be protected by the United States of America and that those strikes were authorized in the event that they begin to move in any direction, either towards those people on the mountain or towards personnel that may be in danger.

With respect to the formation of government in the future, the President has taken no option off the table. And there are current discussions taking place, and they will continue to take place with respect to those options.

MR. ABDULLAH: On the date, 31st of August, we are committed to work with a cooperative experts to achieve that goal and to make sure that we are there by the end of August, the audit process is completed, without sacrificing the credibility and legitimacy of the audit process, because that’s the goal. But the goal – the time is also very important because of our international commitments, and also more important because of the Afghan people’s expectation. They want to see an outcome. And from now on, I hope that the people of Afghanistan will be more hopeful, will have much better sense of certainty now that we have gone beyond talking about an agreement, a framework, but rather starting – started stepping in the road – on the road towards formation of national unity government whatever the outcome of the audit process was. And there is a joint statement attached to that, is that framework – political framework agreement, which is very clear, and it’s – the joint statement has elaborated the vision, common vision of both candidates, both teams towards the future of Afghanistan and also the (inaudible). Thank you.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR. GHANI: Questions are over, I think.

PARTICIPANT: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR. GHANI: First, we’ve brought clarity to the audit process in that it is going to end as soon as feasible. We are categorically committed to accepting the results of the audit and the date for the inauguration of the next president of Afghanistan. I hope that this date can become very firm within a week to ten days, pending on – but we do not want to commit ourselves to a fixed date today because that date will then drive the process and people will (inaudible). So our flexibility on this very issue is the cornerstone of our consensus, and this should be grasped as a very important process. We have committed that the audit process now is going to pick up speed. Yesterday we accomplished 720 boxes, which was a benchmark, and we hope that they can speed this up and credibly reach a higher level that, again, needs to be determined by our technical people.

On the political side, a concrete achievement is that now we’re seeking a comprehensive agreement in our own languages, in our own categories of reference, with full embodiment of the constitution as the cornerstone of everything we do, because questions ahead of us. We’ve put those ambiguities behind us. The constitutional framework is the cornerstone. The authorities of the president as defined in the constitution are going to be exercised. We are seeking a government of national unity on the basis of a common platform that is going to deliver the necessary reforms. I think these are very significant achievements, and most significantly of all, we are putting the past behind us, we’re looking to the future.

The communique is signed by us, by both of us, and it will be issued to you, because this is a community. The full agreement, as we described, is going to require immense amounts of work from our teams and from ourselves. We as the leaders have committed to intensive dialogue to be – to create a shared understanding of challenges and opportunities. And let me underline: Afghanistan is not just challenges. It is enormous (inaudible). And one of the most significant is that the next president of Afghanistan will have the full legitimacy that has come from an audited process that does not have any parallel anywhere. And a sense of commitment and maturity of the Afghan political elite that understands that solving the problems of our country cannot happen on the basis of the winner-take-all approach. Our mutual – the mutual acknowledgment of our dependence for the good of the country is an enormous accomplishment, and that’s the foundation on the basis of which we hope to build and continue. Thank you.

MODERATOR: Ladies --

QUESTION: (Inaudible) question.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) question.

MODERATOR: Ladies and gents, we are pushed for time. I’m sorry, but we are pushed for time, so --

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MODERATOR: The two candidates must leave, and Secretary Kerry as well. Sorry.

QUESTION: Do you think in Gaza it’s genocide? Would you use the two words genocide --

MODERATOR: We are pushed for time. Thank you very much for your attention and your patience, folks. Thank you very much, everyone.