On May 6, 2009 President Obama had three pivotal meetings with leaders from two pivotal countries. He was joined by Vice President Biden first for a meeting with President Karzai of Afghanistan, then with President Zardari of Pakistan, and finally for a trilateral meeting with both of them. The following is a press briefing by National Security Advisor General James Jones on the trilateral talks:
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
GENERAL JONES: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. I’m pleased to be here to talk a little bit about the meetings that were held this afternoon that you’ve already heard quite a bit about. I’d just like to add a couple of points to those that have been already been made.
The President started out his meeting with President Karzai by commenting with great sympathy on the tragedies that have happened out in western Afghanistan, and indicating that we regret the loss of life, particularly of innocent people, and that the investigations underway will be pursued aggressively with full intent to discover what, in fact, did happen, how it happened, and how we can make sure that things like that do not happen again. And it was clear that President Karzai was moved by that — by the President’s statement, and he thanked the President for starting off the meeting with that expression of condolence.
The President also continued to offer considerable support to Afghanistan, emphasizing the fact that the U.S. would be supporting in as many ways as possible, stressing the fact that the upcoming elections in Afghanistan should be as fair and open as possible, and certainly as much as possible, beyond any question that they’re not honest elections.
He also commented on the new strategy that we’re implementing in Afghanistan as a result of the strategic review; emphasizing that it’s not just about military options, that despite the fact that we’re going to contribute 21,000 U.S. troops to help stabilize the southern part of the country; but also emphasizing that the role of reconstruction, the role of governance and rule of law are all things that have to be undertaken in concert with the security efforts, so that the security-economic development and governance and rule of law — and especially good governance at the local, regional, and national levels — has to be put in evidence. So the emphasis on civilian and military efforts is a cornerstone of the new strategy, as is the more accelerated development of the Afghan army and the Afghan police capabilities.
He also made reference to judicial reform and encouraged the President to do whatever he could to stamp out corruption wherever he found it, or the perception of corruption, and asked that we see concrete results in that regard.
He also commented to the President he was very encouraged, as we all are, by the new relationship with Pakistan. It’s obvious that the two Presidents get along well and it’s obvious that both governments have pledged to work together to cross a wide range of potential areas of cooperation to include security measures, but also economic measures and the like. We’ll continue to work on things like cross-border trade, for example.
And finally, the President emphasized that Afghanistan should be encouraged to continue to develop civil liberties and human rights. And the Afghan President responded that one of the great pleasures of his administration was seeing the rise in education and the number of Afghan students participating in higher education. He quoted the figure of 4,000 students in 2002, and 75,000 Afghan students, men and women, participating at the university level, and emphasized the fact that in 2002 there were no female students at all in the university system. So he was extremely proud of that.
resident Karzai responded that in addition to his appreciation for the President’s gesture on the casualties, that he supports the new strategy fully and that — asked for more focused assistance on not only military training but civilian training for young people.
And I might say that throughout the discussion the President had with both heads of state, that the idea of doing things for the young people came up time and time again — with some emotion, I might add, on some of the participants — that this is about the future of two new, young democracies and within those democracies we are talking really about the future of the next generation. And so this was said several times.
President Karzai also indicated that he wanted to do whatever he could to restore an Afghan economy. He wanted to develop its export business; wanted focused help on agriculture; and wanted to do things where people would notice the change in their lives. If they’re surrounded by good governance, if they have secure living conditions, if they have the applied and focused help that they need in order to develop their economies, they will do better.
He recognized that they need to do more with regard to judicial reform and pledged to go after corruption wherever it existed. And he closed by saying that above all, whether he’s reelected or not, he would like to make sure that he contributes to institutionalizing democratic ideals in Afghanistan.
With President Zardari, the President started out by declaring that he wanted to be of help to the people of Pakistan not just in a military way, but to help Pakistan with a new beginning; to again help the government institutionalize democracy and make progress, recognizing that these are difficult times, and the threat of extremists to Pakistan requires a concerted action. And on that score, he emphasized that this is a regional problem and this is why getting together with both Presidents and our government for these few days of very intensive conferences are going to be very important, because we’re going to approach this as a regional problem.
As you know, the AFPAK strategy review emphasized the fact that we have several countries but we have one theater. And this is the way we’re looking at it. It’s important to occasionally remind ourselves that this is a common struggle, and we’re approaching it that way.
So the central goal here is to make sure that all parties understand that this is a united front, not only among the Presidents, but among the Ministers of Defense, the Foreign Ministers, and the various echelons of government involved with economic reconstruction, judicial reform, and all of those things that go into stabilizing a situation.
The President pledged to do whatever we could, to do as quickly — to do what we can as quickly as possible to help the Pakistani government, and said this type of aid would not just be restricted to military, but we would aid in any ways we can to help with health and education, institution-building, advisors, whatever we can do to help the government and the military resist this very serious threat. Miracles will not happen, so this won’t happen quickly. But with a common focus, we can make strides hopefully in the near future.
President Zardari responded by affirming his commitment to work within this regional context to preserve democracy in Pakistan; to want to do more economically for the people — he spoke of building schools and hospitals — but underlying all of his remarks was a pledge to meet the threat and to be successful, and assured the President that they were properly focused on it; was thankful for the assistance that the President offered, and looked forward to working with us in a concerted in the weeks and months ahead.
I think it was a very warm meeting between the three Presidents. They have embraced common themes, an intent to work together, and I think was a very good start. And we will have more meetings the next couple of days at the ministers’ levels to continue to develop these issues.
And I’ll be happy to take any questions.
Q General Jones, if I’m reading between the lines, forgive me here, but it sounds like in the first meeting with President Karzai, there was more telling him that he should be more — do more on human rights and corruption, whereas, with President Zardari, there wasn’t that tone. Am I reading that correctly?
GENERAL JONES: Oh, I don’t know. I think the — the tone of both meetings was pretty much the same. We have a longer history with Afghanistan in terms of understanding and having the ability to do more things because of that relationship having taken a number of years now.
I think with Pakistan we are learning about the things that we can do. But I think the balance of tone was just about the same and I wouldn’t say that he was more directed one way or the other.
Q General Jones, you said that President Zardari — underlying all of his remarks with a pledge to meet the threat and to be successful. Is there anything specific we can point to as far as what the Pakistani army or the Pakistani government is going to do on meeting the threat of the Taliban insurgence in the eastern part of the country?
GENERAL JONES: Well, I’d characterize it by saying that it’s clear that he and his fellow Presidents have come to an agreement that this is not a individual national belong that belongs to either Afghanistan or Pakistan; that this is in fact a regional problem. We have adopted that as our centerpiece of our strategy.
And so the dialogue between the three about not only doing things militarily to correct the situation, but politically between the two principal countries in the region, Afghanistan and Pakistan, to work on economic issues, and to do those things that show their respective populations that there is an alternative, there is a better way and there is greater hope for their children in the future. And as I said, this was a common theme.
I think this was a pretty powerful expression, a recognition of what the right attitude and the right approach has to be. The details will be worked out over time, but I think all three were focused on the seriousness of the threat and I think, in Pakistan’s case, he made a number of points to illustrate that he was focused on it and that they had every intention to do something about that in very real time. And I think there’s some evidence that they’ve started doing that, which is encouraging.
Q As part of President Obama’s message of condolence about the airstrike, did President Karzai ask that they be suspended pending the end of this investigation, or reduced in intensity? And also, did President Zardari bring up the idea that — the Predator strikes in those areas?
GENERAL JONES: The answer is no to both questions. The President was genuine in his acceptance. I think he deeply appreciated the President’s words. And the issue of — operational issues did not come up with President Zardari.
Q In the past the Presidents of Afghanistan and Pakistan have come to Washington and said, okay, we’re going to do this, we’re going to fight together against extremism. What specific steps would you seek in the next few weeks, few months so that people who aren’t privy to intelligence or defense information can judge that this time it’s actually going to be different?
GENERAL JONES: Well, as you know, in developing our strategic review concerning Afghanistan and Pakistan, we did this in concert with both countries. Both countries had teams here; they participated with us in the development of a strategy. We also extended a wider hand to our NATO allies, as well, And brought in, probably in an unparalleled way, just an awful lot of countries to make sure that we had the benefit of their thinking collectively, so that we could develop a document that other people could buy into.
And so this was accomplished. And one of the characteristics, I think the telling characteristics of the document and the agreement was that it does focus on things beyond simply military capacity. It focuses a lot on reconstruction.
In Afghanistan, of course, this is going to be a particularly important part of the strategy. It focuses a lot on rule of law and good governance. And as we continue to develop our relationship with Pakistan, which as you know is somewhat embryonic in some terms because we’ve had no mil-to-mil relations — military-to-military relations — with Pakistan for almost a decade, and so we’re trying to build these relationships up in very real time to face a very real threat.
So the fact that people recognize that this is a regional problem — that’s relatively new I think, within the last six months — the fact that we have a written strategy to address this regional problem which requires regional solutions, the fact that we’re going beyond military solutions and stimulating economic development — trade, bringing in other countries — we have a regional representative, Richard Holbrooke; we have a new ambassador in Kabul; we have a new deputy to the U.N.’s special representative in Kabul — we have a lot of things in place now that allow us to take a regional approach and a regional focus to implementing the strategy.
Q General, the President mentioned al Qaeda repeatedly, but he never said the Taliban in his remarks, and I was wondering if that was purposeful. Also is General Kayani mobilizing and deploying the 11th Corps? And if not, why should we take his efforts seriously?
GENERAL JONES: I’m sorry, why should you take General Kayani’s effort seriously?
Q No, the Pakistani President, I mean his word that he’s serious about this. Is the 11th Corps crucial to that, and what commitment have you got on that?
GENERAL JONES: I think those issues will be discussed in follow-on meetings, so I don’t have an answer for you on that as of today because we didn’t get down to that level of specificity.
The President — of course, his focus — we are focused on al Qaeda, but we’re also focused on extremism of any form, especially those extremists that want to strike outside of their borders and destabilize democratically elected governments. And that’s what we’re there to defeat. And I think this meeting was an affirmation that we will be successful.
Thank you very much. Thank you.
MR. GIBBS: Thanks, guys.
Please also read the transcript of President Obama’s remarks.