Thank you, Mr. President.
It gives me great pleasure to join with my colleagues in thanking you for your extraordinary leadership as President of the Security Council, for your distinguished career and the many contributions you have made, not only to your government, but to the relationship between our two countries, given your service in Washington, and the tremendous wisdom, friendship, and leadership that you’ve shown throughout your tenure here. We and I will miss you enormously, and we wish you all the best. And I hope we all have an open invitation to come and see you.
I also want to begin by thanking Special Representative Kai Eide for his comprehensive briefing today and for all of his exceptional efforts as head of UNAMA.
The United States strongly supports UNAMA and its pursuit—together with the international community and especially with the Government of Afghanistan—of the goals in Resolution 1868. Much work remains for all of us to do as we help the Afghan government to better serve and protect its people.
On the heels of the launch of the United States’ own comprehensive new strategy in Afghanistan, the Hague Ministerial, and the Paris Conference earlier this month, the United States welcomes the Secretary-General’s first quarterly report on the situation in Afghanistan. As the Secretary-General indicates, the security situation remains challenging. But our partnership is indeed making progress as we work to address key security, humanitarian, human rights, and governance concerns on the ground. At the Hague Ministerial, the international community spoke with a strong and united voice: UNAMA will continue to play a key role in Afghanistan’s security and development. The international community clearly put UNAMA in the lead for coordinating international action and assistance in support of the Government of Afghanistan.
As this Council knows, President Obama has made Afghanistan a top national security priority. Our goals are clear: to disrupt, defeat, and dismantle al-Qaeda and to build up the Afghan government’s capacity to secure its people and its territory. UNAMA is doing outstanding work, and it will remain key to our common efforts.
In this light, permit me to touch on a few critical areas.
Afghanistan’s presidential and provincial elections on August 20 are a critical milestone in the Government of Afghanistan’s efforts to expand governance. The elections offer the Afghan government an opportunity to give its citizens a voice and to underscore to the international community its ongoing drive to strengthen democracy and good governance in the country. The international community and the UN are working hard with the Independent Electoral Commission to help make sure these election-related efforts succeed. We must all make this our top priority in the weeks ahead. Let me note in this regard that the United States has given $120 million to the UN-administered donor fund for the elections. We call on all other donors to rapidly deliver on their pledges as well.
The United States does not support or oppose any particular Presidential or Provincial Council candidate. Instead, we support the right of the Afghan people to choose their own leaders. That is why we are working with Afghan electoral authorities and the UN to help Afghans ensure a credible, secure, and inclusive electoral process.
The United States applauds UNAMA’s efforts toward that goal. We welcome the establishment of the Political Rights Monitoring program, which will watch the protection of freedom of expression, association, peaceful assembly, and movement. We will also remain vigilant for cases of intimidation, partiality, and discrimination. And we encourage the Government of Afghanistan to fully enforce its decree on Non-Intervention in the Election Affairs of 2009.
The United States also welcomes UNAMA’s efforts to encourage Afghan women to participate in the political process, as both candidates and voters. We’re working in parallel to empower women and end gender discrimination in Afghanistan. And let me note that President Obama’s Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues, Melanne Verveer, completed a trip to Afghanistan just yesterday. And while in the country, she promoted the launch of a $27 million grants program to support gender equality by strengthening Afghan-led civil society organizations, particularly through providing technical assistance and smaller grants to Afghan NGOs.
Mr. President, UNAMA will only be as effective as its resources and presence throughout Afghanistan will allow. Expanding UNAMA’s presence in Afghanistan's regions and provinces—as called for in Resolution 1868—is also essential.
We welcome UNAMA’s stronger leadership in donor coordination, and we have committed ourselves to new levels of cooperation and transparency as we work with UNAMA and other donors. It is critical to coordinate capitals’ preparation of their 2009-2013 assistance plans with the Government of Afghanistan as well as among donors. Donor-implementation meetings at the international level would help reach this goal, and such efforts would be a useful supplement to coordination in the field. We must help donors align their high-level plans and funding requests with Afghan priorities.
The proposed civilian increase to implement an enhanced, targeted, capacity-building program comes in direct response to the Afghan government’s requests and geographic priorities. UNAMA must lie at the heart of efforts to coordinate the international aspects of the civilian increase, but the Afghan government must also take ownership of that increase for it to be effective. Afghanistan needs a dramatic increase of civilian expertise to help develop key systems and institutions, to extend basic infrastructure, and create lawful economic alternatives to poppy production. On counter-narcotics, the United States recently announced that it is phasing out eradication and channeling significantly more resources into agriculture, interdiction, and public information efforts.
Mr. President, let me single out a creative program that will also support UNAMA’s work: that is the UN’s efforts to support the Afghan economy through, in the Secretary-General’s words, its “local procurement campaign with members of the Government, donors and a number of Afghan private sector suppliers, which is intended to encourage the international community to buy Afghan products and reduce reliance on more expensive imports.” The United States is very supportive of efforts to expand bilateral and regional trade, including more U.S. purchases from Afghan producers and businesses. My government will also do its part to increase regional trade through the launch of a Regional Infrastructure and Trade Development initiative and through encouraging Afghanistan and Pakistan to conclude an updated Transit Trade treaty.
We must also do more to develop Afghan agriculture, which will require better technology, marketing, building infrastructure, irrigation, rural electrification, cold storage, and roads from farms to markets. We should all be working together with the people and Government of Afghanistan to deliver the basic needs and infrastructure necessary to improve the lives of the 76 percent of Afghans who live in rural areas.
Finally, Mr. President, my government would be remiss if it didn’t comment on the report’s discussion of civilian casualties. The United States deeply regrets any injury or loss of life among innocent Afghans from operations involving U.S. and ISAF forces. Any loss of innocent human life is tragic. We try to promptly provide humanitarian assistance to affected communities after incidents occur. We take all reports of such incidents seriously. And we will continue to conduct thorough, joint investigations with the Afghan government to determine exactly what happened in each incident involving allegations of civilian casualties.
U.S. and international forces take extensive precautions to avoid loss of life among Afghan civilians, as well as international and Afghan forces, during operations against insurgents and terrorists. We understand that civilian casualties undermine Afghan public and government backing for all that we do together. In fact, shortly after assuming command of the U.S. forces in Afghanistan and ISAF on June 14, General Stanley McChrystal announced that reducing civilian casualties will be a top priority as he pursues the military efforts necessary to provide a secure environment in which Afghanistan’s society and government can be strengthened. But we must not forget that, as we pursue these goals, we are fighting against an enemy—the Taliban and other militants—that employs appalling tactics, including using child soldiers as suicide bombers and using civilians as human shields. Most civilian causalities in Afghanistan, as the special envoy just said, are caused by insurgents, not by the international forces working to improve the Afghan government’s capacity to protect the Afghan people.
Mr. President, the international community has made UNAMA a guiding force in achieving our goals in Afghanistan. The United States stands steadfast in its support for the Afghan people as they seek to overcome the challenges of the past 30 years and work with the international community to defeat a common enemy. We must now work together to succeed in Afghanistan—for the sake of the Afghan people, for the sake of the region, and for the sake of international peace and security.
Thank you, Mr. President.
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