FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Ambassador Rice: Good afternoon everybody. Last night the President spoke to the nation and to the world about our strategy with respect to Afghanistan and Pakistan. The President reaffirmed that the core goal we seek is to disrupt, dismantle and eventually defeat Al-Qaeda and its extremist allies and to prevent the acquisition and maintenance of a safe haven in Afghanistan and Pakistan. This is crucial, and the President described it as vital, to the national security of the United States. And that is because the forces of Al-Qaeda which attacked us on 9/11, did so from Afghanistan and this region of the world. And we know that they continue to plot and plan to attack us at this very minute. And indeed as the President said last night, over the last several months we have in fact captured individuals who had plotted and planned in that region with support from that region who were in the United States to carry out such attacks.
This strategy as the President outlined has three principle components. The first is military: to surge 30,000 US Forces joined by an additional compliment of NATO and ISAF forces to regain and strengthen the effort against the Taliban in Afghanistan, prevent the return of a save haven, accelerate the process of training Afghan National Security Forces and to enable the swifter transfer of responsibility and authority to the Afghan leadership and the Afghan authorities.
The second component is civilian. And we talked also about the importance of strengthening the civilian component of our mission in cooperation with the United Nations, with our allies, and putting the resources in place to support and strengthen government and accelerated development in Afghanistan.
And the third critical component is of course Pakistan. And the President affirmed that we have a long-term strategic partnership with Pakistan based on mutual interest and mutual respect. That we will support the efforts of the Pakistanis to strengthen their own security against the very same extremists that threaten the Pakistani people and threaten the United States and others. And that we will be with Pakistan over the long term in support of its development and democracy.
Let me just say finally that I was pleased and privileged to participate in the decision making process that resulted in this outcome. It was a very thoughtful, very deliberative, comprehensive process. I think it has served the President and the country well, and now the President’s national security team is completely united: our commanders, our Ambassadors in the field, and our allies, behind this new approach. So with that, I am happy to take your questions.
Reporter: Madam Ambassador, the President last night in his speech called on the UN to be a partner in building a civilian strategy. Can you talk about specifically what the US is looking for from the UN, and is the UN in a position to delver given it has withdrawn half of its staff from Kabul in the wake of the guest house attack.
Ambassador Rice: We think the United Nations has played and must continue to pay a vital role in Afghanistan. Its mission is multifaceted, as you know. It has supported the electoral process very ably, it provides humanitarian assistance, it helps to try to coordinate development and other support to the Afghan authorities, it plays a critical political role, and this role needs to continue. And we have every confidence that it will continue. We think that the personnel of UNAMA need and deserve the additional resources to ensure their security and to enable them to continue to ramp up their presence and expand it into new provinces within Afghanistan. The civilian component of this strategy is crucial and that is why the United States will increase its investment, that’s why the countries of NATO and ISAF will do the same, and why the United Nations can and must continue to play a vital role.
Reporter: Ambassador, just to press it a little further, what is your degree of concern that it’s not going to be possible given the security constraints. I mean, the plan to open up offices in new provinces is on hold, the international staff is down by about half, a lot of other activities are constrained…
Ambassador Rice: The vital missions that UNAMA is performing continue to be performed. There has been some very temporary redeployment of personnel outside of the country but most have been redeployed inside of Afghanistan. And obviously we are very mindful of the security risks and the need to strengthen, as the Secretary-General intends, the security for UNAMA and its personnel. We will be working in the context of the Fifth Committee and with our partners here to ensure that UNAMA has the resources it needs. We recognize that it has suffered a setback, but we view it as temporary and we certainly believe that there is the ability, and must be the will, for UNAMA to continue to play a vital role.
Reporter: Ambassador, are there any specific additional measures that this administration is seeking here at the UN to compliment this new strategy? And included in that, are there any specific measures to combat corruption?
Ambassador: UNAMA has played an important role in urging and working with the Government of Afghanistan to strengthen governance, including reinforcing the message that we and others have delivered about the importance of effective governance and tackling corruption. I think we saw in President Karzai’s inauguration speech and the actions he has taken thus far a renewed sense of commitment to that. And we expect UNAMA to continue to reinforce that critical element, which is essential to effective governance and to the ability for the Afghan authorities to assume the responsibilities that they must and that we believe they can for their country, following a period of intensified effort to increase security and to build the capacity of the Afghan authorities both to provide security for their people and to deliver essential services to the people.
Reporter: (inaudible) here will be asking to compliment?
Ambassador: I think, not immediately. We obviously have the UNAMA mandate review that will come up in March. We think, broadly speaking, the mandate as currently crafted is right. It was revised not long ago. Obviously, we will take a look at it as we would with any mandate when it comes up for renewal, in consultations with our colleagues on the Council and partners, just to ensure that it fully reflects and adequately reflects the reality at the time. We will work most immediately in the context of the Fifth Committee to ensure that UNAMA has the resources it needs and indeed that the security component is fully addressed.
Reporter: On Darfur? I wanted to ask you, it’s known that…
Ambassador: Hold on, can we continue on Afghanistan?
Reporter: In terms of, you said Pakistan was also a component; would there be any involvement of the UN with regard to Pakistan in any capacity whatsoever?
Ambassador: The UN is also, as you know, playing a very important role in Pakistan, both on the humanitarian side and the development side providing much needed support and assistance to those that have been displaced. The appointment of Ambassador Ripert as a senior coordinator is meant to help the UN and help the international community align its assistance in support of the priorities of the Pakistani Government and that also is a very important element of this strategy going forward.
Reporter: Ambassador Rice, just a question on Afghanistan, please. Do you think the goal of training Afghani forces could be achieved in 18 months that has been set? Is this a realistic target, why 18 months? So many see this as very short period.
Ambassador: Let me be clear, it is not the expectation that all of the Afghan Security Forces that are required will be trained within 18 months. The President has said that he will send an additional 30,000 US Forces, augmented by additional NATO and ISAF forces. Those forces will arrive in the first half of 2010 – faster than what had been in fact proposed or anticipated originally by General McChrystal. They will create space and time for the Afghan authorities to enhance their governance, and very importantly accelerate the training of Afghan National Security Forces. And enable us to accelerate, not only by putting additional resources in there to supplement training, but also very crucially to enable NATO and US forces to partner with Afghan National Security Forces which is key to accelerating both the speed of their coming up to strength and their quality as they come up to strength. At the end of 18 months, the President has said that he anticipates that the United States and NATO will be in a position to begin to transfer responsibility of certain areas that are ready to Afghan authorities. That is what we anticipate will begin in 18 months. And this is important, most vitally important, because it is intended to convey to the Afghan government and the Afghan people that this is their country, this is their responsibility, and that we will work with them to assume that responsibility to build their ability to do it. We do not intend to be there indefinitely. This is not an open ended commitment. We are not trying to build a perfect nation. We are trying to enhance the capacity of the Afghan people and their government to take ownership for their security and for their well-being.
Reporter: Madame Ambassador, there have been reports in Europe that one of the possibilities under consideration is creating an international high representative for Afghanistan to ensure that the international efforts in improving good governance, fighting corruption, the drug trade, ensuring humanitarian assistance are being carried out in a way that is not scattershot. Is this something that the United States supports or would see as a viable possibility?
Ambassador Rice: This is not an American proposal. We certainly agree that there needs to be improvement and urgently so in the coordination of the civilian component of this mission and the civilian assistance resources. That is presently the mandate of UNAMA. We may take actions with our partners in NATO and ISAF to strengthen UNAMA’s ability to do that, including perhaps by strengthening coordination of assistance within and among the countries that are donors of NATO and ISAF, but we are not advocating, at this stage, the appointment of a high representative.
Reporter: I want to ask you on Darfur, it’s… it’s thought or known that the US had concerns about Rodolphe Adada when he was SRSG of the UN for UNAMID. Now that Mr. Gambari’s been nominated in a letter sent to the Council does the US, you know… do they… do you feel that his approach will be different than that of Adada what do think he should do as SRSG and relatedly what’s going to happen with Myanmar for the UN? Is he going to cover both?
Ambassador Rice: I’ll let the UN address that question as to what his relationship to Myanmar will continue to be, if any. We have significant appreciation and respect for Ambassador Gambari and we look forward to working with him as he takes over the role of SRSG for Darfur. We think it’s vitally important that UNAMID come up to full strength; that the impediments to its movement and access are immediately eliminated; and that the SRSG play a very active and vigilant role in ensuring that both sides adhere to their obligations to halt attacks on civilians, to adhere, we hope, to a lasting cessation of hostilities. There is great work to be done as we discussed the other day in the Council on the political front, but there’s a vital need to ensure that UNAMID, whose mandate it is to protect civilians, is fully able to accomplish that and that’s what we will look to Ambassador Gambari as SRSG to accomplish.
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