FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Thank you, Mr. President.
I’d like to join others in welcoming Special Representative Eide to the Council today and thank him for his briefing. Ambassador Eide, my government would like to express its deep gratitude to you for your efforts to help stabilize Afghanistan. Your leadership and commitment remain critical to the implementation of UNAMA’s expanded mandate. We congratulate you and the staff of UNAMA and offer you our full support.
I’d also like to welcome Ambassador Tanin today. I’d like to assure you Mr. Ambassador, of the commitment of the United States to a stable and secure Afghanistan and of our continued cooperation.
Mr. President, the United Nations, NATO, and other contributors all have important roles to play in making Afghanistan more secure, helping build up the capacities of its government, strengthening its justice system, and expanding the reach of economic opportunity.
My government strongly supports UNAMA’s leadership in coordinating international aid efforts and improving cooperation between civilian and military operations.
We also welcome the decision of the General Assembly to provide the crucial resources UNAMA needs to fulfill its mandate. Approving UNAMA’s 2009 budget of $168 million and giving it the authority to hire 437 new staff members and expand to four new offices this year were important steps, but we have more to do together. My government urges the UN to speed up the process of funding to UNAMA, and we encourage member states to provide highly qualified staff to help fill these new staff positions. UNAMA’s role is critical and of course, we strongly support the renewal of UNAMA’s mandate.
Mr President, I’d like to touch on several of the issues raised in the Secretary General’s report.
The United States agrees with your report’s conclusion that the problem of the Taliban’s resurgence and the spread of extremism in the region cannot be solved by military means alone. Civilian assistance is critical to success in Afghanistan. We are therefore encouraged by the formation of the Integrated Approach Working Group, and we look forward to hearing about its progress in delivering aid and completing needs assessments.
The United States sees the upcoming elections as the key strategic event in Afghanistan this year. We support an open, fair election in which the Afghan people can choose their own leaders, free from intimidation.
We appreciate the efforts made by the Afghan Independent Election Commission, the United Nations, international donors and security forces, and Afghan security services to confront the difficult challenges in preparing for the upcoming voting. The United States supports the commission’s decision to hold the elections on August 20 in order to maximize the fairness, transparency, and universality of the voting. We call upon Afghanistan’s leaders to find a solution within their constitutional framework that will ensure the continuity, legitimacy, and stability of their government throughout the election process.
We must also move urgently to ensure that the elections are properly funded. The commission has presented a budget of $224 million to give the voting process the resources it will require. We urge donors to follow through on their pledges as soon as possible.
Mr. President, there will be no sustained progress in Afghanistan—no matter how many troops are deployed or how much money is spent—if we do not make substantial progress to increase the country’s capacity for good governance. First and foremost, such efforts must come from the government and people of Afghanistan, but we will continue to work together with them to provide ongoing support here.
Corruption remains one of the primary concerns of the Afghan people. It undermines efforts to help build an impartial, fair government that delivers services to all citizens equally, without regard for their wealth or connections. We need to see progress from the Afghan government in fighting corruption, expanding the reach of the central government, strengthening local governments, and creating economic opportunity.
Mr. President, we also share the report’s concerns about the deteriorating human rights situation in Afghanistan. We are particularly concerned by the harm that discriminatory laws and practices are causing to women and children.
While we are encouraged by the steps that the Afghan government has taken to implement the National Action Plan for women, we are in full agreement that much more needs to be done. The United States has trained more than 3,000 Afghan women as teachers over the past year, and we continue to support higher education for women through our programs at the University of Kabul. We are also helping train more than 22,000 women to help carry out the upcoming elections. We welcome the views of the Special Representative about how UNAMA and the international community might cooperate better with the Afghan government to meet the needs of women and girls—for education, health care, economic opportunity, justice, and the chance to lead.
We are encouraged by the UN Office of Drug Control’s forecast of a possible further decrease in opium cultivation in 2009—as steep a drop as 30 percent, according to these UN estimates. But the drug threat in Afghanistan remains unacceptably high. It will require a long-term commitment by both the Government of Afghanistan and the international community for us to meet this challenge. We are particularly concerned by the deteriorating security conditions in the south, where the insurgency now dominates and where 98 percent of Afghanistan’s poppy is now grown.
Mr. President, I must address the issue of civilian casualties. the United States, our NATO allies, and our coalition partners deeply regret any loss of innocent civilian life. International forces in Afghanistan take extraordinary measures to avoid civilian casualties—in sharp contrast to the Taliban, who deliberately attack and endanger civilians. ISAF issued a directive last December specifically aimed at reducing the number of civilian casualties resulting from its operations. And I want to stress, our goal is to avoid casualties. When events that may involve civilian casualties do occur, joint Afghan and international teams move quickly to investigate and, where appropriate, compensate victims.
Finally Mr. President, we appreciate the UN’s role in co-chairing the March 31 International Conference on Afghanistan, along with the Government of Afghanistan and the Netherlands. We look forward to reaffirming the broad international consensus on supporting Afghanistan, as embodied in the Afghanistan Compact of 2006. And we particularly look forward to a productive dialogue on ways to provide aid more effectively to help meet the Afghan government’s priorities and they are: improved security, better governance, and more robust economic growth.
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