Thank you, Mr. President. Thank you, Under-Secretary-General Le Roy, for your comprehensive briefing. And thank you Ambassador Tanin for your remarks and your leadership here.
Let me start by underscoring the full support of the United States for the critical role of the United Nations in Afghanistan. We are deeply grateful to the dedicated men and women of UNAMA and of the many UN agencies who have demonstrated their deep commitment to helping the Afghan people achieve stability and develop democratic institutions in the face of enormous challenges.
Two months ago in London, the international community demonstrated its support for the Afghan government's agenda, as outlined by President Karzai in his inaugural address. Underlying our commitment is the recognition that Afghanistan and the international community are entering into a new phase of partnership on the way to full Afghan ownership. To ensure that the efforts of the international community are effective, the United Nations will have to continue to play a key role in promoting coordination and unity of effort.
The United States very much welcomes the appointment of Special Representative Staffan de Mistura and reiterates its strong support for him and UNAMA as he takes up his important assignment. We look forward to working closely with the new Special Representative to achieve our shared goal of assisting the people of Afghanistan to transform and strengthen their own society and ensure their own security. Upon his arrival, Special Representative de Mistura committed UNAMA to work to "assist both the stability and the socioeconomic improvement of the Afghan people, remembering it should be Afghan-led and Afghan-owned, with total respect for their own sovereignty and independence." We agree with this commitment and we look forward to supporting UNAMA in its work.
We look forward to seeing UNAMA take a re-energized, central role in coordinating humanitarian assistance among the UN agencies and in coordinating assistance among the donor governments, through improved mechanisms and increased staffing. For our part, the United States will continue to work to improve its coordination with the UN and other donors, and we would welcome steps by others to do the same. We believe that UNAMA will work closely with the Government of Afghanistan to ensure that this assistance supports the government’s agenda and priorities and builds government capacity at all levels.
The international community is committed to strengthening the Afghan government’s capacity and supporting its goal of taking responsibility for its own development, governance, and security priorities. U.S. civilian officials are partnering with Afghans to develop and implement governance, economic development, rule of law, and agricultural initiatives. UNAMA has a continued, critical role to play in the process of transitioning toward greater responsibility for the Afghan government, including helping develop provincial benchmarks on development, governance, and the rule of law as ISAF and the Afghan government make provincial transition decisions. The Afghan government has announced plans for a transition to Afghan-led security responsibility, and we are already making progress together on this front.
Current ISAF operations in Helmand Province, conducted at the request of the Afghan government and the province’s governor, have been conducted with an unprecedented degree of Afghan planning and leadership. Key Afghan security and service-delivery ministries in Kabul and their subordinate departments in Helmand have worked to ensure that governance and development efforts immediately follow security operations. The Afghan government installed a Deputy District Governor for Marjah and his team on February 23, just ten days after security operations were launched. Kabul continues to staff up critical service-delivery ministry positions to help roll out essential services. But the real test will be the Afghan government's ability to meet the expectations of the local population. And we are determined to help the Afghan authorities succeed.
As security improves and the Afghan government assumes greater security responsibilities, the United States stands ready to support Afghan-led initiatives to stabilize local areas by providing a path for insurgent commanders and fighters to leave the battlefield. As President Obama has said, "We will support efforts by the Afghan government to open the door to those Taliban who abandon violence and respect the human rights of their fellow citizens."
We urge the United Nations to continue to play a strong role in ensuring the involvement of women in every stage of this process and in working with the Afghan government to ensure that women's rights and human rights are preserved and promoted.
Finally, the Afghan government's announcement of national legislative elections later this year presents another opportunity to improve governance and strengthen institutions. However, we remain concerned about the electoral decree issued by the President in February. It is vital that the Afghan people are able to have faith in the credibility and legitimacy of the 2010 legislative elections. Thus, the independence and credibility of Afghanistan's electoral institutions are of paramount importance. For example, the Electoral Complaints Commission will be enhanced if its members – both Afghan and foreign – are able to conduct their activities in an impartial and independent manner.
We welcome the Afghan government's commitments to ensuring the integrity of the 2010 Parliamentary elections and to working closely with the United Nations to build on the lessons learned from the 2009 elections to deliver improvements to the electoral process in 2010 and beyond. Demonstrable progress in establishing independent and effective electoral institutions will be key to sustaining confidence in the upcoming election and its results. Our own ability to provide assistance through the elections cycle will depend significantly on this progress in establishing more effective and honest governance.
Mr. President, the commitment we share with the Government of Afghanistan, expressed most recently in London, provides renewed direction for our efforts. The government's plan to host an international conference in Kabul later this year will enable us to hear its detailed action plans and its targets for implementing its agenda. This will be a critical year for Afghanistan, and we look forward to strengthening our common efforts.
Thank you, Mr. President.
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