By Hillary Rodham Clinton, US Secretary of State
Okay. Well, good afternoon, everyone. We have some more seats. This has been a very full and productive day here in Bonn, and I want to touch on a few key points.
First, I want to express our appreciation to the German Government, particularly Chancellor Merkel and Foreign Minister Westerwelle for hosting this conference, and to the Afghans – particularly President Karzai and Foreign Minister Rassoul for chairing it. I think we took some important steps forward.
Second, I want to recognize a number of the women leaders who are here from Afghanistan. I met with them and with representatives of Afghan civil society this morning and just now because I am convinced that they have a crucial role to play in the future of Afghanistan, and in particular the peace and reconciliation process. Women and civil society have achieved considerable progress over the last 10 years, and we don’t want anything that we agree to or do to undermine that progress or to turn the clock back on human rights for women and men.
I also want to say a word about a particular area of progress, and I’m delighted that the Minister of Health from Afghanistan, Minister Dalil, is here, because a new Afghan mortality survey shows that the Afghanistan healthcare system has made a huge leap forward for women. Ten years ago, the maternal mortality rate in Afghanistan was estimated to be the highest in the world. Today, women’s life expectancy has increased by between 15 and 20 years, because women are finally getting access to healthcare, including prenatal care, and far fewer are dying in childbirth.
This is the kind of progress we cannot allow to be undermined and turned back. Now, we have no illusions about the enormous obstacles that remain ahead in Afghanistan. The insurgency by the Taliban remains active. There is a lot of work to be done both by the government and civil society to strengthen and build democratic institutions and to assure the rule of law, and also a free media and an independent judiciary among other things. And the World Bank recently projected that Afghanistan will face continuing hardships and budget deficits that will require new resources and revenue. And at the same time, as everyone is aware, the international community faces fiscal constraints. So these challenges are in very much the minds of all of us as we discuss the way forward.
At the NATO Summit in Lisbon, we agreed to a plan for our security transition that will be completed in 2014. Today in Bonn, we took the next step by setting out a blueprint for a post-transition Afghanistan, a roadmap for what we are calling a decade of transformation. In our session today, I emphasized how critical it is that we avoid repeating the mistakes of the 1990s and how important it is, as President Karzai said, that we all embrace mutual accountability.
So the United States is prepared to stand with the Afghan people, but Afghans themselves must also meet the commitments they have made, and we look forward to working with them to embrace reform, lead their own defense, and strengthen their democracy. I think it’s going to be very critical that the United States continue what we call our “fight, talk, build” approach, going after al-Qaida and their networks and allies, increasing the pressure on insurgents while supporting inclusive reconciliation and sustainable development. So we welcomed the economic, political, and security plans that President Karzai announced today which largely align with this strategy.
On security, they committed to expand the capacity of the Afghan security forces, and the United States and our partners will be committed to training, advising, and assisting. On the economy, the Afghans committed to set priorities, use international aid effectively, and enact a series of economic reforms to crack down on corruption, spur private sector growth, and attract new investment. And we have to come with concrete steps. So for example, I announced that the United States and other partners will now resume financial disbursements to the Afghan Reconstruction Trust Fund.
On the political front, the Afghans committed to proceed with inclusive, fair, and credible presidential elections and a peaceful, democratic transfer of power in 2014. And we will continue to provide support to Afghanistan’s democracy, including civil society.
And finally, the Afghans also committed to accelerate the process begun in Istanbul last month of building stronger economic, political, and security ties in the region. Every neighbor has a stake in the future of Afghanistan. Every neighbor loses if the country again becomes a source of terrorism and instability. So in addition to supporting increased regional economic integration, pursuit of the New Silk Road vision, we also look to Afghanistan’s neighbors to actively support an inclusive Afghan-led, Afghan-owned reconciliation process.
I know how much of a setback it was when President Rabbani was assassinated, so it was especially significant when the traditional Loya Jirga reaffirmed Afghanistan’s commitment to pursue this effort.
We want to send a very clear message to the people of Afghanistan that as they continue to make tough decisions we will stand with them and do so in that spirit of mutual accountability. Today we join nearly 100 nations in agreeing to renew and focus our shared commitment to continue investing and engaging in Afghanistan for the long term. We look forward to the NATO summit in Chicago in May and other upcoming meetings, such as the Tokyo Donors’ Conference to formalize this commitment.
Now, I can say that this has been a long and difficult decade, but the people who really understand what those words mean are sitting here with us. The people of Afghanistan have endured so much, and over and over again they ask me, they ask others, to ensure that they don’t lose the gains that they have made in this last difficult decade. I think we have a strategy that gives us the best chance to achieve a stable, prosperous, and peaceful future. That’s what this conference was all about, but of course, we know a lot of work lies ahead. I’m committed to that work, and I know we have many partners in Afghanistan who are as well.
So with that, I’d be happy to take some questions.
MS. NULAND: And we have time for four today. Let’s start with Anne Gearan of AP.
QUESTION: Madam Secretary, what does it say about the viability of the goals that you outlined and endorsed here, if Pakistan, the neighboring country with probably the greatest influence, at least on the internal goals in Afghanistan, didn’t show up? Do you feel a little jerked around by them, and do you think that everything said and done here now comes with an asterisk because they did not participate?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Anne, I think it was unfortunate that they did not participate, and I said in my prepared remarks that it would have been better if they had come. So we regretted the choice that they made, because today’s conference was an important milestone toward the kind of security and stability that is important for Pakistan as well as for Afghanistan. We continue to believe that Pakistan has a crucial role to play.
I was encouraged by what Prime Minister Gilani said today while the conference was going on, that he expected that the United States and Pakistan would continue our cooperation in a number of areas that are of mutual interest and concern, first and foremost our joint fight against terrorism. So I expect that Pakistan will be involved going forward, and we expect them to play a constructive role.
MS. NULAND: Next question, Abdul Kalel, Bakhtar News Agency, Afghanistan.
QUESTION: Your Excellency, the international community has (inaudible) we must protect human rights, civil societies, and the right of communities in Afghanistan. On other end, you are supporting peace with Taliban, with their particular lifestyles. What is the guarantee that the value will not be sacrificed in this process? Thanks.
SECRETARY CLINTON: I think that’s such an important question. And ultimately, the decision about peace and reconciliation is up to the Afghan people. It is not for the United States or anyone else in the international community to decide. Back earlier this year, on February 18th, I gave a speech which outlined our strategy moving forward. We said we needed to have a regional approach, and we’ve been pursuing that; this conference, the conference in Istanbul, demonstrate that. It also clearly laid out what we expect out of any peace and reconciliation process.
There are necessary outcomes, and those are the same today as they were when I discussed them at the Asia Society in New York. The Taliban must renounce violence; they must abandon their alliance with al-Qaida; they must agree to abide by the laws and constitution of Afghanistan, including the protection of human rights and the rights of women and ethnic minorities. So we have a set of very firm guidelines for any process we’re involved in, but really it is our role to support an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned process, which is why I think it’s so important that civil society be involved in the peace and reconciliation process, because there have to be a wide variety of Afghan voices if the process is going to be inclusive and will protect the rights of all Afghan people.
We are still at the very beginning of this process. And the fact is, in conflicts, you don’t make peace with your friends. If you want to resolve a conflict, then you have to sit across a table and talk with people whose views are often very different from yours. But I believe that Afghan society and the work that has been done over the last 10 years puts Afghanistan in a strong position to determine what is and is not acceptable. And it would certainly be unacceptable to me, not just as an American, but if I myself were an Afghan woman, it would be unacceptable to me if any negotiation sacrificed my human rights, and I personally would oppose that.
MS. NULAND: Next question, Steve Myers, New York Times.
QUESTION: Thank you, Madam Secretary. If I could ask you two questions. President Karzai, in your meeting just before lunch, made reference to the speech of Iran being a positive one. Do you share that view?
And on Russia, the OSCE and local election observers noted widespread abuses in yesterday’s parliamentary elections. And even so, the ruling party of President Putin barely met or reached the 50 percent level. What does that mean, in your view, with regard to the political system there and next year’s reelection of President Putin?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, with respect to the comments that President Karzai made, I did not hear the speech. I wasn’t in the room. I was meeting Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. The way it was described to me by President Karzai, he believed that compared to prior speeches that had been given by representatives of Iran at international conferences, this was a positive recognition of the sovereignty and legitimacy of Afghanistan and the Afghan Government. So I really should let him speak for himself, but that is his – that was his assessment.
Concerning Russia, we’re watching the election results with great interest. Clearly, the Duma is going to have a different makeup than it did before this election. And we do have serious concerns about the conduct of the elections. We think that the preliminary report just issued by the OSCE international mission raise a number of questions about the conduct of the elections. The OSCE, for example, cites election day attempts to stuff ballot boxes, manipulate voter lists, and other troubling practices. And as you know, I’ll be going to Vilnius from here for the OSCE meeting, and I expect to get briefed further.
We’re also concerned by reports that independent Russian election observers, including the nationwide Golos network, were harassed, had cyber attacks on their websites, totally contrary to what should be the protected rights of people to observe elections and participate in them and disseminate information. And we’re very proud of those Russian citizens who participated constructively in the electoral process in order to assure that it was strong and fair and free and credible.
I think that it’s not so much what I think or even what the OSCE thinks, as what Russian voters think. Russian voters deserve a full investigation of all credible reports of electoral fraud and manipulation, and we hope in particular that the Russian authorities will take action on the recommendations that come forward from observer missions like the OSCE in its final report and their own electoral observers, who are making recommendations about how to improve the process.
The Russian people, like people everywhere, deserve the right to have their voices heard and their votes counted. And that means they deserve free, fair, transparent elections and leaders who are accountable to them. And we believe that that’s in the best interests of Russia and we’re going to continue to speak out about it.
MS. NULAND: Last question, Christian (inaudible) from Germany.
QUESTION: Madam Secretary, we were talking about the 2014 date when Afghan National Security Forces should take full responsibility. How can you be sure that they will be capable of doing that, because of the fact that they don’t have air force to speak of or tanks or artillery or whatever?
And if you allow a second short question, President Karzai said that he might use or need 5 billion Euros a year to support the process after the international forces, the common forces, have left. Do you think his expectations will be met?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, first with regard to the Afghan National Security Forces, we have seen marked improvement in their performance, their professionalism. They are in the fight in many parts of Afghanistan now and performing well. We know there is a lot of work still to be done, that different units are uneven throughout the country, but we think with a continuing concerted training mission, we will see the force improve. And as the transition to Afghan security lead continues, there will be greater experience, which can then build upon itself.
So we think we’re on the right track for the transition to security lead by the end of December 2014. Now, as I said in my remarks, 2014 doesn’t mean that the Afghan Security Forces are totally on their own. The United States and other partners will be providing training and assisting and advising. We’re in the process of discussing all of that. We think the commitment made at the Lisbon summit will be carried out. We’ll be discussing it at the NATO Ministerial I’ll be attending in Brussels the day after tomorrow. And we will also be finalizing some arrangements by the Chicago summit.
I think that you’re right that we’re still talking about largely a ground force, we’re not talking about F-16s. But I believe that there is an assessment that, given the threats that exist as of now, the Afghan Security Forces are being trained to meet those threats. Now, as they become a more professional, sustainable force, there will certainly be an opportunity for them to seek additional capabilities. And we’ll have that discussion when the time arises.
QUESTION: The financial aspect? Sorry.
SECRETARY CLINTON: The what?
QUESTION: The financial – sorry.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Oh yes. I think that there is a transition dividend that has been discussed, because certainly as we draw down our troops, there will be an enormous savings because the most expensive part of our mission is not the civilian but the military. And that’s going to be true for a lot of our partners. And I think you heard Cathy Ashton say today on behalf of the European Union that they are beginning to negotiate in long-term assistance agreements.
So what the exact amount is, how much the Afghans are able to contribute over what period of time, that is all to be decided. But there will be continuing assistance.
MS. NULAND: Thank you very much.