US President Barack Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron on Wednesday reaffirmed the transition plan for Afghanistan that was agreed upon by coalition partners in Lisbon, and said they would determine the next phase of that transition during the NATO summit in May in Chicago.
The two leaders, who also discussed the situations in Iran and Syria, held a joint press conference in the White House Rose Garden after Cameron was welcomed to the White House in the morning with a 19-gun salute.
In Afghanistan, the plan is for U.S. and British forces to shift to a support role in 2013 in advance of Afghans taking full responsibility in 2014, Obama said during the news conference.
“We are going to complete this mission, and we are going to do it responsibly, and NATO will maintain an enduring commitment so that Afghanistan never again becomes a haven for al-Qaida to attack our countries,” the President said.
Cameron said that while the United States, Britain and their allies will not build a perfect Afghanistan, “we are making some tangible progress with more markets open, more health centers working, more children going to school, more people able to achieve a basic standard of living and security.”
“But we can help ensure that Afghanistan is capable of delivering its own security without the need for large numbers of foreign troops” he noted.
The United States and Britain will back Afghan President Hamid Karzai in working toward an Afghan-led political settlement, Cameron added.
The two also discussed the continuing threat posed by Iran’s failure to meet its international obligations, Obama said.
“On this, we are fully united,” he said. “We are determined to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. We believe there is still time and space to pursue a diplomatic solution, and we are going to keep coordinating closely with our P-5 plus one (the five UN Security Council countries plus Germany) partners.
At the same time, pressure will be maintained on Iran with the strongest U.S. sanctions to date, while the European Union prepares to impose an embargo on Iranian oil, Obama said.
“Tehran must understand that it cannot escape or evade the choice before it, ” he said. “Meet your international obligations, or face the consequences”.
Cameron said that the United States and Britain are serious about the talks with Tehran that are set to resume, “but the regime has to meet its international obligations. If it refuses to do so, then Britain and America, along with our international partners, will continue to increase the political and economic pressure to achieve a peaceful outcome to this crisis.”
“As the President and I have said, nothing is off the table. That is essential for the safety of the region and the wider world,” he warned.
Obama and Cameron reaffirmed their commitment to support the democratic transitions under way in the Middle East and North Africa, the President said, noting that British forces played a critical role in the mission to protect the Libyan people during the revolution there last year.
“We also discussed the horrific violence that the Assad regime continues to inflict on the people of Syria,” Obama said. “Right now we are focused on getting humanitarian aid to those in need, and we agreed to keep increasing the pressure on the regime, mobilizing the international community, tightening sanctions, cutting the regime’s revenues, isolating it politically, diplomatically and economically” he pointed out.
As the Syrian regime and security forces continue to suffer defections, the opposition is growing stronger, Obama said.
Syrian President Basher al-Assad will leave power, he said, adding, “It is not a question of if, but when. And to prepare for that day, we will continue to support plans for a transition to support the legitimate aspirations of the Syrian people.” Cameron said that Britain was pledging an additional 2 million pounds in food and medical care for Syrians.
“At the same time, we must properly document the evidence so that those guilty of crimes can be held to account, no matter how long it takes,” he said. “Above all, we must do everything we can to achieve a political transition that will stop the killing. So we must maintain the strongest pressure on all those who are resisting change at all costs”.
The United States and Britain will support UN envoy Kofi Annan as he makes the case for a transition in Syria, “and we are ready to work with Russia and China for the same goal, including through a new United Nations Security Council resolution,” Cameron said.
“What we want is the quickest way to stop the killing,” he said. “That is through transition, rather than revolution or civil war. But if Assad continues, then civil war or revolution is the inevitable consequence. So we will work with anyone who is ready to build a stable, inclusive and democratic Syria for all Syrians.”