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Transcripts and Remarks

Remarks By U.S. Ambassador Karl W. Eikenberry And Afghan Minister of Foreign Affairs Dr. Rangin Dadfar Spanta At The Signing Ceremony For the U.S. Consulate In Mazar-E-Sharif

December 2, 2009 | Kabul, Afghanistan

Ambassador Eikenberry:   I'm very pleased to be here today with my good friend and colleague, Foreign Minister Spanta.  As many of you know, the Afghan Government and the United States recently agreed to open United States consulates in Mazar-e-Sharif and in Minister Spanta's home province of Herat.

In April of this year we identified the historic Mazar Hotel owned by the Ministry of Information, Culture, Sports and Tourism as the most suitable property for the new consulate in Mazar-e-Sharif.  Since the mid summer we've been engaged in lease negotiations with that Ministry and stand here today now prepared to invest many millions of dollars in renovating that property, which will contribute significantly to both local employment and to the local economy.

The Consulate in Mazar will extend United States diplomatic reach now throughout Northern Afghanistan.  It will play an important role in providing American development assistance and commercial investment north of the Hindu Kush.

Most importantly, it will strengthen and enhance the bonds of friendship and support that the United States' people feel for the people of Afghanistan.

As President Obama said in his historic address today:  in order to succeed in Afghanistan, "no one nation can meet the challenges of an interconnected world acting alone."  He went on to commit to the Afghan people that the United States would forge a lasting friendship in which America is your partner.

The soon-to-be flying flag of the United States over Consulate Mazar sends a very strong signal about the United States' commitment to improving the lives of the Afghan population by helping to promote peace, justice and economic livelihood -- conditions all necessary to prevent Afghanistan from again becoming a bastion of international terrorism and violent extremism.

So thank you, Minister Spanta, for your efforts to make today's signing ceremony possible.  Thank you for all of your help.  Thank you for your friendship.

QUESTION:  Carlotta Gall, from the New York Times.  I accept your comments from both sides of lasting commitment, but President Obama's speech was actually very slight on commitment for civilian assistance to Afghanistan, just mentioning agriculture in passing, and talking about the troop surge already coming down in 18 months.  Could I have a comment from both of you, but particularly Dr. Spanta?  Are you not concerned that the speech showed American interest in Afghanistan is flagging and especially on the long-term civilian side?  Thank you.

Foreign Minister Spanta:  (in Dari)

Ambassador Eikenberry:  If I can just supplement what the Minister said -- and I'll speak in English, not Dari. 

Our involvement in Afghanistan is a comprehensive one.  It has a dimension that includes security.  It has a dimension that includes helping to improve governance and strengthen the government of Afghanistan, so devastated by three decades of conflict, and to also help strengthen the economy of Afghanistan.

Let me just mention a word about the security dimension.  The President talked last night at the United States Military Academy at West Point -- this morning here Afghan time -- about the additional commitment of United States forces over the next year, beginning late this year over the next 12 months.  That's over 30,000, and an expectation that other NATO ISAF troop contributing nations will also contribute forces. 

He was clear that there has been a neglect here in Afghanistan over the years which has led to the deterioration of security, and hence, for several reasons, the decision to increase the commitment of troops from the United States here: in order to reverse Taliban momentum, in order to help build the Afghan National Security Forces, in order to give more space and time for the further development and strengthening of the Afghan government and its economy, and to show and send a signal of United States, and indeed NATO, resolve.

Carlotta, you mentioned that the President had said in 18 months -- then, at that point in time, we'd reach a point where there would be a decline in the presence of U.S. troops.  But remember at this point in time today what we're talking about is 30,000 plus additional U.S. troops that are not even here, and we're talking thousands of additional non-U.S. NATO ISAF troops that are not even here right now.

So when you talk about then the summer of 2011 that we're at our maximum level of military involvement and from that point the numbers begin to lower, we're talking lowering from 30,000... 35,000 troops that aren't even here today.  So we need to bear that in mind.

I also said that our comprehensive strategy includes governance strengthening, it includes economic development.  It also includes a cooperative approach with our Afghan allies in terms of collaborative approaches with regional diplomacy.

We have a long-term commitment to the Government of Afghanistan.  We have a long-term commitment to the people of Afghanistan.  Today the signing of this lease to establish our first Consulate -- the first United States Consulate here in Afghanistan in Mazar-e-Sharif, with plans to establish one in Herat, in western Afghanistan -- that is a sign of commitment.  That's a sign of our long-term commitment.

I know that after the discussion between President Karzai and President Obama at a videoteleconference that took place yesterday, the White House released a statement of the discussion.  And in that statement it was emphasized that we wish to give help to the Government of Afghanistan and discuss further the development not only of agriculture, but the mining sector of Afghanistan, energy, water management.  There was a discussion about the improvement of the civil service and the strengthening of the civil service of Afghanistan.  So I want to emphasize that we have a very comprehensive approach in our long-term friendship and partnership with Afghanistan, and that's a long-term commitment.

Question:   (in Dari)

Ambassador Eikenberry:  Any advice that I rendered to my leaders in the United States government during this very open review of our strategy that took place, any advice that I gave during that process is privileged advice.

What I will tell you is that the President of the United States now has refined our mission in Afghanistan.  There is great clarity.  And I fully support -- 100 percent -- his decision.  Our strategy is clear.  Our commitment -- of both United States military and the United States civilians inside of your country -- our commitment is absolute and we will work tirelessly to successfully execute the mission.

Question: (in Dari) 

Minister Spanta:  (in Dari)

Ambassador Eikenberry:  (inaudible)...estimate on the number of Taliban.  You're better served to ask an intelligence or a military expert.

With regard to questions of reconciliation and reintegration with the Taliban, the United States' policies and views are well known.  They've been well articulated.

First of all, this is a matter for the Government of Afghanistan.  The United States and our partners will support efforts of the Government of Afghanistan in terms of its own efforts to reach out for reconciliation and reintegration.  The views of the Government of Afghanistan, then, about the principles to be followed are in exact accordance with the United States of America and we support the principles that have been elaborated by your government. 

Those include: that anyone who wishes to have a dialogue to consider ending fighting, that they should respect the constitution of the government of Afghanistan, they should be willing to lay down their arms, and they must renounce any ties with al-Qaida or with international terrorism.

If I could make just one clarification, because I don't know exactly how it would translate into Dari, although the expression you use about laying down your arms was translated exactly.  To clarify, though, when I said to lay down: (I meant) your weapons, in other words to renounce the use of violence, to renounce the use of violence as a principle.

Thank you.