MODERATOR: Good morning, everyone.
QUESTION: Good morning.
MODERATOR: Welcome to Thursday.
So I’m going to go ahead and let our senior officials introduce themselves. The first one will be Senior State Department Official, Official Number One. And then to his right will be a Senior Administration Official. So try and keep it separate in the reporting if that’s possible, and I’ll go ahead and let them introduce themselves.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Okay. I’m [Senior State Department Official].
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: [Senior Administration Official].
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: So we’re here to debrief on the Secretary’s meeting with the Pakistani Prime Minister. On our side, it was [Senior Administration Official] and I and then several other State Department officials. On their side, in addition to the Prime Minister, it included their National Security Advisor, their Finance Minister, their Power Minister – Energy Minister – and then some other officials. And I think the inclusion of those three ministers is pretty indicative of the priorities of the Nawaz government, both in terms of this visit but also in terms of their overall set of priorities in the kind of first hundred days.
It started off with the Secretary expressing sympathy and support for Pakistan in light of the recent earthquake – I think the current casualties are – toll there is over 300 – and offered to be of assistance, and asked them to let us know if there’s anything we can do to help. And the Prime Minister indicated that he was aware that in the past when they would have disasters, disasters of considerably more magnitude than this, the U.S. had been very generous, and he appreciated that.
There was then a discussion of the issue of Afghan reconciliation, that is to say the prospects for instigating peace talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government. And in this context, the Prime Minister briefed on the recent visit by President Karzai to Islamabad. The meeting had gone quite well. It went over by an extra day. There was fairly intimate discussions. The Pakistanis committed themselves to move forward in support of Afghan reconciliation.
One of the specific things that President Karzai had asked for was the release of Mullah Baradar, formerly the number two in the Taliban, who had been in Pakistani custody since 2010. And the Prime Minister had promised that this would happen within a few weeks, and it has indeed happened in the last few days. The intent, of course, was to promote a broader process of reconciliation which would ultimately result in discussions, negotiations between the Taliban and the Afghan High Peace Council. And that continues to be the objective of Pakistani – and for that matter, of U.S. – efforts.
There was then – picked up issues from what is known as the Strategic Dialogue. This is a dialogue, a process of dialogue at the ministerial levels that had been initiated, I believe, in 2010. Is that right?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: And it had several working groups within it. One of the issues that – during Secretary Kerry’s visit to Islamabad a few weeks ago – that was essentially added to the dialogue was the issue of cross-border militancy. And there was a discussion of this problem. And what we’re trying to stress is that this is a mutual problem that both Afghanistan and Pakistan, and for that matter, India, all suffer as the result of the porousness of these borders and the infiltration of militant violent terrorist groups across them which attack, as we know, Afghanistan, but also attack Pakistan, and the importance, therefore, of getting control of these regions and suppressing this kind of terrorist activity.
As regards to the Strategic Dialogue, the intent is to have one round of discussions in each of the five working groups by the end of the year, at which point there would be a ministerial meeting to evaluate progress and map out continued cooperation. The first of these groups is the economic and finance group, headed on the Afghan side – on the Pakistani side, sorry – by the – their Minister of Finance, who was in the meeting today. And we expect that’ll probably be the first of these groups to meet, quite possibly sometime in October.
There was also discussion of a possible visit by Nawaz Sharif to Washington, and I’ll ask [Senior Administration Official] to provide details on that discussion.
QUESTION: The White House just announced it.
QUESTION: They just announced it.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Okay.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Thanks.
QUESTION: (Laughter.) So – that was the news.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yeah. So as you’ll recall, and many of you were there when the Secretary was in Islamabad almost two months ago now, he extended, on behalf of the President, an offer for the Prime Minister to come to the U.S. for a meeting. At the time, the goal was September or October. The schedulers have worked out a date. And in the meeting we just concluded, the Secretary offered and the Prime Minister accepted, as you saw in the press release, October 23rd. So we look forward to welcoming the Prime Minister to Washington later this month – or next month now.
I think it’s going to be an important visit. It’s going to be a very full agenda. We’ve already started to talk about a roadmap between now and then to work on the agenda, and we’ve done some of that work here in New York.
Prime Minister Sharif came to office after some historic elections. And in the short intervening period, he’s made it fairly clear that he’s committed to improving relations not only with his neighbors, but as well, and importantly, with the United States. It’s going to be a visit focused on our areas of mutual interests or mutual goals of regional stability, improved relations across South Asia, deepening our partnership of mutual cooperation on counterterrorism, strategic stability. As [Senior State Department Official] said, economic growth inside Pakistan clearly will be on their minds and their agenda. We also need to have and will continue to have some frank discussions about some serious challenges and serious concerns that we continue to face.
And as we look toward, on the other side of the Durand Line, the end of the war in Afghanistan in 2014, one of the pillars of the strategy to bring that war to a responsible end is going to remain regional stability. So the visit will as well, of course, focus on how Pakistan can be part of that solution – part of the solution of regional peace, security, stability, particularly given how militant groups continue to threaten security in that region.
And I’ll stop there and look forward to your questions.
QUESTION: Now, can I pick up on something that Senior State Department Official Number One said? You talked about cross-border militancy and how this is a threat to – this is a mutual responsibility and a threat to Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India. Did the Pakistani officials give you any indication that they will make significantly greater efforts to try to prevent such blows? And did you address at all the possibility that some such militants receive support from elements of the Pakistani wider government and ask them to try to curtail that?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: We expressed our concern about the existence of effective safe havens on both sides of the border and stressed that this, as I said, was a mutual problem. The Prime Minister acknowledged that this was a problem, a challenge, and a threat to Pakistani security. They are in a process at this point of seeking negotiations with the leading militant group that is targeting Pakistan, but they also are looking at alternatives, including more vigorous police and military action, should those negotiations fail. And I think those – and those actions wouldn’t necessarily be limited exclusively to TTP, particularly since the TTP operates in the same areas as many of these militant groups that target externally.
So I think the answer is that we had a good discussion on this, but – and it’ll continue to be an item on the agenda.
QUESTION: But what is the U.S. view of whether those negotiations are likely to bear any fruit? And did that come up today?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I mean, I think everybody recognizes that this is a long shot, and I think the Pakistanis recognize that too, but they think it’s worth trying.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Why is it worth trying?
QUESTION: Yeah. Why do they think that?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: They think it’s worth trying because there’s overwhelming popular support for it, and most of the parties, including the government parties, ran on a platform of saying they were going to try it.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: They have a history with making, first, an attempt at talks, that – they look at this as the last in a series of operations they’ve done. And in previous operations in other geographic areas, they’ve taken the same approach. And the setbacks that they’ve seen in those other attempts are partly what gives them, I think, a sober view of the prospects at times. But nonetheless, as [Senior State Department Official] said, there is support for trying it again in this – what they see as a last instance.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I mean, these – sorry, [Senior Administration Official]. These operations incur sufficient, significant sort of collateral damage, if you will. I mean, tens of thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands of refugees depending on the geographic area, as we saw in the Swat Valley, for instance – took a year or more to get people back. So it’s not just a police raid; it’s a significant operation which would reverberate, and importantly, impact broad civilian populations. And so it’s something that they feel they need a strong national consensus to embark on.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: Excuse me.
MODERATOR: You have one over here?
QUESTION: I’m just wondering if there’s – have been any discussion about the upcoming talks between Prime Minister Sharif and Prime Minister Singh on Saturday, especially in the light of the attack in Kashmir this morning, whether they felt that that – he was still committed to going ahead with those talks.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: No, not in the – the Secretary and Nawaz Sharif had a brief private discussion after the discussion that [Senior Administration Official] and I participated in, but I don’t have any – I don’t know that there was any discussion of that in this session. Certainly we’ve discussed it. I mean, I’ve met with both the Indian and Pakistani sides over the last few days, and we’re very supportive of this effort at rapprochement. But I don’t know that it specifically came up today.
QUESTION: You just said that the PM acknowledged the safe havens. Can you elaborate on exactly what he said?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: He acknowledged – I think what I said was he acknowledged that the problem of cross-border militancy was a threat to both societies.
QUESTION: But not the safe havens? Did he acknowledge that there are safe havens?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Well, we had – I mean, the – I guess the terms are being used somewhat interchangeably, but what – we are calling it cross-border militancy precisely because they cross the border both ways. It’s not an exclusive problem. And he acknowledged that this was a challenge for Pakistan as well as Afghanistan, and he specifically said that Pakistan was never going to be at peace if Afghanistan wasn’t at peace.
MODERATOR: Any other questions from anyone?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Great.
MODERATOR: Great. Thanks, guys.
QUESTION: Thank you.