I am truly honored to mark the opening of the U.S. Consulate in Herat, the first American consulate in Afghanistan. As a city with a rich cultural history and considerable economic potential, Herat is a vital place for the United States to have a diplomatic presence. The opening of this consulate reaffirms our long-term commitment to Afghanistan’s success and the enduring bonds of friendship between our peoples.
The opening of this consulate builds on a long history of American engagement in western Afghanistan. In the 1950s and 1960s, American educators assisted the new teacher training institute in Herat, which is now the Faculty of Education at Herat University. In the 1960s and early 70s, American Peace Corps volunteers served here. After the fall of the Taliban, the United States undertook a number of projects and programs in Herat, such as the construction of the Department of Women’s Affairs office and the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission building.
U.S. interest and involvement in this region flourishes today. The Ring Road that we drove in from the airport on was funded and constructed by USAID. The basic health services available to almost all citizens of Herat province are funded by on-budget support to your Ministry of Public Health. In the last ten years, more than 100 of your best and brightest professionals and students have traveled to the United States on education exchange programs. There are exciting partnerships between American universities and Herat University to advance education in agriculture, engineering, journalism, English, law and political science. And the single largest cultural preservation project the U.S. government has ever funded through the Ambassador’s Fund for Cultural Preservation is right here in Herat – the preservation of the citadel.
And so we are here to celebrate the opening of the consulate -- this remarkable refurbished facility, leased from the Municipality of Herat. This was truly a community effort – we purchased local products to use in the refurbishment, some of which you can see on display in the waiting room next door. World-class quality, Chesht-e-Sharif marble now graces some of the floors. Every week, on average, more than 70 Afghans contributed their time and skills to the consulate’s construction. One expert carpenter turned plain packing crates into beautifully carved room dividers. And artwork produced by students from Herat University is displayed on the walls of the consulate.
President Obama and President Karzai signed the Strategic Partnership Agreement last month to signal that America will remain by your side for years to come. The SPA protects the gains of the last decade. It is a positive vision for the future of the U.S.-Afghanistan relationship that contrasts starkly with the vision of violence and extremism offered by the Taliban and al-Qaida.
This agreement comes at a time when we have made significant progress toward defeating al-Qaida, transitioning security responsibility to Afghan forces, and denying extremists a safe-haven from which to threaten the United States. Let me discuss briefly our strategy moving forward.
First, we have begun a transition to Afghan responsibility for security. Already, nearly half the Afghan people live in areas where Afghan Security Forces are moving into the lead, and this number will rise to 75 percent by summer’s end. Herat City has been under the security responsibility of Afghanistan for almost one year, and I am pleased to see first-hand the progress you all have made in that time.
Second, we are training Afghan Security Forces to get the job done. As our troops draw down, Afghan forces have surged and become more capable.
Third, we are building an enduring partnership with Afghanistan. The SPA sends a clear message to the Afghan people: as you stand up, you will not stand alone.
Fourth, we are supporting Afghan-led reconciliation. In coordination with the Afghan government, our redlines are clear - if the Taliban wants to be a part of Afghanistan’s future, they will need to break with al-Qaida, renounce violence, and abide by the Afghan constitution. Many members of the Taliban – from foot soldiers to leaders – have indicated an interest in a settlement. A pathway to peace is now set before them. Those who refuse to walk that path will have to contend with strong Afghan Security Forces, backed by the United States and our allies.
And finally, we are building an international consensus to support peace, stability and a sense of economic hope for the people of South and Central Asia. Tomorrow, I will take part in the latest round of the Istanbul Process, where Afghanistan’s neighbors and near neighbors will affirm their significant commitments to developing regional security and economic development. I commend the Government of Afghanistan for the strong leadership it has shown in this process.
This consulate, built with so many Afghan hands and so much Afghan talent, is a small reminder of what the people of Herat can accomplish. And it gives us hope for the greater effort facing Afghans—which is not merely the building of a single structure, but the building of an entire nation that deserves a future better than its recent past. Let this building stand as a sign of our commitment: As you build this future, one day at a time, you can count on the steadfast support and friendship of the United States of America.