MR. TONER: Good afternoon and welcome to the State Department. It’s a great pleasure to have with us today Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan Ambassador Richard C. Holbrooke, and he’s here to preview the U.S.-Pakistan Strategic Dialogue set to begin next week. I know he has to rush to the airport immediately following this briefing, so without further ado, I’ll hand him the mike.
AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: Good to see you.
AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: Thank you. Well, next week is an important week in U.S.-Pakistani relations. For the first time, our strategic dialogue will be headed on the American side by the Secretary of State. This was a decision taken personally, of course, by Secretary Clinton after her trip and conversations with Foreign Minister Qureshi when she was in Islamabad and Lahore in October of last year. We announced it then, and we’re very, very pleased it’s taking place next week. It marks a major intensification of our partnership, and we welcome the extremely high caliber delegation which Pakistan is sending. It will be lead, of course, by Foreign Minister Qureshi.
President Obama and Secretary Clinton have long stressed the breadth and depth of the U.S.-Pakistan relationship. This is a partnership that goes far beyond security, but security’s an important part of it. It represents a shared commitment on the part of both nations to strengthening the bilateral relationship, and building an even broader partnership based on mutual respect and mutual trust.
The United States is supporting Pakistan as it seeks to strengthen democratic institutions, as it seeks to foster more economic development, expand opportunities, deal with its energy and water problems, and defeat the extremist groups who threaten both Pakistan’s security and stability in the larger region, and American national security as well.
For the last year, Foreign Minister Qureshi and Secretary Clinton, and the rest of us in both countries, have been working intensively at every level to strengthen the relationship. The Pakistani delegation will be – will include the following people: Foreign Minister Qureshi, Minister of Defense Mukhtar, Finance Minister Shaikh – or I think he’s still a finance advisor until he is confirmed, but he is now the senior financial advisor; the Advisor to the Prime Minister on Social Issues Wazir Ali; Advisor to the Prime Minister on Agriculture and Water Majidullah; the Chief of Staff of the Army General Kayani and his delegation of military advisors; Ambassador Haqqani; Foreign Secretary Bashir; Secretary of Information Technology Malik; and Secretary of Water and Power Rafi; Finance Secretary Siddiqui; Secretary of Agriculture Rehman; Defense Secretary Atahar Ali; and DGMO General Iqbal. There are many other people. Those are just some of them. And I did not read them in protocol order, but as they were randomly assigned here.
On the American side, our delegation will be lead by Secretary Clinton and will include Secretary of Defense Gates, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mullen, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, Deputy Secretary of State Jack Lew, Deputy Secretary of the Treasury Neal Wolin, National Security Council Senior Director David Lipton, Deputy U.S. Trade Representative Marantis, the Administrator of USAID Raj Shah, myself, Ambassador Patterson, Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy Judith McHale, my wonderful team here on my right, and many other Americans working on this. I should add Under Secretary of Defense Michele Flournoy, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense David Sydney, Admiral Vickers, and Vice Admiral Mike LeFevre, who is coming from the Embassy in Islamabad.
This – these meetings are part of a process, and we look forward to returning the – to Islamabad at the invitation of the Pakistani Government later this year to continue the dialogue on your side of the oceans. The date will be worked out, but in principle Secretary Clinton has already accepted the idea that the next set of these talks will be held in Pakistan within the next – I don’t want to give an exact time, but I would hope clearly within the next six months.
This is a work in progress. We will have some announcements here. I hope I can hold a few surprises for you all. But beyond that, we will be setting up working groups. The working groups will be conducting their efforts at a lower level. In fact, several of them exist already. We will add to those. And we will work through the issues. This is not a photo op, although you will have an opportunity to take a photo. This is an intense, serious dialogue bilaterally between the U.S. and Pakistan.
One last thing: This does not replace the trilateral dialogue between the United States, Pakistan, and Afghanistan, to which all three countries agreed last year. But Pakistan is a great nation in its own right, and a bilateral dialogue is essential. The trilateral dialogue will, we expect, resume later this year. But right now in Afghanistan, President Karzai has a very full agenda of his own events – a loya jirga, a conference in Kabul, and various other things which are coming down the road. So I want to be clear; this doesn’t replace the trilateral. It is a separate event unto itself.
With that, let me take a few of your questions and then I have to leave. Yes, sir.
QUESTION: Thank you very much. Today, former --
AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: Will you identify yourself, please?
QUESTION: I’m Josh Rogin with Foreign Policy Magazine. Today, former UN Representative in Afghanistan Kai Eide gave an interview to the BBC where he said that he’s been in talks with senior Taliban leaders since last spring. Furthermore, he said that those talks were shut down after the Pakistani authorities began arresting senior Afghan Taliban leaders, and he portrayed this as the wrong approach by the Pakistanis.
My question for you is: Were you aware that these talks were going on? Was there any U.S. involvement whatsoever in those talks? And what is your comment on his contention that reconciliation was hurt by the arrest of senior Afghan leaders by Pakistan?
AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: On the first part of the question, he had mentioned this to us in a general way. On the second part of the question – what was the second part?
QUESTION: Was there any U.S. involvement whatsoever in those talks?
AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: None, none. And the third part?
QUESTION: What is your comment on his contention that Pakistan hurt reconciliation by arresting these leaders?
AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: I have no comment on his third contention.
QUESTION: Yeah. There’s been some criticism of the – or discussion on how the aid program is working and that it’s taking quite a while to get the money out the door. There was a letter that Senator Kerry and Lugar wrote at the beginning of this month to Senator – I mean, to – that’s in the past – to Secretary Clinton in which they were questioning whether the aid was being used in the most effective manner to improve the life of Pakistanis. What is the – what is your assessment of the aid program? Is it moving fast enough? And are there bottlenecks?
AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: You will never get me to say any aid program is moving fast enough. (Laughter.) In this case, remember first of all that Kerry-Lugar is an authorization. We have to have the money appropriated. That is now underway. We will discuss this in public on the 24th of March. Secretary Clinton will address it. And again, I don’t want to preempt it. We – I’ve just come from a principals meeting at the White House with -- almost every senior person in the United States foreign policy community was in the room. We discussed this issue. We are looking for every way to accelerate the obligations and the disbursement.
There is, however, a Congressional process, Congressional notifications which is part of the process. I’ve been in touch with Senator Kerry directly about this, as has Secretary Clinton, and General Jones, and we all share the same goal. We do not think that the money is moving as fast as we’d like it to. However, there’s also a question of absorptive capacity and other issues that have to be dealt with. But of course, we share Senator Kerry’s concern.
QUESTION: I’m (inaudible) from Pakistan’s Dawn newspaper. While commenting on Eide’s comments, actually – in fact, you said you will not comment on his contention. But there is another question related to that, which is: Did Pakistan make those arrests on its own, or were there Americans involved in it? Was CIA helping them, and other U.S. agencies helping the Pakistanis, and these arrests were made with your consent?
And also, there’s such a high-level military involvement – Pakistani army chief participating in these dialogues for the first time.
AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: I’m sorry. I didn’t quite understand --
QUESTION: And on this --
AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: -- what you meant. You meant that the – you said something about the arrests were done with our --
QUESTION: With the arrest of Mullah Barada and other Taliban leaders, were those arrests were made with your consent. Did the Americans participate in it, or is what just a sort of like the Pakistanis acting –
AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: I’m not going to go into the details of how Mullah Barada ended up where he is today. I will only say again, as I said last time I was here, that we are extremely gratified that the Pakistani Government has apprehended the number-two person in the Taliban. This – and he is where he belongs. And many other people have been picked up or eliminated, and this is putting much more pressure on the Taliban. And this is a good thing for the simplest of reasons: It is good for the military efforts that are underway in Afghanistan. It is not related to the issue that you’re addressing. President Karzai has said he wants a reconciliation program with all Afghans, including people fighting with the Taliban. President Obama has said we support Afghan-led reconciliation. Now, you have to distinguish, as always, between reintegration and reconciliation. But I don’t – we don’t see this as linked. And I’m going to – because time is very limited, I’m going to turn down all other questions on Afghanistan, just because we promised our friends that we would focus on Pakistan today.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) such a high-level military involvement?
AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: I’m just not going to do this. I – we’ll do it some other time. I’ve got now – I’ve got 11 minutes, and I’m going to give them over to the reason for this.
QUESTION: Okay, sir. Thank you very much. You gave us the broader framework of the strategic dialogue. Would you, sir, elaborate further on that? What is on the (inaudible) and particularly anything on the North-West Frontier Province, the areas which are affected by the war on terror and the tribal areas?
AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: Well, what do we mean by a strategic dialogue? The word is abused and misused a lot, so we want to be clear. To me, a strategic dialogue means that we talk about our basic core objectives, which we’ve laid out for us defeating, destroying al-Qaida; helping the Afghans become self-reliant so they can take care of their own security; strengthening Pakistan’s ability to – with its own security; development; strengthening democratic institutions; all the things that Secretary Clinton talked about during her trip. So after – so we need to sit down with our Pakistani friends and hear their points of view, and give us -- ours.
Now, we’ve all been going to Islamabad and they’ve all been coming here. I’ve made two trips in the last five weeks. And Admiral Mullen and I were going to go back next week, but we postponed that trip because the people we were going to see are all here. And we were going to make our annual joint trip together. In fact, we are making the front end of it. So – but beyond the strategic discussions, the broad-range discussions, we want to move into operational things in such areas as water, energy, and other issues. And that’s what we’ll do.
QUESTION: Ambassador, in Pakistan, there is a – there are certain reports that army chief has been included in this delegation because perhaps the United States is more comfortable talking with the military rather than the political government headed by President Zadari.
AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: (Laughter.)
QUESTION: What is your comment on that?
AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: First of all, the Pakistani Government shows its delegation. Secondly, how can you have a strategic dialogue without including the military? If we have a strategic dialogue in our country, we’re going to include the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff or some other representative. So we are very pleased that General Kayani is part of this delegation. We think that it’s one country, one government, one team. It was their decision and we welcomed it.
QUESTION: Ambassador, thank you, sir. Mr. Ambassador, how would this dialogue, strategic dialogue with the U.S. and Pakistan, will be different than what you have, the U.S. have, with India? And also, if in -- during this session, if – I’m sure you must be discussing also the situation about – with India. And finally sir, I was told that in politics, there is always give and take. Without giving and taking, there is nothing. So you think if you have this (inaudible) with Pakistan, (inaudible), do you think Pakistan will hand over Osama bin Laden sometime, later on?
AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: (Laughter.) Well, I don’t know the answer to that, but you’re right about give and take, and that’s why these meetings are so important. And as for the first part of your question, we have an important strategic dialogue with India and with other countries, including China. It makes it all the more important we have one with Pakistan. But this is a bilateral dialogue. We’re not coming here – this – let me put this very clearly: This strategic dialogue with Pakistan is not at the expense of any other country in the region.
Yes, oh, this gentleman here was – let him do it first.
QUESTION: Okay, yeah, my name is (inaudible) representing Voice of America (inaudible) Radio. We broadcast to the (inaudible) regions in local language –
AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: To the which regions?
QUESTION: In the (inaudible).
AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: Oh, you’re VOA for NWFP. Thank you.
QUESTION: Yes, sir.
AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: Thank you.
QUESTION: Yes. My question is that most of the al-Qaida people and Taliban leaders and also (inaudible) network generally believed to be hiding in North Waziristan. Are you – will you push Pakistan government to start operation in North Waziristan in your next dialogue with them?
AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: Let me repeat what I’ve said on that repeatedly. Let me repeat repeatedly what I’ve repeated. The Pakistani army, since May of last year, has gone into Swat, where two divisions remain. They have gone into South Waziristan, where an additional number of troops are deployed. They have taken remarkable steps to push back people who threaten their security. What they do in North Waziristan is a decision for them to make. We will support them and encourage them in any way we can, but we are not dictating to them what they should do.
QUESTION: Lachlan Carmichael from AFP. Anyway, Foreign Minister Qureshi says that he sees these meetings as a way of establishing trust between the two countries. I mean, how do you see it? I mean, where is the trust lacking still? And how will this advance that?
AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: This -- the first time I went to Pakistan, Prime – Foreign Minister Qureshi introduced me to the phrase “trust deficit.” And so I’ve heard it many times. The last time I was there, we both said in the press conference that we thought we had made huge advances in that, especially in light of the high-level trips that Secretary Clinton and General Jones and Secretary Gates and the rest of us have made. So it’s a work in progress. Everyone’s aware of the popular public opinion polls, and we think that our support for Pakistan deserves more recognition among the people. But we’re doing it because it’s in the interests of both our countries. And I think we’ve made a tremendous amount of progress in the last year, as I said last time I was with you. Yeah.
QUESTION: (inaudible) from VOA, again, from (inaudible) Service. And thank you, Ambassador for taking my question. Foreign Minister Qureshi this week at a press conference, he said that it’s now America’s turn to do more, and Pakistan has been doing enough already. What’s your comment? I mean, what is it that they’re seeking from your side in terms of –
AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: What is Pakistan seeking?
QUESTION: No, yeah, in terms of like –
AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: Well, what Pakistan’s seeking, you should ask Pakistan about. But of course, I read Foreign Minister Qureshi’s comments. He’s a good friend of mine. I’ve talked to him at least a half dozen times on the phone in the last week about this trip. Pakistan can speak for itself. We are doing more. We will announce more. We want to do as much as the Congress will support through our – and this is hard for people to understand in other parts of the world, but Congress writes the checks. And that’s why the previous question about Senator Kerry – I think it was from Sue – is so important to me.
We have about three minutes here. Last questions. Yes, sir.
QUESTION: Lalit Jah from Press Trust of India. Are you considering -- while addressing Pakistan’s energy needs, are you considering helping them establish nuclear power plants to meet their energy needs? And how do you want to address their water disputes which Pakistan has been pushing for with you, with India?
AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: We have a very broad and complex agenda in these talks, and this is the first strategic dialogue at – ever at this level, and the first of this Administration. And we’re going to listen carefully to whatever the Pakistanis say.
Okay, last question. Yeah.
QUESTION: Can I ask you just one quick one? Courtney Kube from NBC News. Eric Holder said recently that Usama bin Ladin will not be – it’s in – he’s presumed to be in Pakistan, so it’s on Pakistan –
AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: I’m not going to do it, so let’s take – I’m this – let’s not waste the last minute. It’s – you ask him what he meant.
QUESTION: Where are you headed next? What’s your upcoming trip?
AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: I’m going to New York. (Laughter.) I’ve got a dinner tonight with the British Ambassador to the United Nations, who happens to be Britain’s leading expert in Pakistan, Sir Mark Lyall Grant. I think many of you know him. And then I’ll be back here tomorrow morning.
QUESTION: What I asked – what I meant to ask was what’s your next international trip?
AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: Oh, leaving next Thursday with Admiral Mullen. I mentioned that already.
QUESTION: And what countries will you hit?
AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: Well, it’s a work in progress. But it is Brussels for the Brussels Forum, where we do a joint BBC thing with (inaudible). You know that annual thing that the BCC does with the Brussels Forum. This is a tremendously important conference that the German Marshall Fund sponsors. And then we’re going to Afghanistan, and I’d rather not go into too many details for obvious reasons. And after that, as I said, we’re not going to Pakistan, because we’re seeing them here. And then we’re working out the back end of the trip now because we only made the decisions to do that in the last few days, as we realized how the schedules worked. And this is part of a policy, that Admiral Mullen and I have to try to do one joint civilian-military trip per year.
Time for one more quick question.
QUESTION: On the energy dialogue, actually.
AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: No, let Sue --
QUESTION: It’s also an energy question, actually. Are you going to be discussing Pakistan’s agreement with Iran on the energy pipeline? You know this week there was an agreement. Is this something that you think is useful? Under the Iran Sanctions Act, I believe that you can’t put more than $20 million or so into a project. Would they be breaking the Iran Sanctions Act, and what’s your view on this?
AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: This – quite honestly, Sue, I have – I’ve been so busy preparing for this, that while I’m aware of the issue, I haven’t spent any time on it yet. And I think other people have expressed their views on it, and I’ll – I think you’ve asked about it to other people at this podium, and I’ll let them to speak to it for now. It is not on the formal agenda. But as I said a minute ago, either side can bring up anything they want.
Now, if you’ll forgive, I just cannot afford to miss this plane. I have a higher authority in New York, which is my wife.
QUESTION: Any sojourn to India, followed by your colleague, Ambassador Blake?
AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: Any what?
QUESTION: Trip to India?
AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: Yes, I will definitely be going to India soon. And Blake (inaudible) going to Afghanistan.
QUESTION: Yes, sir.
MR. TONER: Ambassador, thank you very much. Thanks very much. I appreciate it. It was great.