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Diplomacy in Action

Remarks on Trilateral Consultations With Afghanistan and Pakistan

Hillary Rodham Clinton
Secretary of State
Remarks at White House Briefing
Washington, DC
May 6, 2009


SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you, Robert. You know, I successfully avoided this room for eight years. (Laughter.) But I'm very pleased to be here to discuss the series of meetings that we had this morning as part of our second trilateral with delegations from Afghanistan and Pakistan, and this time led by their respective Presidents.

I think the takeaway is that this process is producing some very promising early signs. The level of cooperation between the governments of the two countries is increasing. The confidence-building that is necessary for this relationship to turn into tangible cooperation is moving forward. And I think today's series of meetings is another step along that road.

As you know, earlier we met in a bilateral with both President Zardari and President Karzai, and then we had the large delegations meeting. So let me just quickly run through some of what occurred and then I'd be glad to take your questions.

I met early this morning at the Willard Hotel with President Zardari and had a chance to see for the first time in 10 years his son, Bilawal Zardari -- actually, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari. I had not seen him since he was a young boy. And so it was really a personal call that I wanted to make on both of them.

At the formal bilateral that I held with President Zardari at the State Department, I reaffirmed our government's strong support for him as the democratically elected President. Being able to say "democratically elected President of Pakistan" is not a common phrase, and I think it's imperative that we support President Zardari and work with him as he extends the reach of the government not only on security, as essential as that is, but also on the range of needs of the Pakistani people.

With President Karzai, it was a very future-oriented conversation. We talked about the necessity to take real, concrete actions to make the kind of progress that Afghanistan desperately needs to see to really deliver for the people of the country.

In both meetings, I thought each President was very forthcoming. We discussed a range of issues that are important going forward, but we kept the focus on what we're actually going to do. I told each that coming out of this trilateral meeting, we will basically have work plans. We're going to be very specific. We don't want any misunderstanding; we don't want any mixed signals; we want to know what we have agreed to, what they have agreed to, how we're going to proceed toward meeting those goals and objectives and timetables that will be utilized to keep all of us focused on the job ahead.

At the trilateral meeting, we had very distinguished delegations from both countries; in addition, Secretary Vilsack, Director Panetta, Director Mueller, Deputy Secretary Jack Lew, Ambassador Holbrooke, Ambassador Anne Patterson, Under Secretary Flournoy, Acting Administrator of USAID Fulgham, and General Petraeus.

The format of the meetings were to hear from our Obama administration officials what the specifics of what the next day's meetings, tomorrow, will focus on in each instance. So, for example, Secretary Vilsack kicked it off because, as you know from our strategic review, we think it's imperative to focus on the agricultural sector. We certainly intend to provide assistance with issues ranging from water rights to anti-erosion measures, to specific seeds that can grow alternative crops in Afghanistan, to continue to help the agricultural sector in Pakistan, as well.

I thought it was a very significant meeting, in some ways a breakthrough meeting. The high-level participation from our government was very important, and the high-level participation from each of the delegations. A number of the comparable ministers had never met each other. They may have talked on the phone about border security or police training or intelligence sharing, but they hadn't actually met in several instances.

I was extremely impressed by the candor that was really evidenced throughout the meeting. And it was a physical manifestation of our strategy, of viewing Afghanistan and Pakistan as a regional challenge but also a regional opportunity.

The Trade Transit Agreement memorandum of understanding that was signed today commits both countries to finalizing a trade transit agreement that deals with all of the obstacles and problems of goods and people crossing borders. It was started 43 years ago, and we're determined to bring it to a resolution. The kind of economic development that will spring up if we see increased trade and commerce between the two countries is one of the best ways that we can provide alternatives for those who might otherwise be dragged into this conflict.

We will continue these meetings at the ministerial level. When, tomorrow, the people of both delegations meet with their counterparts in our government, they will be setting up very specific follow-on planning.

I'm very optimistic that this process is making a difference. I'm realistic enough to know that two meetings does not necessarily turn around the many difficult and complex challenges that confront these two countries and us and our relationship to them. One of the comments that was made struck me, that geography binds us, but we were not connected before. They basically stood on both sides of a border that neither agrees to because it was imposed on them; it was not ever reached by the governments of either country. And yet they have so much both in common and they face this common threat, and they have to make common cause to reach a common objective.

Both Presidents spoke very movingly about the threat and dangers of terrorism. I think that they are committed to this conflict being resolved and their being able to produce more peace and security.

An ancient Afghan proverb says, "Patience is bitter, but its fruit is sweet." I think that patience is not always in great supply inside our own government, or even inside our own country. But I think in this instance, the kind of patient strategy that the President has adopted and the steps that we are all taking to implement this strategy is the only way forward. It may not give you a story every day, but hopefully it will give us all a better story next year and the years to come.

So I'm very pleased to have this opportunity to make these short comments, and I'd be glad to answer your questions.

MR. GIBBS: Jennifer.

QUESTION: Thank you, Madam Secretary. You talked about this being a breakthrough and about the focus being on what you can do, what you will do -- specific things. Can you list any specific things that either leader agreed to go back to their country and do to make the kinds of changes that are so desperately needed?

SECRETARY CLINTON: There were such commitments, but I think we would rather talk about those after conferring with each of the Presidents and probably at the end of this two-day process, because there have been commitments made, there will be much more in-depth work done tomorrow to see how we're going to realize the way forward on those commitments. And I think it would be more appropriate to wait to talk specifically.

QUESTION: -- that on behalf of this country, and perhaps --


QUESTION: -- what the administration is committing to that we haven't already seen in these plans?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, some of it is very specific. If you look at agriculture, we're going to establish a training program, the Borlaug Fellows Training Program. You remember, Norm Borlaug was one of the architects of the Green Revolution, which transformed life in India and in other places. And we're going to do intensive training with Pakistani and Afghani agricultural experts and researchers and policymakers. We're going to establish a trilateral body to identify the cross-border water issues, one of the critical issues as to whether agriculture can be revitalized, particularly in Afghanistan.

With respect to economic commitments, both Afghanistan and Pakistan confirmed their commitment to the Central Asia/South Asia energy agreement. We're going to press ahead to try to help alleviate some of the blockades that exist for both countries getting reliable sources of energy, particularly electricity.

The Trade Transit Agreement is a commitment to a time line to adopt customs harmonization strategy, pass legislation and create the institutions necessary to prevent illegal transshipments, finalize the reconstruction opportunity zones that are part of the Kerry-Lugar legislation.

We are also looking to deepen our work on the cross-border issues, joint parliamentary exchanges and military training, border coordination centers. We want broader based law enforcement reform, a vigorous anti-corruption agenda that removes the impunity that too often has existed in the past. And they committed to vigorous judicial reform and counterterrorism legislation and improving prison conditions. Those are just some of the things that are part of our dialogue going forward that they've already committed to working with us on.

QUESTION: Madam Secretary, senior administration officials in recent weeks have swung between fairly sharp criticism and praise of the Afghan and Pakistani governments. You, yourself, said that the Pakistani government was at risk of abdicating to the Taliban. First, do you still believe that is the case? And do you see a risk of sending a mixed message to these partners at a time when both their cooperation are needed in combating the resurgent Taliban?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I'm actually quite impressed by the actions that the Pakistani government is now taking. I think that action was called for and action has been forthcoming.

This is a long, difficult struggle. And the leadership of Pakistan, both civilian and military, really had to work on significant paradigm shifts in order to be able to see this threat as those of us on the outside perceived it. And I think that has occurred, and I think that there is a resolve going forward. There are still some challenges in terms of assets and resources and approach toward dealing with not a standing army across a border, but the kind of insurgency and guerrilla warfare that is being waged against the legitimate authority of the Pakistani state.

I think that our resolve and our commitment to the democratically elected government is very, very firm. But we are also working to create an atmosphere and a reality of candor and openness between us. I think that is way overdue. A lot of lip service was paid in the past that did not translate into better lives, more safety, more security, economic development for the people of Pakistan.

So I think that we are very supportive. We are engaged in this process. We are committed to the strategy the President outlined, but we're also going to have a very open and honest relationship.

QUESTION: The administration has recognized that part of -- a big part of the problem for Pakistan in its fight against the Taliban is that it remains militarily focused on its traditional enemy, India. What, if anything -- or why hasn't the administration taken greater action to help to normalize, improve relations between India and Pakistan?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, everything in due time.

MR. GIBBS: Jake.

QUESTION: Madam Secretary, as this plan was being developed, the U.S. believed that a lot of the insurgency issues were going to be in eastern Afghanistan. Obviously the problem has now emerged more heatedly in Pakistan. How has that affected this strategy of the U.S. as this summit came together?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, Jake, I think that the wisdom of the approach that we took even before the President was inaugurated has been borne out by the events of the last months. We were determined to see Afghanistan and Pakistan as a region, as two countries that were dependent upon each other, influenced each other, and needed to figure out a way forward together. So, if anything, the fast-moving conflict and, frankly, the adaptability of the enemy that we are all fighting has demonstrated clearly the wisdom of that approach.

One of the other comments that was made today is that Afghanistan and Pakistan are conjoined twins -- and, in effect, they are. But they were never treated that way. They were kind of one-off: What are we going to do about Afghanistan, and, oh, by the way, what are we going to do about Pakistan? And we have a history there, as you know. We have a history of having been deeply involved and then having withdrawn. And so I think seeing the two countries as connected geographically as they are, and in this common struggle against al Qaeda and the Taliban and their allies, has given us the flexibility to be able to move more agilely than we did before.

QUESTION: Madam Secretary, President Zardari said the following yesterday. He said -- on the U.S. relationship -- "I think it needs more effort; I think it needs more understanding on both sides." What is your understanding of his greatest concerns, from his point of view, that you picked up on in these meetings today -- on the U.S. relationship?

SECRETARY CLINTON: You know, Chuck, I think that's a very fair statement. I think that it does require more understanding on both sides. One size does not fit all. You don't take a strategy from one part of the world and impose it on another part. You don't look at each country just through the prism of the terrorist threat and expect to really understand what's the best way to combat that, and also to begin removing conditions that gave rise to it.

And I think that in my conversations with President Zardari -- whom I've known a very long time and was a great admirer and friend of his wife -- if you talk with him, as I have, about what he faced coming into office -- he's been President for less than eight months, and he inherited a very difficult and unmanageable situation. We have a pretty well functioning government. We've changed directions policy-wise, but you don't have to start from scratch -- and so I think a little more understanding on our part about what he confronted.

You know, he has successfully navigated some real crises. He made a very brave decision when he first came in to raise the price of wheat. Might not sound like a big deal, but it was a huge political challenge. But by doing so, Pakistan is now self-sufficient in wheat again. You know, you have to look at what he was facing: an economic crisis, a military-terrorist crisis, a legitimacy crisis -- just an enormous array of challenges. And I think if you're more understanding of both the history and the conditions, you not only can perhaps empathize a little bit, but be smarter in the suggestions you make, understanding what the consequences will be. And that's what we are trying to do through this process.

QUESTION: What are his asks? What are his asks specifically of us?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, you know. They're very public: more economic aid; more assistance with the military and police in terms of what they need to now go after this new enemy; what I just sort of read off in response to an earlier question about the sort of assistance we're going to offer, from agriculture to the economy to intelligence. That's what they're looking for.

QUESTION: Madam Secretary, a couple of questions. One, the Zardari government said it wanted time to have this negotiated arrangement in Swat Valley to see what would happen. They've now seen what has happened and are responding militarily. There are some reports in the region that the civilians on the ground now see the government in a different light, and saw that they tried to negotiate, saw what the Taliban did, and there's a backlash against the Taliban. Do you believe that was an inherent wisdom that maybe the U.S. did not detect before in the strategy?

And number two, with the sense that the refugee crisis in that area -- now that the Pakistan government has asked civilians to try to leave -- is that going to be something the U.S. and both these nations are going to have to confront in the very near term?

SECRETARY CLINTON: I'm sorry, say that again.

QUESTION: Well, the military's advice being to try to exit parts of the Swat Valley because of a assumed military offensive -- will that create a humanitarian issue that all three of these countries are going to have to deal with in a very near term?

SECRETARY CLINTON: You know, Major, I'm not going to second-guess the approach that was taken by the government of Pakistan vis-à-vis the Taliban in Swat Valley. Whatever the motive behind it might have been, the reality on the ground soon proved otherwise; that one had to confront the increasing influence and geographic spread of the Taliban. There aren't that many Taliban fighters, but they are so intimidating and they are so ruthless that a very few can control a large swath of territory, which is something that I think everybody learned in watching this unfold.

So the other point to remember -- it goes back to Chuck's earlier question -- is there have been areas of Pakistan that have been ungoverned for a very long time. The British Empire did not govern them; no Pakistani government, civilian or military, attempted to govern them; and they were basically left alone, and they left the central government alone -- it was kind of a unspoken agreement.

But what nobody bargained for was foreign fighters and foreign money and a foreign ideology that would in some way link up disparate elements within these regions into a network, a syndicate, if you will, of extremist groups. And I think that has changed -- that's another one of the paradigm shifts. You know, you could leave those folks alone and they took care of their own business, but that was fine, we were okay in Lahore and Islamabad and Karachi and other places. But as they became more aggressive, and as they kind of broke out of the traditional model of how they had stayed close to home and basically controlled their own surroundings, that produced a new challenge.

And I think that it's part of the change in attitude that we're seeing in the Pakistani military and intelligence services, and in the civilian government.

QUESTION: And the issue --

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, we're obviously concerned about that. We're going to watch it and see what we can do to help.

MR. GIBBS: She's got a couple of important meetings she's got to get to, so we're going to let her go.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you, Robert.

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