QUESTION: After spending much of this day on Capitol Hill answering questions about the new strategy, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton answered some questions for us. We began with an issue that, as you’ve just heard, is troubling to some Afghans and members of Congress: Why start withdrawing U.S. troops just 18 months after the surge begins?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I think there’s been considerable misunderstanding about what the President said and what he meant. He said last night that our goal is to begin transferring responsibility for security and hopefully being able to bring some of our troops home starting in July 2011. But this is going to be done in a responsible way and based on the conditions as they are assessed. And we want to send a message of urgency to the people and Government of Afghanistan and others that they have to be part of making sure that we go after al-Qaida and their allies, which include a lot of the Afghanistan Taliban.
QUESTION: So is this a not-so-subtle message to Hamid Karzai that he better step up to the plate because the U.S. will not be there forever?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I think that this is a very clear message to President Karzai and to the rest of the Afghan leadership what has gone before hasn’t been as effective as it needed to be, and we want to have the Afghan attention focused in a way that will produce results.
QUESTION: Senator McCain told me last night that if U.S. troops leave Afghanistan, President Karzai will be leaving shortly thereafter or find himself probably assassinated. What’s your reaction to that?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, it’s a tough neighborhood they live in. President Karzai, who was one of the real stalwart heroes of the struggle against the Soviet Union and against the Taliban, and I think this is a new window of opportunity that he is ready to open in order to demonstrate leadership.
QUESTION: You made news recently when you called out the Pakistani Government for not being more aggressive against al-Qaida in that country. How can the U.S. put pressure on the Pakistani Government to go after senior leaders of al-Qaida who have reportedly found refuge there?
SECRETARY CLINTON: The Pakistani Government has taken some important steps over the course of this past year that they were not taking before this Administration came to office. They’ve gone after the Pakistani extremists who have attacked them, attacked their military headquarters, their intelligence headquarters, indiscriminately killed and maimed so many innocent people. The case we’ve been making to both the civilian and the military leadership of Pakistan is a simple one: There is no good terrorist, there is no terrorist that you can count on not to turn against you.
QUESTION: The price tag for sending these additional troops, $30 billion for the first year, how will you pay for it?
SECRETARY CLINTON: We inherited a pretty bad hand, Katie, but we’ve got some tough decisions ahead, and we have to step up and do it. It breaks my heart. I know that when my husband left office, we had a balanced budget and a surplus, and now to look where we are given everything that we’ve had to deal with, it’s not an easy position to be in. But I have a lot of confidence that we are taking on these problems. We’re not hiding from them. And we’re going to handle them. We’re Americans. We have to deal with both our economic security challenges and our national security challenges.
QUESTION: Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, thank you so much.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Great to talk to you, Katie. Thank you.
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