QUESTION: Madam Secretary, thank you so much for sitting down with us today.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you.
QUESTION: I’d like to start talking about Afghanistan. A number of members of Congress and journalists are now saying that it’s time to get out of Afghanistan because the war there is unwinnable. How do you respond to that?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, with due – with great respect, I respond that that is not the view of the President or myself or this Administration. We believe that in the last 18 months we have established a strategy that has great chances of success. The President has committed, as you know, many more American troops. We have redoubled our efforts working with the Afghans to improve and field a much more professional military. We think that we now are putting into place the pieces of a successful strategy.
Now, Americans – and I understand this, being one – are often very impatient, but I think it’s important in our dealings in Afghanistan to commit to an enduring relationship that will certainly go far beyond whatever the military involvement is, but also to commit to seeing through the military strategy that has been adopted.
QUESTION: What scares American people right now is the growing death toll of U.S. troops. How bad is this going to get? Are we getting bogged down in a long-term war where more American lives will be lost, with success seemingly years away?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, it is tragic that we lose anyone, whether it be an American or one of the international soldiers or an Afghan fighting to take back their country from an insurgency by the Taliban that is not supported by the Afghan people, that really is a step backwards in time. So we know that this is a very hard struggle. And General Petraeus has said very clearly that it’s likely to get worse before it gets better. That was our experience in Iraq, and look where we are now in Iraq, where American troops are withdrawing on schedule, the Iraqi military has proven itself able to withstand the attacks from al-Qaida and others.
In Afghanistan, we have to be as committed as possible in order to get the results we’re seeking. And the President, when he announced the strategy, said that in July 2011 we hope to be able to transition authority and leadership of certain parts of the country to the Afghans themselves, and that’s what we intend to do. But we will still remain in the thick of it trying to make sure we stabilize the rest of the country and we’ll get more help now with the agreement by President Karzai to create these local defense forces that will equip and train people to defend their own homes against the constant barrage from the Taliban.
QUESTION: And the conference that you’re going to be attending in Kabul, is this a make-or-break situation for Afghanistan? What do you hope to achieve?
SECRETARY CLINTON: I think it’s a stock-taking. We’ve had a series of these and I think each one has proven to be helpful in sort of taking stock of the strategy but setting the way forward. There is a lot that the Afghan Government has been working on. There are many positive indicators in Afghanistan that don’t get a lot of attention because, obviously, conflict is the biggest issue on people’s minds. But when you look at the increasing capacity of the Afghan Government, there are some very positive signs. And we’ll hear more about that at the conference in Kabul.
QUESTION: Coming to Pakistan, is Pakistan an international partner whom you feel you can trust? Do they – do you feel that they’re doing enough within their own borders and especially the recent accusations leveled against them about the intelligence services being involved in the Mumbai attacks? Are you worried that they’re exporting terror?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I feel strongly that the Pakistani Government has become very serious about fighting terrorism within their own borders and working with Afghanistan and the United States to try to stabilize the region. When I became Secretary of State, that wasn’t happening; there was not the extraordinary commitment of military assets against different terrorist groups that we now see. And the Pakistani Government has reached its own conclusion that there is a syndicate of terror and some of it is directly aimed at undermining the state here. The horrific attacks on religious shrines and mosques and markets and so many places where people are just going about their daily lives illustrates the approach that these terrorist groups are taking. It’s very much against Pakistan.
So Pakistan has responded and is working very hard. There’s a lot more to be done, I would be the first to tell you, as I think they would. But I believe we’re beginning to close the trust deficit to build greater confidence. I’ve tried to create a framework in the Strategic Dialogue that is not personality-driven; it’s government-to-government dealing with problems that the Pakistanis have told us they want us to address – water and energy, electricity, and the like. So we are seeing much closer cooperation, but we will continue to seek more.
QUESTION: Okay, on a completely different subject now, how are you managing to travel around the world just days before your daughter’s wedding? (Laughter.)
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, it’s not easy. I would have preferred that this trip had happened a month earlier, but that wasn’t totally up to me. But I feel strongly that this is an important trip. I’m glad to be back in Pakistan. But when I get back home in a week, I will do nothing but prepare for the wedding, because that’s the most important thing in my life right now.
QUESTION: I hear you signed an internal department memo “MOTB.” (Laughter.) How do you feel about your daughter getting married?
SECRETARY CLINTON: I’m very excited. I think she is a really responsible young woman. Her fiancée is a wonderful young man. I think they’ll have just a great marriage going forward. So as the mother of the bride, I could not be happier.
QUESTION: Just to touch upon a couple of other things, the Iranian spy Shahram Amiri who just returned to Iran, were you able to glean any valuable information from him?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, as I have said, he was free to come and he was free to go, and he made his choice to go back. That was honored by the United States, and really that’s all I have to say.
QUESTION: Was he paid by the U.S.?
SECRETARY CLINTON: I have nothing to add to what I’ve said.
QUESTION: Do you feel – do you think that he’s in danger now that he’s back in Iran?
SECRETARY CLINTON: That’s not for me to comment on. That’s up to the Iranians.
QUESTION: Okay, just one last question if that’s okay. With the emergence of al-Qaida franchises in Somalia and Yemen, do you feel that Afghanistan or Pakistan are still at the heart of the war on terror?
SECRETARY CLINTON: I do, because we know this is where bin Ladin and al-Qaida are headquartered. And I think if Afghanistan were to fall into the hands of the terrorist syndicate again, it would be a grave, grave danger to Pakistan, to the region, and beyond. So even though, as you say, they are, as a syndicate, kind of moving into other operational areas, the brain center, the operational planning, still exists in this region.
QUESTION: Thank you very much.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you.