PRESIDENT KARZAI: (Via interpreter) In the name of God, the most merciful, the most compassionate, dear media members both Afghan and foreign, welcome to our press conference today. We are here to be a very and most welcome His Excellency Secretary Kerry to come to Afghanistan. Secretary Kerry and I know each other for a very long time now, and we have enjoyed very good and very warm friendship for which I am proud and honored. He is one of the friends of Afghanistan who love Afghanistan and who has tried to do his best and in even difficult times of our country and that I – that we know that good – for the good of the bilateral relations between the two countries. Although this is not his first visit to Afghanistan, this is probably many of the visits he has made to Afghanistan, but his first visit – yet his first visit as the Secretary of State of the United States. And I will take the opportunity to congratulate him on his new job and welcome him to Afghanistan.
We and our delegations both in our one-to-one meeting, we had very detailed discussions that covered a number of areas including bilateral relations between the two countries and other issues of mutual interest, including the ups and downs in the relations. So today was a good day, was a good day in the terms that the Bagram prison was handed over to Afghanistan sovereignty. Afghanistan was represented by our defense minister in a ceremony where other Afghan senior officials were present. And I would also like to thank our Afghan officials for their role in making that possible.
And I also would like to thank the U.S. Ambassador to Kabul and General Dunford as well for their efforts that led to the handover of Bagram prison which was an important and is an important – for the people of Afghanistan. It is very closely linked to our sovereignty, and our sovereignty has to be exercised. And we also have agreed that the U.S. Special Forces be pulling out from the Nerkh district and (inaudible) Wardak province and the measures are being worked out between General Dunford and our ministry of defense. So I believe it’s another good news, and I thank them for taking the measures to withdraw from that district. This helps the transition process greatly.
Secretary Kerry and I – we discussed and we – and on behalf of the people of Afghanistan assured him that the people of Afghanistan and the National Security Forces of Afghanistan are fully prepared to protect their country, and they consider the transition as a good step and for the benefit of both Afghanistan and for the United States. And the assistance of the United States has done to – has strengthened our forces to enforce our forces. We thank him, and we remain grateful for everything they have done to rebuild Afghanistan, to rebuild our security forces. We also conveyed those expression of gratitude to the President of the United States and to His Excellency the Secretary and to all the assistance and the help they have made to Afghanistan that has enabled Afghanistan to be able to manage itself to 2014 and beyond.
We also had a very detailed discussion on Afghanistan’s peace process that included the establishment of an office for Taliban for negotiation purpose in Qatar. The Government of Afghanistan has agreed to the idea of establishing an office and in the near future, I will also be heading to Qatar for more discussions on the issue with the Emir of Qatar and other Qatari officials. Afghanistan will do everything in its power that the – an office to be opened in Qatar to help and can be for the good and for the benefit of Afghanistan stability and peace. But Afghanistan will stand to defend all the gains it has made in the past one decade, and we will not sit back from the gains and achievements. We will continue to push that forward, and we will continue to move forward in ensuring stability.
And we also held talks on the coming up elections in Afghanistan. As you remember, Secretary Kerry was here with us in the previous presidential elections. So as I have always recalled and I’ve always reminded to the United States and other friends that we in no circumstances do not repeat the experience that we had in the previous elections. And, well, we hope that the next elections be completely transparent and be Afghan-led and so that this election can bring in new legitimacy for the new government to Afghanistan and can pave the ground for a new president for Afghanistan. But I understand the concerns that the U.S. side has expressed. They have their visions of – and their opinions of the next presidential elections. We fully agree with all these views. But we want our elections to be, in all terms, to be a transparent and free elections, free from any interferences including an interference from the Afghan Government and not – neither an internal nor an external interference, so an election that’s fully owned by the Afghans. So I hope that we could go forward and we work together where the international community should be involved.
We also talked about the situation in the region where Afghanistan repeated its desire that it’s seeking the best possible relation with the countries in the region, and we also talked about the strategic relations between Afghanistan and the United States. Afghanistan continues to seek that strategic relations with the United States and other allies, so – but an Afghanistan, a sovereign Afghanistan, an Afghanistan independent, an Afghanistan whose people are respected in Afghanistan, whose interests are considered. So within that framework, Afghanistan stands completely ready and prepared to go forward with that strategic relationship, and Afghanistan will move forward with its negotiations on the bilateral security agreement. And Afghanistan has a positive view towards that agreement, and I hope that this positive view will come into a structure to be signed, and then I hope that this will be for the good of us and for the good of the region.
And I once again thank His Excellency, our very great friend and the people of Afghanistan and the President of the United States for every assistance they have made to Afghanistan, and I express my gratitude to you. And on the issue of the Bagram prison transfer today, to full control of Afghanistan Government, we thank you for all this, Mr. Secretary.
SECRETARY KERRY: Mr. President, thank you very, very much for a very warm and generous welcome as always. I’m honored to be here with you again. I remember you once gave me a remarkable tour of this building and told me the history, and it’s a pleasure to be back here and share other important moments here with you, and I thank you for that. I also want to thank you for what I consider to be a very significant and very encompassing statement that you have just made. I think on behalf of the American people, we’re grateful for your recognition of the contribution of Americans and the sacrifices, and we understand the sacrifices Afghans have made. And we want the vision that you have expressed. And I thank you for the strong commitments that you have made to these future steps.
You and I have known each other for a while now. We’ve worked well together. And I appreciate enormously our friendship. And I know that you share with me a sense that this next year could well be one of the most important in the modern history of Afghanistan. Mr. President, you, I think, stand on the brink of a remarkable legacy for having brought Afghanistan through an amazingly difficult time. There’s still difficulties ahead. There’s still challenges. But what you have committed to in the context of this election is historic. And if we can work together, which I know we will in the ways that you have described, I believe that the roadmap ahead is going to be very, very clear and very constructive.
As I told President Karzai in our meeting just now, the United States is committed to an enduring partnership with the Afghan people as they seek a secure and democratic nation. And while none of us have any illusions about difficult hurdles to get over. We mean it when we say that as Afghans stand up and take control of their country’s future, they will not stand alone. America will stand with them. And Mr. President, I can say to you that the United States supports a strong and a united Afghanistan that secures its rightful place in the community of nations over the course of these next years.
Today, Afghanistan is managing three very significant transitions: a security transition, a political transition, and an economic transition. And America will continue to support the Afghan people through all three of these transitions just as we agreed to do in the strategic partnership agreement and in the bilateral security agreement that we are currently negotiating. We also support the Afghan-led peace process, the reconciliation – recognizing that the reconciliation is the best way to try to provide the surest end to violence and to secure a unified and a sovereign Afghanistan. So I appreciate that President Karzai has committed himself again tonight to the initiative in Doha and that he will personally travel there for bilateral discussions with the Government of Doha with respect to many issues.
We continue to join with President Karzai in calling on the Taliban to join a political process, to renounce the violence and join in a political process, including taking steps to open the office in Doha along the terms have been discussed to this day. President Obama has not yet announced the number of troops that will remain past the 2014 date, but President Obama made it clear in his State of the Union message that we are committed to Afghanistan’s sovereignty, and we will not let al-Qaida or the Taliban shake that commitment.
The Afghan people ought to be proud that their security and their police force grow stronger and grow more capable by the day, including what the President referred to today with the transfer of the detention facility at Bagram. That is an appropriate restatement of America’s commitment to the independent sovereignty of Afghanistan. Now this is the kind of progress that we believe will allow the United States and coalition troops to transition past the 2014 mission of training and advising. But as President Obama has made crystal clear, you can count on our strong support throughout the course of this new role and this transition process. It is key that these security gains will be a lot less meaningful if they are not matched, as you have discussed with me tonight, by good elections as well as by political progress and transformation.
So let me say tonight that we welcome the Afghan commitment, which is a reflection of the Afghan people’s desire to conduct a credible, safe, secure, all-inclusive, and transparent, and accountable election. And I am very grateful for the President’s comments tonight. We discussed ways this evening, and we will discuss more, about how that can be carried out in the most effective manner, and we are certainly committed, together with the international community, to help Afghanistan have an election that the President has said will be beyond anybody’s questions.
We all know that democracy is never easy, particularly when it’s young, but even when it’s older. We still know it is never easy. It’s our hope that this election is going to be a unifying moment for Afghanistan, and that it will represent, in a sense, the crowning achievement of the President’s vision for Afghanistan when he peacefully transfers power to a newly elected president by the people of the country that you love, Mr. President. And we all look forward to that process, working together to effect it. President Karzai tonight could not have made more clear his commitment in a number of ways to trying to help guarantee that process.
The third transition is the economic one, and the economic transition will ensure that the security transition and the political transition can both succeed. Reforms, we all know, are still necessary in order to achieve that, and in order to integrate the Afghan economy with the broader region’s economy. But President Karzai has again restated his commitment to affect those kinds of reforms and continue to work with everybody in an effort to achieve that.
So there is really much – as we talk about all of these things, Mr. President, I think there’s an important story that doesn’t get told enough, and that is how much the Afghan people can be proud of their sovereign accomplishments at this moment in time. As you know, Mr. President, I’ve been here many times. This is the first, as you mentioned, that I am here as Secretary of State. And I can already see and feel the differences that are taking place.
We may – we are standing in Kabul in the fifth fastest-growing city in the entire world. In the last decade, the GDP of Afghanistan has nearly quintupled. Health facilities like hospitals have quadrupled. Access to electricity has tripled. Life expectancy is up 50 percent. A recent United Nations report showed that Afghanistan has made faster gains in human development over the last 10 years than any other country in the world. And while fewer women are dying in childbirth, more of them have been elected to parliament, and more of their children, especially their daughters, are going to school. And the President shared with me that his son has just attended his second day in one of those schools.
Many more Afghans are connected through the air and on the ground, with access to technologies like cell phones rising. And incredibly, more roads have been built in the past 10 years than in the entire previous history of this country. So we all know there’s a lot of work yet to do, but with each of these steps, Afghanistan is moving closer to self-governing, to self-determination, self-reliance, while undermining the violent extremists who offer nothing to compare with what has been achieved over these last years.
So I am very, very grateful for the personal friendship that I share with President Karzai. The United States and President Obama wants me to convey to you how proud he is of the friendship between our countries and of the efforts that our citizens have made to join with you to help your country reach this great vision. I am invested personally, Mr. President, as you know, in the success of the people and of the government of this country, and I look forward to working with you to continue to do that. We will be continuing this discussion over dinner tonight, and the President has asked me to spend perhaps another hour with him in the course of either the morning or tonight, and we will do that to discuss broader security issues and other challenges with respect to this country and the region. So I look forward to those meetings, and I’m very grateful to you, Mr. President, for your warm and generous welcome as always. Thank you. Thank you.
PRESIDENT KARZAI: Well, Secretary Kerry, would you like to --
SECRETARY KERRY: I get to go first? All right. Thank you, Mr. President.
PRESIDENT KARZAI: Please.
SECRETARY KERRY: Andrea Mitchell, NBC.
QUESTION: Thank you so much, Mr. Secretary and Mr. President. President Karzai, after all of the American and Afghan sacrifices over these years – but after all of the American sacrifices, do you stand by your statement, your recent statement, that the United States is conspiring with the Taliban on recent terror attacks? And if I could ask Mr. Secretary whether you raised that issue and whether you got a response?
And secondly, on this historic day of the transfer of the detention center at Bagram, let me ask you, Mr. Secretary, first, how – does the United States still have prisoners in Afghanistan, and if so, how many? And does the United States have veto power over any release of the dangerous prisoners that have now been turned over to Afghan custody? And if I could get --
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, let me --
QUESTION: -- President Karzai on that as well.
PRESIDENT KARZAI: Go ahead.
SECRETARY KERRY: Let me just say very quickly that with respect to Bagram, we have worked out complete arrangements. General Dunford is here. He is absolutely confident, as is the President of the United States, that in this arrangement, the sovereignty of Afghanistan is fully protected, but that President Karzai agrees there are certain people there who shouldn’t necessarily be out creating problems. And so we’re very comfortable that the sovereignty is fully protected and the interests of the United States with respect to prisoners are fully protected. There’s great confidence about that, or this would not have occurred.
And we have protected, most importantly, the sovereignty of Afghanistan, which we believe, as does the President, is essential to this transitional process. So I think we found an appropriate way to accomplish both of our goals, and the answer is the United States – as of today, we don’t have prisoners. Whatever is occurring here is under the control of the Afghan people, and the United States will cooperate with the Government of Afghanistan. We’re satisfied that our interests are protected.
With respect to the statement on that, yeah, we talked about that, and I think the President would be the first to say that sometimes in public, a statement is made that is a reflection of something that you’ve heard or some input that you have that reflects a point of view. But I’m confident that the President absolutely does not believe the United States has any interest except to see the Taliban come to the table to make peace, and that we are completely cooperative with the Government of Afghanistan with respect to the protection of their interests and their people, and our efforts to continue to help their army to be able to deal with extreme terrorists who are still trying to kill people in Afghanistan.
So the answer is we’re on the same page. I don’t think there’s any disagreement between us. And I’m very, very comfortable with the President’s explanation.
QUESTION: President Karzai?
PRESIDENT KARZAI: Ma’am, you are referring to my words – please, ma’am, please – to my words during the International Women’s Day Conference, I believe, where I said that when we were in the United States, the U.S. Government told us that they will not be fighting the Taliban anymore, especially after 2014, and that while saying that, then U.S. forces go to Afghans’ homes at night or go to universities and arrest students.
We agree very much – actually, this has been our demand for years, that the war on terror is not in the Afghan villages or Afghan homes, that it is in the sanctuaries outside of Afghanistan. So we wanted a change in operations and tactics, and I’m glad to see that the change is taking place and we have seen a difference in this regard.
So we agree with the United States bringing to an end the war with the Taliban. We much prefer a peace process rather than to fighting. Therefore, we are in full agreement and support of the statement of the United States that the war with the Taliban will come to an end. Rather, we’ll be happier if it comes to an end today. This was the first part of my statement.
The second part was in response to the Taliban’s suicide bombing in front of the Ministry of Defense in Kabul the day Secretary Hagel, another good friend of mine for years, was visiting in Kabul, where the Taliban said they blew the bomb, killed people in order to show their force to the U.S. Secretary of Defense. And I said: How do you, the Taliban, show your power to the U.S. defense minister, or Secretary of Defense, by killing Afghans, by killing a widowed woman, by killing children, by killing innocent by-passers? This is no show of force to the U.S. Defense Secretary, but actually this helps the psychological environment of telling the Afghan people: “Well, if the U.S. is not here, we are a threat to you.”
Now, the media took that to say that I said there is a collusion. I never used the word “collusion” between the Taliban and the U.S., and those were not my words. Those were used – picked up by the media. And I would repeat my word today to the Taliban: That if they want the international community to leave Afghanistan, then the best way for them is to stop killing people; that if they want the international community to leave this country, their forces, then they must stop hurting Afghans or hurting the international community.
To the United States, I’m in full support of saying that they no longer want to fight the Taliban, that they will concentrate on fighting al-Qaida and the terrorist networks. Therefore, the peace process is the most important process here for us. That’s what I’ve said, and that does not mean a collusion between the United States and the Taliban. That’s the conclusion that the press came up with.
QUESTION: And could you comment on the second part of the question – Mr. President, could you comment on whether or not you will consult the United States before releasing whatever high-value, very dangerous prisoners --
PRESIDENT KARZAI: Right, right.
QUESTION: -- that are now in your custody?
PRESIDENT KARZAI: There are elements that the United States believe are of a somehow more prominent threat to Afghan forces and to the United States and other coalition forces, that are in Bagram prison, which was transferred to Afghan authority today. In that regard, we have agreed two mechanisms. Mechanism one: That the United States will, through intelligence sharing in writing, inform the Afghan intelligence service of the information of the intelligence they have with regard to a particular person that is considered an enduring security threat. I believe that’s what it’s called – EST, yes? EST – that’s considered an enduring security threat.
And once that is taken up by the Afghan body, there is a review board by the Afghan review board, and if the Afghan review board considers that this particular person, the EST person, is not a threat by the information that we have locally and internationally, then the last part of that process is a consultation – rather, not a consultation, I must correct this – an exchange of views between the U.S. commander in Afghanistan – in this case, today it’s General Dunford – and the Afghan Minister of Defense, who today is General Bismillah Khan. So there will be consultation between the General Dunford and General Bismillah Khan, or an exchange of views. I must use my words carefully – an exchange of views. And of course, we will be considerate. We have written in the document that we will consider.
So on good ground, and confirmed information about an individual that is a threat to us, definitely the Afghan laws has a procedure for that, and under Afghan laws we will keep such a person in custody.
Yes, I – well, ma’am, I would much prefer to ask you. But there is – let me -- (in Pashto).
Yes, ma’am. Please.
QUESTION: Thank you. Jennifer Glass for Al Jazeera English. Mr. President, what kind of leverage do you bring when you go to Doha to get the Taliban to the table? They’ve repeatedly said they won’t talk to you. Do you feel that something has changed that will bring them to the table? Mr. President and Mr. Kerry, what happens if the Taliban won’t come to the negotiating table? What does that mean moving forward?
SECRETARY KERRY: What does that mean for what?
QUESTION: Moving forward.
PRESIDENT KARZAI: Ma’am, we know the Taliban want to talk to the Afghan Peace Council and the Afghan Government. They’re talking to us. Already, there are individual contacts. When we say “peace process,” this is not to mean talking to the Taliban alone, unofficially, or as Afghan to Afghan, but a process whereby there is a recognized, official, publicly-announced process between the Taliban and the Afghan Peace Council on the one hand, and between the Afghan Government and the Pakistani Government on the other hand. Without the participation of Pakistan, any peace process will not see a fruitful end. The other element in here is the United States and Afghanistan engaged with Pakistan and engaged with the Taliban.
So the office in Qatar is something that we have agreed to. We want to encourage those who come to Qatar on behalf of the Taliban to begin to talk with the Afghan Peace Council as soon as possible. Now, the Taliban, as Afghans, ma’am, have all the right to engage with all other Afghans as fellow citizens, that they can do today, that they can do tomorrow. Like they talk to me as a fellow citizen of Afghanistan, they also have the right to engage with all other Afghans in the same manner.
SECRETARY KERRY: I think the President has answered the question fundamentally, but I’d just say to the Taliban that the President of the United States has made it clear that the United States of American is committed beyond 2014 to the Government of Afghanistan and to this legitimate democratic, political process. The Taliban can choose to be part of that, and they know how; or if they’re on the outside, continuing to be violent, I believe the people of Afghanistan, as they did the other day in Kandahar, will rise up and say, “We’re not going to tolerate this.”
But they should, in their calculation about whether or not to be part of this process, remember that the President of the United States has not yet announced what the future force levels will be, and he has committed to not allow – and he has used words close to this – not allow America’s investment and the sacrifice here to be reversed. And so I think the Taliban, hopefully, will understand that peace and peace talks are the best way to resolve the differences, and engage in the political process, rather than choose a road of violence.
As I said today, the Afghan military has gained enormous capacity. Within a short period of time, there’ll be an enormously important transition that will take place, a milestone this year, where the Afghans will be leading with respect to security. But the United States will still be playing a role, and will be here over the course of this future period. And the President has pledged to continue to support Afghanistan into the future.
PRESIDENT KARZAI: It’s your turn.
SECRETARY KERRY: Indira Lakshmanan from Bloomberg. Where is she? Yes.
QUESTION: Thank you. Mr. President, you have clarified your remarks and indicated that you were misinterpreted by the media in the comments that were said about collusion, but there have been other things you’ve said, such as implying that U.S. Special Forces were somehow involved in allowing those abuses to take place in Wardak province that were alleged. So I want to know, with these statements that you make, aren’t you worried that if you continue to offend your main ally by accusing the U.S. of such participation or bad actions, which has caused a lot of disbelief and anger in Washington, will you lose support from your main military and economic ally?
And then also, you’re going to Qatar, but what gives you faith that the Taliban are actually ready to renounce violence, cut ties with al-Qaida and respect the rights of women and minorities as stated in the constitution?
And for you, Secretary Kerry, given how difficult the negotiations over the detainee handover have been, what gives you confidence that the bilateral security agreement can be reached that would allow U.S. forces to stay beyond 2014? Thank you.
PRESIDENT KARZAI: On the Special Forces and Wardak, ma’am, we received complaints from citizens of Wardak, residents of Wardak, about six months ago, that certain forces employed by the Special Forces were very heavy-handed with the local population. We investigated that. We found out that there was a person called Zikriya, an Afghan name, who apparently is an Afghan American, hailing originally from Kandahar province, who was part of this force and who, together with his team in Wardak, was violating the rights of the Afghan people massively. And we took up this issue with the Special Forces, with the military. At that time, General Allen was here in charge. We investigated. Much of what was said turned out to be true, on evidence, that this man and the militias with him were abusing the rights of the Afghan people – torture, including killing. And we used all of the ways to correct the situation.
But then in the past five, six weeks, we received more complaints of a student who was taken out of his home at night, and two days later his dead body was found under a bridge. And the local people said this was done by the Special Forces. We took up the issue and we launched our investigation. The U.S. Government did its own part.
Now, when I say something publicly to this effect, this is not meant to offend our allies, but to correct the situation. I’m responsible for the protection of the Afghan people. I’m the President of this country; it’s my job to provide all the protection I can to the citizens of this country, just like it is the job of the U.S. president, President Obama, to provide all the protection he can to the American people. And when he speaks for the protection of American people, he is not speaking against any other country or any other people; he is speaking for the American people. Here, I’m speaking for the protection of the Afghan people and for the respect of the rights of the Afghan people. I’m happy today that there is an agreement that the Special Forces from Nirkh will withdraw and that the local forces with them will also withdraw – not the local police. By the way, there is a difference between the local police and the forces employed there. So – but we, as Afghans, must try our best to provide the protection to the Afghan people.
I would like to add one more thing, ma’am. The Afghan people have suffered the most of all nations towards the end of the 20th century and in the past 10 years. We, as a people, deserve better security, more respect. The slightest consciousness in us will not allow us to be looking the other way. Therefore, it is not to offend our allies or to score points. No. It’s none of that. It’s to correct the situation in the benefit of all of us – for our allies and for the security and wellbeing of the Afghan people, while the partnership continues, of course. It does not hurt that. It’s not intended to hurt that.
(Inaudible.) Please, please, please.
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, if I can get away without – (laughter.)
QUESTION: The part about the Taliban being ready.
PRESIDENT KARZAI: The Taliban.
QUESTION: Mr. President, the part – President Karzai, the part about the Taliban --
SECRETARY KERRY: I think --
QUESTION: -- being ready to renounce violence and --
PRESIDENT KARZAI: Oh, was that addressed to me or to --
QUESTION: I’m sorry. Go ahead.
PRESIDENT KARZAI: Right. Well, it’s in their interest to renounce violence. It’s in their interest to stop killing their fellow citizens. It’s in their interest to stop hurting the security forces of the international community. It’s good for them to come back to their own homeland and to raise their families and children and to have a better standard of living. It’s good for them. This country is moving forward, as Secretary Kerry said moments ago. This country will not reverse. It will not be allowed to reverse in any manner. Therefore, and as I remarked during my last trip to America, in Georgetown University, we have gathered a critical mass here, and that critical mass is serving as a – would you call it a snowball?
SECRETARY KERRY: A snowball, a catalyst?
PRESIDENT KARZAI: A snowball is moving down from – a heavy snowball down the mountain, and whatever it comes across, it will sweep it away. So the Taliban better distance themselves from the path of the snowball, and rather become a – what is a fleck of snow called? A snowflake. They must become a snowflake and join the snowball and have a better future in this country.
SECRETARY KERRY: Indira, thank you. In January, President Obama announced that we are committed to resolving and achieving a bilateral security agreement as rapidly as possible. And everybody understands that it is critical to the United States of America to have the same standard, the same protection in that agreement that we have everywhere else in the world. In every country where there are American troops, there’s a certain jurisdiction that is appropriate to be reserved to the United States of America.
Now, that has to be done, as we all know, and as General Dunford and all of his commanders worked very hard to do, to live up to the highest standards and to respect the sovereignty of the country. And I am absolutely confident, based on the conversation we had earlier this evening, that President Karzai is committed to seeing that we achieve that agreement, and I am absolutely confident that we will based on the conversation we had.
PRESIDENT KARZAI: Shamshad.
QUESTION: First of all, thank you. Welcome to Afghanistan, Secretary Kerry. I have two questions. My first question is regarding to you and second question from our President. I am Mohammed Hadiz from Shamshad TV. Since, as you know, the negotiation about the security agreement between Kabul and Washington is still going on, and if a foreign country attack on Afghanistan – so does the United States of America will defend Afghanistan? And are they ready to defend in Afghanistan?
(Via interpreter) And my question to you, Mr. President, as to point – the support that has been made to the peace process, what do you think – what are the main problems for the peace process? And the Taliban have put an important condition for the peace process, including the release of their prisoners. Have you discussed this issue with the U.S.? Will you release the Taliban prisoners?
PARTICIPANT: You got the question?
SECRETARY KERRY: Yes, I do. Thank you, Mr. President.
With respect to the bilateral agreement and the question you asked about defending, let me just be very, very clear. I said tonight that President Obama’s commitment is that he’s not going to allow the gains to be reversed, and in the bilateral security agreement, as well as in the partnership – the security partnership that’s already been created, we’ve made certain commitments to Afghanistan. We are helping Afghanistan to have the ability to defend itself. Afghanistan will have one of the largest armies in the region: 352,000 troops. And Afghanistan is going to have an extraordinary ability – already proven – because now, already, Afghans are in the lead on most of the operations. And this year, within a matter of months, Afghans will be in the lead on all the operations. So Afghanistan is proving its capacity right now that it can and will defend itself.
Now, we will work with Afghanistan to make sure that there is a regional understanding and a peaceful process here by which the integrity and the sovereignty of each nation is respected, and that is very important. So I believe that the security of Afghanistan is growing and will grow over the course of the next two years, and I have confidence that in the bilateral security agreement we will have a full understanding of exactly how that will occur.
PRESIDENT KARZAI: (Via interpreter) On the peace process, efforts are being made, and on the issues that we require Pakistan’s cooperation. Unfortunately, we do not have concrete steps taken. It was agreed that we would hold a joint (inaudible), a religious clerics’ council between the two countries. And in order for that to happen, Afghanistan has sent its delegation, led by our religious clerics’ council head and – where they discussed the details on the council. And Pakistan religious councils said that Taliban to be invited into this conference, and we welcome that. Yes.
But then later on, we heard the – again, the religious council’s head of Pakistan calling suicide bombings in Afghanistan as legitimate and lawful. So this – I mean, the cooperation can’t go this way. Peace is an important desire for Afghanistan as well as for Pakistan. We’re not only concerned with Afghanistan, but we are equally concerned of Pakistan and worried about Pakistan, about the casualties, about the people that get targeted and killed and injured in Pakistan. We consider them as our brothers and sisters. So again, this is a call for the Taliban to grasp this opportunity and to use it to their best, to stop killing and violence in Afghanistan. And again, we are seeking the best brotherhood with Pakistan and the best relationship with Pakistan, and their cooperation would certainly benefit all of us.
Yes, we support the release of the prisoners, as we have also supported the release from Guantanamo of Taliban prisoners, and we have declared this to both the U.S. and to the United Nations. Yes, we support that.
Should we call it end?
SECRETARY KERRY: Yeah. Thank you.