SECRETARY POMPEO: Good afternoon, everyone. With so much going on in the world right now, sometimes it’s easy to forget about America’s commitment here in Afghanistan, but the world should know that the Trump administration hasn’t forgotten and the American people have not forgotten. We must represent their interests here as ardently as ever. So it was a critical time for me to make it back to Afghanistan.
There have been a number of errant, sometimes different, reports over the past few months about American diplomacy regarding Afghanistan. I want to make sure today to set the record straight.
As President Trump has said, after almost now two decades of war in Afghanistan, the hour has come for peace. For the last nine months, the United States has facilitated a peace process intent on protecting our national interests while convening all the parties for inter-Afghan negotiations that will allow Afghans to fashion a political settlement and determine the future for their country.
In my meeting with President Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah, we agreed that peace is our highest priority and that Afghanistan must never again serve as a platform for international terrorism. I thanked President Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah for their long-term partnership and support for Special Representative Khalilzad on these important issues.
As you’re aware, the United States and the Taliban reached an agreement in principle in January that any comprehensive peace agreement must address four interconnected issues: counterterrorism, foreign troop presence, inter-Afghan dialogue leading to inter-Afghan negotiations, as well as a permanent ceasefire.
Regarding terrorism, we have made real progress and are nearly ready to conclude a draft text outlining the Taliban’s commitments to join fellow Afghans in ensuring that Afghan soil never again becomes a safe haven for terrorists. In light of this progress, we’ve begun discussions with the Taliban regarding foreign military presence, which today remains conditions-based. And while we’ve made clear to the Taliban that we are prepared to remove our forces, I want to be clear we have not yet agreed on a timeline to do so. This should come as no surprise, but sometimes our adversaries announce things that just aren’t true.
I want to reassure you that we hold detailed discussions with the Government of Afghanistan in parallel with our talks with the Taliban. Ambassador Bass, General Miller, Ambassador Khalilzad have worked diligently to ensure that we are fully aligned in our approach, and it was great to be here today with President Ghani.
All sides agree that finalizing a U.S.-Taliban understanding on terrorism and foreign troop presence will open the door to inter-Afghan dialogue and negotiation. That next step is at the heart of our effort. We are not and will not negotiate with the Taliban on behalf of the government or people of Afghanistan. Rather, we’re working to bring Afghans together at the negotiating table to decide the future of their own country collectively. And when that table is put together, it will be a large table. It’s crucial to include not just the Taliban and the government but also representatives from opposition parties, civil society, including women and youth.
As for our next diplomatic steps, we welcome Germany’s commitment with Qatar to convene an inter-Afghan dialogue next month. This is an opportunity for Afghans to endorse the urgent need for inter-Afghan negotiations.
Simultaneously, the United States is laying the groundwork for inter-Afghan negotiations to begin as soon as possible. The objective of those negotiations is for Afghans to agree on a timeline and a political roadmap for reaching a comprehensive peace agreement. It’s not America’s role to dictate the outcome of those negotiations.
We have been clear that the success or failure of the bilateral relationship and Afghanistan’s relationship with the international community, including the donor community, will rest in part on what Afghans do to maintain the civil rights of women and minorities and preserve the gains of the last 18 years.
I share that, but I’m not just sharing the views of the United States. Our words today reflect an international consensus for peace. My thanks go out to neighboring countries who have supported the process, and which stand to benefit tremendously from regional integration that will surely follow from peace.
We also appreciate the support of our NATO allies and our partners who serve alongside us in Resolute Support, whose ongoing commitment to the people of Afghanistan will be critical in the post-peace era. The trilateral consensus that we issued in partnership with China and Russia as well as the principles issued by the United States-Europe Group are further signs of the international community’s support for this peace process.
Pakistan has a particularly important role to play in this process and in the promotion of peace and stability in the region. Progress has been made, and we will continue to look to Pakistan for practical measures, cooperation on peace talks, and the implementation of any agreement.
Now I’ve said the word “peace” more than half a dozen times. It’s our priority. But the pursuit of peace should not wait until the Afghan presidential election. Election planning must go forward without delay as we pursue the peace that Afghans deserve. I urge the Afghan government, the Independent Election Commission, and all political stakeholders to take all necessary steps to ensure that the elections are credible.
As we work to facilitate a political settlement to the war in Afghanistan, we are also working with the Afghan government and the international community to lay the groundwork for a stable and prosperous post-settlement future for Afghanistan. That’s why today, beyond the meetings that I had at the palace, I had a number of internal meetings today to dig into plans for our future robust diplomatic, security, and development presence. The United States will help Afghans preserve the gains of the past 18 years by supporting state civilian governments and their traditions on self-reliance.
More than happy to take a couple of questions.
MS ORTAGUS: Shabeer Ahmadi, Tolo News.
QUESTION: Welcome to Afghanistan. Shabeer Ahmadi from Tolo News. Just pretty short questions. Can you have a peace deal before the September election? And have you given the timeline to the Taliban, because they claimed that? And what if the violence continues after a peace deal in the name of ISIS? Will you keep some troops in Afghanistan to fight Daesh?
SECRETARY POMPEO: So let me see if I can remember you three questions and get them all sequentially. First, I hope we have a peace deal before September 1st. That’s certainly our mission set.
Second – your last question I want to get to, which was – look, we understand that the terror threat will remain, and President Trump has made clear that ensuring that terrorism, wherever we find it, is something America can address adequately.
Your second question again, please?
QUESTION: It was about the withdrawal timeline.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Yeah. I understand what the Taliban said. My statement was very clear. We have not yet provided them with a timeline.
MS ORTAGUS: Charlie Hurt, Washington Times.
QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. Secretary.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Yes, sir.
QUESTION: You talked about this in the past, but can you give us anything concrete about ways in which Iran has increased their involvement in Afghanistan to make the peace process more difficult?
And then secondly, I’d like to give you an opportunity to respond to what Iran said today. They said that – President Rouhani said that the White House is, quote, “afflicted by mental retardation,” end quote, and said that the path for diplomacy is closed because of the sanctions.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Charlie, I’ll answer your first question. I can’t share a lot more with you about Iran’s involvement here in Afghanistan. I would say this: It is not in Iran’s best interest to undermine this peace process. I would hope that they could see that, that they could see that it is in every regional player’s best interest that this peace process move forward. After 18 years, this is something that makes no sense for all of the countries in the region.
In western Afghanistan there’s a long border with Iran, and to have a reconciliation process move forward here would be in that country’s best interest. And so we’ll continue to do the security measures that we need to do here in Afghanistan, should Iran seek to further destabilize the on-the-ground activities here. But I hope that they will not – also choose not to undermine the political process, the reconciliation process in which we are engaged.
I’ve been in meetings all day. I hadn’t seen the statements that you read to me today from the Iranians. I can only say this: For 40 years, Iran has engaged in terror all around the world, and they continue to be the largest destabilizing force throughout the Middle East. So if your representation of what they said today is right, that’s a bit immature and childlike, but know that the United States will remain steadfast in undertaking the actions that the President laid out in his strategy to create stability throughout the Middle East, which includes the campaign that we have – the economic campaign, the pressure campaign that we have – on the Islamic Republic of Iran.
MS ORTAGUS: I think we have Tameem Akhgar.
QUESTION: Thank you, sir.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Yes, sir.
QUESTION: I would like to know that if we come to an understanding for the peace process, as you say, before election you’re going to – United States trying to reach for peace. If we reach for the peace and have the peace, what will the United States do for the Daesh, which is currently raising in Afghanistan, based on reports? Will you remain in Afghanistan to take away Daesh also? Or United States will leave, based on the contract that you are going to have with the Taliban?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Look, the peace process will move forward. It will take time. America’s presence here will always – we will always do the right thing to protect American interests. So whether that’s ISIS here, whether that’s a risk of al-Qaida resurgence, the United States will always take the actions that it needs to take to protect its interests.
I don’t want to get into – I’ll leave it to the Department of Defense to talk about troop levels, force posture, regional activities on how it is we would guarantee or reduce the risk of that. But I don’t think any terrorist should ever underestimate America’s will and capacity to show that we protect American interests from terrorism.
MS ORTAGUS: Thank you, sir.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Great. Thank you all very much.