Good afternoon, on behalf of Secretary of State Blinken, I want to thank President Rahmon and President Ghani, Foreign Minister Muhriddin and Foreign Minister Atmar, and all Heart of Asia Participating Countries, Supporting Countries, and Supporting Organizations for your engagement today.
This year’s Heart of Asia-Istanbul Process Ministerial Conference comes at a critical moment in the Afghanistan peace process. It demonstrates the strong regional consensus for peace and development and an Afghanistan that contributes to those goals.
The United States is working closely with key international and regional partners, including many of the countries around this table and the United Nations, to promote and support a process that leads to lasting peace. On March 18 in Moscow, we joined with Russia, China and Pakistan in a statement that underscored the importance the international community places on Afghan-led efforts to seek a just and durable political settlement and permanent and comprehensive ceasefire.
The statement affirmed that we do not support the restoration of the Islamic Emirate. It called on all parties to engage immediately in discussions on fundamental issues to resolve the conflict in order to create the foundations of the future peaceful and stable Afghan state. We hope that message can be echoed by our colleagues here today.
The United States also welcomed UN Secretary General Guterres’ appointment of Jean Arnault as his Personal Envoy on Afghanistan and Regional Issues. We look forward to the United Nations playing a positive and constructive role in the Afghan peace and reconciliation process going forward.
We also welcome Turkey’s offer to facilitate further discussions on a political roadmap in Istanbul. They are critically important talks, and we look forward to sharing additional details along with our Turkish partners.
All of these efforts are aimed at complementing the ongoing intra-Afghan negotiations in Doha.
With the support of our international partners, this Heart of Asia Ministerial offers an opportunity to build on this momentum in favor of peace. It sends a strong message to affirm international support for Afghan-led efforts to end the conflict and the need to move quickly.
We welcome your efforts to ensure this year’s Ministerial sends an unambiguous, unified message: we expect to see faster progress on a political settlement and expect both parties to be prepared to engage seriously. We recognize this requires difficult compromises.
Our goals are clear: we continue to call on all parties to reduce the level of violence in the country and on the Taliban not to pursue a Spring offensive to avoid further casualties and to create conditions conducive to reaching a negotiated political settlement.
We are at a pivotal moment in the future of Afghanistan and the region. We have before us the greatest opportunity for peace in 40 years of conflict. All of Afghanistan’s friends and neighbors have a role to play in supporting a peace that is Afghan-owned and Afghan-led.
The need for peace has long been evident to Afghans; they have been vocal in their demands to end the violence. The targeted killings, primarily against civilians, over the last year have made this need even more acute for all Afghans.
We condemn the targeted attacks on women leaders, journalists, civil society members, religious figures, and government and security officials in the strongest possible terms, and we call for accountability for these attacks, as well as an immediate reduction in violence.
We recognize the Afghan people have made clear their intent to safeguard the social gains of the last two decades, including the rights and protections for women and minorities. Donors, including the United States, view these gains as essential for continued development assistance.
Distinguished colleagues: we have traveled too far, and all sacrificed so much, that we cannot afford to let this moment pass. Let us all resolve to work together to help the people of Afghanistan seize this chance for peace. The United States will do its part.
Thank you all again for your engagement as we promote a stable, sovereign, democratic, and secure Afghanistan.