Press Availability With Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani
Secretary of State
PRESIDENT GHANI: (Inaudible.) In the name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful. Mr. Secretary, it’s a unique pleasure to welcome you.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Thank you.
PRESIDENT GHANI: On behalf of the Afghan public, let me first thank the American men and women in uniform and civilians who have for 17 years fought shoulder-to-shoulder with us, and particularly those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice. Please convey our best wishes and gratitude particularly to Gold Star families. Over a million men and women in uniform have served with us. They will have a place in our hearts, and we are always moved to tears when they say they have left a piece of their heart in Afghanistan.
I would like to thank you for the role – the critical role – that you played in the articulation and now the implementation of the South Asia strategy. Please thank President Trump and the members of the U.S. national security team for their trust in the future of Afghanistan and for bringing a strategy that has been a game-changer.
Mr. Secretary, the strategy is working. It has had significant impact. It is getting every actor and stakeholder engaged in the conflict around Afghanistan to recalculate, recalibrate, and think through the basic premise. What we particularly welcome about the strategy is the concept of a secure Afghanistan within a stable South Asia.
The objective of the strategy is to create the conditions for enduring peace and stability, and that’s what the Government of National Unity is committed to. Because of this strategy and condition-based nature of it, we the members of the Government of National Unity – my colleague Dr. Abdullah and I, and all the rest of our team – have been able to take bold steps, to think outside the box, and to articulate an agenda of peace that is truly comprehensive and asks for engagement.
The ceasefire was equally an experiment, and here I’d like to pay tribute to the Afghan public. Our capacity not just to welcome reconciliation but to display a genuine sense of a nation that is tired of war, that is willing to look to the future rather than the past, that can take all the casualties of the week before the ceasefire and have the compassion and the commitment to reconcile, has been truly moving. It’s been moving for several generations of Afghans. After 40 years, Afghans have experienced a true Eid.
I would also like to pay tribute to the Afghan public for their embrace of democracy. Over six million Afghans have registered to vote. A democratic election, a fair, free, and inclusive election, is what we characterize the routinization and the consolidation of our constitution.
Equally, Mr. Secretary, our commitment to reform is strong, focused, and bearing results. Our security forces are experiencing a generational transformation. Their leadership and management is changing. Our commando forces are doubling. Our air force is tripling. They are showing both the way they managed the ceasefire that they have compassion for peace, but they have the discipline to defend this country and fight against the common threat of terrorism.
And particularly the issue that we are concerned with is to thank first the American taxpayer and all of the government, members of the government, Congress, but to say that we want to focus on an approach that by 2024 this country would have considerable self-reliance. We have increased our revenues by 70 percent in the last four years, but you’ll redouble and triple that effort.
A regional consensus, Mr. Ambassador – Mr. Secretary, is in the process of emerging. Your support for that, and also we are gratified at the Islamic engagement through the endorsement of fatwas by the imams of Makkah al-Mukarramah and Madina al-Munawarrah. It’s been a very strong statement.
Let me welcome you as a friend. Let me welcome you as a leader. In your previous capacity you brought us massive change, positive change; and in your current capacity, again, we are looking forward to delivering on the anniversary of the South Asia strategy progress that would be discernible, measurable, an indication of the commitment of the Government of National Unity to our joint goals.
Thank you, Mr. Secretary.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Thank you. Thank you, good afternoon. I want to thank you, President Ghani. I want to thank Dr. Abdullah and the entire Afghan National Security Council for hosting me here today. It’s been a pleasure to meet with you at the palace.
On behalf of the American people, I want to express my deep appreciation for the American soldiers, Airmen, Marines, and sailors who are serving and sacrificing here alongside forces from NATO. I look forward to spending time with some of them after I leave here today.
I also want to commend the brave Afghan warriors, soldiers, airmen, and police who risk their lives every day to made Afghans more secure and safer.
Now, more than ever, the United States stands as an enduring partner for Afghanistan. It’s been almost one year since President Trump announced the new South Asia strategy. It features a conditions-based approach and the removal of artificial timelines and arbitrary troop ceilings. We’re working with the Afghan Government and security forces to set the conditions to produce a safer, more secure Afghanistan which is Afghan-led and Afghan-owned.
You should know that the peace process is the same. The United States will support, facilitate, and participate in these peace discussions, but peace must be decided by the Afghans and settled among them. We expect that these peace talks will include a discussion of the role of international actors and forces.
I came here today to learn the progress that we’d made in each of the dimensions. My conclusion from this visit is that the President’s strategy is indeed working. Our South Asia strategy has sent a clear message to the Afghan peoples and its security services that we will support them as they continue to fight to defend their country and their people.
The strategy has sent a clear message too to the Taliban – they cannot wait us out – and we are beginning to see the results both on the battlefield where the Taliban’s momentum is slowing and in the prospects for peace with them.
We’ve also today had the chance to discuss the progress Afghanistan is making to prepare for elections this fall. We support the Afghan Government and Security Forces as they work to ensure safe, credible, and transparent polls that reflect the will of the Afghan people. We call on all of our partners to continue this support.
And finally, I’d like to congratulate the Government of Afghanistan on its progress towards reform. I’m encouraged to see the Afghan Government fighting corruption and developing a roadmap for its economy – for the country’s economy, including a clear vision for stable development of the mining sector.
One again, President Ghani, thank you so much. Chief Executive Abdullah, thank you. You have been gracious hosts. The United States remains committed to working with the Afghan Government and the Afghan people to advance security, political stability, and accountability, along with democratic governance among the Afghan people. Thank you.
MR CHAKHANSURI: Thank you, Mr. President. Thank you, Mr. Secretary. We’ll take some questions now.
Hoshidi from Shamshad.
QUESTION: Thank you very much. I am Zabihullah Khurshidi, Shamshad TV reporter. Welcome, U.S. Secretary of State! The Taliban recently rejected peace talks with the Afghan government and didn’t accept the ceasefire. They have found new partners in the region, including Iran, Russia, China, and Pakistan, which have been accused of supporting the Taliban for a long time. What is the U.S. stance and the next plan specifically on Afghanistan’s peace process?
SECRETARY POMPEO: I’m sorry, I --
PRESIDENT GHANI: Was it translated?
SECRETARY POMPEO: No, I didn’t get that. My --
MR CHAKHANSURI: So the question is that the peace process, the Taliban has rejected peace dialogues and negotiations and they now have some partners in the region as well, with – partnership with some other countries. What are the next steps and how will we proceed with the peace process?
SECRETARY POMPEO: So the peace process will be Afghan-led. It will be amongst the Afghan people. We have been very encouraged following the ceasefire to see how the Afghan people have responded to that. We think that bodes well for the peace process. Having said that, we are prepared to participate in that, to facilitate, to help the Afghan people resolve their differences and to arrive at a place where all of the Afghan people can have their voices heard and live in a society that is peaceful and security and where every Afghan is treated with the dignity that each of them deserves.
MS NAUERT: The next question will go to Kylie Atwood from CBS News. One question, please.
QUESTION: Thank you. Secretary Pompeo, the U.S. has now been here in Afghanistan for almost 17 years, as you well know, and the Trump administration, as you said, is one year into its strategy, a conditions-based strategy, but there aren’t many signals of success. The territory under Taliban control has grown. And as you noted, an American service member just died here. This is the third fatality of an American military member this year. You say the strategy is working, but where is the evidence that Trump and his administration’s strategy here is indeed working?
And the U.S. has also said it would facilitate talks between the Afghan Government and the Taliban. Can you characterize U.S. engagement with the Taliban at this point? Thank you.
SECRETARY POMPEO: So that was two questions.
QUESTION: Both on Afghanistan.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Interestingly, they’re connected. An element of the progress is the capacity that we now have to believe that there is hope that many of the Taliban now see that they can’t win on the ground militarily. That’s – they’re – deeply connected to President Trump’s strategy. We saw this. We saw what happened. We saw the Taliban respond to the ceasefire that President Ghani put in place. These are linked issues. The progress we’ve made in the South Asia strategy in increasing the size and the capability of the Afghan Security Forces, in strengthening the reforms inside the Afghan Government; the work that we have done to demonstrate to the Taliban that the continuation of fighting will lead them to a bad outcome, not one that’s in the best interests of the people in the regions where they operate – each of those are hallmarks of real progress.
Make no mistake, there’s still a great deal of work to do. That is certainly the case, and the American role will be important in this. But we can’t run the peace talks. We can’t settle this from the outside. This will be settled by the Afghan people coming together, their cumulative realization that living together in harmony and peace, treating each other with dignity – we saw that during the ceasefire and we have seen it in the aftermath. We are very hopeful that that will lead to a successful reduction in violence as we move into the elections.
We’re counting on all the actors in the region to be supportive of that. The Pakistanis too need to understand that they need – we need to have a set of elections that do not have violence. We’re counting on all of the actors in the region to support this process and make sure the Afghan people can have their voices heard during these elections. We think each of those is greatly increased as a result of the strategy that President Trump laid out now almost 12 months ago.
MR CHAKHANSURI: Thanks. We will take the third question from Ariana News’ Mr. Shapoor. Only one question, please.
QUESTION: Thanks. I am Shapoor Farahmand, Ariana News reporter. My first question goes to Mr. President. Since the Taliban has rejected the ceasefire twice and didn’t accept the Afghan government’s peace offer, has the government of Afghanistan had any other opportunity to negotiate peace talks thoroughly and end the conflict? My second question goes to Mr. Secretary –
MR CHAKHANSURI: Sorry, only one question, please. One question only. Thank you.
PRESIDENT GHANI: Thank you. I hope we do not see only the dark side of everything. I would like to tell all of my fellow citizens that within the last 40 years, had anyone before witnessed a ceasefire? If you have not seen a ceasefire for the last 40 years, now you have. The importance of this issue shouldn’t be ignored. The initiative of the ceasefire and the Kabul Peace Process Conference was ours.
The reason why this initiative took place during this time is because with our key partner, the United States, we have come up with a strategy that is not bounded or based on time, but based on actual ongoing conditions. Each peace accord is the result of astonishing effort. We need to keep some fundamental points in mind here.
First, we need to know whether there is a national consensus on peace in our country or not. The answer to this question is that a vast majority of the Afghan people definitely supports peace. Second, has the national consensus led to actions to draw a clear roadmap? Once the ceasefire took place, what are now the basic barriers to the next ceasefire? Third, the role of the respected ulema of Afghanistan is unprecedented. 2,907 of our religious leaders came together, issued a fatwa, and their recommendation was peace, and the Government of National Unity welcomes peace.
We need to take future steps in a very careful, tolerant, and courageous manner. For instance, if there is not much effort in school, a student may not take the first position, and if you want to climb a mountain, you need to traverse the path to the top. The roadmap is clear for now, so we need to have clear will and determination, as well as patience. It is unrealistic to expect to solve a 40-year crisis in one day. However, the current movement has created hope in people.
And the last point: our security and defense forces have demonstrated discipline in welcoming peace and at the same time showing that they are strongly willing to defend this homeland. I want to express my gratitude to the security forces, and I am really proud of them. I have visited four Afghan National Defense and Security Force corps, including our commandos and special forces, but we have to understand that we cannot rely only on our security forces, but the stage has been set for political and social negotiations, which I believe will move forward smoothly, inshallah. Thank you.
MS NAUERT: Next question, John Hudson from The Washington Post.
QUESTION: Thank you. Thank you, Mr. Secretary. Just given the importance of the North Korea issue, I wanted to ask you: Yesterday, you put out the prospect of offering security guarantees to North Korea as it starts the denuclearization process. What are those security guarantees? Does it include an agreement to formally end the Korean War? Would you consider removing U.S. troops or weapons systems?
And after your visit in Pyongyang, North Korea issued a pretty aggressive statement. I was just wondering – you’ve spent so much time building this relationship, seeing what’s happening, visiting Pyongyang – did you get a sense of what was the issue that really triggered North Korea to walk away with a different sentiment that you had in the good-faith negotiations? Thanks very much.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Well, I’d really prefer to talk about Afghanistan given where we are. Do you have a question about Afghanistan?
QUESTION: Oh, and also on Afghanistan, I would also like to ask what your view is of Russia’s involvement in Afghanistan. Do you believe that it is supplying arms to the Taliban? But also wonder if you’d be generous enough to answer the North Korea question as well.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Yeah. So let me talk about regional actors here in Afghanistan more broadly even than Russia. We are – we have seen good signs from lots of regional actors, China and others, who – Uzbekistan – who are stepping forward. We’ve also seen it from our NATO allies and partners. We’ve had 29 of 39 of those allies step up with increased contributions of resources since President Trump announced his new South Asia strategy.
We believe that there are many actors who are coming together to try and achieve what it is President Ghani has so elegantly discussed today. We truly – we’re optimistic that the region, the world are all tired of what’s taking place here in the same way the vast majority of the Afghan people no longer wish to see violence and war. And we’re very, very hopeful that over the coming periods, we can begin to see true progress, true reductions in violence, sound reforms of the Afghan Government that result from the Afghan people’s voice being heard in the upcoming elections. If we can begin to move down that path, we will have made a historic pivot, a historic change, transformational work here in Afghanistan which will give the Afghan people back their country in a way that is important and, frankly, what I’m convinced most of the Afghan people want.
Let me close – I’ll give you one quick answer with respect to North Korea. We still have a long ways to go, but the commitment that the North Koreans made – frankly, that Chairman Kim personally made to President Trump – remains, has been reinforced. I saw some of the statements came out. They were mixed. You haven’t reported on the mixed statements, but maybe you will now. The statements that were put out, Chairman Kim’s statement following our discussions, continued to express his desire to complete the denuclearization to which he is so committed.
MS NAUERT: John, thank you. John, thank you.
MR CHAKHANSURI: The press briefing is concluded. Thank you, everyone, for coming out today.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Thank you.