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Amb. Kenton Keith, Director of the Islamabad Coalition Information service: It is a great pleasure today for me to introduce Ambassador James Dobbins, U.S. special envoy to Afghanistan. Ambassador Dobbins will say a few words and then take questions. On the local front, we will be briefing tomorrow at our usual time 3:30; and we will also be briefing on Thursday also as 3:30.
Amb. James Dobbins: This is my Third visit to Pakistan in connection with my current responsibilities. I first came in mid-November when I took up my assignment as the U.S. Envoy to the Afghan Opposition at the beginning at the trip, which was to introduce me to that opposition, and I consulted here with Pakistani officials on the situation in Afghanistan and then traveled to Peshawar and ultimately to Afghanistan, itself. At the end of that trip I returned and debriefed Pakistani officials on what I had found on the prospects for what ultimately became the meeting in Bonn which succeeded in agreeing on an interim administration for Afghanistan. Yesterday I was in Kabul where I was able to officially open the U.S. diplomatic mission there; and over the last couple of days I have had an opportunity to meet with President Rabbani, with the incoming chairman of the Interim Administration Hamid Karzai, and with other, both current and prospective, leaders of the new Interim Administration to discuss plans for the transfer of power that will take place on December 22nd. Those plans seem well advanced. All segments of the opposition and of Afghan society seem to be supportive of the process that is underway, and I would anticipate that the new Interim Administration should, in these circumstances, be off to a good start after an internationally recognized inauguration celebration, which will take place on 22nd of December in Kabul. And that's why I am here. I have had meetings here today. (I guess today is a holiday, so it wasn't technically a meeting, it was a lunch) with the Foreign Secretary and with a number of his colleagues, several of whom I met before. I expressed appreciation for the Pakistani role at the Bonn conference where Pakistan joined with a number of other countries in helping to promote the agreement that ultimately emerged there and which will be implemented on the 22nd of December in Kabul. Questions?
Question: There are many that say that the Bonn agreement doesn't represent majority of Afghans. What's your feeling on that?
Answer: Well, first, I am not sure there are many. There are some. I don't know any of them who suggest that the Bonn agreement therefore shouldn't be applied. The Bonn agreement is a coalition government in effect. I don't know any coalition government where all of the people feel they are adequately represented. So a certain amount of grousing that "I got three ministries instead of four" is normal whether in Western Europe or South Asia, but that's what it is. Nobody is saying, "I am not going to participate." Nobody is saying that this is a bogus process. They arc just saying, "I should have four ministries of three." Well, you know, we can live with that and I think the process can live with it.
Question: Can, you explain exactly where the peacekeeping force stands and what steps are missing before it actually is on the ground?
Answer: The discussions are fairly advanced. I attended, on my way to Kabul, a meeting in London that was hosted by the UK. It was a meeting with all of the prospective troop contributors -- I think there were 16 countries represented there -- at which the British briefed on the concept of operations and their intentions in terms of discussions with the Afghans. A British general then went to Kabul and he and I, in fact, met yesterday afternoon, along with some American military officers who had flown to Kabul for that purpose from our Central Command, to discuss with Minister of Defense Fahim and Minister of The Interior Qanooni the scope and arrangements for the force. There were discussions on a number of issues. The British General, Major-General, McColl, is flying back to London today where he will have another meeting with troop contributors to brief them on the results of those discussions. So that's one track. A second track is at the United Nations. There is a resolution which is being discussed at the United Nations and which will be formally tabled, and I would anticipate voted on, sometime in the next few days. Those are basically the two tracks, which should lead, I hope, to at least an initial deployment by the 22nd.
Question: Ambassador, would you like to share with us the details of your discussions with the Foreign Secretary of Pakistan?
Answer: They were very much what we have been saying here. I briefed them on the discussion I had had; what the prospects were for an international security force for the celebrations on the 22nd; and the prospects for the Interim Administration to progress. I told them that I had met both with the outgoing President Rabbani and the incoming Chairman Hamid Karzai. I met with them, interestingly enough, together and then separately; and that they both seemed to be working together in good spirit to bring about this peaceful transition. We talked about what the developments were likely to bring, including in Pakistan's relationship with the new government in Afghanistan.
Question: Ambassador, just a follow up question, which is on the issue of Pakistan's relationship with the new Afghan government. Officials here on background have been very concerned about what they see as hostile gestures from the Northern Alliance in recent weeks, and there are many examples that they cite. In your discussions with the Foreign Secretary and outer officials here, was there any discussion on some of the Pakistani concerns; and could you also tell us if the Pakistanis have said to you if there is going to be a delegation going to Kabul for the 22nd? And at what level are they going to be represented? How do they see the whole situation?
Answer: I think they probably do intend to be represented, and I think there was an agreement that there is a good deal of anxiety and suspicion on both sides that have to be overcome. There's a lot of history that will need to be overcome for the relationship to achieve the level of cooperation that I believe both sides want and need.
Question: Some Afghan representatives I have talked to are concerned about the U.S. commitment to the process, long-term commitment. What now can you say about the long-term commitment by the U.S. for the future of Afghanistan?
Answer: Well, I addressed this yesterday at the ceremonies which marked the re-opening of our diplomatic mission in Kabul; and I noted that this (reopening) meant that the U.S. was returning diplomatically, politically and economically to Afghanistan and that we intended to stay, and that we would continue to play such a role in support of the new Interim Administration, and then of more permanent arrangements, as those are put in place in Afghanistan.
Question: In your discussions today and with regard to reports that Al Qaida fighters filed into Pakistan, was there any expression of concern on the part of the Pakistani officials that the problem from Afghanistan may actually have been exported into Pakistan?
Answer: Well, we discussed the issue briefly, and the Pakistani officials reaffirmed their commitments to us as regards their strict border controls, I don't know that they were...no...I mean, they weren't expressing concerns. They were expressing a common view with us as to how the problem should be handled, and their commitment to handle it exactly in the manner that they had committed themselves to do.
Question: Can you tell us anything about these reports that fox (TV) is saying that Same bin Laden may be in Peshawar?
Answer: I don't know anything beyond what, on that issue, we have all seen in the press. I really have nothing to tell you on that because it's not in my brief, and it didn't come up today. I don't have any information to give you, not because I am denying it, but because I literally don't have it.
Question: But just in regards to the border issue again, the Pakistani government says it is protected, but we keep hearing reports that armed Taliban fighters are slipping over. Do you think it's porous, still, or do you think it's completely blocked?
Answer: Well, it's a mountain range, so I think the passes are sealed. I don't think it's possible to prevent individuals from crossing the border. I think it is possible once they have done so, to apprehend them over time and to ensure that they are dealt with appropriately.
Question: And will U.S. forces be active on Pakistani soil in that region?
Answer: I wouldn't anticipate so, but frankly I am not the Ambassador to Pakistan. I have the Ambassador to Pakistan here (gestures to Amb. Wendy Chamberlain), and maybe later she can answer the question. But "no" would be my answer.
Question: Do you have any information about Mr. Karzai's going to visit Pakistan?
Answer: I don't know what his travel plans are, I would anticipate he will make international visits to a number of places over the next several months, once he has gotten a firmer grip on his primary responsibilities, which are in Kabul, I know he is been in contact with the Government of Pakistan at the highest levels anti that they have established a good relationship, and I am sure that that will continue.
Question: I have a question for Ambassador Keith, if that's allowed. Do you have any more information on the identity of the three Al Qaida detainees on the U.S. slip?
Answer: (Amb. Dobbins) I don't. Neither does he.
Question: Not even in terms of their importance? Their positions?
Answer: It's just not in my brief; I'm sorry, I don't, I literally don't have any information.
Question: Is there any compromise to make, perhaps, between the Northern Alliance and the international community? Or would the deployment of the numbers of the peacekeeping forces in Afghanistan, I mean, in Kabul as well as in the other places...?
Answer: Well, there will be such an agreement, I anticipate. It won't be an agreement with tae Northern Alliance because the Northern Alliance won't exist. It will be an agreement with the Interim Administration in Kabul, which will be a broadly based administration representing Afghans in the north and south. There were discussions yesterday with two of the Ministers, who will continue in their positions in that new government, and a number of points were settled, and others are still under discussion.
Question: After Mr. Putin's statement this week on the whole question, of broadening the war on terrorism beyond Afghanistan -- I mean does this complicate in any way the mandate under which peacekeepers are going to be deployed in Afghanistan, because of the Russian position that there are reservations on taking this campaign onwards, perhaps to Iraq and so on?
Answer: I think the short answer is no. I don't see a connection between the two. I think this there are discussions in the Security Council; they tend to be at the level of detail at the moment, how many months is the mandate for, that kind of stuff. But the Russians were active and very constructive participants in the Bonn meeting. They express no opposition to the request of the Bonn meeting for an international security force, and I'm confident that they will support it. So I don't see a connection between the two, frankly.
Question: The Government of Pakistan has stated that it would open its diplomatic mission in Kabul as and when the guarantees for the security of its diplomatic people are received from Kabul. You have opened your diplomatic mission in Kabul. Whether the United States would be in a position to ask the Northern Alliance to give the security guarantees for the Pakistani diplomatic mission there?
Answer: Well, as I said in answer to another question, it wouldn't be the Northern Alliance, which will cease to exist in four days -- I mean, as a government. It would be the Interim Administration. We have opened our Mission, and I know that Pakistan intends to reopen its mission as soon as the conditions can be met, and we would be happy to facilitate that in any way necessary, although I was not requested to make the approach that you suggested. I mean, they haven't made such a request, but we would be happy to facilitate this in any way possible.
Question: I would like to follow up on this question regarding America's long-term commitment to Afghanistan. So, the U.S. has reopened its Mission. What is it discussing internally in terms of a long-term financial commitment -- reconstruction, economic, humanitarian?
Answer: Well, that is what it is discussing internally, initially within the administration and then with Congress, and ultimately then its consultation with other donors. The United States has, in consultation with the Japanese, launched a process of organizing donors to address the needs of Afghanistan. An initial meeting was held in Washington, co-chaired by Japan and the United States, on the 20th of November, and that meeting took several decisions, one of which was to request the World Bank and The United Nations to do what is called a needs assessment -- that is, to establish how much money is necessary, over what period, and in what categories to meet Afghanistan's reconstruction needs and, secondly, to schedule a donor's conference which would meet once that needs assessment had been circulated, with a view to getting donors to commit the funds that would be needed to meet those needs. That will probably take place, I would guess, in January sometime. It's when we have that needs assessment that we and other donors will determine what proportion of that undoubtedly multi-billion dollar figure each of us are prepared to commit, and then we would go to the conference and make chose commitments and see whether we would meet the target. So far, the response that we've gotten in our initial contacts with the U.S. Congress indicate that there is a positive interest in this, and so I am confident that the United States will play an appropriate part in the overall international community's efforts to meet Afghanistan's needs. And those needs are going to be very large.
Question: What is being done by the Administration to prepare the American people for the fact that the recovery may be just as messy as the war? That this may take quite a long time to settle down. That different ethnic and tribal groups may not work easily together, may not play well together. What is being done to prepare the American people that this could be a dangerous situation for relief officials, for U.S. soldiers and peacekeepers for a while?
Answer: Well, I don't think this will come as any shock to the American people. We've had a good deal of experience over the last decade in helping countries make the transition from war to peace, and we know that it is a messy, frustrating, difficult, and sometimes dangerous process, as you've described. On the other hand, we've gotten increasingly better at it. When I say we, I don't mean just the United States; I mean the international community as a whole. From early mistakes in places like Somalia and Haiti, to increasing success in places like Bosnia and Kosovo and East Timor, the international community is beginning to develop the techniques and the experience necessary to help societies make that transition. You can't do it for them; the people have to be prepared for reconciliation; the leaders have to be prepared to overcome their differences. And that's why what happened in Bonn is so important, because it does indicate that the leaders are prepared to do that, and the popular reaction to it in Afghanistan suggests the people are ready, and what we were talking about a few minutes ago, about the donors' organization of their own efforts, suggests that the international community is itself prepared to provide the requisite assistance. But you're right; it's not going to be a straight-line process. There are going to be setbacks and frustrations as we move forward. But as I said, I don't think that will come as a shock to the American people or others who watch this process in other countries making this difficult transition over the last decade.
Question: What setbacks and frustrations do you foresee in this process? What are your biggest concerns?
Answer: Well, I think they're probably the sane as anybody would have. One is the need to meet the immediate humanitarian needs of a country that is devastated, first of all, by three years of drought and then by nearly twenty years of civil war, and to meet those needs before winter closes in, mountain passes freeze up, and populations are left exposed. Secondly, the need to begin, over time, a process of demobilization, and to offer large numbers of young men, who have had little opportunity to do anything other than bear arms for their adult life, other sources of income and livelihood. The need to create institutions, including to integrate the military service, to begin to professionalize a police force and to build up the civil service and the institutional capacity. These are all steps that different elements of the international community -- the United Nations, for one, but individual donor nations and other institutions and organizations -- will have to address in concert with the Interim Administration and the more permanent arrangements that follow on from the Interim Administration after its term of office is concluded.
Question: How would you evaluate the service of your Ambassador in Islamabad, which has been rendered by her for the United States of America?
Question: Has your office or any of your group been contacted by American corporations that may have a business interest in Afghanistan, and if so what?
Answer: No is the answer, but I would be delighted to be so contacted.
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