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Ambassador Kenton Keith: Good evening ladies and gentlemen, I have one brief announcement to make. Our next press event will be held tomorrow morning at 10:30. I hope all can be here. First of all the Coalition is delighted to welcome this distinguished group of Senators led by Senator Joseph Lieberman, Connecticut and Senator John McCain of Arizona. We also have senator Fred Thompson of Tennessee, Senator John Reed of Rhode Island, Senator Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, Senator Susan Collins of Maine, Senator John Edwards of North Carolina, Senator Bill Nelson of Florida and from my own home state of Missouri Senator Jean Carnahan. Senator Lieberman and McCain will make brief opening statements and the Senators have agreed to take some questions.
Senator John McCain: We have just concluded a meeting with President Musharraf which we found informative and a very helpful one as far as us understand the challenges he faces and also the challenges that America faces in the region. We have been to several countries, Turkey, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan last night and now here Pakistan. Our conversation will begin with us thanking President Musharraf and the Pakistani government for their assistance for post-September 11th. There is no doubt that the success that we have enjoyed would not have been possible without their active assistance. We of course talked a great deal about the situation in Kashmir and we are aware that President Musharraf will make a major speech in the next two or three days which he referred to and he is appreciative of how important that speech is. We obviously encourage him to do whatever he can to renounce terrorism and to defuse tensions in the region and the area of Kashmir. We discussed a variety of other issues including economic assistance, the situation in Afghanistan as well as further US, Pakistani co-operation. We appreciated the time he gave us and we intend to go back to the US Congress and brief our colleagues on the importance of our relationship with Pakistan. One of the lessons that we know of as far as Afghanistan and the region is concerned is that this continues to be a long difficult struggle in the war on terrorism and one that will not end quickly.
Senator Joseph Lieberman: Thank you John. The meeting with President Musharraf was warm, it was direct, and for my point of view was quite encouraging. In the first instance, on behalf of our delegation, our delegation speaking as almost 10 percent of the US Senate, said on behalf of our colleagues back home in Washington thank you to President Musharraf and the people of Pakistan for the extraordinary support and partnership that they have given to US in the war against terrorism in Afghanistan. We simply could not have been as successful as we have been thus far, without the support that Pakistan has given. Secondly as Senator McCain indicated, we talked about ways in which we can continue to work together to improve the economy here in Pakistan and to help President Musharraf achieve his goals of making this a more modern and moderate country. We spoke extensively about the present tensions with India following the awful attacks on the two Indian Parliaments and it's fair to say that President Musharraf spoke quite seriously about the remarks that he will give to the Pakistani people within the next two or three days. I hope and believe that they will be bold and principled and that they will be so bold and principled and fresh that they will encourage a response from the Indian government. I am most particularly hopeful that both nations, both allies of the US, good friends and allies of the US will move some of their troops, the more than a million soldiers on the border between India and Pakistan, away from the border. Because the consequences of the proximity of these forces is very, very serious to the people of this region and to the world. And so long as they are there with tensions high, there is always a possibility of an accident or there is the possibility that someone who wants to inflame tensions between these two nations, terrorist will take action that will do just that. So I think the speech of President Musharraf will make in the next two or three days, is going to be critically important and I hope that it will lead to a de-escalation of tension and perhaps even to an entire new chapter in the relationship between Pakistan and India. We'll now be happy to answer the questions.
Question: Senator Lieberman, Javed Siddique, I represent Daily Nawa-I-Waqt, Islamabad. Senator what is your impression, you have had meeting with General Pervez Musharraf, is he going to make an announcement which will change Pakistan's policy towards Kashmir and India drastically?
Sen. Lieberman: Well obviously that is for him to decide and to announce his remarks to the people of Pakistan. But I would say that he is thinking very seriously and I think he is searching for a fresh initiative that will not only reduce the tensions that exist now between Pakistan and India, but it will begin a whole new chapter in the Kashmir dispute and we wish him well in that. This speech has the possibility of being transformational and he is thinking very very seriously and exactly in those terms.
Question: On Monday General Franks apparently was quoted of saying that Pakistan and the US have set up a deal that American troops could pursue suspected Al Qaida or Taliban cross into Pakistan. Does anyone have comments on that?
Sen. Lieberman: I don't. Sorry.
Question: What about yesterday Musharraf talking about how he will want a mediator to help with the India situation but India says they don't want that. I know last night with UK being here and their delegation .... How will the US take part in this after you go home?
Sen Lieberman: Well personally, I hope that President Bush himself on behalf of the US is working with allies including of course the UK would seize the moment of both crisis and opportunity here to create an on-the-ground mediating presence. I mean this speech by President Musharraf, I cannot stress enough, I think is full of potential but to take advantage of that potential really requires representatives of the world who are interested and very concerned about what is happening right on the ground to try to seize the moment and create momentum that reduces the tension and holds the prospects even for longer term peace. I believe that mediating presence is necessary. I worry that without it, the progress that we all hope for will not occur.
Question: Mr. Senator, I represent Pakistan TV. The point is that on the other hand Indian attitude towards Pakistan that is quiet negative despite very positive steps and gestures taken by President Musharraf, which you have seen. I would refer to the SAARC Summit at Katmandu but on the other side the response from the Indian Prime Minister Vajpayee was quiet negative. So what would you like to comment on India's attitude towards this military build-up and this tension?
Sen Lieberman: Well I understand and I think all Americans understand the sense of anger and hurt that the Indian people feel at the attacks on the two parliaments and the deaths of people as part of those attacks by terrorists. But I think we all hope that not withstanding that the leadership of India will measure what President Musharraf has done already to take action against some of the terrorist groups in Pakistan -- their access to assets, resources, to arrest certain members of those and other groups. And particularly I guess, I hope that the leadership of India, great allies of the US, a great democracy in the world, will listen carefully to President Musharraf's words in the next few days and I hope they will find something there to lead them to want at sit down and begin negotiations. And hopefully even more, to remove along with the Pakistanis some of the troops that are confronting each other on the border now.
Question: President Bush has hailed the steps President Musharraf has taken to rein in religious extremists in Pakistan, on the other hand the Indian government has said its all window dressing and they don't take it very seriously. They want him to take further steps. What do you think?
Sen Chuck Hagel: I believe that President Musharraf has in fact taken very significant steps to rein in these extremists. He once again confided to our delegation when we met with him this afternoon that he is committed to continue to do that. He took, I think, rather significant action soon after the September 11th terrorist attacks in the US. He understands clearly that is one of the underlined dynamics of what he has to deal with in bringing peace, prosperity and stability to not only his country but seeing it come to the entire region. He is dealing with terrorists and that means dealing with religious extremists so I am convinced especially after dealing with some of the leaders that we have dealt with in the last few days and listening to President Musharraf this afternoon that he is committed to continue to fulfill that commitment he made.
Question: President Musharraf has made it very clear already by the steps he has taken but India is not satisfied by this, they are not agreed for the talks. You talked about his speech. Isn't this going to be a pretty dramatic statement? Would it be pretty dramatic to bring the two parties to on table?
Sen Lieberman: Well we'll see. I believe that in the meeting President Musharraf was quite encouraged that he is reaching for a speech to the Pakistani people, not really to anyone else, that will change the history of this country. And I do want to say in response to the last question, I think that he hopes very much that Pakistan can emerge as a model of a nation with a majority of Islamic population that will be tolerant and moderate and I think if he is able to do that he will set an example that can also be transformational for the rest of the world.
Sen Fred Thompson: Could I suggest that we look at this as a process. I don't think that there is a magic bullet. I don't think the speech itself or anything else individually or anything particularly is going to solve this problem. Kashmir is not going to be solved in the near term. It has been a problem for this part of the world and now for all of us. It's going to take probably some time. We are hoping for a de-escalation when you have two nuclear powers with troops on a common border. That's cause for concern for the entire world. That is the immediate problem. I think you have two leaders here of both countries who are interested in de-escalating this matter. But they are going to work their way back a little bit at a time. Each has a constituency in their own country. That makes it difficult to do dramatic things and bold strokes. Perhaps they can do that but I think it's going to be a matter of a process, a little here and a little there. But I think we have two leaders who are wanting to do that and hope they will be able to.
Question: Regarding the US-Pakistan relationship, there is a great deal of apprehension among ordinary Pakistanis about the course of the US commitment to Pakistan, given the fickle history of the US ties with Pakistan. What kind of assurances can you as members of the Senate give Pakistan about US commitment in the long term to Pakistan?
Sen John Edwards: I think it is absolutely clear that America is committed particularly given the response of Pakistan since the September 11th. We recognize that we can not allow Pakistan or any other country to become a kind of breeding ground that Afghanistan was for terrorists. And we have to make sure they we are committed not only to Afghanistan but to the entire region because these terrorists thrive in conditions of political instability, economic instability and they are going to go to a place that is the weakest. So I think it's in America's interest and we have learnt that on September 11th. It goes to the heart of the security of the American people. We are committed not only to Afghanistan but in fact to the entire region.
Question: Can you continue to assure Pakistan that it will receive priority treatment in the distribution of for instance US financial assistance in the long run?
Sen Edwards: Well given the fact that the American people have been attacked and attacked on their own soil and I think now we understand that what happens in this region of the world, whether they may not have understood before September 11th, directly impacts the safety of their own families and the security of the American people. I think they will expect us to show leadership and to provide the sort of resources that are necessary along with our allies, not alone, but along with our allies to make sure that Pakistan, Afghanistan and in fact the entire region is stable.
Sen Jack Reed: The number one priority of the US is to defeat the terrorists. While Pakistan is key part of that effort and as long as we are united in this common venture of trying to defeat terrorism, we will find the resources not only for ourselves but for our allies. And one of the things that is most impressive about President Musharraf was his commitment to fighting terrorism not only outside the borders of Pakistan but within Pakistan. And also his flexibility of mind without surrendering his committed principles. I hope and expect as my colleagues have said that this period of flexibility but commitment to principles will come through in his speech in the next few days.
Senator Jean Carnahan: I think that up till now we have just been hacking away at the tree of terrorism and now we are going to go to the roots. We see a nation such as Pakistan and others that we have been into recently where they have low levels of employment, low levels of education, high levels of unemployment, these are the bed for terrorism and these are the things that we must strike at. I think it's interesting to note that the terrorists that tried to turn the clock back are now in caves, in primitive caves blocked down by technology and by the will of freedom-loving people all over the world. And that is the thing that's going to be the secret of our success in fighting terrorism and that's why we are here to encourage these nations to do and we want to be their helper.
Question: Can you tell us some of the policy measures which Musharraf shared with you, he wants to take against terrorism in near future? Some broad idea?
Sen Lieberman: Well no I think that's exactly what he is working on now as he prepares his speech. We know what President Musharraf has done already and I am sure he will address exactly that question of the policy of the government of Pakistan toward terrorism and he will talk also about the needs of the people of Pakistan economically, educationally, in terms of their health and he will talk about the Kashmir dispute and I believe in a way that is fresh and certainly shows some flexibility.
Question: As your Excellencies are talking about the forthcoming speech of Pakistani President. I just want to know that is there any indication by President Musharraf about what he is going to announce in his speech?
Sen. Lieberman: No.
Question: Sir you have just returned with your colleagues from Afghanistan and if I can just ask you a question about that. You may well be aware of TV reports running today about starvation south of Mazar-i-Sharif. Are you aware of these reports and in your view what can be done to help the people there?
Sen Lieberman: We had a very encouraging meeting last night at the Bagram air-base near Kabul with Chairman Karzai and almost the entire Cabinet of the new government of Afghanistan. We assured them that we have learned the lesson as my colleagues have said of the terrible cost of disengagement from central Asia on September 11th and we are going to stay engaged along with the other developed nations of the world. The start of that, as my colleagues have said, is the economic reconstruction of Afghanistan. And chairman Karzai was most grateful for that point. I mean he and all the other leaders we have met in Central Asia in our trip to Turkey, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan and Pakistan, want the US to be affirmatively present here. And as you know we will be meeting in Tokyo in a few weeks in which the nations of the world will assume their appropriate share of the responsibility for dealing with the immediate profound humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan.
Sen Nelson: The Chairman was quiet optimistic about providing food and I think that photograph on the wall says a lot. We had the same indication from the President of Uzbekistan as well having the bridge open with the trucks coming through with the food. There are now airlifts going into Kabul with food. A couple of US congressmen went there two days ago with their load of food. So the food should be flowing and as a matter of fact, Chairman Karzai had indicated more grave for threat that he saw was the fact of the lack of rain and his imploring us to help with agricultural assistance so that the formers will be able to grow the crops and not have to turn back to the drug trade and that was a considerable concern that he expressed.
Ambassador Keith: One final question.
Question: This is Fraz Hashmi from Dawn newspaper. I have a very specific question. Did the question of 20 terrorists accused of October 1st and December 13th attacks on the Indian Parliaments come up during discussions with President Musharraf and if it did what was the response of the President?
Sen Lieberman: I will be brief to the extent of we all acknowledge that it was horrific and non-acceptable act. The civilized world cannot tolerate terrorism in any form, most particularly not against the citadel of democracy as occurred in India.
Question: You are talking about a massive American presence. How's America do this without putting too much pressure on the area that is not necessarily pro-American? You are talking about Uzbekistan, you are talking about several countries you have named. How does America do this in such a hot-spot region for so many years and not necessarily pro-American? How you are going to balance that?
Senator Susan Collins: I think we have learnt from the September 11th attacks on our country that we ignore Central Asia at our peril and that if we don't stay engaged, if we just walk away after the military operations are concluded, that we will allow the same sort of forces that led to the rise of Al Qaida and Osama Bin Laden, to once again take hold. So I think the American people are committed to providing assistance to this area to try to help it modernize, to improve the lives of the people and to move to democratic reforms.
Question: What about the people here though? The American people I think will be easier to persuade. Some of the people here, even though they want intervention they don't want the American presence. You see the difference? I hope that makes sense at all.
Question 2: The majority of people don't want to see American forces in the region.
Sen Collins: I think that the people will welcome American assistance because it is going to improve the quality of their lives.
Sen Lieberman: I must say that at every stop the message we have had "is please stay involved". They want us involved. You could find geo-political reasons why they want us involved, you could find humanitarian reasons why they want us involved, but the impression that I come away with is that, let me speak specifically about Islam. Islam in this part of the world which is largely Islamic, has been traditionally moderate, tolerant, accepting. It seems to me that Bin Laden and the Taliban and Al Qaida were impositions on the traditional values of the people of this region and now the majority is rising up and wants us to be part of that and this is an opportunity for us.
Sen Collins: And one point, we are not trying to dominate this region, we respect the people of this region. We are not the Soviet Union, we are not trying to come in and take over this region. We are trying to assist the region in reaching its own goals.
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