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US State Dept Press Conference in Islamabad

Karl F. Inderfurth, Assistant Secretary of State for South Asia Press Conference Islamabad, January 21, 2000

[Begin transcript]

A/S Inderfurth: Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen. I'm pleased to be able to speak with you briefly today. As you know, I am on a two-day visit to Pakistan. Traveling with me are Ambassador Michael Sheehan, Coordinator for Counter-terrorism at the Department of State, and Donald Camp, the Director for South Asia at the National Security Council.

We have had a number of high-level meetings with Government of Pakistan officials, including the Chief Executive, General Musharraf, Foreign Minister Sattar, Finance Minister Aziz, Interior Minister Haider, and others. We have also met with representatives of the Taliban, as well as a number of other officials and members of civil society.

The purpose of the trip was to discuss key issues of concern to both the United States and Pakistan, including terrorism, democratization, economic reform, halting the spread of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles, and promoting regional stability, especially through productive dialogue with India. Our meetings have been candid and useful, as they should be between friends. These meetings come at a crucial time. They closely follow the visits of several U.S. Senators who have exchanged views with General Musharraf and other high-level officials on the same issues. We all appreciate the willingness of the Pakistani leadership to make themselves available for these discussions.

Among the key issues we have laid out in these talks are:

The need for cooperation to reduce the threat of terrorism which stems from this region and directly threatens the U.S. and Pakistan as well as the region itself and the world. This was dramatically illustrated by the recent hijacking of the Indian Airlines flight.

The need for a comprehensive roadmap with milestones for the return to democratic civilian rule as soon as possible.

The need for regional stability, the prevention of an arms race in South Asia, and the restoration of a productive dialogue with India.

All of these measures, I want to add, we believe would enhance Pakistan's security.

Finally, we stressed the urgency with which the President and the Congress view these issues. We trust our messages have been received and understood, and that we have increased our mutual understanding on them. With that brief introduction I'm ready to take your questions.

Kathy Gannon, Associated Press: On your meetings with the Taliban and with General Musharraf on the whole issue of Usama bin Ladin, did you receive any commitment of assistance from Pakistan on helping to convince the Taliban to release Usama bin Ladin as well as any commitment from Pakistan to close the offices of some of these militant groups, specifically Harakut ul Mujahadeen -- groups that are based in Pakistan which the United States has said present problems?

S/A Inderfurth: Let me begin with just a general statement on our message on Afghanistan that we delivered. The message was that Pakistan's support of the Taliban, who harbor and protect Usama bin Ladin, is a concern to us. The continuing presence of bin Ladin and his network in Afghanistan, we believe, is a threat to the international community. We urge the Government of Pakistan to use its influence with the Taliban to have bin Ladin expelled to a place where he can be brought to justice as called for in Security Council Resolution 1267. We also -- I want to mention this as well -- we also stressed the need for a broad-based government that is representative of the ethnic and geographic makeup of the entire Afghan population, and we also welcomed the recent initiative of General Musharraf to engage Iran to cooperate in bringing all parties to the negotiating table. Now, that was our message on Afghanistan. We believe it combined the urgency of the bin Ladin issue from our perspective as well as what we believe is the longer term solution for Afghanistan, which is to enter into negotiations to establish a broad-based government. We have noted that General Musharraf in one of his earlier statements, upon taking his position, stated that he believes there should be a representative government in Afghanistan and we believe that is the direction that he would like to move and we would support that. With respect to bin Ladin, this is an issue that we have discussed many times with the Government of Pakistan and we have discussed many times with the Taliban as we did in our meeting that lasted for 2-1/2 hours with Ambassador Sheehan and myself and two officials of the Taliban yesterday. I cannot say that we have received assurances in this regard, but we do believe that it is important to continue to restate the urgency from the standpoint of the United States and the international community that bin Ladin be expelled and be brought to justice. We hope that day will happen very soon.

Kathy Gannon, Associated Press: Did you get any commitment from Pakistan that they will crack down on them [Pakistan-based terrorist organizations]?

A/S Inderfurth: Let me again make reference to our message on terrorism which is the foundation of your question. We expressed grave concern regarding terrorism stemming from this region that directly affects and threatens the U.S. and Pakistan as well as the region and the world. We hope that the Government of Pakistan will take steps against such extremist groups which carry out acts of violence inside Pakistan as well as in the region, including the HUA, HUM. We believe that the presence and activities of these groups gives Pakistan a bad international reputation in the world community and thus works against Pakistan's national interests. I can tell you that as our statement suggests the issue of terrorism was our first priority in our discussions. Again, we shared our concerns. We hope that actions will be taken to address this because fundamentally this is an issue that we believe affects Pakistan's long-term security interests as well as those of the international community.

Fakhar Rehman, Turkish Television: First, how would you describe your visit in terms of whether it was successful, and second, how do you register the progress with respect to Pakistan on issues like CTBT and other nonproliferation issues?

A/S Inderfurth: I think that my statement speaks for itself in terms of describing our visit. As I said, we trust that our messages have been received and understood and that we have increased our mutual understanding of them. I think that we have been very pleased to have had the opportunity to meet with the officials of the Government here. They were most generous in the time that they gave us. I think we had two hours with General Musharraf, and an hour and a half with Foreign Minister Sattar. Each of the meetings was a very useful exchange to better understand not only our concerns but the steps that are being envisioned by the Government to address these concerns. Our meetings, as I said in the statement, were candid and useful and, I added, as they should be between friends.

We did not come here with a list of demands. We did not come here to lecture; we came here to exchange views, and I think it's only in that framework of mutual respect will we see these concerns addressed. On the question of nonproliferation and CTBT, let me say again that our position on CTBT signature is well known. We believe that Pakistan's security will be enhanced by signing the CTBT. We believe further that this is in Pakistan's national interest as well as in the interest of regional security and stability. We have noted the efforts being made with respect to developing a national consensus. We certainly hope that one will be developed. I would like to say that with respect to CTBT signature, that signature does not compromise Pakistan's right to maintain deterrence. Every nation has a sovereign right to determine its own defense requirements. This Treaty is about nuclear testing, not about possession of nuclear weapons. I think that the more the Pakistani public is educated about what the Treaty is about and what it is not about, I think the greater chances there are for an understanding that this will serve Pakistan's interests.

Umar Farooq, The Nation: It appears now that your focus has shifted from nuclear nonproliferation to international terrorism. Now this has become more important for you than nuclear nonproliferation. Is this impression correct?

A/S Inderfurth: I don't think that that would be a correct impression. The recent hijacking of the Indian airliner, the recent concerns that the world community had at the time of New Year's and the millennium, during the Christmas period and Ramadan, all of that I think raised the visibility and awareness of the threat of international terrorism. There have been further reasons for the U.S. concern, including matters relating to what occurred in Jordan with a cell of what we believe is bin Ladin's operation that the Jordanian police uncovered, and that is a very serious matter. In the United States we had the instance of individuals coming across our border in Seattle that we believe were intent on terrorist activities and tying themselves back to regions of the world that we're concerned about. So there is a heightened concern at this particular moment, but I cannot say that one priority is higher than the other. Nonproliferation, regional stability, avoiding an arms race in South Asia, all of these things are important.

Farooq: Now you are talking less and less about nonproliferation.

A/S Inderfurth: No, it is not again a question of priorities. Right now we see underway in Pakistan an effort at public education, understanding of what the nonproliferation agenda is about, and we think that that is a welcome development.

Amit Baruha, the Hindu: Did you specifically raise the issue of the Indian Airlines hijacking with your Pakistan interlocutors? Specifically, on your concerns about groups like the Harakut ul Mujahadeen, what was the response of the Government of Pakistan to that? And, if I can have another small question here, what's your comment on the regional situation, what did you urge Pakistan to do and what have you urged India to do as far as the regional situation is concerned?

A/S Inderfurth: Let me say something about the third part of your question first. We expressed deep concern about the current tensions in the region, and we fully appreciate the role the recent hijacking plays in this, as well as the longstanding dispute over Kashmir. We continue to urge both Pakistan and India to exercise maximum restraint and to enter into negotiations toward a solution that is acceptable to both parties and, with respect to Kashmir, one that will meet the needs of the Kashmiri people. Last July 4th, President Clinton expressed his willingness to play an active role in support of establishing such negotiations or discussions between the two parties. As a practical matter, the United States can only be helpful when the proper conditions exist and both parties agree that we should play a role.

With respect to the hijacking, of course that was discussed. It is a matter of grave concern to all in the international community. There is a clear need to take the next step with respect to the hijacking, which is to find the hijackers themselves and to bring them to justice. We received assurances from the Government of Pakistan that they have every intention to undertake such a mission. If they do come across the hijackers, they have said that they will detain them and bring them to justice. We urge them to make every effort to determine their location and to do that. We also informed them that we, the United States, will make that a priority as well, and I know that having just returned from discussions in London with Indian officials, that they too have this as a priority. I believe that the hijackers will be found. I believe that they cannot simply disappear off the face of the earth, and I think that once they are found and brought to justice, it will only underscore the message that actions like this will not be accepted by the international community.

With respect to other actions that the Government of Pakistan will take, we have noted and appreciated the statement made by the Foreign Ministry with respect to public statements that have been made calling for actions against Americans and others, inciting to violence. We are very pleased that those statements are no longer being made. We hope that every effort will be made to address those militant, violent groups that are threatening citizens of other countries as well as, we believe, threatening the long-term stability of Pakistan itself.

Farhan Bukhari, Financial Times -- Two very quick questions. One, when you spoke to General Musharraf and others about your concerns over terrorism, did they lay out anything or did they give you any indication of a specific game plan. For instance, did they give you any indication of their intention to move against the Madrassah for example, or any other measures that they've promised you? The other question is could you update us on the latest progress with regards to President Clinton's visit to South Asia, and especially the portion of the visit to Pakistan?

A/S Inderfurth: I think you'll all appreciate this, that although I've tried to be as open as I can on the discussions that we've had, these were discussions confidential between governments, so I really do not feel it's appropriate for me to give you as much detail as I'm sure you would like about our exchanges on our mutual concerns about terrorism and the steps that General Musharraf and other officials are envisioning. Many of these steps are ones that will require further decisions and actions. I think that it would be most appropriate for me to suggest that you address those kinds of questions to the Government of Pakistan.

I am satisfied that our concerns are: first, that we were listened to at such length, and secondly, that I believe that there is an understanding of these concerns as we expressed them to General Musharraf and others.

With respect to the President's trip, I think you all know that the President has stated for some time his intention to travel to South Asia early this year. We are looking at that travel schedule now. With respect to Pakistan no decision has been taken.

Matin Haider, The Sun: First, what are your concerns about the military government in Pakistan and second what were the assurances made to you by the Pakistani leadership regarding the restoration of democracy?

A/S Inderfurth: The military takeover of October 12 -- we spoke to that issue at the time. We made it very clear in all of our statements that we wish to see a prompt return to civilian democratic rule and constitutional government as soon as possible. We have communicated that view both publicly and privately, and we had a long discussion today with General Musharraf on that. He, again, restated his commitment to see the establishment of democracy in Pakistan. He has already stated publicly several steps that are envisioned to accomplish that, including devolution of power and local elections by the end of the year. He spoke with us about the reform and restructuring of the electoral roles, the reform of the election commission, local elections leading to provincial and national elections. We urged him to pursue that course as quickly as possible, and we urged him to come forward, as he did on December 15 when he laid out his economic reform plan, to lay out a similar comprehensive plan for building a new and lasting democracy in Pakistan. We hope that that can be done as quickly as possible, because we believe that a democratic Pakistan is a country that is one that we can share our experiences with that we can work together with. But we know right now that Pakistan is facing a number of very difficult issues. Whether it be with respect to economic reform -- and in that regard, I had a very good meeting with the Finance Minister on steps being taken to reform the economy and to build the economy, and indeed to attract foreign investment. We know that that issue has to be dealt with. We know that the issues of accountability and democratization -- all of these are very important issues and we appreciated hearing directly from General Musharraf and other officials on the plans that they have for this, and we will report all this back to Washington.

Thank you.

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