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Background Briefing on Bilateral Security Agreement

Background Briefing: Senior State Department Officials and Senior Administration Official on Bilateral Security Agreement

Special Briefing
ERT London, England
October 12, 2013

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Okay. So we're just going to do a quick backgrounder on the meetings that Secretary Kerry just had in Afghanistan, and a readout of those. And we have Senior State Department Official One, Senior Administration Official One here. And if I have anything, I'll be Number Two.

So, I think we'll do an overview first, and then do some questions, if that works.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: So the visit, obviously, was focused on the Bilateral Security Agreement. It comes 11-ish months into the negotiations. It was generally productive. From our vantage, positive in that we reached a basic agreement on all of the key issues.

The President – when President Karzai visited Washington last January, the President announced our objectives for a post-2014 presence as being, first, a train, advise, and assist mission under NATO leadership, and then also a CT mission, by which --

QUESTION: Train, advise, and what?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: Train, advise, and assist mission.

QUESTION: Assist.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: And also a counter-terrorism mission, by which we could pursue the remnants of al-Qaida.

And the language of the agreement as it stands right now provides what we need for both of those missions. And, more importantly, as with every status of forces agreement worldwide, the language also provides what we need in terms of assurances and guarantees for rights of self-defense, for force protection, and the jurisdiction issues that are obviously so important to us.

So, overall, the text, we believe, is in a good place. And I think we stayed a little bit longer than we had hoped, but I think it was worth it in that we were able to come to that basic agreement.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Why don't we do some questions?

QUESTION: Before we get into the – what the Secretary was talking about – strike that. (Laughter.) Before we get into the area that is not – that still is awaiting – the most contentious issue, the jurisdictional issue, can you explain to us what exactly the – has been agreed, in terms of the counterterrorism stuff and in terms of sovereignty? Like, Karzai made a big deal out of the definition of "invasion" and the definition of "sovereignty." Can you explain what that is, or is it just like a standard dictionary definition?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: The most important thing President Karzai had said to us he needed out of the Bilateral Security Agreement was the ability to take it to his Afghan people and explain how it was going to bring security to Afghanistan beyond 2014.

The other thing that he said he needed was – and this was coming out of the Strategic Partnership Agreement – was improved understanding between the two of us in terms of what threats faced Afghanistan, both externally and internally. And what we were able to do, I think, in very broad terms, is find that common understanding in these 24 hours of talks, both in terms of the threats that Afghanistan faces internally and externally, the final language to characterize those threats, and then, more importantly, to characterize our commitment to enable the Afghans to defend themselves against those threats. And I think that was one of the major very difficult issues that was left to this late stage that we needed to work through.

QUESTION: Can you say what it – what the language says?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: No.

QUESTION: Is that because – and you can't say because you're waiting for – you don't want to preempt the Loya Jirga, or --

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: Yeah. I think we would want to wait until the right time, until the internal processes are more mature. We --

QUESTION: Yours or theirs?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: Both. We have to put ours through a very technical, internal legal review. They have to put theirs through their interagency equivalent process with their national security council, and then prepare it to take to their people. And we certainly wouldn't want to disclose dimensions or parts of the language prematurely.

QUESTION: But it will be at some point.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: The language will be public, eventually.

QUESTION: [Senior Administration Official One], you were talking about defining the threats to Afghanistan and their ability to defend themselves. Is this the reference to the part about Afghanistan wanting the U.S. to give it a sort of defense pact, and that we would defend them against outside threats, presumably from Pakistan? That is part one of the question.

Part two is the issue on counterterrorism and them wanting us to hand over our intel and they do their own ops, and how did you address that?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: Yes, on the first part, that the Bilateral Security Agreement is clearly something that stopped short of a mutual defense pact. And the language that we found, I think, is sufficient to both parties in terms of not overreaching the bounds of what can be – what kind of commitments we can come to.

On the counterterrorism language, it's a broad concept of cooperation at this point, which I think allows for enough flexibility in terms of their evolving capabilities, but also our needs to take actions in a joint, cooperative manner, when we need to. So, it's not so clear as, "Hand over the intel and we'll take care of it." It's not at that kind of an evolved stage.

QUESTION: When you say, "when you need to," for joint actions, did you clarify when that would be? When would those joint actions take place? I mean is – would you have to define under what circumstances?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: Well, I think the circumstances are any circumstances where the – there is a transnational threat, one that could impact upon U.S. homeland, U.S. allies, U.S. interests. But in all cases, that we would do so in a manner that was cooperative, in some cases – in many cases, partnered.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Well, I think it's important to add that that's the way we would describe how we're handling CT right now. This is not a dramatic departure from the way that we're handling those operations under current policy guidance, the difference being that this is – when it goes into force, it would be a legally
binding agreement.

QUESTION: Can you please describe what – on this issue of immunity? Because from where we were sitting, it sounded, or personally to me, that this really couldn't be a deal unless that was agreed upon. And if the Secretary – or if an official is saying that it is in the text, well, then there is an agreement. But he was pretty clear in his quotes during the news conference that they weren’t --

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: Let me put it this way. We've agreed on language that can be put to his Loya Jirga for their consideration.

QUESTION: In terms of the U.S. side, though, other than just this interagency review, I mean, the Pentagon is not going to come back and say, "Sorry, this doesn't work for us." It's a done deal, from the U.S. perspective.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Well, I mean, that's the corollary to what [Senior Administration Official One] – the elaboration on what [Senior Administration Official One] said is the language that is in the text that goes to the Loya Jirga is satisfactory for our purposes on the --

QUESTION: So it’s the same question. As far as you're concerned, what you got is good, and it – and then – and I have this question I asked [Senior State Department Official One] earlier. Who signs it, if it gets approved by --

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: Don't know yet.

QUESTION: But is it a presidential thing, or is it a Secretary --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: We don't know what yet.

QUESTION: Who would sign it?

QUESTION: You don't know?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: Yeah, we don't know the details of the signing phase.

QUESTION: Why not? I mean, and – obviously, I guess not. But, I mean, other agreements like this --

QUESTION: Procedurally. Like, who signs it?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: I think it could be signed by a number of --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: There are a lot of options.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: -- Cabinet or Administration people.

QUESTION: So it doesn't need to be president and president? It can be --

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: Not necessarily.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: No. It could technically be a range of people.

And the other piece on the – just process-wise, is that the Secretary spoke with Secretary Hagel a number of times over the last 24 hours. He spoke with Susan Rice a number of times, other people on the team. And you guys would know better all the people that were – you were in contact with. But – about the text and the progress.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: We were in constant contact with the legal support team in Washington, and, as [Senior State Department Official Two] said, both --

QUESTION: And then my last one is --

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: I can't say whether Ambassador Rice was in touch with the President. But the Secretary was in direct contact with Ambassador Rice several times.

QUESTION: My last one here, and you can – it's a chance for you to talk up your boss. What was it – I mean, this stuff hadn't been agreed to beforehand. So what was it that the Secretary brought into this that got it done, basically? What – I mean, how did he change the dynamic? For 11 months, you haven't had a deal. You still don't, technically, but you got what could be a deal. So what was it that he was able to do to change the dynamic to get something done?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: I can start, but – I know. But still, I can talk just --

QUESTION: Just don’t make it too hagiographic.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Too what?

QUESTION: Hagiographic.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Hagiographic?

QUESTION: Hagiographic.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Okay. Too – okay. One is their personal relationship and the fact that it goes back for a number of years, and you all know the details of that because we’ve talked about that previously and many of you covered it. Two is persistence. You’ve all covered the Secretary on a number of these occasions, on a number of these journeys to try to get agreement, right? And he is somebody who will sit there for hours and talk through the substantive issues, and this is something they can add more to. And three is probably patience. I didn’t even mean to do a three-piece. But patience, because obviously he wanted to --

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: I didn’t plan it. (Laughter.) But --

QUESTION: What about personality?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Sure. But they can add a little more perhaps from in the room, but, I mean, I think those are some of the characters and characteristics of these --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Fully agree with all that, and I would say also that sometimes you get to a point in these sorts of negotiations where both sides need higher-level political involvement to sort of get things further along. And it’s not clear the degree to which President Karzai had been engaged on the text before these last couple of days. Secretary Kerry obviously had been monitoring the negotiations, but had not been personally involved until the last couple of days. And having that kind of higher-level political push, I think, was essential to the progress that was achieved.

QUESTION: So would you agree with the characterization that this is really kind of a deal, or at least the last points fell into place – the last points falling into place is a deal between Karzai and the Secretary?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: I think it’s a deal between the United States and the Government of Afghanistan.

QUESTION: I know. In closing the circle, it was him and Karzai.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: The high-level political involvement was key to getting it to where it is now. There is no doubt about that.

QUESTION: To follow on that, so can you say now, then, that the purpose of this trip really was for the Secretary to close the deal? I mean, there was a lot of discussion ahead of time about --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: I think we had a – I think we had to see where things stood. I mean, I don’t think I – I certainly didn’t deliberately mislead you when I said the other night he wasn’t coming here to close the deal, and I think he had a positive conversation with Karzai a week ago. Did we know, when he had a positive conversation, that the result if we showed up here was going to be getting what we got? No. But he knew that it was worth testing the proposition, and so here we are.

QUESTION: Was there any discussion about troop levels?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: I don’t think so.

QUESTION: So are there going to be (inaudible)?

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: So I defer to [Senior Administration Official One] on this.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: I didn’t hear.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: About troops (inaudible).

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: Yeah, all of our troops are trained and capable of conducting combat operations. There will be no combat mission after 2014. And what is clear is that combat operations would be much more exceptional after 2014 --

QUESTION: Much more what?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: Exceptional.

QUESTION: So CT doesn’t fall under combat, it’s a separate category?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: No, I think it could. I think that the range of combat operations that you would have seen will be greatly reduced from what you have now. Frankly, they would be, again, the counterterrorism mission to go after residual transnational threats, and then there could be some combat operations in terms of the troops that are working inside the training, advise and assist mission. And then of course, if there were ever a contingency where you have a force protection mission, that could also be a combat operation, but that would be as a contingency, not as a general rule.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: All right. They’re trying to serve dinner.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: And what was the time of the meetings? Was there a time today?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Let’s see, 9:30 to 12:15, then they broke for about two hours, though there were still talks between the teams, and the national security advisor hosted the lunch. So – and then they reconvened at 2:15. That went until about four-something, 4:30 maybe. They had about 30 minutes by themselves. Then --

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Yeah, at the end. Then they came back at 6:30, and we did the press avail at 9:00. So – and they had maybe 10 minutes by themselves before the avail. So, okay, I don’t know if anybody was adding that up.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Eight hours today.

QUESTION: And then yesterday?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: And yesterday, yeah, it was about three hours. Yeah.

QUESTION: And on the calls, were they back to Washington?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Yeah.

QUESTION: When were they?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: I mean, they were throughout the last 24 hours. I mean, Secretary Kerry spoke with Hagel around this morning, before the day began. He spoke with him again, I believe. I’ll double check this. I can probably get you guys a list of the calls he did. But he spoke with Hagel and Rice a number of times. Other people on the team spoke with a number of other officials as well. Like, the Admiral, I think, spoke with somebody from the Joint Chiefs, and so on and so forth. But --

QUESTION: (Inaudible) the Secretary’s answer to my question on the Taliban (inaudible) some confusion over communication (inaudible)?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: There’s a chain of command.

QUESTION: Did Karzai ask him (inaudible)?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Not that I am aware of. I mean with – I don’t know that there’s much more we’re going to add on that, but I’ll talk to folks who were in all the meetings.

QUESTION: Afghan security forces (inaudible)?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Okay. I’ll ask and see if there was more talk of it aside from the one that we mentioned last night.

QUESTION: Was he trying to (inaudible) answer to the question of why there was, like, a miscommunication on the U.S. side when the Secretary --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Not the U.S. side.

QUESTION: Oh. See, I kind of assumed (inaudible).

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: I don’t think he was implying the U.S. side.

QUESTION: So he was implying there was a miscommunication (inaudible).

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: I will talk to folks and see if there is more we can explain.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Yeah, I get it. Okay.

QUESTION: Thank you very much.

ENDS

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