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Remarks With Pakistani Foreign Affairs Advisor Sartaj Aziz

Remarks With Pakistani Foreign Affairs Advisor Sartaj Aziz


John Kerry
Secretary of State

Prime Minister's Residence

Islamabad, Pakistan

August 1, 2013

MODERATOR: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. (Inaudible.)

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, thank you very much. As-Salaam Alaikum. It’s a pleasure to be here and I was privileged to be able to meet with the Prime Minister as well as the Prime Minister’s Foreign Affairs Advisor, His Excellency Sartaj Aziz. We’ve just come from a very productive meeting with Prime Minister Sharif, and I’m very grateful to him for delaying his trip. He is leaving for a pilgrimage to Mecca during this most Holy Month of Ramadan, and I want to honor his willingness to delay his trip a little bit in order to be able to meet today. I’m very grateful to him for that.

Let me say what a pleasure it is for me to be back in Pakistan. I have been here many times, as the people of Pakistan know, and I was very privileged to work in the United States Senate in order to pass what became known as the Kerry-Lugar-Berman bill, which provided significant economic assistance to the people of Pakistan. And we did that because we specifically wanted to make clear that America does not want to have a transactional relationship, we do not want to have a relationship based on the moment or based on an issue such as counterterrorism or Afghanistan, but we want a relationship with the people of Pakistan for the long term. One of the largest diasporas of Pakistanis lives in the United States of America. We have a huge Pakistani-American population. We’re proud of their many contributions to America, to our society, and they are proud always of their heritage and of their continuing links to their homeland, to Pakistan.

I also want to applaud the people of Pakistan for this remarkable, historic transition that has taken place here with this election. I was privileged to be here a few years ago at the last election with then Senator Joe Biden and Senator Chuck Hagel. Now the three of us are privileged to work for President Obama in his Administration – obviously, one as the Vice President of the United States, Secretary Hagel is the Secretary of Defense. So we’re privileged – all three of us – to continue to work on the relationship with Pakistan, and it’s with our friendship and our understanding as we come here today at an historic time in Pakistan’s democratic journey. I was privileged to be here the day of the election for the first transfer of power from one president to another at the ballot box. And now we have seen the first transfer of that elected president civilian to another civilian president. So the march towards democracy in Pakistan is something to be celebrated. And that is another reason why I’m privileged to be here at this moment. The people of Pakistan deserve enormous credit for their role in the peaceful transition of power from one democratically-elected government to another.

I’m here with a simple message: The United States is committed to a long-term partnership with the people of Pakistan, and we remain fully engaged in building a relationship that is based on mutual interests and mutual respect. And we are working closely with the new government in order to advance a shared vision of the future that is marked by peace, by stability, and by prosperity.

It is also no secret that along this journey in the last few years we’ve experienced a few differences. I think we came here today, both the Prime Minister and myself, with a commitment that we cannot allow events that might divide us in a small way to distract from the common values and the common interests that unite us in big ways. As we discussed this morning, the common interests far exceed and far outweigh any differences. So we’re here to speak honestly with each other, openly about any gaps that may exist that we want to try to bridge. And our people deserve that we talk directly and with candor and represent their interests.

I’m pleased to announce that today very quickly we were able to agree to a resumption of the Strategic Dialogue in order to foster a deeper, broader, and more comprehensive partnership between our countries. And this revitalized dialogue will address in a realistic fashion all of the many key issues between us, from border management to counterterrorism to promoting U.S. private investment and to Pakistan’s own journey to economic revitalization.

I want to emphasize the relationship is not defined simply by the threats that we face. It is not only a relationship about combatting terrorism. It is about supporting the people of Pakistan and particularly helping at this critical moment for Pakistan’s economic revival. That has been a centerpiece of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s campaign, it is a centerpiece of his governing efforts, and it will be a centerpiece of our relationship.

The Prime Minister has outlined an ambitious agenda of reforms that will unlock growth and opportunity. And I know that some of these reforms are going to be difficult. They always are. But they are essential to creating sustainable development, more reliable energy supplies, and better services for the people of Pakistan.

Our partnership is also about energy, education, trade, and investment. We have the largest Fulbright program in the world right here in Pakistan. And through the Kerry-Lugar-Berman Act, we’ve helped to bring 1,000 megawatts of power to the national grid, which is providing power and uplifting the lives of 16 million Pakistanis. We’ve launched a new investment fund that will help grow small and medium sized enterprises. And I’m pleased to report that we are funding the rehabilitation of all four major trade routes between Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Pakistan’s regional position brings enormous economic opportunities, and we want to recognize those. That’s why we welcome and encourage the steps that Pakistan and India have taken to expand their economic relationship. As I said when I visited New Delhi just a few weeks ago, if Pakistan and India can confidently invest in each other, then the rest of the world is more confidently going to invest in both of them, and the returns on that investment to this region will be simply enormous.

Now, of course, Pakistan cannot achieve its full economic potential until it overcomes extremism, extremist threats within its borders. I want to say that Pakistan troops have fought very bravely against this threat and its people have suffered enormously, including perhaps more than 40,000 Pakistanis who have been killed by terrorists over the past decade. The truth is we face a common enemy in terrorism, and the choice for Pakistanis is clear: Will the forces of violent extremism be allowed to grow more dominant, eventually overpowering the moderate majority? And I ask anybody in Pakistan to ask themselves: How many bridges have those terrorists offered to build? How many schools have they opened? How many economic programs have they laid out for the people? How many energy plants have they tried to build? I think the choice is clear. I believe Pakistanis are going to recommit to the values that are espoused by the founder of the country, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, who helped people come together to build a stable, moderate democracy and an economically vibrant and tolerant nation that is at peace with itself and its neighbors.

The reality is that the fates of Afghanistan and Pakistan are intertwined. And addressing the threat that is posed by cross-border militancy is a key aspect of our Strategic Dialogue. This is a challenge that cannot be met by any one country. It will take a united effort to resolve the issues of safe havens and political reconciliation.

So I want to thank His Excellency in particular for his visit to Kabul, which was a very important visit last month. Both of our countries share an interest in a unified, stable, and peaceful Afghanistan, and so we greatly appreciate Pakistan’s assistance in the Afghan reconciliation process. And that is a process that obviously will take time and perseverance.

In the end, the relationship between the United States and Pakistan has traveled a long way. And yes, we still do have ground to cover. But after my discussions today, I can tell you unequivocally that we do share a long-term vision for the relationship. And I believe that in Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif we have someone who is committed to try to grow that relationship.

To ensure that we continue our important bilateral conversation at the highest levels, I have extended on behalf of the President of the United States an invitation to Prime Minister Sharif to meet with the President and have a bilateral meeting with him in the United States this fall.

So I thank you again, Your Excellency, for the gracious hospitality which I always have received when I come here to Pakistan. But thank you for the hospitality and welcome you’ve shown me and my team here today, and I will look forward after your comments to taking a couple of questions.

MR. AZIZ: Thank you. It’s my pleasure to welcome Secretary of State John Kerry on his first bilateral visit to Pakistan and also thank him for the very positive and constructive statement that he just made. Senator Kerry is a very familiar and well-respected figure who has always been welcomed in Pakistan as a good friend. We appreciate the leadership that he has exhibited in the past as the Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and now in his new capacity as Secretary of State to promote and strengthen the partnership between our two countries.

As Secretary Kerry mentioned, we have had very intensive and frank discussion in a very collegial atmosphere to strengthen the foundations of our friendship and to further build our partnership to achieve our shared goals in the future. As he mentioned, in these foundations there are many mutually reinforcing elements. The U.S. is our largest trading partner and a major source of foreign direct investment and economic assistance. We have – Pakistan has a large diaspora in the United States, and a significant number of highly-educated Pakistanis both in the public and private sectors owe their skills to universities in the U.S. However, most importantly --

SECRETARY KERRY: I think they have a microphone problem.

MR. AZIZ: However, most importantly, it is our shared faith in democracy and respect for the rule of law and human freedoms and commitment to the promotion of peace and security in the region that binds our countries in a new and stronger partnership. As we look into the future, we want trade, more trade, larger investment and cooperation in development, including education as the building blocks of a new and renewed partnership.

In this regard, we highlighted the importance of securing greater market access for Pakistani products in the U.S. and larger foreign direct investment as the new government attaches highest priorities to economic revival. I also conveyed our gratitude to the U.S. for their support for the Diamer-Bhasha dam as a part of its vital effort to deal with the energy crisis.

Of course, these efforts to revive the economy and produce – will not produce full results without peace and stability in our region. In fact, both of us agreed that Pakistan wishes to have good relation with all its neighbors and we hope to expand our connectivity for the mutual benefit.

There are, of course, other challenges too, and today we have discussed the path forward as the U.S. draws down its forces in Afghanistan in areas such as Afghan reconciliation, ground lines of communication, IEDs, counterterrorism. We have to improve – we have improved our bilateral coordination significantly, and we have continued to work to improve them further.

I have reiterated Pakistan’s clear commitment to facilitating U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan and supporting any Afghan-led and Afghan-owned solution and reconciliation for peace and stability in Afghanistan.

I also briefed Secretary Kerry about the (inaudible) of a comprehensive counterterrorism strategy our government is in the process of formulating in consultation with all the stakeholders.

We also shared our concerns on the drone strikes which Pakistan not only considers a violation of our sovereignty but it’s also counterproductive as they undermine the overall counterterrorism cooperation efforts.

And as Secretary Kerry mentioned, in order to give impetus to these understandings, we have agreed on the resumption of the Strategic Dialogue process and holding the next ministerial-level dialogue within the next six months. As some of you would recall, this dialogue started in 2010 and three sessions were held within 2010, in March, July and October. But then several events derailed this process and no meeting has been held since October 2010, and therefore the objective of transforming U.S.-Pakistan relations from a transactional to a sustainable strategic partnership has remained unfulfilled. And we think after the historic democratic transition in Pakistan the time to realize this objective has arrived, and that is what we have agreed on.

And we are also grateful for the invitation to the Prime Minister visit President Obama later this year which will further help to (inaudible) and strengthen. And in particular on the economic front, which is the key building block of our relationship, we hope that we can double our bilateral trade through enhanced market access to something like $11 billion in the next five years.

So I thank Secretary Kerry for this visit. Let me state it clearly that we are committed to work together in all these areas in a very pragmatic and positive manner on the basis of respect for each other’s interests as well as concerns. So I thank you again and look forward to seeing you (inaudible).

SECRETARY KERRY: Thank you, Sartaj. Thank you very much.

MODERATOR: We’ll take four questions, two each side. Michael Gordon of New York Times. Sir, you’ll have to speak up because (inaudible).

QUESTION: Hello. Okay. Mr. Secretary, the effort to get talks going with the Afghan Taliban in Doha is frozen and it now appears that NATO’s military mission may well end and that most if not all of the NATO troops may be gone before any negotiations even get underway. And that means that the United States’ leverage and the Afghan Government’s leverage in these talks will be reduced if they’re ever resumed. What have you asked the Pakistanis to do to get these talks going, and what steps are you taking to bring the United States military strategy and the diplomatic strategy into alignment?

And a question, please, for Mr. Aziz: What specific efforts is Pakistan undertaking now to get these talks underway? And sir, as you know, the United States has repeatedly pressed Pakistan to crack down on safe havens that Haqqani and other networks have used to carry out attacks in Afghanistan. Was this issue raised again today by Mr. Kerry? And what is Pakistan actually prepared to do, and would Pakistan be prepared to do more about the safe havens if the United States would commit to reducing its drone strikes? Thank you.

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, Michael, let me just say that I – of course, we talked about this issue today. Pakistan has been very helpful with respect to this process and we’re very grateful to the Pakistanis for their initiative, and they will continue to be helpful.

I disagree that I think the NATO mission will end before – I mean, look, if the talks are going to take place, they’re going to take place. If they don’t, that’s their choice, but it will not change the fundamental strategy of what the United States and Afghanistan and the ISAF forces are doing. The President has made it clear that he will, at the appropriate time, be announcing an ongoing American presence. And the negotiations on a bilateral security agreement are underway and I am confident will be completed at an appropriate moment in time. And our plans continue for an election in Afghanistan in 2014 that will be the centerpiece of this transition. The Afghan forces this year, without regard to what happens with the Taliban, have taken over lead responsibility in Afghanistan for security. We are working with them. And so that will continue, obviously, into next year, and the training and equipping will continue beyond that.

So the reason we hope the talks can take place is because everybody understands that a political resolution is better than continued fighting. And our hopes are that it would be possible to be able to combine that with the rest of the transition that is taking place in Afghanistan. We will continue those efforts, but it doesn’t – I don’t agree that there is a lack of synchronization between the military strategy and the diplomatic strategy. The diplomatic strategy is to try to get to talks but to continue the process of preparing the Afghan people for their election and for a transition that will take place regardless.

MR. AZIZ: Well, what can Pakistan do? I think as Secretary Kerry said, it is a process between the Afghan stakeholders and we are doing our best to facilitate that process. We can’t do more than facilitate. And obviously, there are many stakeholders, and Taliban have not so far been persuaded to talk to Karzai directly, but they may be persuaded to talk to the High Peace Council under certain conditions. So that is the next effort that is being made. And if they do, then at least they can talk about talks and how to organize them. But I think in these efforts what President Karzai will be coming here later this month, so we’ll explore with him also how much flexibility he will show in dealing with this issue, and hopefully after that some new attempt can be made.

On the safe havens, of course, we had a very detailed discussion with our plans, on our overall comprehensive strategy, the All Parties Conference that we are planning to hold, and how the follow-up will take place. And as it unfolds, all of you will come to know how we propose to deal with it. Thank you.

MODERATOR: Mr. Asif Bhatti of Geo Television.

QUESTION: Thank you very much. I have a question to His Excellency, Senator John Kerry. As advisor mentioned that we have reservations on drone attacks, so you might know about the public reservations and sentiments on the drone attacks. And the Pakistani Government especially criticizing these attacks and they think that it should be stopped now. What is your strategy? Are you seriously thinking to change your drone attack policy?

And the second part of my question is that are you considering the swapped deal of prisoners with Pakistan and especially handing over Dr. Aafia Siddiqui to Pakistan? Thank you.

SECRETARY KERRY: Say the last part again? I’m sorry.

QUESTION: Secretary, there’s a – are you considering seriously that there will be exchange of prisoners deal between Pakistan and United States, and will you hand over Dr. Aafia Siddiqui to Pakistan?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, I don’t have any comment or anything to add with respect to any potential prisoner exchange or non-exchange. It’s just we didn’t even talk about that at this point this morning.

With respect to the drone policy, we’ve had an ongoing dialogue with our friends in Pakistan regarding all aspects of our relationship, our shared interests, including, obviously, the counterterrorism cooperation. And I think the President of the United States made it very, very clear recently in a major speech that he delivered at our National Defense University in which he laid out the legal and the policy standards that guide any actions that we have against any individuals with respect to terror and under what circumstances we might take direct action.

That stands on its own. That is a very clear articulation of our policy and of what it – where it will go. But we obviously don’t discuss publicly every aspect of our counterterrorism activities. I will say this, I’ll quote the President: “We must define our effort not as a boundless global war on terror, but rather as a series of persistent, targeted efforts to dismantle specific networks of violent extremists that threaten America.”

I know there are issues of sovereignty that are raised often. I would simply remind all of our friends that somebody like an al-Qaida leader like al-Zawahiri is violating the sovereignty of this country. And when they attack people in mosques and blow up people in villages and in marketplaces, they are violating the sovereignty of the country.

So I think the President has made a policy as limited and as clear as is humanly possible, and he has laid out a very transparent, accountable, thorough legal justification for any counterterror policies the United States may or may not engage in.

QUESTION: Do you have any --

MODERATOR: Deb Riechmann of Associated Press.

QUESTION: Thank you. Mr. Aziz, on the drone attacks, is Pakistan – the number of drone attacks has recently declined. Is Pakistan still asking for a further curtailment of these strikes that are so unpopular in your country?

And Secretary Kerry, back on the bilateral security agreement issue, there’s an unnamed State Department official that’s been quoted as saying that the U.S. has resolved most of the issues on the BSA and that is nearing completion on the agreement with Afghanistan. And right now, you’re running up against the one-year deadline on those negotiations and the troop level decision is hinged on this. Where do we stand on this? Are you guys about ready to wrap this up or are we, as Karzai said, still not talking about this, or – there’s even reports that you’ve read a completed text on this.

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, I’m not going to comment on an agreement that hasn’t been finalized. It’s always dangerous to predict completion prior to completion. So we’re making progress. We’re working on it. I am personally confident that we will have an agreement and the agreement will be timely, and I am confident that the President has ample space here within which to make any decisions he wants to make regarding the future troop levels. So I think we’re on a good track. I feel very comfortable with where we are. And as I say to you, I expect this agreement to be completed at an appropriate time.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) you expect it?

SECRETARY KERRY: I expect it to be completed at an appropriate time.

QUESTION: Secretary Kerry, (inaudible) both questions --

MODERATOR: Mr. Baqir Sajjad of Dawn newspaper, a question.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) on both questions (inaudible) --

QUESTION: (Inaudible) regards to (inaudible).

QUESTION: Sir, do you have any (inaudible)?

QUESTION: (Inaudible) answer to the question that we --

MR. AZIZ: Yes, the question about drones. As I mentioned, we have registered our concern and will continue to do so that drone attacks are counterproductive in terms of our relationship (inaudible). So in the light of today’s discussion we’ll continue this dialogue on how to stop this policy of drone attacks as far as the U.S. is concerned.

QUESTION: Have you asked for curtailment?

MR. AZIZ: We are – no, we are (inaudible) stopping, not just containment. (Laughter.)

MODERATOR: Mr. Baqir Sajjad of Dawn newspaper.

QUESTION: Sir, you mentioned that you took up the issue of cross-border insurgency. Are you confident that Pakistan, which has not moved on safe havens on its side of the border, will do it this time?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, I’m confident that we’re working in good faith to find ways to go forward and find the best policy that we can put in place. We talked for a number of hours this morning and we covered an enormous amount of topics, and a couple of them it was important for me to cover very closely and very specifically. So we began to scratch the surface of some of this. I’ll be meeting again later this evening. I’m going to have further meetings, and this afternoon, and we agreed precisely because of the complexity of working out the details that we’re going to begin the Strategic Dialogue immediately. And over the six months, we will have a ministerial, but we have five committees that will begin to meet very quickly on this. So I expect a lot of definition and a lot of progress to come to the forefront.

What was important today was that there was a determination by the United States and by Pakistan to move this relationship to the full partnership that it ought to be and to find the ways to deal with these individual issues that have been irritants over the course of the past years. And I believe that the Prime Minister is serious about doing that. I know that President Obama is also, which is why the President looks forward to meeting with the Prime Minister in about a month or so in the United States. So this conversation will continue, and I’m confident we’re going to find effective ways to manage the challenges that we both face.

MODERATOR: Ms. Saima Mohsin of CNN.

QUESTION: Thank you. He’s introduced me already. My first question is for Sartaj Aziz. There’s a lot of talk about safe havens in Pakistan, and the United States in the past few years has put a lot of pressure on Pakistan to deal with it, but that hasn’t happened. With the new government – and it seems that the military is keen to do so as it did with Swat, but not without the backing of the government – is the government looking at this, and are you planning on doing something about it and sending in a military operation in Waziristan?

And for Secretary of State Kerry and looking ahead to troop withdrawal in Afghanistan and this relationship with Pakistan, Afghanistan, and the United States, there seems to be a huge upsurge in violence and a lot of concern about what’s going to happen come 2014. And we’re already seeing violence, as I said. So you mentioned monitoring the border, but what do you think you can achieve that you haven’t managed to in the past decade?

MR. AZIZ: Well, on the first question, as you know, this operation started in 2009, and out of seven agencies in the tribal areas, six we have already launched military operation and tried to gain effective control and establish the right of the state. The only agency left is now Waziristan. And obviously, with 150,000 troops deployed in the tribal areas, we are overstretched right now. And therefore, right now, we are planning to have an All Parties Conference in which we consult all the stakeholders. Obviously, dialogue has to go along with military action, so we will explore that option first. And if that doesn’t work, then we’ll see under what conditions and by what timeframe we’ll do the alternative actions.

So I think basically, partly it’s a question of capacity, partly it’s a question of timing, and the other options without which the basic objectives cannot be achieved. So in the coming weeks, you’ll know how the strategy works.

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, let me be very clear. The United States is drawing down, not withdrawing. There’s a distinction. The President will announce the number of forces that he will commit for the United States, and other countries have already committed certain numbers of forces who will remain in Afghanistan for two purposes: one, counterterrorism; and two, to train, equip, and advise the armed forces.

Together, all of these countries, over 50 nations – about 52, 53 nations – have combined to help train and equip a military of 350,000 people in Afghanistan. That’s a very sizable army. And I believe, properly trained and equipped as they will continue to be over the course of the next year and beyond, they will have an ability to be able to cooperate, hopefully, with the Pakistanis and others in order to provide the kind of security and protection that the people of Afghanistan and the people of Pakistan deserve.

So I am very hopeful that as we go forward here, people will remember that this is a transition, not an ending. It is a transition to Afghans themselves who will stand up and fight for the freedoms that they want and for the lifestyle they want and for the country that they want. And I believe that as in other places in the world, when people are given the ability and the capacity to be able to fight for their own future, they do.

So I think we’re going to see an important transition take place, and if we work out modalities between us that begin to deal with some of these issues with respect to the borders and safe havens and other things, which I think we can work out, that will only strengthen the effort going forward. So I think this is a very important year, and not – and I think most importantly, a year with the opportunity for the people of Afghanistan to choose their future leadership in the spring of next year.

I think we’ve got to wrap up in a moment, don’t we?

MODERATOR: One question, please.

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, I’m afraid if it’s one, it’s ten, and then I’m going to be late. (Laughter.) So bear with me. I’m sorry, folks. Thank you.

MR. AZIZ: Thank you very much.

SECRETARY KERRY: Thanks so much.


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