Kabul, Afghanistan–(ENEWSPF)–January 11, 2011 – 3:02 P.M. Afghanistan time.
PRESIDENT KARZAI: (As Translated) Good afternoon. Members of the media, Afghan media and international media, in the name of the God, I’m delighted and honored today to welcome His Excellency Joe Biden, Vice President of the United States.
This is the fourth or fifth — his visit — to Afghanistan. His first visit was at the very beginning of Afghanistan’s interim administration, where we met in a very cold room. There was no electricity, nothing. But because of his help and their assistance, we have electricity and everything today. So today we had all the things, and we are in a lot improved situation for which we are grateful to their contributions.
Today, His Excellency Joe Biden, me — (inaudible) –and met in presence of our delegations. We had a working lunch, and we spoke on many issues, including on several issues of mutual importance to both the countries. And then it was followed by a one-to-one meeting that lasted for over an hour and which was also centered on the strategic partnership between Afghanistan and the United States; security in Afghanistan and in the region, as well as the transition process of security responsibilities to Afghan forces; on ways how to intensify and how to do that process and transition in the best possible manner.
So we had discussions, and I’m pleased of the conclusions and of the results of our meetings, and I once again welcome him to Afghanistan. And I thank you for all the cooperation and for all the contributions that you have given to the people of Afghanistan.
Thank you, Mr. Vice President.
VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN: Well, Mr. President, thank you. It’s a delight to be back. Let me start by thanking you and your team for the great hospitality that you’ve extended to me and my crew I brought from Washington. I know you know you get to see General Petraeus and Ambassador Eikenberry frequently, but it’s not as often as I get to come and visit you.
You know, the President reminisced very briefly on the telephone — I guess it was a week ago or 10 days ago — and again today about the first time I was here in Kabul nine years ago this month, as a matter of fact, and after the Taliban had been driven out, just when you were moving into the palace. And it was under a very, very difficult circumstance that the President was taking over, and I witnessed that legendary hospitality with which the Afghans are so well known. I really mean that. There was no heat. There was very little electricity that kept going on and off. There was no paid staff —
PRESIDENT KARZAI: Yes.
VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN: And yet you treated me as if I were an honored guest and that you had —
PRESIDENT KARZAI: You were, you were.
VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN: The hospitality, the food, the dinner, it was exceptional, and I kept thinking, Mr. Ambassador, “My Lord, how is he able to do this?” (Laughter.)
But I also want to point out and pay tribute to not just your leadership, Mr. President, but in those days, in the circumstances, people forget is the extraordinary personal courage, physical courage, you showed. It is — it was notable then and it’s worth noting now. And that’s why I am pleased to — was pleased to have President Karzai as a guest in my home in Washington on two different occasions. And both times I apologized to him because it wasn’t nearly as lavish and wasn’t nearly as significant, but it was an opportunity to return the hospitality. And I look forward, Mr. President, to being able to do that again.
When I was last in Afghanistan just before our administration took office — it was two years ago this month, and President-elect Obama asked me, as you recall, Mr. President, to once again get a firsthand look and have a discussion with you. And now since then we have with the leadership of my — the team that’s here on the right, the President’s team, we have a strategy and the resources in place to accomplish the goal of a stable and growing and independent Afghanistan able to provide for its own security, and in the process to be able to, at the same time, to disrupt and dismantle and defeat ultimately al Qaeda in Pakistan and the little appearance there is in Afghanistan.
A stable, sovereign Afghanistan that is not a haven for terrorists is critical toward that goal. And to that end we’re engaged in working — and I had the opportunity to go to a training facility today — working with your military to train up a first-class military organization that will be eventually in the position to meet all of the Afghan security needs. And toward that end I’d like to thank your Minister of Defense for taking me on the tour earlier today.
In the meantime our military is breaking the momentum of the insurgents and the radicalized portion of the Taliban. Our diplomats are working hard along with the President to promote regional cooperation, including with your neighbor, Pakistan.
And I want to recognize the contribution toward this effort over the past several years of a significant American diplomat who passed away, Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, who had unparalleled skills and tenacity that — where he spent almost two years as our special representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan before he passed away last month.
And over the past two years the United States has sent some of America’s most capable troops into enclaves where — that have long been operated — the insurgency and the Taliban of being able to operate with impunity. And we’ve also substantially increased our civilian effort here in Afghanistan with diplomats and development experts side by side with our military and your soldiers and your police and your personnel, Mr. President. And as a result, I think it’s fair to say we have largely arrested the Taliban momentum here in some very important areas, particularly in Helmand and Kandahar.
But these gains, as you pointed out to me, Mr. President, as we know, are fragile and reversible. And as the President knows, sustaining them is going to require the Afghans to assume the responsibility for security and governance. And it’s going to require more pressure — more pressure on the Taliban, from Pakistan’s side of the border, than we’ve been — we’ve been able to exert so far. And there are many hard days that lie ahead.
But we know that in order to maintain the support and commitment of the people of Afghanistan and the American people, we must work with our Afghan partners to improve the provision of basic services, to promote transparency and accountability, to strengthen the institutions, and advance the efforts of reconciliation with the Taliban of which we spoke for some time; the Taliban who’ve rejected Al Qaeda and renounce violence and are prepared to embrace the Afghan constitution.
None of this, as the President has pointed out to me and we have discussed and we know, is going to be easy. But, Mr. President, in concert with your government and our NATO allies, we now have a viable path outline to move forward. And again, I’d like to compliment you publicly on Lisbon. I think it was a very, very useful conference, and I think we’re finally all on the same page.
And this year, NATO is going to begin to transition responsibility over the security in certain provinces to the government of Afghanistan, while the United States begins a condition-based reduction of our forces starting in July. And all of this will advance our shared U.S.-Afghani objective of having an Afghan National Security Force in the lead throughout all of Afghanistan by 2014, as President Karzai wisely proposed — there was a first to move forward on.
Together, we will work on a framework for future bilateral relations and a lasting friendship with the Afghan people and the American people. And going forward, we’ll continue to train and advise the forces and to provide civilian assistance.
Let me say it plainly, Mr. President, it is not our intention to govern or to nation-build. As President Karzai often points out, this is the responsibility of the Afghan people, and they are fully capable of it. As President Obama said it in a slightly different way, he said, “It’s Afghans who must secure their country. And it’s Afghans who must build their nation.” And we stand ready to help you in that effort. And we will continue to stand ready to help you in that effort after 2014.
PRESDIENT KARZAI: Wonderful.
VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN: We have moved into a new phase — a new phase — in Afghanistan; a transition to a full Afghan lead that begins this year and will conclude in 2014, as we prepare a framework for our future bilateral relations. This is President Obama’s vision for the future. It’s a vision expressed by our allies at the Lisbon Conference. And I believe, based on our conversation today, it clearly reflects the vision of President Karzai.
The United States, if the Afghan people want it, are prepared, and we are not leaving in 2014. Hopefully we will have totally turned over the ability of the — to the Afghan security forces to maintain the security in the country, but we will — we are not leaving, if you don’t want us to leave. And we plan on continuing to work with you, and it’s in the mutual self-interest of both our nations.
And so, Mr. President, again, I want to thank you for a very, very good conversation. And I look forward to seeing you and returning the hospitality in Washington. Thank you. Thank you very much. Thank you, gentlemen. I appreciate it.
PRESIDENT KARZAI: Vice President, are we taking questions or are we not taking —
VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN: Well, they tell me in order for me to get to where I’m supposed to go to Forward Operating Base —
PRESIDENT KARZAI: Let’s go and talk.
VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN: If I don’t leave now, I don’t get back because it —
PRESIDENT KARZAI: You will have a chance some other time. Today the Vice President has to leave in a hurry because we spent a lot of time doing other things. So he has to go and greet the soldiers.
VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN: I apologize. Thank you.
PRESIDENT KARZAI: Next time.
3:14 P.M. Afghanistan Time