Chairman Kerry Opening Statement At Hearing With Secretary Clinton On Afghanistan and Pakistan

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Washington, DC – This morning, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry (D-MA) held a hearing with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to assess U.S. policy and progress in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The full text of Chairman Kerry’s statement, as prepared, is below:

It’s a great pleasure to welcome Secretary Clinton back to the Committee. I know you’re just back from South America and we appreciate your willingness to take time from your incredibly busy schedule to join us. Your leadership in South Asia has been important and we are looking forward to your assessment today.

Before we begin, I just want to make sure you are aware that we will be holding a very short business meeting during this hearing.  As soon as we get a quorum, we will take up the nominations for Deputy Secretary of State, Ambassador to China and, fittingly for today’s hearing, Ambassador to Afghanistan.  We have another business meeting scheduled for Tuesday and we will take up the other pending nominations at that meeting. 

Last night, the President kept a commitment he made to the American people 18 months ago at West Point. Because of the gains made in the intervening months, it was from a position of strength that the President was able to lay out the next phase of the strategy -- a transition to Afghan control that begins by withdrawing a significant number of our troops between next month and September 2012. The ability to reap the surge dividend and bring home 33,000 troops over the next months is a testament to the success of the strategy and to the courage and sacrifices of our young men and women in uniform and their civilian counterparts.

Each time I visit the region, from Kabul to Kandahar and Helmand to Khost, I am impressed by the commitment and capability of our troops. Some are on their fourth or fifth combat tour. Yet all remain steadfast in performing their duty with honor and professionalism. And I’m sure you will agree, Madame Secretary, that their efforts helped bring us to this historic transition point.

The truth is that we have met our major goals in Afghanistan as articulated by the President. We significantly disrupted Al Qaeda and dramatically reduced its presence in the country. Though the job is not finished, we have come to the point when this mission can transition.  Bin Laden’s death last month was the capstone of the President’s original objective. Our strategy has given the Afghans the opportunity to build and defend their own country, the way they have for centuries.

Senator Lugar and I hope this Committee has contributed to the public dialogue on Afghanistan. Since 2009, we have held 20 hearings and helped to focus attention on critical issues. We also have developed some conclusions that we believe will continue to have an impact on the remaining challenges.

Obviously, these challenges are significant. The most important one, as I have said many times, is Pakistan, where we have a complicated relationship. We have to work with the Pakistanis where our interests converge and we have to find common ground where we have different goals even when the road ahead looks difficult.

For sure, the Pakistanis have reacted very strongly to the events of May 2nd. They have clamped down on visas, making it difficult for military, intelligence, and civilian personnel to do their jobs and advance our common goals. But reducing our footprint in Afghanistan – coupled with the kind of high-level diplomacy Secretary Clinton engaged in when she went there last month – should open the door for new talks on a range of topics, from reconciliation to shutting down extremist sanctuaries.

The bottom line is no number of troops will resolve the challenge of Afghanistan. Every military leader has said there is no military solution. So now is the time to work with the Afghan leaders and all of their neighbors to find the political solution to this conflict. We cannot do this in a vacuum. As we talk with the Taliban, we have to pursue a vigorous diplomatic strategy with Pakistan, India, Russia, China, and other nations in the region. We need to listen closely to the Afghans and Pakistanis and work with them to protect our national interests.

The drawdown should not be just about the number of troops. We need to ensure that our diplomatic and development strategies are aligned with our political and military goals. The State Department and USAID have performed admirably in a hostile environment. But as we said in our Committee report earlier this month, we want to work constructively with the Administration to ensure that our aid strategies are as effective as they can be.

As Ambassador Karl Eikenberry winds up his tour in Kabul, I want to thank him for his service to his country, in and out of uniform, and for his willingness to tell the truth in high-pressure situations. He has been enormously helpful to me on each of my visits and both he and his wife, Ching, have served the country and the President well.

Secretary Clinton, again I want to thank you for being here. You have been immersed in the challenges on both sides of the Durand Line and I know you are respected enormously in Afghanistan and Pakistan. So we look forward to your comments.

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