May 16, 2011

Transcript Of Chairman Kerry’s Press Conference In Pakistan

WASHINGTON, D.C. – This afternoon, Senate Foreign Relations Chairman John Kerry (D-MA) held a press conference prior to departing Islamabad. The following is a transcript of those remarks:

Senator Kerry:  Good afternoon.  First of all, let me apologize to everybody for being as late as I am.  We just came from the Presidential Palace and meeting with President Zardari and Prime Minister Gilani and General Kayani and others and we worked through some language with respect to a Joint Statement that will be issued I think around 6:00 o’clock.  But we made a considerable amount of progress and I’d just like to report to you sort of on the entire, what is it now almost 24 hours that I’ve been here.

Since arriving in Islamabad last night I’ve been engaged in constructive conversations with Pakistan’s military and civilian leaders.  I’ve spoken with President Zardari, Prime Minister Gilani, members of the Cabinet, the Foreign Secretary, as well as General Kayani and General Pasha. 

We gathered again, as I said, earlier this afternoon in order to go further into the details of those conversations.

I expressed as clearly as possible the grave concerns in the United States over Osama bin Laden’s presence in Pakistan and the existence here, continuing existence of sanctuaries for our adversaries in Afghanistan.  I emphasized to my Pakistani friends that many in Congress are raising tough questions about our ongoing assistance to the government of Pakistan in light of the events of the past weeks.

Most importantly I explained that I am here with the backing of President Obama, Secretary Clinton, Ambassador Munter and his team to find a way to rebuild the trust between our two countries.  We must never lose sight of this central fact.  We are strategic partners with a common enemy in terrorism and extremism.  Both of our countries have sacrificed too many citizens and troops in the fight, too many to consider abandoning this important relationship for one reason or another.  Far too much is at stake here.

I made clear to General Kayani and to General Pasha in particular that I understand their feelings and the feelings of the people of Pakistan about the circumstances surrounding the operation against bin Laden.  We recognize that the Pakistani people and their leaders take their sovereignty seriously.  Every nation does.  That’s why it’s important to underscore the extraordinary circumstances behind the mission against bin Laden, the man who devised the plan to senselessly murder nearly 3,000 innocent Americans in a tragedy that changed our country and our lives in ways that are hard to describe.

Let me add that it was bin Laden and the foreign fighters who followed into Pakistan, who truly violated this country’s sovereignty.  They inspired and conspired with the extremists responsible for the deaths of 35,000 Pakistani citizens and more than 5,000 Pakistani soldiers.  Just this week those same extremists were responsible for the deaths of 80 recruits in Pakistan’s frontier [inaudible].  That’s a cowardly act that is all too familiar.

When I spoke with the leaders of Pakistan last night and today I explained that the extreme secrecy surrounding every aspect of the raid in Abbottabad was essential to protecting the lives of the professionals who were involved and essential to ensuring that they succeeded in capturing or killing the man responsible for so much death in so many places.

Let me remind you, and no one really needs it, but it is important to put it in a context of why secrecy is so critical here. 

In 2001 we had trapped Osama bin Laden and maybe a thousand of his fighters in the mountains of Tora Bora.  Regrettably, the decision was made not to send in our own troops to capture him.  So he escaped to Pakistan.  Much of what we are fighting today came about because of that escape.  Then he began plotting more attacks.

Faced with a second chance to capture Osama bin Laden no American President could conceivably have afforded to take even the slightest chance that he might again slip through our hands.  It was a decision that had to be an American President’s moment of accepting responsibility for the outcome -- for the success or for the failure.  The American people would not have tolerated anything else.

This had to be an American operation and it had to be as secure as humanly possible.  That is the reason that operational security was so tight that only a handful of America’s most senior government officials and most critical to the operation were actually entrusted with advanced knowledge of the raid.

General Petraeus told me that he didn’t know about it until only a few days before hand because of their operational command involvement, but not ahead of time.

The fact is that senior officials in the White House, senior members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, none of them knew.  Despite my deep involvement in the issues of Pakistan and Chairman of the Foreign Relations committee, I didn’t know until I was called by Secretary Clinton after the raid from the situation room.

I understand personally that this was not an issue of trust for me or for any of those other people.  It was a matter of an imperative of operational security and I respect the discipline and the leadership of President Obama in what he did in pursuing that course and we ask the Pakistani people to see this in its historical, critical light.

My goal in coming here was not to apologize for what I consider to be a triumph against terrorism of an unprecedented consequence.  My goal has been to talk with the leaders here about how to manage this critical relationship more effectively, about how to open up the opportunities to put this relationship back on track where isolated episodes, no matter how profound, don’t jeopardize the larger relationship and the larger goal.

I’m very pleased to say that these meetings have in fact reopened the dialogue between our countries and they reassure and put us in a position to reassure each other that we can go forward toward a better partnership with Pakistan and its people.

I said I think last Sunday on national television in America that I believed this was a moment of opportunity for us to recalibrate, to readjust, to tweak, and to use this opportunity to push a reset button as we go forward.

I’m pleased to tell you that in the conversation with General Kayani and General Pasha and with the elected civilian leadership that is exactly what they are prepared to do and that is exactly what we did do in these initial discussions.

I’m pleased that the government of Pakistan is recommitted to finding more ways to work together against the common threat of terrorism and to explore how increased cooperation on joint operations and intelligence sharing can maximize our effort to defeat the common enemies that we face.

These are the initial steps.  Later this week two senior administration officials will arrive in Islamabad to work on the details of implementing and building on the initial steps of today.  Secretary of State Clinton will soon announced, based on those discussions, her plans to visit Pakistan and expand on our real progress in developing a new level of trust between our two countries.

I want to emphasize also, especially to the people of Pakistan, this relationship is not only about the threats that we face.  It is not only about combatting terrorism.  It is about building a partnership with the people of this country.  That’s why we were here to provide aid in the aftermath of the earthquake in 2005.  I can remember traveling by helicopter with supplies up into the mountains and meeting young children who as a result of our aid were going to school for the first time in their lives.  That’s why we were here last summer, to help with the devastating floods.  And I can look with pride at the amount of seed and livestock and shelter and subsistence that was provided to people in the wake of that.  That’s why I’m determined to make sure that the kinds of projects that are supported in the Kerry/Lugar/Berman funds will get on track and demonstrate our long-term commitment to the region, to the stability of this country and the region itself.

Ultimately the people of Pakistan will decide what kind of country Pakistan becomes.  Whether it is a haven for extremists, terrorists, or the tolerant democracy that Mohammed [Davijina] envisioned 64 years ago.

The United States has shown that we are willing to help and I hope that we can build a stronger partnership based on trust and shared interests.

I’m very pleased to report that the progress we made today I think can begin to renew that partnership.  Our partnership and progress in the days ahead, though, let me emphasize -- and I emphasized this in every meeting that we had -- this road ahead will not be defined by words.  It will be defined by actions.  With the patience and understanding of President Zardari, Prime Minister Gilani, General Kayani, General Pasha, we’ve agreed on a specific series of steps that will be implemented immediately in order to get the relationship on track.  That’s actions, not words.

We need to have a realistic expectation as we go forward in the relationship.  Yes, there are real differences between our two countries, but the bonds that tie us together in the fight against the threat of extremists is stronger than those differences and I’m confident that we have the ability to overcome them and to produce a strong working relationship that can improve the outlook not just for Pakistan, but for Afghanistan, for India-Pakistan relations, for the South Asian continent, and for the long term future.

I’d be delighted to take a couple of questions.

Media:  Sir, [inaudible] discussions.  It wasn’t a solution [inaudible] with Osama bin Laden, but I wonder where [inaudible].  Is that a bottom line?  Can you say 100 percent right now that you trust [inaudible]?

Senator Kerry:  Here’s what I think is the appropriate and honest, candid way to deal with a very legitimate question a lot of people are asking.

There is no evidence at this point in time as National Security Advisor Tom Donilon has said very clearly, as Secretary Clinton has said, no evidence to suggest that the high leadership of this country -- civilian or military intelligence -- had knowledge.  We don’t know that.  Four inquiries have been initiated.  There are individual inquiries within branches of the armed forces and there is a civilian inquiry that will be pieced together now that is going to look at this question.

What I know and what President Obama and Secretary Clinton knows is that our relationship is too important to be stuck speculating about something we don’t have, that there’s no evidence about.  And we have every evidence based on the conversations today and based on the road map that’s been laid out, that we can build a constructive relationship.

Now that will be put to the test of actions, not words.  I just said that.  They understand that, we understand that.  So I’m not in the business of making empty protestations or certifications.  I’m in the business of trying to get the job done out here and that job is to build a relationship which empowers us to go forward.

The other road is a very dangerous road for everybody.  It’s dangerous for Pakistan, dangerous for our interests, dangerous for the people of this country and for the region, so I think we’ve moving in a constructive way to go forward.  I think that in the next hours that evidence will begin to become clear.  And in the next weeks as the administration sits down and details the specific operations and road maps as we go forward.  That’s the way we’re really going to put that to the test.

Media:  [Inaudible].  Doesn’t [inaudible]?

Senator Kerry:  Look, I’ve talked to any number of people who know Pakistan much better than me.  I hear different things from different people.  Some of them former ambassadors to our country or other places, people involved in a high level of government say there are confusing aspects of life in various parts of the world and in parts of their country.  Who knows?  I don’t want to speculate.  I’m not here to do that.  It serves no purpose in terms of building our relationship and moving forward in what is a common interest and common enterprise.  I leave it to the experts who will digest huge amounts of information that is now available, who will digest the inquiries that will be made, and they will give some kind of judgment to all of us.

In the mean time we have a struggle against violent extremism that goes on.  It’s our job to do as well as we can in order to be able to prosecute that and that’s what we’re going to try and do.

Media:  You say the United States is not here to apologize.  Osama bin Laden’s [inaudible] so very long, and [inaudible] Pakistani authorities [inaudible] the military side.  Do you not believe that Pakistan should apologize to the international community?

Senator Kerry:  No.  Again, the inquiries are going to produce whatever the facts are.  We’re not here to enter into a period of pre-recrimination or pre-judgment on facts that we don’t have.  I don’t know what all those facts are.  Certainly there are questions.

Media:  If he was found on American soil, the President of the United States most certainly would apologize.

Senator Kerry:  I think that in the initial hours afterwards, as you recall, the first reactions of the highest leadership of this country were congratulations.  And was an acceptance of what had happened.  I think subsequently some things got off track.  But look, we’re here to put things back on track, not to stay off track.

I am right now far more focused on how we are going to establish stability in Afghanistan, on how we are going to reduce the $120 billion note that Americans are carrying for that war, and how we are going to stop our kids from being killed and maimed by IEDs and ambushes and eventually be able to bring them home.  That’s priority number one for the President of the United States, for us in Congress.  And plenty of people will be delving into the who, what, and how, but we’ve got to get the job done.  We need Pakistan’s cooperation and they need ours.  That’s what I’m here to work on, and I think we’ve made a lot of progress in that.

I can tell you, an example, tomorrow the tail of the helicopter will be returned to American and we’ll take possession of that in a coordinated operation that will take place with them.  That’s step number one.  And there are other steps that will take place immediately.

Media:  On the [inaudible] Afghanistan, what commitment did you get from them in the last 24 hours that they would rein in the Hakani Network, that they would rein in LET, and that they would do something about Mullah Omar?  These are three steps they could do which would help immeasurably in reducing --

Senator Kerry:  They sure would and I can tell you we discussed every single one of them. I’m not going to tell you what is going to take place except to say that I think we made a lot of progress and we’re going to continue.

Media:  Do you trust the Pakistanis --

Senator Kerry:  You know, once again, ladies and gentlemen, we have a treasure trove of information that has been made available to us.  And incidentally, we’re going to go through a fairly extensive vetting process with the Pakistanis to go through a lot of that.

So I’m confident about a process that’s in place that will help shed light on that, and I’m not going to speculate.  I’m not going to sit here.  There’s just too much energy expended in the past few weeks on that which is part of the reason that we need to get back on track.

Our primary ojective is what I just said in answer to the gentleman’s question, and that is getting this relationship back on track, and indeed focusing on the sanctuaries and focusing on the threat to Afghanistan, to our troops, and to our security.  That’s what’s in our interest and that’s our focus.

Media:  Your opponent is saying that this is a [inaudible] moment with Pakistan.  Did you hand to the government, to General Kayani, to General Pasha, a list of demands that outlines what the United States expects Pakistan to do?  Have you pressed them to take specific action?  And what can the Pakistanis possibly do to demonstrate or significantly degrade the impression that there’s a double game going on

Senator Kerry:  We discussed almost every issue that any of you have ever written about or thought about with respect to Afghanistan and Pakistan and our relationship.  And I am convinced that we have put in place a roadmap which it is the responsibility of the administration as the executive department to follow and to decide where to detour, where to change.  Those are the discussions that will take place at a high senior level, sometime soon.

Subsequently, depending obviously on the fullness of the progress there, Secretary of State Clinton will come and complete that task on behalf of the executive department.  But I will tell you that after consultations with Secretary Clinton, with the White House, prior to coming here, I clearly had a set of priorities to talk to them about and begin to get a feel for their willingness to embrace.  And I have characterized that to all of you in positive terms because it was very positive.

I have to tell you that Prime Minister Gilani greeted me and opened the conversation in a very constructive and genuine way.  Last night I had a 4.5 hour session or so with General Kayani and General Pasha and we went through much of this.  He attended the subsequent meeting today with the President and again the Prime Minister, and all of them were on the same page, all of them articulated clarity about the possibilities of this roadmap, and now it is up to the administration to fill in the details, negotiate where they feel they need to, and sign off on whatever course they choose to sign off on.

Media:  In your discussions with General Kayani, did he confirm any of the facts they have reduced to 50 the number of U.S. military personnel?

Senator Kerry:  Everybody knows I’m not going to discuss numbers.  I think that’s inappropriate.  Obviously everyone knows, there’s been some reduction, there’s been some slowdown, there’s been a hiatus here.  That’s why I’m here.  That’s why we’re talking is to end that and to get back on track.  I am convinced that we can get back on track.

Don’t let me leave the impression that it’s a one-way street.  There are mutual obligations here.  In terms of what we need to do to facilitate some of the choices that need to be made.  But I’m very hopeful based on what I’ve heard that if we approach this right way I think we can make genuine progress and I hope we will.

But as I’ve said, and I’ll say it again and again, the make or break is real.  There are members of Congress, as we know, who aren’t confident that it can be patched back together again.  That is why actions and not words are going to be critical to earning their votes in the United States Congress.  I am very understanding of that. 

Before I came over here in our last caucus I had a number of members come up to me and asked me what they were going to be able to say to their constituents as they go home and try to explain the relationship.  That’s why clarity in this relationship is so critical right now.  That’s precisely what was constructively worked on today.

Again, I want to emphasize, the Pakistanis have paid a very high price and they’ve done it under difficult circumstances.  The IMF has been in here, they’ve raised prices, they have difficult challenges economically, a budget that is stretched, a military that’s out in the western part of the country, over 100,000 folks, they’ve taken many casualties.  The people have suffered in mosques, in marketplaces, children and women.  Pakistan has a huge investment and stake in this and I think we could not have caught Osama bin Laden without intelligence cooperation from Pakistan over the course of the last years.  We could not have debilitated al-Qaida as significantly as we have without their tolerance to some of the activities in the western part of the country.

So it’s important for people to look at the whole context here as we consider how we go forward.  I think if we do that with respect and an understanding of the sense of dignity of people involved, we have a better chance of being able to be successful.

Last question.

Media:  Drone attacks.  [Inaudible] --

Senator Kerry:  I shouldn’t have taken a last question.  [Laughter]. 

Media:  [Inaudible]?

Senator Kerry:  I don’t think they’ve ever been discussed as a public policy and I’m not about to start doing that now.

Thank you all very much.  God bless.  Take care.

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