SECRETARY CLINTON: Good morning, and let me welcome all of you to the State Department, to the Benjamin Franklin Room, for the launch of the U.S.-Afghanistan Bilateral Commission.
I want to thank my colleague and friend, Foreign Minister Rassoul, and all of our guests from Afghanistan and this distinguished delegation for joining us today. And I want to thank the American delegation, which represents our entire government, for committing to this bilateral commission meeting. We have leaders and experts here from across both the Afghan and American governments. That is a reflection of the breadth and depth of our enduring partnership.
For more than a decade, Americans and Afghans have worked side-by-side to help the Afghan people build a more stable and secure future. We have also fought side-by-side to improve security throughout the country, to strengthen Afghanistan’s democratic institutions, to support its civil society, and to sow the seeds of economic opportunity for the Afghan people.
This has been a tremendous shared effort. It’s also been very challenging. These past few months in particular have presented obstacles and some potential setbacks, and we know that difficult days lie ahead. But despite the challenges, the United States is committed to the people of Afghanistan. And we have made progress together that too often is overlooked in the face of the headlines that talk about some unfortunate incident.
We have worked together to develop the health and education systems of Afghanistan, and we’re now seeing gains in both education and health among the people. We have worked to advance women’s rights that enables women, who have suffered so much over the last 30 years, to contribute to their family, their community, and their country’s future. We have seen a vibrant media develop. We have seen access to electricity brought to parts of Afghanistan that had never experienced that before, and I could go on and on.
And I hope one of the results of this bilateral commission meeting will be to help publicize the positive gains that the Afghan people have experienced over the last decade thanks to their hard work and determination.
Now, as partners, we look to the future. The transition is on track. Every day, Afghans forces are increasingly capable and taking more responsibility for their nation’s security. On the political side, President Karzai has put forward an ambitious reform agenda leading up to elections in 2014. And to prepare for an economic transition as the war winds down, we and our partners in the international community laid the groundwork for unlocking Afghanistan’s economic potential at the Tokyo Conference this summer, where each country represented made commitments in the spirit of mutual accountability.
This Bilateral Commission is beginning its work shortly after the Strategic Partnership Agreement was signed by President Karzai and President Obama in Kabul in May. The Strategic Partnership Agreement and this bilateral commission will help to guide the relationship between Afghanistan and the United States as we move to the next phase of our relationship. It reflects a shared vision and a shared commitment to mutual responsibility and accountability. And it focuses on areas that will be critical to Afghanistan’s future, including in the areas of security, human rights and democracy, institutions and governance, economic development, and regional security and cooperation.
We know it will take time to deliver the results that the people of Afghanistan are working toward, but as President Obama and I have said many times before, the United States has made an enduring commitment to Afghanistan that was forged in sacrifice. Just a short time ago, we reached a grim milestone: 2,000 U.S. troops killed in Afghanistan. The American people have invested a great deal in Afghanistan’s future. And even though our role in Afghanistan is changing, this partnership will continue.
So here today, we will discuss specific steps that we can take together to implement the Strategic Partnership Agreement. I am eager to hear the ideas and specific recommendations for how we can make swift, concrete, and measurable progress. One of the things we will talk about today is our plan to begin negotiating the next piece of our bilateral partnership: the Bilateral Security Agreement, which will establish the framework of our future security relationship based on our shared vision of a secure and stable Afghanistan. I am pleased to announce that Deputy Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan Ambassador James Warlick will lead the negotiations for the United States.
As we look ahead, we will certainly be aware of the many challenges that remain, but I also want to be aware of the opportunities that we can seize together. And I urge that all of us do our part and to remember the millions of people across Afghanistan and the United States who expect us to accomplish good things together. Let’s deliver strong results for them.
So thank you again for joining us. Thank you for the hard work that we are beginning today. Now, let me turn to the Foreign Minister for his opening remarks.
FOREIGN MINISTER RASSOUL: Your Excellency, Secretary Clinton, dear friends and colleagues, thank you so much for hosting this inaugural meeting of the Afghanistan-United States Bilateral Commission, and thank you for your gracious hospitality.
We meet today against the sad and tragic backdrop of Ambassador Stevens and his colleagues lost in Libya just last month. Let me extend, once again, our deepest and sincerest sympathies to you, Madam Secretary; to your colleagues at the State Department; and to you, to the family and friends of Ambassador Stevens and his three colleagues. Indeed, it’s because of similar enormous sacrifices by the soldier, diplomats, aid workers, and publics of our two nations that have allowed our two countries to lay down the foundation of a strong friendship and a solid partnership, and to continue our best efforts to build a future of common security and peace, dignity, and opportunity for our people.
Today’s meeting is both unique and historic, and I’m honored to be part of it. Founded on shared value, shared interests and mutual respects, and the promise of a future of peace and prosperity, the Strategic Partnership Agreement between Afghanistan and the United States has opened a new chapter in the relationship between our countries.
We approach this partnership from the fundamental premises that serve our national interest, and is potentially linchpin of security and stability in the region. We will continue to make progress in pursuit of our common strategic objectives, and ensuring the safety, security, and prosperity of the Afghan people.
Madam Secretary, 10 years ago, we had just begun emerging from long dark era of war, violence, and destruction. The challenges of restoring security to the lives of the Afghan people and rebuilding Afghanistan into stable and a democratic country seemed overwhelming. Today, nevertheless, we are a proud member of the community of the nations and moving steadily toward a peaceful and self-reliant future. Our partnership has responded to the threats to international peace and security, and has placed Afghanistan on the path towards a secure, democratic, and prosperous future.
I believe this Bilateral Commission will grow into the most key forum for our relation and partnership, and to convene in point for many committed actors in both our government and to expansive dialogue to define and implement coordinated collaborative action in realizing our common interest and shared goals.
As the Joint Steering Committee and Working Group continue to advance cooperation and monitor progress toward various aspect of our partnership accepted for the Strategic Partnership Agreement, let me assure you, Madam Secretary, that Afghanistan is fully committed to building on our shared success of the last decade, delivering results, and taking on the challenges ahead.
There are important priorities before us, all of which are crucial for the long-term security, stability, and prosperity of Afghanistan. We are encouraged by the continued progress of the transition process and the long-term commitment we have from our allies in – to support the Afghan security forces. In this regard, negotiating a comprehensive bilateral security agreement between our countries to the satisfaction of both sides is of paramount importance.
I am pleased to know that the United States has assigned an outstanding diplomat, Ambassador Warlick, to lead the negotiation on the agreement on the behalf of the United States. Ambassador Hakimi, also one of our finest diplomats, will lead the process on our behalf. I wish them both and their teams all the best in this important endeavor.
Moreover, Madam Secretary, we will continue to pursue the peace process vigorously. This is the just and deserving right of the Afghan people and the surest path to ending the cycle of violence in Afghanistan. We recognize the significance of the upcoming election for the future stability of Afghanistan. He will assure – we will ensure that the necessary conditions are in place for building – for holding free, fair, and transparent elections.
As we continue to advance human rights, enhance regional cooperation for peace and prosperity; develop our human and national resources; combat corruption; improve governance; build infrastructure, public health and education; and to fight terrorists and extremism, we will count on the continuing and substantial support of our biggest and most important ally, the United States of America.
And we will pursue all these priorities with special attentions to the continued promotion of the rights of Afghan women and girls in increasing their always significant role in the social, political, economic, and cultural life of our society.
May I take this opportunity to thank all those from the United States and Afghanistan committed to a solid and strong Strategic Partnership between Afghanistan and the United States, and to your determined effort and hard work. The challenges before us are great, but so too the promise of our partnership. So let us make the most of this opportunity and build on this strong foundation of our partnership to secure and better future.
Thank you very much, Madam.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you so much, Minister.