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U.S. Department of State - Great Seal

U.S. Department of State

Diplomacy in Action

A Readout of Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani and Chief Executive Officer Abdullah Abdullah's Visit to Washington

Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan (SRAP) Daniel Feldman, USAID Assistant to the Administrator for the Office of Afghanistan and Pakistan Affairs Larry Sampler
Washington, DC
March 27, 2015

3:30 P.M. EDT
AMBASSADOR FELDMAN: Good. Thanks for being here. We want to take the opportunity to provide a little commentary and color on the visit of President Ghani and Dr. Abdullah, which was a truly unprecedented visit in terms of the scope of the meetings over the course of three to four days and the degree of substance that was discussed, and their abilities to have both private meetings and a number of public opportunities to express a number of key and very important themes.
But over the course of these few days, they met with virtually every senior policy official in Washington in the Executive and Legislative branches that are engaged in the national security arena. So starting with a dinner the evening they arrived at Secretary Kerry’s house, followed by a full day at Camp David, which was divided into three substantive areas focused on security, on economic issues, and on regional engagement and reconciliation issues, each hosted by a Cabinet secretary – Defense Secretary Carter hosting the security; Treasury Secretary Lew hosting the economic; and Secretary Kerry hosting the regional engagement piece with a number of other senior officials there from Director Brennan of the CIA to senior National Security Council members, to Elizabeth Littlefield of OPIC and the acting USAID administrator and others. It represented the entire array of U.S. policymakers involved in Afghanistan.
That was a very, very substantive and important day. There was the readout at the press conference afterwards, and then Tuesday was similarly packed, starting with breakfast at the vice president’s house, a very poignant trip to Arlington Cemetery. And I forgot to mention that before heading to Camp David, they had a ceremony at the Pentagon, at which President Ghani spoke, as well as Secretary Carter. And then on Tuesday, the whole array of White House meetings, both in larger group and smaller group formats, followed by that press conference. And then Wednesday their full day of activities on the Hill, including the – President Ghani’s address to the joint session of Congress, with a number of meetings with congressional leaders afterwards.
And then interspersed in this were a number of meetings that the – with civil society and other nongovernmental leaders, including economic leaders, think tanks, media, and a range of others. And then President Ghani was in New York yesterday to meet with the UN and have some additional meetings there.
I think it’s very, very important that in both their public and private events, President Ghani and Dr. Abdullah were very, very conscious of the need to change the narrative of the U.S.-Afghanistan bilateral relationship and of the common perceptions of Afghanistan. So their messages I think were extremely well received by U.S. stakeholders, starting with their expressions of gratitude and appreciation for U.S. and international sacrifices; of commitments to shared values, especially in the area of women’s rights and anti-corruption initiatives; and of increasing self-reliance and of determination to address governance issues, which would be – which were very much well-received. The challenge, of course, will be in continuing the efforts at implementation, but this was a very important start (inaudible) that they laid out for U.S. audiences.
The visit also provided an opportunity to review achievements over the last 14 years; to discuss actions that our countries need to take to ensure that the social, economic, security, and human rights gains made over the course of that 14 years will be sustained and, in fact, advanced and strengthened; and to renew the long-term commitments both of our countries made under the Strategic Partnership Agreement and signed in May of 2012.
In terms of the actual government of national unity, both in public and in private, President Ghani and Dr. Abdullah demonstrated that they were committed to a long-term viability of the unity government. President Ghani said many, many times in all of his public and private settings, as well as echoed by Dr. Abdullah, that this is – this unity government is an enduring phenomenon, that it is here for the duration, and that they are beginning the hard work of governance at this point.
I think it was clear that the Afghan leadership recognized that their government is really under a microscope at this point and that they need to demonstrate that they can effectively deliver progress on transparency, on accountability, on good governance. And you heard that as well in many of President Ghani’s public remarks where he talked about the need to have honesty in dealing with, as he termed it, their balance sheet that they had inherited of corruption, of impunity regarding rule of law, of gender disparities, of enduring poverty, and that they were committed to really tackling this. They recognized the implementation of the reform agenda is key to strengthening not only bilateral ties, but Afghanistan’s ties with other international partners and to Afghanistan’s own prosperity.
There’ve been very significant developments in Afghanistan just in – even the week before they came to Washington: the nomination of all the remaining cabinet ministers except for one, the signing of the presidential decree on establishing the electoral reform commission, coming very close to a resolution for an IMF program. And so these were also discussed as – and recognized in terms of their significance, but also that these were just initial steps and that they will be returning to Kabul hopefully energized to continue this progress and continue to start implementing this difficult work of governance.
But I’d say the tone of all these meetings was very, very positive, very constructive; the bilateral meetings were free of the acrimony that had characterized many of our interactions with the prior Afghan administration, and we dealt with very difficult issues, including our troop presence, regional issues, counterterrorism cooperation, reconciliation, but it was done in a very candid and honest and transparent and collegial and ultimately productive way. And I’m sure that over the course of the Q&A, we can get into more of the nature of the deliverables, both on the security side as well as the economic side, and several of the other things that we announced during the course of their visit.
So I’d say in closing that not only was it an enormously successful visit that we were very, very pleased by – Secretary Kerry was delighted by and President Obama was very pleased with it; I know that all the other interagency principals whom we discussed were very pleased with the constructive nature of the visit and the outcomes from it – but that it is truly a reflection of all the collective hard work that has been invested in developing this relationship over the course of the last many years, and particularly over the last six, seven months since the beginning of this government of national unity, and that everything that has been achieved in the course of this past week is also a platform for renewed hard work by us, by the rest of the international community. And we look forward to doing that in conjunction with our partners and in conjunction with the Afghan Government and the Afghan people.
MR. SAMPLER: Yeah, I – so from a development perspective, the theme of President Ghani’s visit this week could be summed up as focused on self-reliance and the ability of Afghanistan to become a country that is stable, prosperous, and no longer dependent on foreign assistance. And my – our role at USAID is how we help the Afghans get from here to there. That’s a heavy lift. There’s a lot yet to be done.
There were any number of deliverables, and we can talk about those during the questions, if you wish. Perhaps most notable among the deliverables is an $800 million program over five years that’s intended to provide – excuse me – significant lift to the Government of Afghanistan as they try to set a new course. When we talk about a new development partnership, it’s based on development programs that we’ve had in the past that were successful – specifically, programs that created incentives that both encouraged and also politically enabled the Government of Afghanistan to make some difficult choices to move their agendas forward. That worked for us in 2014, and so for this new development partnership, we’re taking that to scale.
There were a number of other deliverables that were also discussed that are directly related to President Ghani’s focus on self-reliance, things like increasing the number of Fulbright scholarships by 50 percent. USAID will also in addition to that be adding $18 million in scholarships for women that are intended to be used at Afghan universities without necessitating the international travel that some women in Afghanistan were just not able or willing to do.
And I guess the – I’ll cut my remarks a little short just to leave more time for questions, but focusing on what President Ghani has said repeatedly that he wants since his campaign and the inauguration, which is he wants Afghans to find ways out of these problems themselves with us in a supporting role. And we’re prepared to do that, and that really is the summation of what the new development partnership is focusing on.
MODERATOR: Great. Well, we’ll move into questions. I’d just like to ask, please identify yourself by name and outlet before you pose your question, and we will start here on my right.
QUESTION: Sure. Thank you. My name is Nazira Azim Karimi. I’m correspondent for Ariana Television from Afghanistan. I need to ask your opinion about this meeting, President Ghani’s meeting, which was useful for relationship between Pakistan and Afghanistan and reconciliation with the Taliban. And one important thing that President Ghani mentioned – proxy war. He suggested that Pakistan already is engage with a proxy war and – just I need to get your comment. What do you think about that?
AMBASSADOR FELDMAN: Well, I think President Ghani’s been very courageous since his inauguration in talking about the need and desire for reconciliation, obviously dating from his inauguration address, but as he referenced frequently in his public addresses, including at the Heart of Asia conference in Beijing and many times from Kabul, the importance of engaging with his neighbors and particularly with Pakistan on trying to bring to – on trying to finally realize the goal of having a reconciliation process that would entail the Taliban senior leadership meeting directly with the Afghan Government. That’s a goal that we all are still striving to create the environment to be most conducive for. We’ve laid out our own, as we term them, redlines for when a reconciliation process that we could support, which have been very consistent over the course of the last five or six years, whereby the outcomes of it we would – we could support it if the outcomes of it included the Taliban breaking from al-Qaida, renouncing violence, and embracing the Afghan constitution, including the rights of women and minorities.
So I think the overtures that President Ghani has made to Pakistan have been very important. I think these initial conversations with Pakistani civilian and military and intelligence leadership have been very important. The Pakistanis are in turn seeking to be responsive and to try to also create the sort of environment that would be most conducive for some sort of reconciliation process. We’ll see where that goes. But it’s something that we’re obviously very supportive of, and we want to ensure that we continue to do all that we can to create that environment. Because we’ve long said that the path to greatest stability and sustainability in the region is through some sort of negotiated settlement between the Afghan Government and the Taliban senior leadership.
QUESTION: Do you think that President Ghani criticized, one more time, indirect Pakistan?
AMBASSADOR FELDMAN: We had very open discussions with President Ghani in private, as we have – I’ve been to both Kabul and Islamabad frequently over the course – since the unity government has been in place, as recently as a few weeks ago when I met with both President Ghani and Dr. Abdullah in Kabul and General Raheel Sharif in Pakistan as well as with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, all about three weeks ago at this point. And we’re all committed to trying to build the environment that would be conducive to this.
So that was part of our conversations with President Ghani, but I think that he has taken a very pragmatic and strategic approach here and has helped to significantly change the dynamic in terms of the environment that would produce this over the course of just the last six or seven months in a way that wasn’t possible, seemingly, before then.
QUESTION: Thank you so much.
MODERATOR: For the next question we’ll go – continue around the table.
QUESTION: Ambassador, Brajesh Upadhyay from BBC News. In terms of efforts towards peace talks, did you get a sense that the – some of the important stakeholders, particularly China, India, Pakistan, and Iran – are they all on the same page?
AMBASSADOR FELDMAN: Well, we continue – clearly, we don’t have the relations with Iran that would allow us to engage in talks directly with them about this. But certainly in our conversations with other partners, including China, including the Gulf, and certainly including Pakistan, we all have espoused support for a reconciliation process, should one be able to be initiated between the Taliban senior leadership and the Afghan Government. And so we look for opportunities to meet bilaterally and multilaterally and ensure that we are all working as collectively as possible in the international community to support this.
As you likely recall, when President Obama went to Beijing, he talked about forming a trilateral meeting between the U.S., China, and Afghanistan. It’s, in fact, the first trilateral meeting that we’ve ever done with China that – and the third partner is Afghanistan. We’ve met informally at times. We’re looking for our first formal meeting, and certainly continued coordination and hopefully facilitation of reconciliation will be on the agenda. And I think that we are very much in sync with the Chinese here and we welcome their increased participation in these sorts of issues.
But we’ll have to see what develops. At the end of the day, this will be a decision by the Taliban senior leadership on when they come to the table or in what format they do, and we’ll see how that develops in the coming weeks and months and hope that we can start a process at some point soon that will provide more stability in the region.
QUESTION: And where is India on this? Sorry, having a follow-up question.
AMBASSADOR FELDMAN: We also talk with India very frequently. I try to go there also frequently. We – I may head there in the coming weeks. My deputy was just in India a week or two ago. We try to stay in close touch with all the neighbors and near neighbors that we have relations with, and obviously India is a key partner there and we’ll continue that active engagement.
QUESTION: Are they supporting the talks? Sorry, I have just one follow-up to this.
MODERATOR: One more, and then we have to go around.
QUESTION: Are they supporting --
AMBASSADOR FELDMAN: There are no talks yet, and so --
QUESTION: The efforts towards --
AMBASSADOR FELDMAN: So I think that there’s a common and broad desire to see some sort of political discussions and negotiated settlement occur if that is feasible. And so there’s certainly skepticism on some parts that it is feasible, but it – but I think there is a fairly consistent desire to at least see if it’s possible. So we’ll continue the talks and as we have – we will continue our outreach with other international partners. And if and when we have more information about what may actually occur with any sort of talks down the road, then of course we’ll do it in a way that’s as coordinated with the partners as possible.
QUESTION: (Inaudible.)
MODERATOR: Okay, we can go back here and then --
QUESTION: This is Tejinder Singh from Times (inaudible) TV and Indian American Times. Do you have a – I have two questions. One is your statements have been very general. Did something specifically come up about India’s role in Afghanistan? Because Jen, when I asked her, she didn’t have all the readouts of the meetings. So I thought you might have something specific. I do not – there’s enough generic statement. We are talking here. We are all – we know that.
AMBASSADOR FELDMAN: It wouldn’t be for us to have a discussion about India’s role in bilateral meetings. The conversations were overwhelmingly focused on our bilateral relationship and our – on the narrative of our bilateral relationship and what we can continue to do bilaterally, both the U.S. for Afghanistan and Afghanistan to demonstrate that they will continue to be a credible and long-term partner. So there were conversations about regional dynamics given President Ghani’s outreach to the region, his visit to China, his visit to the Gulf, his visit to Central Asia, likely an upcoming visit to Delhi quite soon, and most I think significantly, his visit to Pakistan and the growing relationship through many different channels between Afghanistan and Pakistan – economically and trade, and through diplomatic ties, through cross-border military issues, on counterterrorism. And hopefully at some point it will produce something on the reconciliation process as well.
So I can’t tell you that there was never a mention of other countries, because of course there was a broader discussion. But there was nothing so specific as what would be expected from a country like India in the course of the discussions.
QUESTION: My second question is on the emerging equations as Pakistan joins Saudi Arabia and others and is going to become – becoming a West Asian player among tears and blood. But how do you see Pakistan’s role now in the region and its expanse with Saudi Arabia (inaudible) Yemen?
AMBASSADOR FELDMAN: I mean, I would have to refer you back to Pakistan for that question. That’s not for me to comment on.
QUESTION: No, how do you see Pakistan’s role in the region from U.S. --
AMBASSADOR FELDMAN: You’re asking me about things that I’ve only seen in the news over the course of the last 24 hours. So, I mean, I would have to have conversations with them and --
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: Mr. Feldman.
MODERATOR: Hold on. Let’s move to the – (laughter). I’d like to go to a question over here and then we’ll come back around.
QUESTION: Thanks. Ali Imran from Associated Press of Pakistan. My question is I understand reconciliation is probably the biggest issue, but on the economic side, is there a move in Washington that post-2016 – like a legislative action that would seek to assure Afghans of a continued economic and trade cooperation that may mitigate some of their problems and bring stability to their country?
AMBASSADOR FELDMAN: Well, we’ve long said that we see a very long-term, sustained, and strong partnership between the U.S. and Afghanistan and that we intend to be the long-term partner, as laid out in many of the international agreements and meetings that we’ve had over the years, from the Tokyo commitments to the refreshing of those commitments in London just a few months ago at the end of last year, and on the support for the ANSF, the Chicago commitments, as reiterated in Cardiff last year. And frankly, as one of the things that we announced in the course of this visit, the fact that not only would we be slowing the drawdown pace and keeping our full 9,800 through the course of this 2015 fighting season, but that we would help sustain the ANSF with the level of 352,000 through 2017, which is a significant commitment into the future.
So we’ve made a financial commitment to demonstrate that on the economic sustainability issues, we recognize what’s the needs that will be and will help to do – will help to play a part in meeting them. But the most important piece of this will obviously be, as President Ghani said repeatedly, Afghanistan demonstrating that it has a plan for its own economic sustainability and then what it seeks of the international community in how – in terms of helping to meet that. And so the issues that President Ghani focused most on in terms of realizing self-reliance were issues like Afghanistan at the center of regional trade – the Lapis Lazuli Corridor, as he frequently talked about; connections both through hard infrastructure – pipelines and roads – but also softer linkages through trade policy. And certainly, in all of our efforts at building the regional apparatus that supports this – whether it’s the meetings like the Heart of Asia, where we’re just in observer status and it’s really a meeting of the neighbors and near neighbors; or through continuing to support efforts at actual linkages like CASA-1000 and other developments over the course of the last nine months – these are all issues that came up. And in fact, one of the specific ideas that came out of Camp David was the idea for a regional energy task force which we would be involved in that would help to determine what sorts of continued linkages could be made within that region.
So there’s a lot that we can look to be doing in addition to sustained economic assistance. And that assistance will be going down, but on a responsible trajectory, and we’ll be looking to augment that and complement it with our commitment to helping to develop trade and other regional economic integration efforts.
QUESTION: Yeah, but (inaudible) --
MR. SAMPLER: I’ll add to that before we go on. I mean, I think the most optimistic thing that happened this week was President Ghani’s address to the joint session of Congress in this regard. I think he was incredibly well-received, and those are the people who will have the long-term U.S. financial interest towards Afghanistan in their hands. We have the Tokyo Mutual Accountability Framework, which carries us through 2016. The programs that we’re initiating now are five-year programs, so that they would in principle carry us into 2020. We are doing everything that we can to convey to the Afghans that the United States is not leaving. The military troop numbers may come down, and our budget levels, as Dan said, will come down. But they’ll come down in a very responsible glide path as opposed to an abrupt cessation. And that’s the intent that we communicated, and President Ghani went a long way towards advancing his own agenda when he spoke to Congress and was so well-received there.
QUESTION: I mean, in the face of dwindling international aid, I think the investment part gets more importance. So is there an initiative to bring investors and encourage American investors to invest in --
MR. SAMPLER: I would hesitate to call billions of dollars “dwindling international aid.” I mean, the international assistance going to Afghanistan is still significant and it’s still some of the largest programs of any donor country anywhere in the world. So the donors are not dwindling in Afghanistan, but you are exactly right that the assistance is beginning to diminish, and we’ll continue that. And you’re also quite right to notice that that increases the importance we put on public-private partnerships and on drawing direct foreign investment as well.
And President Ghani has keenly seized with this. Some of the meetings that he had while he was here in the United States were with the Afghan diaspora looking for ways to leverage interest in Afghanistan into Afghanistan. And I think given the new agreement and the new atmosphere that he and CEO Abdullah have brought into Afghanistan, I think they’ll be successful, but only time will tell.
MODERATOR: If we could just open up to – we need to go on, and we’ll try to come back to a follow-up question. But we’ll go here and then around the table.
QUESTION: I’m Marcos Bassets from El Pais. What could make the U.S. Administration change the plans for troops withdrawal again?
AMBASSADOR FELDMAN: Well, President Ghani had made a request for increased flexibility. The President thought about it quite a bit with advice from his entire national security team, including military leadership from the field, and made the decision to adjust the posture that was announced last may in the Rose Garden, where he had initially said that we would decrease our levels of roughly 10,000 troops by half at the end of 2015. He made the decision to delay the beginning of that reduction until the end of this fighting season. He did say that he was still committed to keeping the goal of having a Kabul-based, embassy-based presence by the end of 2016, but he left open how the decision would be made at the end of this fighting season and what the slope of that drawdown would look like over the course of 2016. So we’ll have to see where we are at the end of the fighting season, and we will make determinations at that point about what the nature of that trajectory is in 2016.
MODERATOR: Thank you. Another question?
QUESTION: Yes. Ambassador Feldman, do you see --
MODERATOR: Just identify by name for the transcript. Thank you.
QUESTION: Oh, sorry. Sorry, sorry, yeah. I’m Anwar Iqbal. I work for Pakistan’s Dawn newspaper, and – because we have known each for so many years – (laughter) – I thought I didn’t need to – anyway, do you see a desire in Pakistan to help the negotiated settlement, the process of a negotiated settlement?
And also, what specific step do you suggest for avoiding the situation that we faced after the Soviet withdrawal, when all the neighbors – instead of helping peace, they were actually stoking troubles in Afghanistan?
AMBASSADOR FELDMAN: I do think that there is a sincere effort being made by Pakistan at this point to take advantage of this new environment and a recognition that long-term stability on their border is in their interest and that they have a role to play in trying to ensure that there is a peaceful resolution to this process. And clearly, I think that – I’ve heard frequently in Pakistan a description of the Peshawar massacres as Pakistan’s 9/11. I think the manner in which it galvanized a national consensus against all forms of extremism has also fed into the commitment to try to address these forms of extremism and try to use their leverage to bring about a peaceful resolution to Afghanistan’s long-term conflict.
So we’ll have to see what occurs, but in my conversations with civilian and military and intelligence leadership in Pakistan, I think that there is an opportunity here that hasn’t been here in the past. And hopefully we can all – hopefully the appropriate parties can capitalize on it. Because we’ve long said that the conflict in Afghanistan won’t be ended only through military means, but has to be done through some sort of negotiated political settlement.
In terms of the role of other neighbors and near neighbors, that to me is one of the key reasons why the regional architecture is so important to have the opportunities to build linkages in this least connected area of the world, and that the more ties there are economically through trade, through transit, through people-to-people contacts, through investment, through diplomatic ties, through common efforts at counterterrorism, and I think it’s – I certainly welcomed the Pakistanis noting with appreciation that Afghanistan had detained six members of those responsible for the Peshawar attack in Afghanistan. And hopefully a growing relationship between Afghanistan and Pakistan in the interest of eliminating safe havens on both sides of the border, and that gets at the common scourge of extremism in both countries.
QUESTION: Yes, thank you. I’m Iftikhar Hussain for Voice of America Pashto Border Region Service. Thanks for the opportunity. I have two questions. My first question is President Ghani in his speech to the joint session of Congress and also in his talks with – on other occasions has referred to Daesh – IS, the extremist organization operating from Syria and Iraq – that it has become a threat in the region there too. And we see there, because we broadcast as journalists, that the factional groups from Taliban, they have – they join allegiance to – announcing allegiance to the IS group. They are operating from the region – Pakistan tribal region. How does the U.S. characterize this threat to the stability of the region?
And the second question is Pakistan is carrying out an offensive in the tribal region, which is quite crucial to the – again, to the peace in the region. How does the U.S. see their offensive so far, and it has been expanding, since it was launched in June – on June 15?
AMBASSADOR FELDMAN: Yeah. We give great credit to the Pakistan Government and Pakistan military in particular for the North Waziristan offensive and for all efforts to establish their sovereignty throughout Pakistan. So it has certainly been at great cost to Pakistan in the number of lives lost, in military members in particular with the civilian displacement there, but that ultimately we believe that seeking to establish the rule of law is certainly something that’s in all of our interest, but particularly those of the people of Pakistan, so that extremists and others that target Pakistani civilians more than anyone else can be eradicated.
President Ghani mentioned the North Waziristan operation, particularly in terms of some of the consequences as well for what it means for refugee flows and other issues, and that’s all the more reason why there has to be a strong, coordinated, bilateral Afghanistan-Pakistan relationship to deal with some of these issues – refugees going both ways across the border – but to resolve over the long term.
In terms of Daesh, it’s obviously an issue that we are all watching very closely, of great concern to the Afghan Government, as President Ghani mentioned; of great concern to the Pakistani Government. And so we are all seeking to get as much accurate information as possible about the nature of the threat, how it’s growing, in what way, and then to work together to try to determine the best way to respond to it. So given that it’s such a relatively new phenomenon, we’re still assessing what the threat is and how we can best address it. But as you know, the priorities for our mission in Afghanistan at this point are fundamentally – for the military mission and Resolute Support to train, advise, and assist the Afghan national security forces, but there is a targeted counterterrorism component of it as well. And we’ll have to continue to have active conversations with the Afghans about how that’s tailored.
MODERATOR: We have time for only one more question, and we have two questioners. How are you guys feeling?
MR. SAMPLER: We’ll take you both, yeah.
MODERATOR: Okay. Two last questions right here.
QUESTION: Thank you. This is Jahanzaib Ali from ARY News TV, Pakistan. For the last several months, White House stops calling Afghan Taliban the terrorist. So what do you think, is it – was it by design to get any help in the reconciliation process, or U.S. really think that Afghan Taliban were never the terrorist?
AMBASSADOR FELDMAN: Well, I think it’s important to note – Secretary Kerry answered this question at Camp David, and I won’t seek to improve upon his answer, but as he noted, the origin of the conflict is that after the 9/11 attacks, as we were seeking bin Ladin and al-Qaida, it was the Taliban that sought to continue to protect and harbor him and who declared us the enemy. And so we have never sought to target Taliban just as Taliban, but that further redlines that we gave before, that we have welcomed a reconciliation process that would have as the end result a Taliban that renounced al-Qaida, that ended its support for international terrorism and violence, and that embraced the Afghan constitution, including its rights of women and minorities. And so that is how we’ve continued to characterize it.
MODERATOR: And our final question.
QUESTION: Yes. My name is Andre Sitov. I’m with the Russian news agency TASS here in Washington D.C. Thank you for doing this. Thanks to the FPC for hosting this.
I noticed that when you were talking about the regional partners who you talk to about Afghanistan, you did not mention Russia once and look obviously at the reparation on NDN, for instance, or the mainstay of our bilateral relations in not-too-recent past. Not-too – (laughter) – in the recent – anyways, my question is: Do you still talk to the Russians, work with the Russians on anything on Afghanistan? And if not, how soon can you expect this to resume? Has it been discussed during the visit?
AMBASSADOR FELDMAN: There is a – I have a Russian counterpart. There’s a special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, Ambassador Kabulov. He’s been a counterpart since the inception of this office six or seven years ago. We see him frequently in the course of our multilateral meetings, our international contact groups; occasionally for smaller subgroups. And I believe that our interests and Russia’s on Afghanistan remain aligned in terms of having a long-term stable and sustainable Afghanistan. And so, if they continue to stay aligned, we look forward to continuing to work with Russia as with other international actors.
QUESTION: Like on what specifically?
AMBASSADOR FELDMAN: The international contact group is at this point about 50 special representatives, and it meets regularly to coordinate on economic assistance, to talk about security-related issues. We frequently have leading officials – previously from ISAF; now Resolute Support Mission – and it helps to prepare for many of the international conferences that we’ve had over the last few years. And so on all these issues, I think we share them very openly among the special representatives, and Ambassador Kabulov has been a mainstay at that.
QUESTION: As you know, for the Russians, one of the major priorities was drug trafficking from Afghanistan. With this new government, do you see a willingness for them to emphasize the fight against this threat? Do you encourage – does the U.S. see it as a priority?
AMBASSADOR FELDMAN: Of course. We talk about counternarcotics; we have a very active counternarcotics program ourselves. And certainly, in seeking to diminish the threat posed by narcotics, we’re very aligned with a range of other international partners, including Russia, on that. And it’s something that President Ghani has also talked about the need to address more vigorously and effectively.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MODERATOR: I know there are more questions, but we are out of time. So I want to thank everybody --
MODERATOR: Okay, we need to just go off the record at this point, and if you need a clarification, we’ll try to get that. But the briefing is now closed and we’re off the record. Thank you.