Press Conference with Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad

Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad
Kazakhstan Press Conference
June 13, 2021

Moderator:  Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen and welcome to our press briefing with the U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation, Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad.

My name is Karina [Nigmatulia] and I will be moderating today’s event.  Ambassador Khalilzad will deliver opening remarks and then we will move on to the Q&A portion so please get your questions ready.

Without further ado, I pass the floor over to Ambassador Khalilzad. 

Ambassador Khalilzad:  Thank you very much.  I am delighted to be in Kazakhstan.  This year is the 30th anniversary of our partnership with Kazakhstan.  We were the first country to recognize Kazakhstan’s independencet.  We’ve worked together for Kazakhstan’s sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity.  We are very pleased with the state of our relationship with Kazakhstan and we have much work to do in the years ahead together.

I’m here to talk about Afghanistan.  We are leaving, our forces are leaving Afghanistan but the United States is not leaving Afghanistan.  We will work hard for peace and reconciliation in Afghanistan.  We’ll continue our security assistance and we will continue our economic and humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan.

Achieving the goal of peace and development in Afghanistan, we will work together with other countries, and I’m here to discuss in particular what the United States and Kazakhstan can do together to promote peace, a specialty of Kazakhstan, and at the same time to work together to provide for better economic future and to help the people of Afghanistan.

We also have not forgotten and will not forget the challenge of terrorism that continues, although Afghanistan as a source of terrorism has changed.  But terrorism as a problem from Afghanistan and the region remains .  Aand our work is important.  Our work with Kazakhstan is important and there is much more to do.

So I’m delighted to be here.  I look forward to your questions and over to you..

Moderator:  Thank you very much, sir.  We will now proceed to questions.  I would like to take a moment to explain the structure of this part.  I will begin by reading out the questions that were submitted to us in advance and then we will go to live questions.  If you would like to ask a question please raise your hand and I will call on you.  You will be unmuted, and you will be able to ask your question. And once again I remind you to please make sure that you are in the correct interpretation channel. That is if you would like to ask a question in Russian, please make sure you are in the Russian channel and if you would like to ask a question in Kazakh please make sure you are in the Kazakh channel. Let’s begin.

The first question is from the Khabar agency.

The decrease in U.S. military presence in Afghanistan inevitably generates risk of increased drug and weapon smuggling and there is a possible influx of extremists into Central Asia and Kazakhstan.  [Inaudible], from where they can relocate into any other country including the United States.  How does the U.S. plan to mitigate such risk?

Ambassador Khalilzad:  Thank you for that smart question.  I have a two-part response to that.

One, we believe the best answer to the challenges such as you described from Afghanistan is for Afghanistan to have a government that’s strong enough that support inside Afghanistan has the capability then the institutions to control its territory and to preclude activities such as you described.  That can only happen to an agreement between the Taliban and the Afghan government.  That is why we believe there is no military solution.  We’ve come to that judgment.  And therefore a political settlement througho negotiations for the formation of a strong government that can address these issues is the best answer.

But since we don’t have that agreement yet, we also are taking steps to mitigate that threat.  President Biden has spoken about adjusting our counterterrorism capabilities so that we have a presence and capability in the region to respond to the challenge that you described should it happen.  And we also are looking for cooperation with the neighbors of Afghanistan, particularly Central Asia, including Kazakhstan, to take measures together to be able to respond first to preclude and deter, but if that doesn’t work to be able to deal with them in a timely manner.

Moderator:  Thank you, sir.

The following question is from [Nuriya Sultanova], Interfax Kazakhstan.

Will the United States station its troops in Central Asian countries?  If yes, where exactly?

Ambassador Khalilzad:  Well as I described, our forces are leaving Afghanistan but given the question that you asked in your first question, there is a need for cooperation both with regard to counterterrorism and on economic development, on connectivity, on humanitarian issues with the countries of the region, and we are discussing cooperation with regard to those issues with countries of the region including Kazakhstan.  There is nothing at this point to announce but I have to say that our discussions and negotiations are progressing.  We are determined as the United States to have the capabilities in place in the region to be able to protect our national security, of course, but also to work with others with regard to the common interest which is countering terrorism and economic progress, regional cooperation and stability.  And I’m very pleased to report that there is considerable interest in the region with this new agenda that I described.  Some of it is not so new it’s just the change in emphasis that we’re exploring and how we respond and work together.

Moderator:  Thank you.  We do have some more questions that were submitted to us but I would like to open the floor to anyone who wants to ask their question live. Please go ahead and raise your hand if you want to ask a question. 

Kulpash’s hand is up.  Go ahead, the floor is yours.

Journalist:  Hello, my name is Kulpash.  

You mentioned just now about the contribution of Kazakhstan.  Could you say more details about this contribution of our republic to support this project of NATO to left Afghanistan.

Ambassador Khalilzad:  Thank you.  Of course Kazakhstan has its own interests given that it’s close to Afghanistan and Afghanistan is in a sense part of Central Asia for peace and security and development.  Specifically I take note of the fact that Kazakhstan has been interested in the future of women’s rights in Afghanistan and has held one significant conference already.  Kazakhstan has been interested in the education of the people of Afghanistan and has provided significant numbers of scholarships for Afghan students to study here.  Kazakhstan has also provided developmental assistance such as commitment to build a part of that railway in Afghanistan.  Kazakhstan has been providing food assistance and food supplies.  And there are obviously security issues with regard to counterterrorism where Kazakhstan has cooperated.

I think in all of these areas, particularly with regard to development, regional connectivity, and counterterrorism there is more to do and we are very interested in exploring that to the extent to which we can do things together.  But also there are things that could be done trilaterally, multilaterally.  We’re open minded and we appreciate what Kazakhstan has done already and look forward to doing more together to help Afghanistan achieve peace and for the region to have greater connectivity, more development, more cooperation.  And I believe those are the objectives of Kazakhstan as best I understand them.

Moderator:  Thank you.  I can see that Bagdat has his hand up.  He’s from Radio [Azertik] and he will now ask his question.

Journalist:  Good afternoon.  I have a question which was probably repeated, but if you have something to add to it.  After the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan, what will be the situation with extremism, terrorism in Central Asia?  And what the United States will do?  What kind of measures it will take to prevent this kind of bad situation happening.

Ambassador Khalilzad:  As I said before, there’s a two-part response to that.  One, since there hasn’t been and we don’t judge it’s possible to have a military solution to the conflict in Afghanistan, we judge that the best way to stabilize Afghanistan and for Afghanistan not to generate the kind of problem that you referred to, a political settlement is the best way.

For example on terrorism, Daesh or ISIS is a growing challenge to the region and causes poses a big threat.  The Taliban are fighting ISIS and they are adversaries.  The government of Afghanistan is fighting ISIS, sees ISIS as a threat.

So if there was peace, the Taliban and the government cooperated against Daesh together Afghanistan will be in a stronger position to deal with the threat of ISIS.  So therefore we think an agreement between the two big organized military forces who are focused on each other, fighting each other, government and Talibs, if they could reach an agreement they will be in a stronger position to deal with the remaining challenges, including the challenge of terrorism.

The second part is of course as a hedge, as insurance, given uncertainty, that we need to, the United States but also in cooperation with others including Kazakhstan, increased cooperation.  We need to be prepared to take the steps necessary now so that we are in a position should what you judge or what you speculated, what if there is more problems or increased problems of the kind that you mentioned, that we are in a position together to deter, prevent and deal with.  

That is my response.  Thank you for the question.

Journalist:  I have a second question.

On April 15th New York Times reported that officials from the United States contacted Kazakh, Uzbek and Tajik officials with regard to using military bases in the region.  Could you comment on that?  Is United States considering Central Asian countries to deploy their military bases?  And if yes, which country are you considering for now?  Thank you.

Ambassador Khalilzad:  Of course we are in touch with our friends, partners and allies throughout the region.  Central Asia and beyond.  And also in other neighborhoods, neighbors of Afghanistan.  That is to share with them our assessment, tell them about the withdrawal of the remaining forces, about our future policy towards Afghanistan as I described.  American forces are leaving but America is not leaving and what we are planning to do.  And on the strategy of how we can work together to promote peace and support Afghanistan in the future.  And also on how we will deal together with the challenge of terrorism after the U.S. withdrawal.  There are a variety of potential ways to deal with the problem, the requirements of effectively being able to deal with them, and we are in the middle of discussions.

I have to say that discussions have been positive, encouraging, but I am not here to announce anything or to say we have reached particular agreement with particular country on particular military steps at this time.  But the discussions are comprehensive, covering peace efforts, economic development efforts, humanitarian efforts and security needs in terms of future to be able to help Afghan security forces maintain and sustain themselves and also to respond to potential terrorist threats together.  That’s been our common interest.  We have a partnership on counterterrorism already to build on that, to make that stronger and more effective in the new environment in this new context.

Moderator:  Thank you.  I will now go back to the chat and ask some questions from there.

We have two questions that are related to Russia and I will group them together for convenience.

Are you conducting any negotiations with Russia?  And how does the Russian leadership feel about the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan?  

And we also have a question from [Yulia Savisishama] from [Inaudible] and it goes like this:  Ambassador Khalilzad, what are the agreements that you have with Russia in case of a worsening of the situation on the Afghan border?

Ambassador Khalilzad:  Thank you for those questions.  I appreciate it.  You might be surprised to hear that Russia and the United States are working well together in promoting peace in Afghanistan.  My counterpart, Ambassador Kabulov and I discuss Afghanistan on a regular basis and we are also part of a cooperative arrangement, called Troika Plus, that includes China as well as Pakistan.  We meet regularly to discuss ways and means of how we can cooperate to encourage the Afghan parties, the government and the Republic of Afghanistan and the Taliban to make progress to achieve an agreement, a political agreement for the future to end the war.  We have pushed together for a ceasefire, for a reduction of violence.  We have also mentioned that we don’t believe that it’s a military solution.  That any effort by the Taliban, for example, to impose by force its will on the rest of Afghanistan, we will oppose that, there will be penalties, there will be no normalcy in terms of relationship if that happens.  It will be difficult to provide assistance and all the things that the Taliban say they want within the national community.

So surprisingly perhaps to some, there is broad consensus that includes not only the United States and Central Asia but also includes the United States and Russia and China for the necessity, for the need, for the imperative of a political settlement in Afghanistan.  Not a military solution because we don’t believe that there is a military solution.  Any effort that the military solution will only produce a long war which the people of Afghanistan are very tired of war, they yearn for peace, and a war in Afghanistan, continuing long war, would be a threat to regional security, will generate more terrorism, so it’s in our common interest to work together, including with Russia and China but also of course with Central Asia to encourage, to press, to incentivize the two parties in Afghanistan to negotiate and come to an agreement as soon as possible.

Moderator:  Thank you, sir.  Kofash, would you like to ask a question?

Journalist:  I need some clarification.  Special Representative of NATO earlier, Special Representative Robert Simmons[Inaudible], earlier stated that NATO [used] an infrastructure of our republic for transit of non-military goods.  How about now?  Is NATO continuing to use our infrastructure for non-military goods?  And maybe in future is planning to use our infrastructure for weapons, special equipment, for transit?

Ambassador Khalilzad:  I do not have anything to announce on the future because as I told you, we are in discussions about the future.

With regard to the past, there has been, depending on which period you are looking at, various forms of cooperation and the Northern Supply Route as I would like to call it has been one of the ways in which Afghanistan has been helped in the past and Kazakhstan has been a part of.  In recent years it has been largely, it has been for non-lethal purposes.

With regard to the future, as I said, we are in discussion with all the countries focused on two things.  How to promote peace and development in Afghanistan because that is the solution, that is what is needed.  And two, counterterrorism cooperation. 

The situation is quite different now.  NATO forces are not going to be in Afghanistan after September 11th.  That’s the decision that the United States has made, that’s the decision that NATO has approved.  So to say the continuation of what we did when NATO was there on all aspects including what you described, lethal transportation for NATO, well NATO countries won’t be there after September 11th.  So we have to adjust our relationships, our cooperation which is now in transition to this new environment, to the new reality and the objectives for this new phase as I described them.  And we are just in the middle of discussions.  So it would be premature to say it will be like this or it will be like that.  But the past is not the guide for the future, although elements of the past arrangements may be necessary for the future.  We need to think afresh, discuss afresh, decide afresh and implement afresh to deal with the post withdrawal environment in Afghanistan and the region.

Moderator:  We only have a couple of minutes left, so Kofash, please go ahead.

Journalist:  I would like to ask how many militaries of NATO will stay in Afghanistan?

Ambassador Khalilzad:  As a NATO mission which we call Resolute Support, the name was General Miller as Commander, that is ending as the President announced, on September 11th.  That’s what the time frame, as the President has described.  I’m not speculating as to exactly a day or two or more before that, the actual forces might be out.  But that is when the mission will end, the NATO mission Resolute Support will end.

There will be a new chapter which, and there will be a role to help the Afghan security forces.  In terms of financing them, they will still need support of finance.  They will need sustainment help.  That we will continue.  There will be training help that the security forces will need.  We will certainly, all of us are committed to helping and there will be other specific measures such as protecting our embassies.  That’s a separate mission and that is now the NATO mission.  But each of us will have to take together and separately steps to protect our embassies.  The Taliban would like to have our embassies stay and embassies require security, embassies require a safe airport.  Those are the things we will do.

But the war mission as described currently as Resolute Support, that will end.

Moderator:  Thank you very much.  We have time for one last question.  The question is as follows:

In your opening remarks you said that you are planning to discuss with Kazakhstani counterparts the issues of cooperation following U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan.  Who are you planning to meet and have these conversations with?

Ambassador Khalilzad:  I will meet with leadership of the country.  I look forward to that.  We’re pleased with the state of our relations, our state of discussions and negotiations with Kazakhstan.  We have a very robust relationship on the security front.  Terrorism is a common concern.  We have a robust relationship on the political issues inside and outside in terms of advancement of human rights.  I’m pleased to hear about the statement that the President has made here on human rights.  We’d like to see the President’s vision as described implemented.  And we also have robust economic relations, our companies particularly in the energy sector but others are very active contributing to the economic progress and development of the country.  And we have obviously lots of regional issues, particularly with regard to Central Asia.  

As I said, the U.S. goal is Central Asian countries consolidating their sovereignty, their independence.  We support those and we support their territorial integrity and we want to be good partners together, stronger partners to deal with the challenge of the problem that I am responsible for.  My current responsibility, promoting peace and reconciliation in Afghanistan and deal together to work for a political settlement. 

It’s important, obviously, for security of this region, for the security of Kazakhstan, for the security of the United States, but also given the suffering of the Afghan people, 40 years of war, it’s the right thing to do to work for peace.  It’s a noble thing to do.  Kazakhstan given its reputation, its contribution to peacekeeping and so many other activities related to peace that I am here to discuss how we can work together to advance the cause of peace which I said is both important but also the right thing to do.

So I thank you for this opportunity to be with you, and thank you for your very good and penetrating questions.  I appreciate it.  I wish you all the best.

And thank you, the moderator, for doing such a good job.

Moderator:  Thank you, sir.  We have officially hit our 30 minute mark which means that our press briefing is wrapping up now.  

On behalf of the U.S. Embassy in Nur-Sultan, I would like to extend our gratitude to everyone who found the time to be here today with us, and I will second Ambassador Khalilzad’s statement about good, penetrating questions.  Thank you.  

And of course a big thank you to Ambassador Khalilzad for sharing his time and expertise with us today.  Thank you and goodbye.

 

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