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Press Conference with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi

Press Conference

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Location: Washington, DC


PRESS CONFERENCE WITH SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE NANCY PELOSI
SUBJECT: CONGRESSIONAL DELEGATION TO AFGHANISTAN AND ITALY
PARTICIPANTS: REP. JOHN LARSON (D-CT); REP. GEORGE MILLER (D-CA); REP. ROSA DELAURO (D-CT); REP. ED MARKEY (D-MA); REP. ANNA ESHOO (D-CA); REP. MICHAEL CAPUANO (D-MA)

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SPEAKER PELOSI: Good afternoon. Last evening we returned from a trip to visit our troops. As speaker and as leader, my first trip every year is to visit our men and women in uniform to thank them for their courage, their patriotism, the sacrifices that they and their families are making for our country.

We paid our -- we first went to Aviano Air Base, where we paid our respects to our troops. I had the privilege of giving one of the airmen there, Phoebus Lazaridis, a bronze star for the -- his service to our country. We met with soldiers, sailors and Marines in Naples as another part of the trip. We wanted to thank the men and women in uniform and also the people of Italy for the support that they have given to U.S. troops on their soil for a long time.

We did that in Aviano. We then were in Florence, where we visited the American cemetery there to thank the officials and the volunteers who keep the memory of our fallen heroes so alive there; on to Rome to thank the leaders of the country for the military cooperation we receive.

I maintain that America has no better friend and partner in NATO than Italy, their bases and installations and -- all over the country. And so I was able to thank -- our delegation was able to thank the president of Italy, President Napolitano, Prime Minister Berlusconi. We met with what they call the president of the Chamber of Deputies, Fini. I made a major speech to the members of the Chamber of Deputies.

We also met with the minister of -- foreign minister and the minister of defense while we were there.

It was a special joy for me and my husband to meet with His Holiness, Pope Benedict XVI. And it was so special for us.

While we were there, we also all participated in a major climate change conference that was held there. The presiding officer of it was Prime Minister Amato, the former prime minister of Italy -- very high level with many young people participating, hundreds of young people participating. That was great for us.

And we also, when visiting Italy on our way to another place of challenge for our country, we always visit the World Food Program to get the assessment of what is happening in terms of food. And our Congress has no greater leader, indeed, our country doesn't, than Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro, who has been a champion on issues relating to nutrition and food assistance, food assistance both at home and abroad.

Mr. George -- Chairman George Miller and Chairman Markey led the way in our discussions in the climate change meeting that we had.

The central issue when we were in Italy meeting with our troops and with the Italian government was the situation in Afghanistan. The delegation then went on to Kabul and to Bagram Air Base, where we met with members of our armed forces. We met with people doing community work in Afghanistan. We met with the leaders of women's groups in the country and with nongovernmental organization workers who are in the PRTs, the Provincial Reconstruction -- a part of the Provincial Reconstruction Teams.

So we tried to see what the attitude was of the allies, what the assessment was from our military, what the on-the-ground read was from the people of Afghanistan, from American workers in Afghanistan and those who are trying to respect the culture of the area and how this all comes together in the interest of our national security.

The -- it was clear to us that Afghanistan cannot be allowed to be a safe haven for terrorists to launch attacks against the United States.

Everybody has known that since 9/11. No country can be allowed to do that.

In 2001, the Taliban and al Qaeda were routed, but they were not eliminated as threats. The Bush administration policies failed to prevent their resurgence, so we need a change.

The consensus at our meeting was that the U.S. national security interest is in a secure Afghanistan with a government considered to be legitimate by the Afghan people, and that cannot be achieved by military force alone. A successful strategy, we believe, is -- and when you go on one of these visits, you don't go just seeking answers; you come back with many questions. And so these are questions that we want to share with the administration.

But I would divide the categories this way. Military force, we need a force tailored in size to achieve a specific, clearly-defined objective. Improved governance, any strategy must have a systemic -- address systemic corruption within the Afghan government and crack down on drug trafficking. Regional emphasis, this is very important. In the words of the DNI Director Blair, when he testified before Congress earlier this month, he said no improvement in Afghanistan is possible without Pakistan taking control of its border areas and improving governance, creating economic and educational opportunities throughout the country.

There must be increased diplomatic engagement with neighboring countries. As the administration has indicated by appointing Mr. Holbrooke, this is a regional challenge. And it's not just India, Pakistan, Afghanistan; it also involves the other "stans," Russia, China, Iran, perhaps some Persian Gulf countries, who have their own security interest in a secure Afghanistan, to find ways so that we can work together to bring security to the country.

On the economic development side, community development efforts like the Provisional Reconstruction Teams must have Afghans in the leadership roles and establish accountability, assure that developmental -- development dollars are spent effectively.

And so again, military, economic, governance issues, and the role of the neighbors. All of these have to be done working with our NATO allies.

And we're all awaiting the president's Afghan -- review of the Afghan policy and the use of the military there.

So I don't know when that is coming. But it is imminent. But I know that members of Congress, on both sides of the aisle, have an interest in following this issue, contributing their thinking to it, raising questions about it.

And to that end, I've asked Chairman John Larson to work with Republican Conference Chairman Pence, to convene briefings in the House chamber, in a bipartisan way, with leaders in the administration, on this subject; the secretary of State, the secretary of Defense, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Mr. Holbrooke and others.

I spoke with Mr. Boehner about this, this morning. And he agreed that we wanted to do this in a bipartisan way and in a timely fashion. I want to -- I think that all of you know that -- who accompanied me on the trip by now. But I want to acknowledge them as well.

The chair of our caucus, John Larson. Congresswoman Anna Eshoo from California. Ed Markey, who came a little late to this press conference, because he was at an energy policy conference that I left earlier today. I mentioned that you and Mr. Miller took the lead for us at the climate change session in a conference in Italy.

Mr. Miller, he and Congresswoman DeLauro are co-chairs of our Steering and Policy Committee. He is also the chair of the Education and Labor Committee. And Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro; again our champion in so many ways.

I'll just close, because it just happens that the two of them are the last who are here. We also -- Congressman Michael Capuano was with us, and Congressman Bill Pascrell.

You might say the delegation had an Italian flavor, because we've had this invitation for a long time, from the Italian government. But we could only accept it when it fit into our going further on to Afghanistan.

But what was interesting was, in Italy and in Afghanistan, when Congresswoman DeLauro and Chairman Miller were talking about issues and the rest, they were praised by the Italian and the Afghan women, for what they had done on the Lilly Ledbetter bill and passing it into law.

In Italy, they said, this has opened up this whole question again for us. That's pretty thrilling. In Afghanistan, they again were praiseworthy. I think some of the Afghan women are a little further down the road, in terms of the law.

We want that to be the case in terms of the practice as well.

So with that, I'd be pleased to take any questions that you may have.

Yes, ma'am?

Q Iran said today they'd been invited by Israel to an international meeting -- (off mike). I just wondered if the Italians sounded you out on that and what you could tell us about that.

SPEAKER PELOSI: Well, I think you could say we sounded each other out on involvement of Iran.

Italy has a big commercial relationship with Iran, comparatively speaking. And I think we made it clear that we thought that it would be important for them to use their good offices to help resolve issues that we have with Iran, this being one of them, Afghanistan, but that's where they can be helpful because they share a long border with Afghanistan.

But also, on the issue that relates to Iran's development of a nuclear weapon, we believe that it's important for us to have very tough sanctions, that we have to be united internationally on that subject and that Italy can use its good offices and its communication with Iran to help bring us to a resolution of that, the most important issue of all, not expanding the number of countries that have access to a nuclear weapon.

Yes, sir?

Q If I can ask two questions, just a quick one on Afghanistan: Do you have any concerns, misgivings about the president's decision to send another 17,000 troops, and concern about how long that will be?

SPEAKER PELOSI: No --

Q Not at all.

SPEAKER PELOSI: No, for a -- well, let me say this. Within the context of the review that we will be receiving -- again, I'm not precise about the timing, because I don't know what the timing is, but I know it will be soon.

The president widely said that he was going to seek this review and make some judgments predicated on what came forth from that, and we support that. I for one have long supported our going back to Afghanistan and getting the job done. As I mentioned, the actions taken in October of 2001 routed the -- al Qaeda and the Taliban. They did not eliminate them. And they are back. And they are back.

So I -- I'm not one who would be for -- I think we have to, working with our allies, have a military strategy that is in our national interest, protects the American people. I think that that's a course of action that the president is on.

But I also invite any of my colleagues who might want to speak to that point.

REP. : (Off mike) -- Madame Speaker.

SPEAKER PELOSI: Okay.

Q And then if I can speak on my question --

SPEAKER PELOSI: Are you changing it to cars? (Laughs.)

Q Well, no, this is a question about the omnibus -- the report.

SPEAKER PELOSI: Well, you know, I'll be happy to come back to that, but we did -- in case you had any other questions. The timing of our trip -- again, I always have this trip at the beginning of a new term, to visit our troops where they are serving, whether in platform to a theater of engagement, or in the theater of engagement.

It just so happened that while we were there the president made the announcement about the 17,000 troops. Part of the reason we wanted to go now was the timing, but also in anticipation of the study that the president is -- that we're awaiting. And we come back with, I think, some very precise questions and some clarity of thought on what is actually -- what is the ground truth in Afghanistan. What is working, what is not, how do we go in a new direction?

So if you have any -- it's an important trip for us in that regard. Do you have some questions in that regard?

Q Newsweek has called Afghanistan Obama's Vietnam.

SPEAKER PELOSI: No.

Q Is that a concern of yours?

SPEAKER PELOSI: No.

Q That it's -- you know, that it's some sort of -- (off mike)?

SPEAKER PELOSI: No. I believe that the president will take an action that will, again, be focused on the issues that we talked about: How do we and our allies have the right military approach? How can we get the most effect from the money that we are spending on the economic development of Afghanistan? How do we all make it clear to the government of Afghanistan that we need to have -- reduce the corruption and increase the participation of the people of Afghanistan in their government? Must be legitimate; and that we all recognize that the neighbors in the region have a key role in bringing stability there.

In some of our reading for the trip, I was reading one article where -- actually, was it Cordesman's testimony before the Armed Services Committee, where he said that he remembers Vietnam, to get back to your question. And they were talking to one of the generals in North Vietnam after they won, in their view. And he said, "How did this happen? The U.S. and South Vietnamese forces won every battle."

And the response from the general was, "Yes, but that was irrelevant."

Well, what President Obama is going to do in Afghanistan is not going to be irrelevant. It's going to be decisive, and it's going to get the job done. We --

REP. LARSON: I'd also add that every single military official that we met with, including our NATO allies, all emphasized over and over again, unlike Vietnam, that this cannot be won militarily, and that they emphasized the need for us to make sure that along with providing the security that is necessitated in that region, that there be a follow-on from everything from schools to hospitals to the kind of aid and training and standing up of the police forces in the security division. So it's far different, and I -- and also dramatic in terms of what Obama is doing, in stark contrast to the inheritance he required (sic) from the previous administration.

SPEAKER PELOSI: Yes, sir?

Q In your conversations with military leaders over there, did they give you any -- (off mike)?

SPEAKER PELOSI: We met with the 101st Airborne at Bagram Air Force Base, in one -- one set of meeting -- we had different meetings in Kabul with the coalition forces, represented by the U.S. But the -- there, at the 101st, which are in a very strategically -- a strategic part of Afghanistan, they thought they were -- they were -- had the troops that by the time they get their next installment -- which isn't part of the 17,000; this is the troops that were going there anyway -- that they would have enough troops.

The -- again, all this will depend on the -- this report that the president receives. I don't know that he -- they want -- I did not get the impression they'll need many more troops. They may not need all of those troops, but I don't think they'll need more.

Q (Off mike.)

SPEAKER PELOSI: There were two -- two purposes. The president called us while we were on the trip to say that he was going to be calling for this -- sending 17,000 additional troops. The purpose of it and the timing of it was -- even though it was before the review, was to address the spring fighting season, which is coming upon us, and also the elections that are going to be in August.

So I don't know how much I can say publicly here. But nonetheless one group will go now and the other a little bit later, as it is trained, to correspond to those events.

The impression I have, from Admiral Mullen, is that this is not the beginning of an escalation. As you know, General McKiernan, when he was here, said he might want 10,000 more. So obviously they're having a debate in the military, about what it is. But it's all in the same ballpark.

Any other.

REP. MILLER: I think that, you know, my sense is that we should defer to the president at this point, in this context, recognizing that from everything we understand, the review is from top to bottom and bottom to top.

And pending that review, the decision would be made, about the length of stay, about the objectives, about what is essential to the defense of America and our national security.

And that's a debate that's going on, inside the review and outside of the review, among people who have been observers of Afghanistan and Pakistan, this region of the world, for a very long time, and our experience in Iraq. And how can this change?

We recognize, the world and this nation does, over the last eight years, Afghanistan has been very poorly attended to by policymakers. It has been somewhat put on hold. And our troops have done an incredible job, given that it was not properly resourced from the beginning.

But that's water under the bridge. And I think that these troops are part of that review. And I think for myself, I'm prepared to defer to the president at this point.

I want to see the review and I want to see the rationale and the context for our continued involvement, in Afghanistan, before I make a final determination about that. But that's the purpose of the review.

SPEAKER PELOSI: George do you have anything else? Because I want to hear from each of you about --

REP. MILLER: Well, I would just -- two points were made and they're not new, from the administration or from the Congress.

And clearly one is that President Karzai has to step up the efforts of the Afghan government, to deal with corruption in the country and certainly by governmental officials at the local level, who are representing the central government and most pointedly, and we heard this again from the military, dealing with the police.

The police, we think, can be a very effective force. We're spending great efforts, along with some European countries, to train them, but we must -- they must be working for the people that they represent, and that corruption level has got to be dramatically reduced if it's going to be effective and work on our behalf.

The second one is to follow up on what the speaker said, and that is, clearly this has got to be worked as a regional problem. And we have got to do extensive consultation, engagement, and have the active participation of the neighbors in the region. Again, the administration -- the president, vice president -- have spoken to this issue.

But I think it's become very clear that this cannot be solved in the sense of really diminishing the capabilities of al Qaeda and like- minded organizations, that we do not have the involvement of India, of Pakistan, of Iran, of the NATO nations, of the -- of Russia and China, all of whom have had an interest, all of whom have been stung by the violence and the tragedy of terrorism.

And so I think that hopefully part of this review will be about making sure that we are getting that engagement and we're getting that active participation. In Pakistan, we can no longer suffer the duplicity of that government in sort of fighting and not fighting and supporting and not supporting and the dual roles that many of -- in the military and the intelligence service have played in the past -- unfortunately, I think, too long tolerated by the previous administration. But that must change if we're going to sacrifice American lives and treasure in continuing this effort. I think that engagement -- active engagement and participation by the neighbors in the region is absolutely critical going forward.

SPEAKER PELOSI: (Off mike) -- DeLauro?

REP. DELAURO: Thank you, Madame Speaker. And I wanted to first of all say thank you to the speaker for leading the trip, and, as we consider our role in Afghanistan, to take a firsthand look at the conditions on the ground. And as the speaker pointed out, our involvement in the region -- the purpose of the visit is about our national security and making sure that Afghanistan and Pakistan are not sanctuaries for transnational terrorism.

And as -- been stated already, the visit came at a time when the president is developing a new strategy for the region. And we have clearly come to a turning point, a pivotal moment in our effort to combat the international terrorist threat and to be in -- to stabilize this region.

There -- the president ordered an increase of 17,000 troops to, quote, "stabilize the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan and to help the country prepare for upcoming elections."

And you've got -- this week you've got delegations from Afghanistan, from Pakistan, they're in Washington while the National Security Council is leading a strategy review that is involving officials from across our own government.

And any successful strategy must include an effective partnership going forward with our NATO allies. This is an area of real interest to me. We cannot go back to failed policy, which got us here. Afghanistan, Pakistan represent a test of the NATO alliance. If I can just briefly say that the secretary general of NATO agrees that the alliance has been presented with a huge task, and I quote, "This is the most complex and perhaps the most challenging mission that NATO has ever taken on." And he said that in an interview just last week.

I also want to quote -- I think it's important to take a look at this -- the review that President Obama is doing. But this goes back as well to something that he said during the campaign, in Berlin. And this is a quote, "My country and yours have a stake in seeing that NATO's first mission beyond Europe's borders is a success. Afghan people need our troops and your troops, our support and your support, to defeat the Taliban and al Qaeda, to develop their economy and help them rebuild their nation. We have too much at stake to turn back now."

You have what we were told about is troops from 25 other NATO countries, as well as other partner and non-NATO, non-partner countries have contributed to the effort in Afghanistan. Last week, Secretary Gates announced that up to 20 NATO countries have offered to boost their civilian, military or training commitments to Afghanistan.

Finally, when we're discussing the framework going forward with our allies, from economic development fighting the continued poverty in the region, reconstruction, combatting narcotics, training the Afghan police and military forces and joining in combat in Afghanistan, to an allied focus on the complexities of Pakistan, our discussions going forward will focus on how we can work together in which to deal with a national security threat to all of us. You know, the way forward in Afghanistan and Pakistan is working hand-in-hand with our allies.

That is the critical test of this alliance.

We nearly lost Afghanistan. We should have made better decisions before. But this is our chance to get it right, and NATO must be a key component of that success.

I might add Congressman Miller and I were in conversation with the defense minister in Italy and questioning with President Berlusconi and talking about -- Italy has troops here at the moment and they talked about their willingness to increase their involvement and would review the situation in terms of what specific kind of commitment that would be. But again, that is all part of a review process which is ongoing, and how we have this opportunity to look at this NATO alliance in what is a critical test as we try to move forward on this issue.

SPEAKER PELOSI: Thank you, Congresswoman.

Congresswoman Eshoo?

REP. ESHOO: Thank you, Madame Speaker. It was a real privilege to be part of this delegation and to meet with not only our NATO allies and most of all, I think, our troops. It is so rewarding to see what they do, how well they do it, and the spirit that they have.

I believe, as a member of the Intelligence Committee -- and I -- we all have a deep appreciation of this -- that intelligence instructs public policy. And so the intelligence in this review, I think, is really critical. Our intelligence effort in Afghanistan needs to be positioned to enable the implementation of the recommendations of -- whatever the recommendations are of the review that the administration is taking on right now. That strategic review is very, very important. If the president's strategy is designed to transform the nature of our effort in Afghanistan -- and I believe that's what it's pointed toward -- then an intelligence plan will need to be transformational as well.

I believe that part of this transformational plan needs to include not only obviously the military effort, but it has to examine what we call "soft power" as well. All of that has to be taken into consideration.

We have a new director of national intelligence, new leadership of the intelligence community.

And I expect that he'll not only bring a really critical eye to the current intelligence activities, in Afghanistan and the region, but bring about a demand for fresh thinking and innovative approaches to the intelligence challenges there, which I think are great. And of course, the Congress and the Intelligence Committee will play a key role in this, in our oversight capacity.

So thank you, Madame Speaker. This was one of the most important and instructional congressional delegations I have participated in, since I've come to the Congress. Thank you.

SPEAKER PELOSI: Thank you.

Congresswoman Eshoo makes a point. While we were there -- I didn't say it, I don't think, in my remarks. But we had pretty intense intelligence briefings as we go along. And I don't know of another leader or speaker, in modern history, who has come from the Intelligence Committee, as I have.

So all that Congresswoman Eshoo has said, from her standpoint, as a member of the committee, I fully support. We really must increase our oversight because we always believe that intelligence can save lives and take us in a better direction, if done right.

Mr. Markey.

REP. MARKEY: Thank you, Madame Speaker.

There were encouraging signs while we were there. Four million new people have registered to vote. They're pointing towards these August elections. That's clearly why, in the short run, President Obama has deployed these troops, in order to secure the country for the election. And that is important. But going forward we do need a strategy.

I think that, you know, the old saying that strategy is for amateurs, logistics are for professionals is apt here. Everywhere we went, the military is doing their job. Anything that they have been asked to do, they are doing. The logistics are there. And they're doing it well.

However it's clear that there has not been a strategy. We're seven-and-a-half years late in putting together a comprehensive strategy. Just in the last couple of weeks, the Pakistanis have released A.Q. Khan, the Johnny Appleseed of nuclear technology who spread it across the planet.

In the Swat Valley in Pakistan, the Pakistani government has ceded control to the Taliban, which has indicated that it is imposing Shari'a on that valley, which is 80 miles north of Islamabad and near the Afghanistan border.

So this is clearly something that needs to be now thought of in a strategic way, in a way that integrates all of these subjects. The speaker referred to Admiral Blair's comment that if we don't get Pakistan right, Afghanistan cannot go right. We heard in recent reports that India and Pakistan were meeting secretly in the last year or so to try to resolve the Kashmir incident -- situation. All of this has to now be encouraged.

We have to now work in an integrated fashion. So what we saw was the military is working hard, and with the resources they're given, they're -- they are being -- they are being successful to the limited extent they can be successful without a resolution of the Pakistan, the India and other questions.

But we were, without question, incredibly impressed with the military that we met there.

SPEAKER PELOSI: Mr. Larson, please?

REP. LARSON: Well, just three quick takeaways to really build on what our colleagues said. The situation that this administration has inherited, I think, is intuitively obvious to everyone. And we obviously took our eye off the ball and the prize in order to deal with Iraq, and so we have to put * our full attention back, whereas the speaker said, at the outset, everyone from Paris to Beijing and especially around the world was committed to what we understood to be the goal, to go after the terrorists and eliminate them.

America can't shorten -- shoulder this burden alone. That's clear as well. As Rosa had indicated, we're very clear with our allies how we not only seek their help, and were pleased with the response certainly that we heard from Italy, but also that America will -- cannot go it alone. And as -- skeptical sometimes of those who would see us twist in the wind alone, we made it very clear that we're looking forward to their commitment, not only in terms of our NATO allies -- where we're very proud to see that John Tanner from Tennessee is the incoming president of the NATO interparliamentary affiliation, and we're very pleased as well that we're going to receive the kind of cooperation that we expect and demand.

Lastly, I would say this: that the speaker rightfully focused on making sure that we bring Secretary Clinton, Special Envoy Holbrooke and Secretary Gates in a joint, bipartisan caucus, because we understand the implications there, as well as making sure that, as we go forward, that we have ample opportunity to look at this review and come together, as Ed Markey said, because of the intricacies and the complexity of this issue and what it requires of the American people.

Madame Speaker?

SPEAKER PELOSI: Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.

I have to leave to go to the White House conference right now. My colleagues can stay if you have some questions for them.

You had one follow-up, Devon (sp), with --

Q I just had a quick question on the omnibus.

SPEAKER PELOSI: It's coming up, yes, this week.

Q And reports are, you know, second largest increase in discretionary spending since 1978, a couple few thousand earmarks. How does this upcoming omnibus square with the efforts of --

SPEAKER PELOSI: This upcoming omnibus is the unfinished business of last year, when the president refused to address the priorities and the needs of the American people. So we will get this done this week and then come in with a clean slate for how we go forward. So that will come up this week.

But it starts at 1:00, so I'm going to have to excuse myself. I'm already late.

Thank you all very much.

Q (Off mike.)

SPEAKER PELOSI: Hopefully Thursday. Could be filed today.

END.


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