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Conference Call Briefing with Senator John Kerry (D-MA) and Senator Charles Hagel (R-NE) - Their Upcoming Trip to Afghanistan, India and Pakistan


Location: Unknown

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SEN. KERRY: Well, folks, thanks for joining us. We appreciate it very much.

Senator Biden, as chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, is not with us. But obviously we're -- both Chuck and I are thrilled to be going there with him and all together. And the three of us have had a lot of focus on Pakistan, Afghanistan and the region for some period of time.

Senator Biden, to his credit, raised this issue, I think significantly, during the course of the presidential campaign. And Senator Hagel and I have been very focused on it within the committee, and I held a hearing on it some months ago. And we also took part in the release of a series of studies, one by General Jones, the other by the Center for the Presidency, that focused on the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan. And Senator Biden just held a hearing on that with the full committee a few days ago, with Secretary Boucher testifying.

There was a significant divergence of opinion expressed at that committee. General Jones testified, Richard Holbrooke testified, as well as the secretary.

And we are going over for two principal reasons, or maybe three, but first of all, to view the elections, to be there during the elections, and to meet with the key leaders of Pakistan in the immediate aftermath of the elections.

We will then briefly divert to India, where we intend to meet with the prime minister and environmental and other leaders, security leaders, to talk about the major issues of the region and between our countries.

And then we'll go to Afghanistan, spending -- we will be in Afghanistan about a day and a half, two days, meeting again with the key leaders in Afghanistan, as well as visiting a forward fire base up on the border, in the area, and being fully briefed with respect to the latest intelligence on al Qaeda, which the -- Admiral McConnell has already testified on here and made statements about publicly.

So we look forward to this as an important fact-finding effort in terms of a real update of on-the-ground, real-time understanding of the dynamics post-election; the prospects for democracy in the region; and the prospects for success in Afghanistan, particularly with the questions of NATO -- NATO troops and participation in the southern part of the area; as well as the government challenges, the governance challenges of Pakistan; the delivery of aid; the reconstruction; and the general support issues regarding the population; as well as narcotics trafficking.

So that's enough said for the moment as an opener. Chuck, why don't you take over?


SEN. KERRY: Happy to entertain any questions. Just say who you are and put your question to whoever you want to.

Q (Name and affiliation inaudible.) This is for Senator Kerry.

Sir, it appears that already State Department has lowered expectations towards the election, saying that it will be somewhere on a scale of terrible to great, somewhere in between. What would be free and fair elections to you and your colleagues, sir?

SEN. KERRY: Well, you know, I've been on prior election observer efforts to the West Bank. I've been in the Philippines, elsewhere. I think you measure that when you get on the ground and you talk to the various parties concerned and really observe the procedures that have been put in place.

There are other observers who are going to be there. The European observers are going to be there and others. We will be meeting with them also and taking stock from them. And I think basically a consensus tends to develop pretty quickly among all the participants as to what's happening.

The standard obviously is that the votes are properly counted, that people have access to the polls, that there is no intimidation, there is not a denial of voting rights, and of course that the way the ballots are kept and counted is transparent and accountable. Those are the standards that ought to be applied so that people will be able to stand up and say, yes, this was a free and fair election. And we'll have to wait till we get on the ground before we do that.

But all of us have urged, you know, Senator Biden, myself, Senator Hagel, others, the administration have all spoken about the imperative of Pakistan having elections that are fair and that can be measured. And it's very important for the government, for its legitimacy, whatever government emerges, for that to occur.


SEN. KERRY: Let me emphasize, also, for the -- the stakes are very high here.

And I hope the government understands that merely clinging to power meets nobody's objectives, because it will wind up actually playing into the hands of radicals and of the instability not only of the country but of the region.

And so having that transparency and fairness of an election is really vital to being able to deal with the challenges that the region now is confronting. And if you want to aid those who would disrupt and if you want to aid and give, you know, reason for violence and chaos and other things, it is to, you know, proceed down the darker side of that election scale that you've just -- that we were asked about.

So I think it's -- I hope that President Musharraf and the government and all those responsible for administering the elections are committed to the importance of this moment.


Q Are you planning to meet with President Musharraf before the election? And what about other candidates or party leaders?

SEN. KERRY: Well, I think it's important that -- first of all, the schedule is going to remain private at the moment. And we are meeting with all the major leaders, including President Musharraf, but I think it's important that the timing of those things and the whereabouts of those things just remain private at this time.

Q Senators, Paul Eckert of Reuters News Agency in Washington --

SEN. KERRY: Let me say, first of all, I think it is important to say we will not meet with President Musharraf prior to the election because we don't want to have any semblance of any involvement within the election process. So whatever meetings we have will be after the observer part of the process.

Q Uh-huh. Okay, thank you.

Q Paul Eckert of the Reuters News Agency. Particularly Senator Kerry, the various studies that came out, and partly under your aegis a couple weeks ago, that were aired out in the hearing, both the informal presentation and the hearing I attended -- they were very useful projects. One of them, called Afghanistan, I believe, "the forgotten war." And I wanted to ask you, in the context of what you're doing in these coming days, do you think there is the appetite, the political appetite, for a sustained U.S. support for what's -- you know, the battle in Afghanistan and Pakistan because, again, it was called the forgotten war for that -- for the reason, the sense is that it's been flagging. And you know, the extremists --

SEN. KERRY: Well, I don't think the American people -- I mean, I think when many of us -- when Senator Biden, Senator Hagel, myself have persistently pointed out the priority that has existed in Afghanistan and in the region, which we have felt consistently for several years now has not been properly focused on and attended to -- the diversion of the effort to Iraq over Afghanistan, we have all stated many times, we think was a major blunder and has cost us enormously in momentum and in initiative on the ground.

So I think that that's been documented now by General Jones and by Ambassador Abshire and others who have reported.

The key here is to try to get this right. I mean, all of us are committed to helping to raise people's understanding of the stakes in this region. And that's part of the reason for our making this trip together, is to try to underscore, in a bipartisan way -- I emphasize "bipartisan way" -- the importance of the refocusing and getting it right.

So it certainly hasn't been forgotten by the families that are there -- you know, of the troops that are there. It's not forgotten by the troops themselves, who have behaved -- who have performed extraordinarily. And it's not forgotten by many of us. But we believe the administration has simply not placed enough emphasis on the region.

I think that's improving. Secretary Rice was there just the other day. They are trying to get an envoy in place. There is an additional complement of Marines that are going. But this is late and, you know, questionable whether or not it's going to be sufficient in the context of what's happening. And that's part of why we're going, is to find out for ourselves whether or not it is or isn't, to ask the tough questions and to get a firsthand view.


SEN. KERRY: Yes. Hi, Somini. How are you?

Q Hi. Very well, thanks.

What message are you planning to send to Prime Minister Singh about Iran -- you mentioned some of your concerns about Iran -- and also about the pending U.S.-India nuclear agreement?

SEN. KERRY: Well, India made its own decision to pull back a little on the pending agreement, and one of the things we will want to ascertain -- I mean, a lot of us went out on the limb and were involved in that process. I was over there a year or so ago. We had discussions about it. And then some of us were surprised by that pullback after the extent to which we all went to try to help advance that effort. So we'll want to explore where we stand on that and what the thinking is about it.

We -- what was the other part of question?

Q On Iran, what message to India about its relations with Iran?

SEN. KERRY: Well, Iran, we're all concerned about Iran. I mean, all of us are. And we want to find the best route to create a multilateral response that is cohesive and effective. That requires, obviously, cooperation with China and Russia also, as well as the European community -- the Germans and British particularly, and French, who have been very involved in it -- and we very much need to see sort of where they see any hurdles to that and how cooperative they're prepared to be. And that's -- again, that's exactly why we are going there, is to explore their thinking. And there's nothing like the ability to be able to explore it firsthand, where you can actually have a conversation privately and get into the meat of these things and understand where they may have a reservation, where they don't, what their sense of the equation is that works and why. And all of those are the things we want to explore.

May I say also that, as somebody who's been deeply involved on the global climate change issue, I want to particularly raise with them the importance of their participation on the global climate change talks. And their -- you know, their dependency on coal and their current energy demands pose us all with a huge challenge, and we need to raise the level of dialogue on that quite significantly.


Q Are you disappointed with India's position so far on climate change?

SEN. KERRY: Excuse me?

Q Are you disappointed with India's position so far on climate change?

SEN. KERRY: I'm not -- I'm not going to express any opinion whatsoever before I have the conversations with them about that. But I think it's critical.

I have said publicly -- I was in Bali at the climate change talks, and we've been very clear that this will require a global solution. And the key is going to be giving life to the words shared, common, shared but differentiated responsibilities.

And what I want to explore with them is their sense of what those are, and we'll see where we come out.


SEN. KERRY: Anybody else?

Q Yes, just one more. This is Viola at Bloomberg again. The follow-up on the India nuclear agreement. What is your understanding, from the U.S. side, on where this nuclear agreement is now, in the Indian sort of domestic arena? How -- I mean, it's been months since it sort of got mired -- bogged down there.

And also what's your understanding about whether there is any objection remaining within the Nuclear Suppliers Group toward that approval?

SEN. KERRY: Well, it's -- the last conversation I had with Nick Burns about it was a few months ago. And he said that they were engaged in dialogue, and seeking, you know, clarification as to how it proceeds forward, that they were working it through. They saw it as still on the table, that's where it stood, and I have not heard anything since then.


SEN. KERRY: Anybody else? One more?

Q Can I ask the last question, please, on Pakistan, Senator Kerry? (Name and affiliation inaudible)

When you go to the polling stations, will it be with the government officials? Or will it, I mean, wherever they want to take you? Or will it be your independent decision where you want to go?

SEN. KERRY: We have some desires as to where we'd like to go. And for obvious reasons, we're not going to lay those out here now. But no, that's all being set up by our folks on the ground. And we intend to try to go where we think it's important to make a determination, and not to be led somewhere where we get a misimpression.

Q Thank you, Senator.

SEN. KERRY: Appreciate it.

Q Senator Kerry. (Name and affiliation inaudible.)

SEN. KERRY: Yeah. This has to be the last one, I think, unless Chuck wants to --

Q Okay, fast.


Q Right.

I just had a question on topics of conversation with President Musharraf. I was wondering if you all were going to discuss nuclear security at all.

SEN. KERRY: Absolutely. That will be part of the discussion. Sure.

Q Great. Thank you very much.

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