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Press Conference in Pakistan

John D. Negroponte, Deputy Secretary of State
Karachi, Pakistan
March 27, 2008

Good afternoon. I am very pleased to be here this afternoon in the vibrant port city of Karachi, which of course is a key trading hub in the global economy. Today my delegation had the opportunity to meet with the Karachi Nazim Kamal, the mayor; and the Sindh Governor Dr. Ebad; and members of the American Business Council. This is my third and final full day in Pakistan, having already spent time in Islamabad, Peshawar, and Landi Kotal. This trip is another of my periodic visits, which afford me the opportunity to meet with Pakistan’s government officials, its political and military leaders, and representatives of civil society. These types of exchanges, I believe, help to contribute to and sustain the United States-Pakistan relationship.

We all recognize that this is an important time in Pakistan's history, as the new Parliament's leadership takes office and begins to set the legislative agenda, and as the new government starts to take shape. My visit afforded me the opportunity to meet with a number of leaders from across the Pakistani political spectrum who are working together in this process. In Islamabad I met with President Musharraf, Prime Minister Gillani, National Assembly Speaker Mirza, Pakistan People’s Party leader Zardari, Pakistan Muslim League-N leader Sharif, and Chief of Army Staff General Kayani. In all of my Islamabad meetings, I expressed support for the democratic transition under way in Pakistan and reaffirmed the United States’ commitment to the Pakistani people.

Many have asked us this week about the prospects for United States-Pakistan relations. Our response is that the United States-Pakistan partnership remains strong, and that we envision a continued close, productive alliance that benefits both countries. The United States is committed to working with all of Pakistan’s leaders on the full spectrum of bilateral issues, from fighting violent extremism to improving educational and economic opportunities.

Yesterday we discussed the security and development aspects of our relationship in Peshawar and Landi Kotal. We met with North-West Frontier Province Governor Ghani, Khyber Political Agent Shah, 11th Corps Commander General Masood, and tribal elders from Khyber Agency. Our delegation also received briefings on United States assistance efforts in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas – totaling about $150 million per year – and how our two governments are using these funds to build much-needed roads and schools.

In the months ahead, the United States looks forward to engaging Pakistan’s new government on how best to promote economic growth and reduce poverty. The United States will continue to help the Pakistani people build a secure, prosperous, and free society.

And now I would be happy to try and answer a few of your questions.

QUESTION: Hi, this is Kamran Khan from GEO News. Mr. Secretary, your visit, the timing of your visit, has met with strong criticism in Pakistan, and it's been seen as very intrusive and maybe an attempt by the Bush Administration to influence these crucial moments of transfer of power in Pakistan. I would like to have your comments on that, and also, the Pakistani political leadership clearly, there seems to be a universal consensus here, that the way we can resolve the problem in the tribal areas, or the militancy, is to talk, and the negotiations seem to be a universal consensus that this is the way out, not the military operation. Does this make the U.S. administration and the Bush Administration very uncomfortable?

DEPUTY SECRETARY NEGROPONTE: Thank you for your question, or questions. First of all, regarding the timing of my visit, this has been a relatively long-planned visit. I believe perhaps as long as six or eight weeks ago we began planning to come out here, which is very much in keeping with the fact that I have made periodic visits to Pakistan, in carrying out my responsibilities for participating in the U.S.-Pakistan relationship. So that was the reason for coming. As it turned out, the timing was fortuitous, and gave me an excellent opportunity to be here to congratulate the leadership of Pakistan for the successful conduct of the recent elections and to be able to reaffirm the strong friendship and support that we have for your country. So those were sort of the purposes behind my visit. Certainly there was no hidden agenda, and certainly no desire to interfere or intervene in any way in the political arrangements that are developing as we speak and which will continue to develop after I leave the country this evening.

The other point I would make is that although there has been some publicity attached to my visit, mine is not the only delegation that has been in Pakistan during these past several days. We have a delegation of six Congress people who are visiting for three days and are meeting some of the same individuals that we have. I think it's a testimony and a commentary on the importance that is attached by our political leaders to the relationship between the two countries, that there would be multiple delegations from the United States in Pakistan at any given time.

Regarding the tribal areas and the question of talks, I think that the common ground that I think we all have in discussing the issue of how to deal with violent extremism in this country or elsewhere where it occurs in the world is that it calls for a multi-faceted approach. There is no single solution. Security measures obviously are necessary when one is talking about dealing with irreconcilable elements who want to destroy our very way of life. I don't see how you can talk with those kinds of people.

On the other hand, there are reconcilable elements in any of these situations who, hopefully, can be persuaded to participate in the democratic political process as you and I would understand it. And I think the other point of common ground would be that we agree that development, attention to social and economic conditions, such as is reflected in our $150 million a year program for the development of the FATA region, that too can play a very, very important part in dealing with the root causes. I think sometimes when people talk about the United States position on terrorism, they oversimplify what they consider to be our approach, and it's much more nuanced than some people would have you believe.

QUESTION: You have talked to PML leader Nawaz, and he's telling (unintelligible) they wanted to settle this issue of war on terror in Parliament, and they don't want to take your instructions of the United States. If the new government takes this line of action, what will be the reaction of the United States?

DEPUTY SECRETARY NEGROPONTE: Well, here, I'll give you a reaction right now, because to me, it's just a matter of course that countries and nations must act and behave in the ways that they judge to be in conformity with their own interests. This suggestion that somehow we expect Pakistan to carry out activities on our behalf and at our behest that are not in Pakistan's interest is simply wrong. So I think that anything that is done in this area has got to be in our mutual interest and judged to be of mutual benefit, and of course we will respect whatever decision is taken by the Pakistani authorities in that regard, that I assume will be taken in accordance with your own political processes. So to me it does not seem particularly surprising or unusual that a political system in transition would have a discussion, would have an internal debate, about what are the best mechanisms for dealing with this issue. So we don't find that either surprising or alarming.

QUESTION: I am from daily Nawa-e-Waqt. My question is, there is an impression in Pakistani people and the media that the purpose of your visit is to rescue President Musharraf, who looks in deep trouble. Would you like to comment?

DEPUTY SECRETARY NEGROPONTE: Yes, well, let me go back to, again, the purpose and timing of my visit. As an official in the State Department who has responsibility, if you will, for overseeing our policy toward Pakistan within the State Department, together with Assistant Secretary Richard Boucher, who is with me in my delegation on this trip, I make periodic visits to your country. This was a scheduled visit, and as I mentioned, we not only visited Islamabad, we visited three different parts of the country. We visited the North-West Frontier Province, we visited Islamabad, and of course today we've been in Karachi.

As far as the question of the status of President Musharraf, he is of course president of the country. I met with him in that capacity, and any debate or disposition with regard to the issue of his status is of course something that will have to be addressed by the internal Pakistani political process, and we will certainly respect whatever is decided in that regard.

QUESTION: My name is Raza Tasnim, I represent financial daily Business Recorder. I would request you for two comments: Number one is that PML-N leaders have summarized your visit as unwanted, and I quote this word, they term your visit as unwanted, number one; number two is that the Foreign Office, I'm given to understand that the Foreign Office advised you slightly readjust the timing of your visit, to postpone your visit, to reschedule your visit. So I would like your comments on these two things.

DEPUTY SECRETARY NEGROPONTE: Yes, well, certainly with regard to the latter point, I am not aware of any such advice, and I had a chance to meet with the Secretary of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Riaz Khan. He is my dialogue partner, if you will. We conduct a Strategic Dialogue between Pakistan and the United States, and he and I are respectively in charge of our sides on that. We in fact talked together this time about when we would have another formal dialogue meeting. We hope to be able to schedule one of those fairly soon.

As far as what might have been said about my visit, I'm not aware of the comment that you made. Certainly, the leader of the PML-N, Mr. Nawaz Sharif, received me. We certainly had a cordial meeting, and it was actually quite a long meeting. We had what I consider to have been a very friendly and good discussion.

This gives me an opportunity to stress a point that I believe was made by all of my Pakistani interlocutors. Every one of them reaffirmed a desire that there be a good relationship and good relations between Pakistan and the United States. I, for my part, reciprocated by reaffirming our strong friendship and the desire to have a good, sustained partnership with Pakistan across the whole spectrum of issues, whether it's economic, security, development, or otherwise, going forward. So I think on both sides there's a desire to strengthen U.S.-Pakistan ties.

QUESTION: This is Shamim-ur-Rahman from daily Dawn News. In your reply to one of the questions, you just said that there are two elements, reconcilable and irreconcilable elements. And you have said you cannot talk with some elements, and the other side you are ready to talk to. You have come at a time when the government, the new leaders, are talking about opening dialogue with these very kinds of elements whom you are describing as irreconcilable elements. Does it mean that you have conveyed your reservations on opening such dialogues?

DEPUTY SECRETARY NEGROPONTE: You know, frankly, we didn't get into those kinds of discussions about the tactics of dealing with various types of extremists. But certainly one message that I received from the Prime Minister, certainly, and from others with whom I spoke, was the importance that is attached by your new government to dealing with the extremist threat. I don't think there's any doubt, no doubt was expressed to me, that there is an extremist threat in Pakistan, and I think that has been something that has been a cause for concern in Pakistan for a number of months now. And that it not only occurs in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, but that it has spread also to the settled areas. So I think there's a lot of common ground there, and I think there's a common understanding that this is an issue that's got to be dealt with in a multi-faceted way.

I'll take one more question, if I might.

QUESTION: Sir, my name is Ashraf Khan, I'm from AP. Today, Washington Post has published the news that U.S.-led forces have carried recent attacks inside Pakistani territory. Would the U.S. forces further intensify such attacks, especially in view of the political transition?

DEPUTY SECRETARY NEGROPONTE: Right. Here's what I would like to say about that Washington Post story. From what I could tell, it is attributed to anonymous sources, so I'm not sure I know to whom to address myself back in Washington to correct the many misinformation and incorrect facts that are in that story.

But what I would like to stress to you here is that we want to deal with the issue of militant extremism, and other problems that we confront, in a mutually agreeable way. We think it should be done through cooperation and not through unilateral measures, and that these problems, if they're going to be dealt with on a sustainable basis, must be dealt with on the basis of partnership. That's what we want to do. We want to build our partnership with Pakistan on these issues, whether it's through security cooperation or through development and economic mechanisms designed to address the root causes of these problems.

Thank you very much.

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