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CNN NEWSROOM

Obama/Karzai Summit On Afghanistan

Aired January 11, 2013 - 14:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


HAMID KARZAI, PRESIDENT OF AFGHANISTAN: We understand that the issue of immunity is of very specific importance for the United States. As was for us, the issue of sovereignty and detentions and the continued presence of international forces in Afghan villages, and the very conduct of the war itself.

With those issues resolved, as we did today, part of it-the rest was done earlier-I can go to the Afghan people and argue for immunity for U.S. troops in Afghanistan in a way that Afghan sovereignty would not be compromised; in a way that Afghan law would not be compromised; in a way that the provisions that we arrive at through our talks will give the United States the satisfaction of what it seeks, and will also provide the Afghan people the benefits that they are seeking through this partnership and the subsequent agreement.

QUESTION: (inaudible)

KARZAI: That's not for us to decide. It's an issue for the United States. Numbers are not going to make a difference to the situation in Afghanistan. It's the broader relationship that will make a difference to Afghanistan and beyond in the region. The specifics of numbers are issues that the military will decide and Afghanistan will have no particular concern when we are talking of numbers and how they are deployed.

(inaudible) Afghan (inaudible)? English-speaking (inaudible)?

(inaudible).

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: (inaudible), Kabul, Afghanistan.

I've been (inaudible) to ask my question to my own language.

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): Mr. President, the missions of- combatant missions of United States after 2014, how this mission will be? How-will it be resembling-resembling the same mission as it was during 11 years? Or is there a difference-different kind of missions?

Those who are in Pakistan, particularly the-the safe havens that are in Pakistan-what kind of policy will you have?

Thank you. BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Just to repeat, our main reason, should we have troops in Afghanistan post-2014, at the invitation of the Afghan government, will be to make sure that we are training, assisting and advising Afghan security forces, who have now taken the lead for, and are responsible for security throughout Afghanistan, and an interest the United States has, the very reason that we went to Afghanistan in the first place, and that is to make sure that Al Qaida and its affiliates cannot launch an attack against the United States or other countries from Afghan soil.

We believe that we can achieve that mission in a way that's very different from the very active presence that we've had in Afghanistan over the last 11 years. President Karzai has emphasized the strains that U.S. troop presences in Afghan villages, for example, have created. Well, that's not going to be a strain that exists if there is a follow-up operation because that will not be our responsibility. That will be a responsibility of the Afghan national security forces to maintain peace and order and stability in Afghan villages and Afghan territory.

So, I think, you know, although obviously we're still two years away, I can say with assurance that this is a very different mission and a very different task and a very different footprint for the U.S. if we're able to come to an appropriate agreement.

And with respect to Pakistan's-and safe havens there, Afghanistan and the United States and Pakistan all have an interest in reducing the- the threat of extremism in some of these border regions between Afghanistan and Pakistan. And that's going to require more than simply military actions. That's really going to require political and diplomatic work between Afghanistan and Pakistan. And the United States, obviously, will have an interest in facilitating and participating in cooperation between the two sovereign countries.

But as President Karzai, I think, has indicated, it's very hard to imagine a-stability and peace in the region if Pakistan and Afghanistan don't come to some basic agreement and understanding about the threat of extremism to both countries and both governments in both capitals. And I think you're starting to see a greater awareness of that on the part of the Pakistani government.

KARZAI (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): The question that you have made about- about-we talked about this issue of-in detail today; about the president's, about the detention sentence. All of these will transfer to the Afghan sovereignty.

Were-and the U.S. forces will pull out from villages, will go to their bases and-and the Afghan's sovereignty will be restored. And after 2014, we are working on it on this relations. This relation will have a different nature. It will have olbese (ph) on different principles. It will resemble probably to Turkey's United-United States-Turkey or Germany we are studying these relationship and we are-we will do that.

QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. President.

As you contemplate the end of this war, can you say as commander and chief that the huge human and financial costs that this has entailed can be justified given the fact that the Afghanistan that the world will leave behind is somewhat diminished from visions of reconstruction and democracy that were kind of prevalent at the beginning of the war?

And, President Karzai, many independent studies have criticized Afghanistan for corruption and poor governance. Do you stand by your assertion last month that much of this is due to the influence of foreigners?

And are you completely committed to stepping down as president after the elections next year?

OBAMA: I want us to remember why we went to Afghanistan. We went in- into Afghanistan because 3,000 Americans were viciously murdered by a terrorist organization that was operating openly and at the invitation of those who were then ruling Afghanistan.

It was absolutely the right thing to do for us to go after that organization, to go after the host government that had aided and abetted, or at least allowed for these attacks to take place. And because of the heroic work of our men and women in uniform, and because of the cooperation and sacrifices of Afghans who had also been brutalized by that then-host government, we achieved our central goal, which is-or have come very close to achieving our central goal, which is to de-capacitate Al Qaida, to dismantle them, to make sure that they can't attack us again.

And everything that we've done over the last 10 years, from the perspective of the U.S. national security interests, have been focused on that aim. And, you know, at the end of this conflict, we are going to be able to say that the sacrifices that were made by those men and women in uniform has brought about the goal that we sought.

Now, what we also recognized very early on was that it was in our national security interest to have a stable, sovereign Afghanistan that was a responsible international actor that was in partnership with us, and that that required Afghanistan to have its own security capacity and to be on a path that was more likely to achieve prosperity and peace for its own people.

And I think President Karzai would be the first to acknowledge that Afghanistan still has work to do to accomplish those goals, but there's no doubt that the possibility of peace and prosperity in Afghanistan today is higher than before we went in. And that is also in part because of the sacrifices that the American people have made during this long conflict.

So, you know, I think that-have we achieved everything that some might have imagined us achieving in the best of scenarios? Probably not. You know, this is a human enterprise, and, you know, you fall short of the ideal. Did we achieve our central goal? And have we been able, I think, to shape a strong relationship with a responsible Afghan government that is willing to cooperate with us to make sure that it is not a launching pad for future attacks against the United States? We have achieved that goal. We're in the process of achieving that goal. And for that, I think we have to thank our extraordinary military, intelligence, and diplomatic teams, as well as the cooperation of the Afghan government and the Afghan people.

KARZAI: Sir, on the question of corruption, whether it has a foreign element to it, if I have correctly understood your question, there is corruption in Afghanistan. There's corruption in the Afghan government that we are fighting against, employing various means and methods. We have succeeded in-in certain ways, but if your question is whether we are satisfied? Of course not. And on the corruption that is foreign in origin, but occurring in Afghanistan, I have been very clear and explicit, and I don't think that Afghanistan can see this corruption unless there is cooperation between us and our international partners in correcting some of the method, or applications of-of delivery of assistance to Afghanistan, without cooperation and without recognition of the problems.

On elections, for me the greatest of my achievements eventually seen by the Afghan people will be a proper, well-organized, interference free election in which the Afghan people can elect their next president. And certainly I will be a retired president, and very happily a retired president.

(OFF MIKE)

(UNKNOWN): Last question?

QUESTION: My name is (inaudible) from (inaudible) Afghanistan.

My question is to Mr.-or to you, Mr. President. Afghan women fears that they will be they would be the real victim of the reclassification (ph) process in Afghanistan. What assurances you can give them that they will not suffer because of that process?

Thank you.

OBAMA: Well, the United States has been very clear that any peace process, any reconciliation-reconciliation process must be Afghan-led. It is not for the United States to determine what the terms of this peace will be. But what we have also been very clear about is that from our perspective, it is not possible to reconcile without the Taliban renouncing terrorism; without them recognizing the Afghan constitution; and recognizing that if there are changes that they want to make to how the Afghan government operates, then there is an orderly constitutional process to do that and that you can't resort to violence.

The Afghan constitution protects the rights of Afghan women. And the United States strongly believes that Afghanistan cannot succeed unless it give opportunity to its women. We believe that about every country in the world. And so, you know, we will continue to voice very strongly support for the Afghan constitution, its protection of minorities, its protection of women. And we think that a failure to provide that protection not only will make reconciliation impossible to achieve, but also would make Afghan-Afghanistan's long-term development impossible to achieve. You know, the-the single best indicator-or one of the single best indicators of a country's prosperity around the world is, how does it treat its women? Does it educate that half of the population? Does it give them opportunity? When it does, you unleash the power of everyone, not just some. And I think there was great wisdom in Afghanistan ratifying a constitution that recognized that. That should be part of the legacy of these last 10 years.

OK? Thank you very much, everybody.

(END LIVE FEED)

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: So there they are, the two presidents, the Afghan president, the American president, wrapping up a news conference. They made lengthy statements and answered four questions between them.

Most importantly, the president suggesting there is a possibility that the U.S. troop withdrawal from Afghanistan could even be accelerated over the next two years, although he's not yet ready to make any final decisions. He's waiting for recommendations from his military leadership.

On the same front, he's saying there's no decision made how many U.S. troops will remain in Afghanistan after 2014. Although he says every U.S. troop who does remain will be required to have immunity from Afghan prosecution as a general condition. And we heard the Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, say, he's basically on board. He will make that recommendation to his people.

We'll see what happens, though. There are new elections scheduled for Afghanistan next year. And he says he will be a retired president. We don't know, obviously, who will be elected the next president of Afghanistan.

Chris Lawrence is our Pentagon correspondent.

Chris, Hamid Karzai did get something very significant from the president of the United States as far as what he sees as his sovereign right.

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: That's right. And it's getting the prisons that the U.S. military operates turned back over to the Afghans and getting the Afghan prisoners turned back other to the Afghans.

BLITZER: In other words, prisoners who are being held by the United States in Afghanistan --

LAWRENCE: The military prisons.

BLITZER: Or the other NATO allies, they will be handed over to the Afghans.

LAWRENCE: Right. And as we reported last night, Wolf, on "The Situation Room" and earlier today, our sources were telling us, that was what was very important to Karzai in terms of sovereignty. That he wasn't as caught up on giving sort of the legal protection to U.S. troops. Of course we heard him there signal to President Obama basically that he's on board with that. That he would get the OK from the Afghan people. But in all respects, I think, Gloria, you'd say he pretty much gave the OK.

GLORIA BORGER, CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, he did. I mean he made it very clear. He said if those issues are resolved, then I can go to the Afghan people for immunity of U.S. troops. So it seems to me that that's clearly the crux of the deal --

LAWRENCE: The deal.

BORGER: That they were cutting.

BLITZER: Richard Haass is with us, the president of the Council on Foreign Relations in New York, a former U.S. adviser over at the State Department to then Secretary of State Colin Powell. He was intimately involved in the immediate aftermath of the start of the U.S. war in Afghanistan back in 2001.

Richard, a lot of viewers, American viewers, might be confused what Hamid Karzai is saying about his dialogue taking place with the Taliban in Doha, Qatar, right now. A lot of us thought that the Taliban was supposed to be removed from Afghanistan because of their protection, support of al Qaeda.

RICHARD HAASS, PRESIDENT, COUNCIL ON FOREIGN RELATIONS: Any confusion when it comes to Afghanistan is both unavoidable and understandable. It's true the Taliban government, at the time, as you know, gave space to the -- to al Qaeda and the United States essentially went to war, not simply against al Qaeda, but to remove the government of Afghanistan then again run by the Taliban that was allowing them to operate.

One of the things that President Obama did in 2009 was expand the war aims to go after the Taliban itself. Not simply because of their connection directly to al Qaeda, but more broadly. Since then, things have evolved and this is where it really does get confusing. You do have these talks between the government and the Taliban. I'm quite skeptical, Wolf, that they're going to go very far. The Taliban are extremely divided. And it's not clear whether they're even sincere about the talks or simply using them as a tactic.

I'll be honest with you. I think at the end of the day, you're going to have the Taliban, once again, have a role in Afghanistan, particularly in the south where they have all the ethnic ties. They are going to be part of Afghanistan's future. What is not obvious, though, is that the Taliban, even after they come back, are going to, once again establish a close relationship with al Qaeda. It's quite possible that they learned their lesson.

What this suggests is you could have an Afghanistan which does not provide sanctuary to al Qaeda, to any significant degree, but it will also be an Afghanistan that kind of looks messy, that looks tribal, that has all these ethnic and geographic divisions. In some ways looks quite a bit like the Afghanistan before the United States invested this decade of effort.

BLITZER: Did something jump out at you, Richard, you've watched this Afghanistan story for a long time, from the news conference? Did you learn anything that surprised you?

HAASS: Well, I think the lead is that clearly the president, by mentioning the word sovereignty, I don't know I lost count in the midst of the press conference, clearly was setting the stage, and President Karzai agreed, for residual force of the United States to remain in Afghanistan beyond 2014. And I think the deal is, you have a slightly earlier turnover this spring to Afghan lead, you probably accelerate the slope or the glide path of American military reductions, but that's in exchange for the United States keeping some kind of a small residual force going forward. So I think there's something of an arrangement here and the question now is whether the president can make it stick on this end and whether Karzai can make it stick on his end. But I think that's essentially the outlines going forward. And that's probably the lead coming out of this.

BLITZER: You think that free and fair elections next year in Afghanistan really are going to take place and Karzai will step down and there will be an orderly transition to a new president?

HAASS: That would represent many firsts. So I think the idea of free and fair elections, it's not simply, as you know, about election day. It's the entire lead up to the process. It's going to be uneven throughout the country.

The idea that Afghanistan is going to be somehow a normal country or anything approximating or approaching anything of a model is just wildly unrealistic given the divisions within the country, the history of an extraordinarily weak central government, the fact that Pakistan continues to provide sanctuary to the Taliban and others who are trying to influence or undermine the future of this country.

So we've got to assume that this is not going to be a textbook case of successful nation building. It's going to go back in many ways to the way it was and no election, therefore, is going to be something that Thomas Jefferson would wrap his arms around. This is Afghanistan and we've got to -- we've got to be very careful about not getting overly ambitious.

BLITZER: Richard, if someone would have said to you back in 2001, when the U.S. went into Afghanistan to destroy the Taliban and defeat al Qaeda, that so many years later, in 2013, there would still be 66,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan fighting this war, what would you have said?

HAASS: I would have been wrong because I would have said inconceivable. In part because right after 9/11, when the United States got involved, the Bush administration, at the time, was simply unwilling to make a big investment. There was tremendous skepticism around the National Security Council table at the time that any amount of American investment, that any effort to nation build in Afghanistan, if you will, would bear fruit. People were really skeptical. So the idea that a decade ago you would -- we would have -- yes, you would have told me that we would build up to, what, over 100,000 Americans essentially at the peak in Afghanistan, and a decade later we would have nearly 70,000 troops and we would have lost 2,000 lives, we would have spent $500 billion, I would have said that's way more ambitious and a far larger investment than the United States was ever prepared to make. Obviously, I would have been wrong.

But this is surprising that the United States has decided to make the kind of effort here that's second only to Iraq in recent memory. There was really very little to suggest that we would go this way.

BLITZER: Richard Haass, thanks very much for your expertise.

Thanks to all of our reporters and our analysts for joining us for special coverage of the president's news conference with the Afghan president, Hamid Karzai.

That's it for me. I'll be back 4:00 p.m. Eastern in "The Situation Room." CNN NEWSROOM continues with Brooke Baldwin.

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I'm Brooke Baldwin. The news is now.

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