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Dialogue with Afghanistan's Neighbours, Iran and Pakistan

Dialogue with Afghanistan's Neighbours, Iran and Pakistan

Edited Transcript of a press briefing given by British Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, 10 Downing Street, Wednesday 21 November 2001.

Foreign Secretary: Without question, the coalition’s firm action in Afghanistan has been vindicated. We are moving steadily now towards achieving the campaign aims which we set two months ago and you can see that from the fact that the Taliban are fighting for their survival, but only in a limited number of places in Afghanistan. The Al Qu’aida organisation has largely been broken up, and what remains of them are on the run, and building on those foundations, most importantly the political process is now under way to build a stable Afghanistan which no longer provides a base for international terrorism, and that political process is supported strongly by the world’s humanitarian effort to ensure that food and other assistance gets into Afghanistan in larger measure than it has, and than it did, at any time during the Taliban’s regime. And whilst the amount of aid going in day to day varies on account of circumstances, the amount of aid overall that has been going in recently far exceeds that which was being provided into Afghanistan before 11 September.

But it is crucial that the humanitarian and political processes are working together. Number one, because we have a moral obligation in the international community to ensure that people are properly fed. Number two, because hungry people are angry people and you cannot nourish people’s minds and spirits until you have nourished their bellies.

There is of course, however, much more that needs to be done to build on the substantial progress which has already been made, and it is in that context that it is very welcome that Ambassador Lakhdar Brahimi has his meeting of representatives of all the main political parties and organisations in Afghanistan, obviously apart from the Taliban, and that is now due to be held in Berlin on Monday.

This evening I am flying to the region to visit Iran and then to visit Pakistan. These two countries are the largest countries adjoining Afghanistan. Historically Iran has had obvious and direct connections with the non-Taliban, non-Pushtun forces and ethnic groups, and Pakistan has had very strong ethnic connections with the Pushtun and some connections in recent years with the Taliban. It is extremely important that we remain in dialogue with both Iran and Pakistan. When I was at the United Nations General Assembly last week, I had meetings both with Foreign Minister Sattar of Pakistan and Foreign Minister Kharrazi of Iran. I had good conversations with them and I said that I hoped to get to their countries as soon as possible, and I am very glad to have been able to meet those undertakings just a week later.

All of our efforts come under the aegis, and with the authority, of the United Nations, and as I have said, I very much hope that the Berlin meeting successfully lays down a good foundation for Afghanistan’s future. But I don’t want to raise expectations too high about the meeting on Monday. That is there as a preliminary meeting between the parties with the hope of laying the building blocks for an interim civil administration, but given where Afghanistan has come from, and has got to so far, it is obviously going to take some time before you can really recognise a well-functioning, organised state which will be able fully to take its part in the international community, but the signs are, however, more hopeful than they were. And Britain will be giving very strong backing to this process, as we have to the military campaign and the humanitarian support, because stability in Afghanistan and security at home are inextricably linked.

Question: But Clare Short questioned the Americans’ commitment to this only yesterday.

Foreign Secretary: Well, the Americans’ commitment to the humanitarian effort is shown by the fact, even before 11 September, the Americans were providing 80% of all food aid into Afghanistan, and had been doing so for years. Colin Powell at the UN-US Conference on Humanitarian Aid yesterday in Washington made clear the United States’ continuing commitment, support of the humanitarian effort, and they are showing that not just with words, but with deeds. I have not read the full transcript of what Clare said, but my understanding is that she was talking more generally and historically about the need for all OECD countries to do more to meet the targets set by the United Nations that 0.7% of our national wealth, our GDP, should be devoted to humanitarian aid and the UK isn’t there, the US isn’t there, although our percentage point is a bit higher than the US, but our absolute amount is lower because our economy is smaller, but all of us, except the US, UK and other OECD countries, accept that we could do more, and we are working towards doing more in terms of humanitarian aid and international development aid across the world. But we are already doing quite a lot.

Question: There is no divergence in priorities then?

Foreign Secretary: I have seen no evidence of divergence in priorities between ourselves and the United States. I have to say in all the many, many conversations that I have held and had since 11 September, it was true also before, but in the many I have held since 11 September, not only with Secretary Colin Powell, with whom I am in very regular contact, but with Congressmen, Senators, other senior officials and personnel from the US Administration, they are as committed as we are to the three-pronged strategy of military action, political process, underpinned in both cases by humanitarian support, and all of us have said that we are in there for the long term.

Question: Clare Short was also stressing the urgent need for getting troops in there to make sure that the food aid that is going in is secure and isn’t tampered with before it gets to the people who need it. When are we going to send our troops in to help with that aim.

Foreign Secretary: The military situation and security situation is a fast-moving one. We are making decisions as they are required in terms of military deployment and making them in co-operation with General Franks who is running the operation on behalf of the military coalition at Headquarters in the United States. The security situation has been, and was until last week, pretty satisfactory and you will know from figures put out by the Department for International Development that food aid into Afghanistan exceeded over 2,000 tons a day. A record sum. There has been some difficulty on the border in the south of Afghanistan. The north-west of Pakistan, around the Quetta area, and that has led to a temporary drop in the amount of supplies, but that we think should go back. And, as I say, the exact deployment of troops can vary and depends on the exact circumstances on the ground, but of course ensuring their security, the security of aid programmes, is one of the reasons for military deployment and I make this point, it is only as a result of the overall military campaign that has taken place since 11 September, that we have been able to get food aid into Afghanistan to the degree to which we have, and it is only as a result of further military action on the ground to remove the Taliban altogether, who are the people who are stopping the food aid going through, that we can really begin to build a prosperous Afghanistan again.

Question: The US Vice-President has said that 50 countries are being targeted in the next wave of action against bin Laden and the Al Qu’aida organisation and military action was being considered in some cases, but British officials have been stressing that the war against terrorism will not be extended beyond Afghanistan. Could you explain that?

Foreign Secretary: The answer to that is that the war against terrorism in general terms will continue until we have eliminated international and domestic terrorism, and I made that clear yesterday, in answers I gave to the Foreign Affairs Select Committee. That is a separate question from whether military action is taken in any other theatre, and when I have been asked that, I have given the same answer consistently on behalf of the British Government all the way through, which is that you only take military action where the evidence is very clear and where military action is the only answer. And up to now, neither criteria has been fulfilled in respect of any other potential theatre than Afghanistan. But, be in no doubt about the determination of the United Kingdom and other European Union countries, along with the United States to eliminate terrorism and those states, or semi-states, which harbour terrorism around the world.

Question: On the parallel issue of the Middle East Peace Process, in his recent visit to Syria the Prime Minister asked President Assad to use his influence over terrorists to stop the violence in Israel. Will you be delivering the same message in Tehran?

Foreign Secretary: Yes, I will, and I delivered the same message in Tehran when I was there at a very public press conference when I was thanked by my Iranian hosts for my banning of the MEK Iranian terrorist organisation, for which apparently the British Embassy received 40,000 letters of thanks from grateful Iranian residents and I pointed out at the same time that along with banning MEK, I had already banned the military wings of Hammas, Hizbollah and Islamic Jihad, and suggested that we needed a dialogue with Iran on that matter.

Question: What is it specifically you want to get out of your trip to Tehran and Islamabad?

Foreign Secretary: First, their perceptions, in Iran and in Pakistan, of the current state of play in Afghanistan. Its impact on their own peoples. Secondly, in that regard, the state of play, so far as refugees are concerned, and you will know that each of those countries has suffered more grievously than any other from the Taliban’s control of Afghanistan with well over two million refugees pouring across the borders in the south and east of Afghanistan into Pakistan, and getting on for two million refugees pouring across the opposite border into Iran, and so far as Iran is concerned, particularly, that has not only led to a refugee crisis, it has also led to a drugs crisis in that country. Third, to talk to them about the active support which they can give to the parties within Afghanistan with which they are historically related, and for Iran that includes the Northern Alliance and the parties based on Herat for Pakistan it is the Pushtun parties, what active support they can give to those parties to build this multi-ethnic, multi-based alliance.

Question: Both Pakistan and Iran do have a vital role in trying to support any kind of interim government, but have very, very different ideas. Isn’t there a danger that if they are not happy that they are going to start meddling again, and is there anything you can do to reassure them?

Foreign Secretary: Well, I am aware of the concerns in both Iran and Pakistan. What I think has been remarkable since 11 September is the degree to which both the Iranian government and the Pakistani government under General Musharraf has shown great statesmanship in recognising that their interests of their countries lie in a broad-based multi-ethnic government where the differences are diluted, rather than in their partisan support of particular factions, and that has been striking in all the conversations I have had with the Iranians and with the Pakistanis, and I am sure that that will be the message that I get when I am there tomorrow and on Friday. Part of the reason for continuing my dialogue with these countries, building on the very intensive dialogue that our Prime Minister has had with President Musharraf in Pakistan and my visit in Iran, is precisely in order to identify the continuing concerns of each of these countries and to try to ensure that we can deal with them.


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Directeur de la publication : Joël-François Dumont
Comité de rédaction : Jacques de Lestapis, Hugues Dumont, François de Vries (Bruxelles), Hans-Ulrich Helfer (Suisse), Michael Hellerforth (Allemagne).
Comité militaire : VAE Guy Labouérie (†), GAA François Mermet (2S), CF Patrice Théry (Asie).