Remarks by Secretary of State Kerry at the U.S.-Pakistan Strategic Dialogue

Washington, DC–(ENEWSPF)–January 27, 2014.

SECRETARY KERRY: Please, everybody.

Well, good morning to all, to our friends from Pakistan, As-Salaam Alaikum. We’re very happy to welcome you here to Washington. A little cold, but at least it’s not snowing today.

It’s a great pleasure for me to welcome Mr. Aziz and his team to the State Department for this strategic dialogue. And today is a – it’s another opportunity for our two countries to build on what we have achieved during Prime Minister Sharif’s visit here to Washington last October, and also for me to return the favor of the hospitality that you afforded me during my visit to Pakistan last summer.

I’m delighted not only to welcome this important, high-level, impressive delegation, but all my interagency colleagues who are here with us over on the other side of the table here. And their presence really demonstrates our commitment on the part of the United States to strengthen and to deepen our relationship, and to try to build as constructively as possible. We all know there’ve been occasional hiccups and challenges, but we really believe that there are fundamental interests that we need to unite around, and particularly in economic and security spheres. I’m particularly happy to welcome our Ambassador Olson back in Washington. He’s one of our most accomplished diplomats, and we’re glad that throughout your visit during the week, you’re going to have an opportunity to be able to meet with a lot of high-level administration personnel: Secretary Hagel, National Security Advisor Rice, and Energy Secretary Moniz. So I think we have a good series of meetings planned.

I want you to know – I want to emphasize to you – I think many of you know this, but building stronger ties with the people of Pakistan – I emphasize, with the people of Pakistan broadly writ – has been a personal commitment of mine for some period of time. I was privileged to sponsor what became known as the Kerry-Lugar-Berman bill in the Congress, which provided significant economic assistance and still does – I checked even as of this morning, we are continuing. There is a latest recommendation from the Secretary of Defense, which is before the Congress now, and so we are continuing to provide a connection between the people of the United States and the people of Pakistan.

Particularly since I was nominated by President Obama to serve as Secretary of State, I’ve been pleased to work to elevate this relationship to a true partnership. And the strategic dialogue that we’re engaged in now is really just the latest indication of our common commitment to escalating shared prosperity and helping to resolve some of the economic challenges that Pakistan faces, and also to recognize the importance of the strength and vitality of our security relationship.

Since Pakistan’s historic election last May, we have enjoyed even greater cooperation and a strengthening of ties across the entire spectrum of issues, from energy to security to education. And I want to commend the tough choices the prime minister and his cabinet have made to reinvigorate Pakistan’s economy and the commitment that you have made to engage in serious reforms that will help to tap into the enormous potential of the people of Pakistan. The United States has no doubt that Prime Minister Sharif’s policies will put Pakistan on a path towards a more prosperous future, and we fully support his goal of making Pakistan’s marketplace a tiger economy for the 21st century. Indeed, greater trade and investment between the United States and Pakistan will make both of our countries more prosperous, and it’s really a critical part of our efforts this week.

Our energy-related ties are a preview of our economic relationship’s potential. Since the fall of 2009 the United States has already helped to add 1,000 megawatts of capacity to Pakistan’s grid, and we’ve been able to do much of it with renewable energy. We believe there are additional areas where we can collaborate in order to support greater energy production, and also improve distribution and reforms that will attract greater investment.

The United States has also partnered with Pakistan to make significant investments in traditional infrastructure, including the construction of 900 kilometers of roadways in regions that border Afghanistan, including the four main trade routes between the two countries. More broadly, the United States and Pakistan continue to have a vital, shared, strategic interest in pursuit of a Pakistan that is at the center of an economically diverse region and a dynamic South Asian marketplace.

Our two nations understand that the most important road to prosperity for the next generation is education. In keeping with that commitment, the United States now invests more in our Fulbright program in Pakistan than anywhere else in the world. We have also built and renovated over 600 schools in Pakistan and provided 12,000 students with scholarships in order to attend local universities. All of this comes on top of the partnership between our universities, and their shared collaboration and investments in research, development, and innovation.

At the same time, the U.S.-Pakistan Women’s Council is also fostering cooperation between our citizens in order to promote women’s economic advancement. Our U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for Women’s Focus Issues[1], Cathy Russell, will be in Pakistan shortly in order to listen to your government officials in order to listen to leaders in civil society, and leading businesswomen who are working to bring citizens of both countries together in order to empower women and create opportunity across our societies.

We believe very strongly that Pakistan is stronger for the diversity and dynamism of its people, and is strongest when every man and woman in Pakistan, regardless of religion or sect or gender, participates in full in society. We appreciate the efforts of the Pakistani Government and the civil society to stand up against extremists, and your struggle to develop a Pakistan where every Pakistani has a say and a stake in Pakistan’s success against extremism.

When few – I think few have suffered more at the hands of terrorists and extremists than the people of Pakistan. Many people in the world are not aware of how many of your citizens you have lost in this struggle. And we also have a common cause and a common obligation to be partners for one another’s prosperity in the fight against those who want to limit opportunity and take Pakistan backwards. That is also why it remains essential for the United States and Pakistan to continue to find avenues of cooperation on counterterrorism, on nuclear security.

We recognize that Pakistan is a vital partner in supporting a secure Afghanistan, and we know how closely Pakistan’s own security is linked to Afghanistan’s success. That’s why addressing the threats posed to both Pakistan and Afghanistan by cross-border militancy is a key aspect of our conversations this week.

The reinvigoration of this Strategic Dialogue, we believe, is a important symbol of our strengthening ties across a broad spectrum of our mutual interests. And where we have differences, we pledge to work through them, as friends and as partners do, in an effort to make our relationship stronger and more open for the long term. We really do look forward to strengthening our relationship with the people of Pakistan. You know how many Pakistanis live here in our country. We have an enormous American-Pakistan diaspora. We are proud of their contributions to our country. And I know you are proud of their continued affection and ties to Pakistan.

So we look forward to working together in the days to come, and I think this dialogue is a very important continuation of our effort to understand our common interests, to define our differences where they exist, and to work to try to minimize them.

So with that, Mr. Advisor on National Security and Mr. Foreign Minister, I welcome you here. We’re really delighted to have you back, and I look forward to our continued conversation.

MR. AZIZ: (Inaudible) Secretary Kerry, members of the U.S. delegation, ladies and gentlemen, may I begin by thanking Secretary Kerry for a very positive and constructive opening statement. I’ll also like to convey my deep appreciation to Secretary Kerry for convening this session of the Strategic Dialogue, and for providing this opportunity to review all elements of the U.S.-Pakistan bilateral relations, regional concerns, and to further build the positive momentum for taking this relationship to a new and higher plane.

Your commitment and dedication for strengthening Pakistan-U.S. relationship, Secretary Kerry, over the years, is widely acknowledged in Pakistan. As you and your colleagues are aware, the Strategic Dialogue at ministerial level was initiated in 2010, and three sessions were held in quick succession in March, July, and October that year. But after 2011, a succession of events and irritants interrupted the process. The resumption of this dialogue after a gap of three years symbolizes the inherent resilience and significance of this relationship, and the commitment of both sides not to let transient irritants or disagreements overshadow the strategic relevance and enduring utility of this relationship of both countries.

We are fully conscious that this resumed ministerial review is taking place in the backdrop of significant developments within Pakistan, in U.S.-Pakistan bilateral relation, and in the region as a whole. The historic democratic transition in Pakistan in May 2013, as you mentioned, has opened numerous doors of cooperation between our two countries. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s landmark visit to the U.S. in October last year, and the comprehensive joint statement issued thereafter not only provided the vision and future direction of this relationship, but also laid out a comprehensive framework for mutually beneficial collaboration based on common goals of democracy, freedom and respect for human rights.

The ongoing drawdown of ISAF forces in Afghanistan also creates new challenges and new opportunities for cooperation. In pursuing this goal of a responsible end to the long war in Afghanistan, we have to ensure that Afghanistan successfully transitions into a period of stability and that past mistakes are not repeated. Pakistan is therefore very keen to work together with the U.S. and other countries in the region to encourage an Afghan-led reconciliation process for a peaceful and stable Afghanistan. This then is the overbearing and sobering background in which we are meeting to explore ways and means for transforming the post-2014 U.S.-Pakistan transactional relationship into a strategic partnership.

Ever since your important visit to Pakistan in August 2013, I’ve been thinking as hard as I could to discover the real meaning of this strategic partnership. At what stage does a normal transactional relationship become strategic? Are there one or more thresholds that must be crossed before a relationship can qualify as a strategic partnership? In this search, I’ve carefully read the minutes of the first three sessions of this dialogue that took place in 2010. Let me share with you, Secretary Kerry, my preliminary conclusions.

The most important prerequisite for a strategic partnership, in my view, is mutual trust at all levels and among all key institutions. Once this trust is restored, then any unexpected incident or accident or disagreement on a policy or a tactic will not be able to derail the relationship, as happened in 2011 and 2012.

The second most important element from our perspective is the expectation that U.S. will not look at Pakistan from the two specific lenses of Afghanistan and terrorism. These are legitimate U.S. concerns, but these must be balanced by giving due importance to Pakistan’s own security concerns. There is, in fact, need for a careful attention to the long-term effect of U.S. policies on Pakistan’s security. I’m sure most of you will agree that historically Pakistan’s security concerns were not taken into account when the U.S. decided to withdraw from Afghanistan in the early ’90s after the defeat of the Soviet forces with Pakistan’s active support, or even when invaded Afghanistan after 9/11.

Similarly, there’s a strong perception in Pakistan that a lot of pressure is exerted on Pakistan on issues of concern to India. Our legitimate concerns are not conveyed to India with the same intensity. If these important prerequisites are met, then the contribution of other elements of this important relationship, such as expanded trade, high level of private investment, long-term partnership on some major projects, will become far more significant and mutually reinforcing.

An important manifestation of such a partnership will be closer contacts among the people of the two countries because, as you just said, all enduring relationship have to be built on the feelings and attitudes of the people and their chosen representative. That is why President Obama and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif agreed that our interaction should focus on people-centered initiatives and result-oriented outcomes. Mr. Secretary Kerry, the challenge for all of us as we assemble in this room, we on our part are ready to take up this challenge if you are.

I’m confident that our exchanges during this ministerial review would enable us to comprehensively review the status of implementation of the decision taken both at the summit meeting in October and the working group meetings already held and provide guidance and directions for the future. In the past three months, the three working groups on energy, security, strategic stability, and nuclear nonproliferation and defense consultative groups have met under the revived Strategic Dialogue process. The other two working groups will also be meeting shortly and, we’ll be previewing them today.

In this context, may I also suggest, since you just emphasized the importance of education, that we might revive the sixth working group on education to provide a more systematic framework for cooperation in this important field.

Gentlemen and – ladies and gentlemen, the government is committed to effectively tackle the whole range of economic, security and energy-related challenges that we confront today. As Secretary Kerry said, the Prime Minister’s team believes in a good and accountable governance and are determined to turn around the economy, work on the energy crisis, and seek peace and security in the region.

We have a lot to show for the six months that we have been in office so far. Just to name a few: improved economic indicators, better fiscal management, rising investment flows, a resurgent stock market, some respite in the energy crisis through the addition of 1,700 megawatts of electricity onto the national grid, peace and friendship initiatives in our neighborhood.

The – we are happy to see that there is better appreciation vote both bilaterally and regionally of the step that Pakistan has already taken and which the government wishes to move in the future. We are confident that the U.S. has been a country to be an important ally and partner in helping Pakistan achieve its national priorities and advancing goals for promoting peace, prosperity, and greater economic integration in the region.

Recognizing the seriousness of the energy crisis that we face in Pakistan, we are hopeful that U.S. will respond urgently by sending the much-needed help that we need in the sector, especially in developing our hydrogen resources. Our government also firmly believes in expanded trade opportunities as the key for economic resurgence and revival of Pakistan. In this regard we are grateful for the help extended by the European Union over the last decade and recently accorded GSP-plus status to Pakistan.

We do hope that U.S., as a key ally and close partner, would also help by extending preferential access to Pakistani export to the U.S. market. This will go a long way in helping Pakistan turn around its economy, which is already crucial in fighting terrorism and extremism as well as in reducing poverty. While taking stock of how far we have come, we should also endeavor to lay down a forward-looking agenda for the next year.

Ladies and gentlemen, Pakistan has on its part paid a very heavy price in flesh and blood in fighting terrorism over the last decade and remains committed to bringing this fight to an end through all available means, both internally as well as regionally. Although the war in Afghanistan may be winding down, just as in the past Pakistan will have to face the brunt of any instability that may engulf Afghanistan after 2014. The people of Pakistan have continued to sacrifice in this war against extremist elements. And despite its heavy toll on our people, Pakistan has supported the international community because a stable and peaceful Afghanistan is in the interest of the region and Pakistan.

We support, as you said, an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace process, and at the same time hope that our security concerns are comprehensively addressed. Pakistan is ready to help in every possible way in facilitating peace and stability in Afghanistan, including through a comprehensive reconciliation process. We remain committed to facilitate a smooth and responsible U.S. drawdown from Afghanistan, and a continued flow of the lines of communication.

The overwhelming majority of the people in Pakistan support the normalization of our relations with India and believe that the resolution of the Kashmir dispute would result in achieving this goal. The prime minister’s bold vision of normalizing relations with India is being pursued with full commitment.

Ladies and gentlemen, 2013 was a significant year of our bilateral relationship. The progress we have made, particularly in the past six months, should be a source of satisfaction for all of us. 2014 promises to be a more important year for the relationship as Pakistan takes steps to further consolidate democracy and overcome various internal challenges. We look forward to the U.S. for meaningful support. The Strategic Dialogue process will therefore provide the most suitable mechanism for this cooperation.

Let me conclude by once again expressing our gratitude to you, Secretary Kerry, and your colleagues for hosting us today. I am confident that today’s meetings and my other interactions during this visit will open new avenues of cooperation between our two countries.

Thank you.

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, thank you very much, Sartaj. I really appreciate your very constructive comments. And I must say I take note of the progress that you’ve cited and also the suggestion conceivably about adding education as an area.

[1] Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issue