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  • PRESIDENT OBAMA: Good afternoon, everybody. Please have a seat.

  • It is my pleasure to welcome President Karzai back to the White House, as well as his delegation.

  • We last saw each other during the NATO Summit, in my hometown of Chicago -- a city that reflects

  • the friendship between our peoples, including many Afghan-Americans, as well as the Karzai

  • family. So, Mr. President, welcome.

  • We meet at a critical moment. The 33,000 additional forces that I ordered to Afghanistan have

  • served with honor. Theyve completed their mission and, as promised, returned home this

  • past fall. The transition is well underway, and soon nearly 90 percent of Afghans will

  • live in areas where Afghan forces are in the lead for their own security.

  • This year, well mark another milestone -- Afghan forces will take the lead for security

  • across the entire country. And by the end of next year, 2014, the transition will be

  • complete --Afghans will have full responsibility for their security, and this war will come

  • to a responsible end.

  • This progress is only possible because of the incredible sacrifices of our troops and

  • our diplomats, the forces of our many coalition partners, and the Afghan people whove endured

  • extraordinary hardship. In this war, more than 2,000 of America’s sons and daughters

  • have given their lives. These are patriots that we honor today, tomorrow, and forever.

  • And as we announced today, next month I will present our nation’s highest military decoration,

  • the Medal of Honor, to Staff Sergeant Clinton Romesha for his heroic service in Afghanistan.

  • Today, because of the courage of our citizens, President Karzai and I have been able to review

  • our shared strategy. With the devastating blows weve struck against al Qaeda, our

  • core objective -- the reason we went to war in the first place -- is now within reach:

  • ensuring that al Qaeda can never again use Afghanistan to launch attacks against our

  • country. At the same time, we pushed the Taliban out of their strongholds. Today, most major

  • cities -- and most Afghans -- are more secure, and insurgents have continued to lose territory.

  • Meanwhile, Afghan forces continue to grow stronger. As planned, some 352,000 Afghan

  • soldiers and police are now in training or on duty. Most missions are already being led

  • by Afghan forces. And of all the men and women in uniform in Afghanistan, the vast majority

  • are Afghans who are fighting and dying for their country every day.

  • We still face significant challenges. But because of this progress, our transition is

  • on track. At the NATO Summit last year, we agreed with our coalition partners that Afghan

  • forces will take the lead for security in mid-2013.

  • President Karzai and his team have been here for several days. Weve shared a vision

  • for how we're going to move ahead. Weve consulted with our coalition partners, and

  • we will continue to do so. And today, we agreed that as Afghan forces take the lead and as

  • President Karzai announces the final phase of the transition, coalition forces will move

  • to a support role this spring. Our troops will continue to fight alongside Afghans,

  • when needed. But let me say it as plainly as I can: Starting this spring, our troops

  • will have a different mission -- training, advising, assisting Afghan forces. It will

  • be an historic moment and another step toward full Afghan sovereignty -- something I know

  • that President Karzai cares deeply about, as do the Afghan people.

  • This sets the stage for the further reduction of coalition forces. Weve already reduced

  • our presence in Afghanistan to roughly 66,000 U.S. troops. I’ve pledged well continue

  • to bring our forces home at a steady pace, and in the coming months I’ll announce the

  • next phase of our drawdown -- a responsible drawdown that protects the gains our troops

  • have made.

  • President Karzai and I also discussed the nature of our security cooperation after 2014.

  • Our teams continue to work toward a security agreement. And as they do, they will be guided

  • by our respect for Afghan sovereignty, and by our two long-term tasks, which will be

  • very specific and very narrow -- first, training and assisting Afghan forces and, second, targeting

  • counterterrorism missions -- targeted counterterrorism missions against al Qaeda and its affiliates.

  • Our discussions will focus on how best to achieve these two tasks after 2014, and it’s

  • our hope that we can reach an agreement this year.

  • Ultimately, security gains must be matched by political progress. So we recommitted our

  • nations to a reconciliation process between the Afghan government and the Taliban. President

  • Karzai updated me on the Afghan government’s road map to peace. And today, we agreed that

  • this process should be advanced by the opening of a Taliban office to facilitate talks.

  • Reconciliation also requires constructive support from across the region, including

  • Pakistan. We welcome recent steps that have been taken in that regard, and well look

  • for more tangible steps -- because a stable and secure Afghanistan is in the interest

  • not only of the Afghan people and the United States, but of the entire region.

  • And finally, we reaffirmed the Strategic Partnership that we signed last year in Kabul -- an enduring

  • partnership between two sovereign nations. This includes deepening ties of trade, commerce,

  • strengthening institutions, development, education and opportunities for all Afghans -- men and

  • women, boys and girls. And this sends a clear message to Afghans and to the region, as Afghans

  • stand up, they will not stand alone; the United States, and the world, stands with them.

  • Now, let me close by saying that this continues to be a very difficult mission. Our forces

  • continue to serve and make tremendous sacrifices every day. The Afghan people make significant

  • sacrifices every day. Afghan forces still need to grow stronger. We remain vigilant

  • against insider attacks. Lasting peace and security will require governance and development

  • that delivers for the Afghan people and an end to safe havens for al Qaeda and its ilk.

  • All this will continue to be our work.

  • But make no mistake -- our path is clear and we are moving forward. Every day, more Afghans

  • are stepping up and taking responsibility for their own security. And as they do, our

  • troops will come home. And next year, this long war will come to a responsible end.

  • President Karzai, I thank you and your delegation for the progress weve made together and

  • for your commitment to the goals that we share -- a strong and sovereign Afghanistan where

  • Afghans find security, peace, prosperity and dignity. And in pursuit of that future, Afghanistan

  • will have a long-term partner in the United States of America.

  • Mr. President.

  • PRESIDENT KARZAI: Thank you. Thank you very much, Mr. President, for this very gracious

  • and warm welcome to me and the Afghan delegation on this visit to Washington, and for bearing

  • with us, as I mentioned during our talks in the Blair House, with all the crowds that

  • we have there.

  • The President and I discussed today in great detail all the relevant issues between the

  • two countries. I was happy to see that we have made progress on some of the important

  • issues for Afghanistan. Concerning Afghan sovereignty, we agreed on the complete return

  • of detention centers and detainees to Afghan sovereignty, and that this will be implemented

  • soon after my return to Afghanistan. We also discussed all aspects of transition to Afghan

  • governance and security.

  • I'm very happy to hear from the President, as we also discussed it earlier, that in spring

  • this year the Afghan forces will be fully responsible for providing security and protection

  • to the Afghan people, and that the international forces, the American forces will be no longer

  • present in Afghan villages, that the task will be that of the Afghan forces to provide

  • for the Afghan people in security and protection.

  • We also agreed on the steps that we should be taking in the peace process, which is of

  • highest priority to Afghanistan. We agreed on allowing a Taliban office in Qatar -- in

  • Doha, where the Taliban will engage in direct talks with the representatives of the Afghan

  • High Council for Peace, where we will be seeking the help of relevant regional countries, including

  • Pakistan -- where well be trying our best, together with the United States and our other

  • allies, to return peace and stability to Afghanistan as soon as possible, and employing all the

  • means that we have within our power to do that, so the Afghan people can live in security

  • and peace and work for their prosperity and educate their children.

  • The President and I also discussed the economic transition of Afghanistan and all that entails

  • for Afghanistan. Once the transition to Afghan forces is completed, once the bulk of the

  • international forces have withdrawn from Afghanistan, we hope that the dividends of that transition

  • economically to Afghanistan will be beneficial to the Afghan people, and will not have adverse

  • effects on Afghan economy and the prosperity that we have gained in the past many years.

  • We also discussed the issue of election in Afghanistan and the importance of election

  • for the Afghan people, with the hope that well be conducting a free and fair election

  • in Afghanistan where our friends in the international community -- in particular, the United States

  • -- will be assisting in conducting those elections, of course; where Afghanistan will have the

  • right environment for conducting elections without interference and without undue concern

  • in that regard for the Afghan people.

  • We also discussed in a bit of detail, and in the environment that we have, all aspects

  • of the bilateral security agreement between Afghanistan and the United States, and I informed

  • the President that the Afghan people already in the Loya Jirga that we called for -- the

  • Strategic Partnership Agreement between us and the United States -- have given their

  • approval to this relationship and the value as one that is good for Afghanistan. So in

  • that context, the bilateral security agreement is one that the Afghan people approve. And

  • I'm sure we will conduct it in detail where both the interests of the United States and

  • the interests of Afghanistan will be kept in mind.

  • We had a number of other issues also to talk about. During our conversations, and perhaps

  • many times in that conversation, beginning with the conversation, of course, I thanked

  • the President for the help that the United States has given to the Afghan people, for

  • all that we have gained in the past 10 years, and that those gains will be kept by any standard

  • while we are working for peace and stability in Afghanistan, including the respect for

  • Afghan constitution.

  • I also thanked the President and endorsed with him the sacrifices of American men and

  • women in uniform and those of other countries. Accordingly, I also informed President Obama

  • of the sacrifices of the Afghan people -- of the immense sacrifices of the Afghan people

  • in the past 10 years, both for the servicemen and of the Afghan people.

  • I’ll be going back to Afghanistan this evening to bring to the Afghan people the news of

  • Afghanistan standing shoulder to shoulder with America as a sovereign, independent country,

  • but in cooperation and in partnership.

  • Thank you, Mr. President, for the hospitality.

  • PRESIDENT OBAMA: Thank you very much, Mr. President.

  • Okay, weve got two questions each I think from U.S. and Afghan press. I will start with

  • Scott Wilson of The Washington Post.

  • Q Thank you, Mr. President and President Karzai.

  • Mr. President, does moving up the deadline for the transition to an Afghan security role

  • lead in the spring mean youll be winding down U.S. troops faster than you expected

  • this year? And as specifically as possible, how many troops do you expect to leave in

  • Afghanistan beyond 2014 for the two missions you outlined? And would you consider leaving

  • any troops in Afghanistan beyond that date without an immunity agreement for their actions?

  • And, President Karzai, youve spoken often about the threat the American presence in

  • Afghanistan poses to your nation’s sovereignty. I’m wondering if you will be considering

  • and working on behalf of an immunity agreement to preserve some U.S. forces in Afghanistan

  • after the 2014 date, and how many U.S. troops you would accept after that time.

  • Thank you.

  • PRESIDENT OBAMA: Scott, our first task has been to meet the transition plan that we set

  • first in Lisbon, then in Chicago. And because of the progress that’s been made by our

  • troops, because of the progress that’s been made in terms of Afghan security forces, their

  • capacity to take the lead, we are able to meet those goals and accelerate them somewhat.

  • So let me repeat: What’s going to happen this spring is that Afghans will be in the

  • lead throughout the country. That doesn’t mean that coalition forces, including U.S.

  • forces, are no longer fighting. They will still be fighting alongside Afghan troops.

  • It does mean, though, that Afghans will have taken the lead, and our presence, the nature

  • of our work will be different. We will be in a training, assisting, advising role.

  • Obviously, we will still have troops there and that means that our men and women will

  • still be in harm’s way, that there will still be the need for force protection. The

  • environment is going to still be very dangerous. But what weve seen is, is that Afghan soldiers

  • are stepping up, at great risk to themselves, and that allows us then to make this transition

  • during the spring.

  • What that translates into precisely in terms of how this drawdown of U.S. troop proceeds

  • is something that isn’t yet fully determined. I’m going to be over the coming weeks getting

  • recommendations from General Allen and other commanders on the ground. They will be designing

  • and shaping a responsible plan to make sure that were not losing the gains that have

  • already been made, to make sure that were in a position to support Afghan units when

  • theyre in theater, and to make sure that our folks are also protected even as were

  • drawing down.

  • So I can’t give you a precise number at this point. I’ll probably make a separate

  • announcement once I’ve gotten recommendations from troop -- from the generals and our commanders

  • in terms of what that drawdown might look like.

  • With respect to post-2014, weve got two goals -- and our main conversation today was

  • establishing a meeting of the minds in terms of what those goals would be with a follow-on

  • presence of U.S. troops. Number one, to train, assist, and advise Afghan forces so that they

  • can maintain their own security; and number two, making sure that we can continue to go

  • after remnants of al Qaeda or other affiliates that might threaten our homeland.

  • That is a very limited mission, and it is not one that would require the same kind of

  • footprint, obviously, that weve had over the last 10 years in Afghanistan.

  • Similar to the issue of drawdown, I’m still getting recommendations from the Pentagon

  • and our commanders on the ground in terms of what that would look like. And when we

  • have more information about that, I will be describing that to the American people.

  • I think President Karzai’s primary concern -- and obviously youll hear directly from

  • him -- is making sure that Afghan sovereignty is respected. And if we have a follow-on force

  • of any sort past 2014, it’s got to be at the invitation of the Afghan government and

  • they have to feel comfortable with it.

  • I will say -- and I’ve said to President Karzai -- that we have arrangements like this

  • with countries all around the world, and nowhere do we have any kind of security agreement

  • with a country without immunity for our troops. That’s how I, as Commander-in-Chief, can

  • make sure that our folks are protected in carrying out very difficult missions.

  • And so I think President Karzai understands that. I don’t want to get ahead of ourselves

  • in terms of the negotiations that are still remaining on the bilateral security agreement,

  • but I think it’s fair to say that, from my perspective at least, it will not be possible

  • for us to have any kind of U.S. troop presence post-2014 without assurances that our men

  • and women who are operating there are in some way subject to the jurisdiction of another

  • country.

  • PRESIDENT KARZAI: Well, sir, the bilateral security agreement is in mind for the interests

  • of both countries. 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 will not be compromised, in a way that Afghan law will

  • 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.

  • Q Do you have any sense of how many troops you would be willing to have?

  • PRESIDENT 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.

  • Any Afghan press? English-speaking press?

  • Q I am Abdul Qadir, Kabul, Afghanistan. I prefer to ask my question to my own language.

  • (As interpreted.) Mr. President, the missions of -- combat missions of United