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Council on Foreign Relations Press Conference: Release Of CFR Report on U.S. Strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan

Speakers: Richard L. Armitage, President of Armitage International (Task Force Co-Chair), and Daniel S. Markey, Senior Fellow for India, Pakistan and South Asia, CFR (Task Force Director)
Author: Anya Schmemann, Task Force Program Director, CFR
November 12, 2010, Washington D.C.
Council on Foreign Relations

ANYA SCHMEMANN: All right. We'll just get started here. Thanks for joining us. I'm Anya Schmemann. I'm director of the council's task force program. We appreciate your being here. We have Director Armitage here, Director Markey; we also have two task force members with us, Ambassador Teresita Schaffer and Shirin as well. So we can turn to them if we have any particular questions.

I just would like to note -- and it's made clear in the materials -- that task forces are independent of CFR. CFR takes no institutional position on issues. The findings and recommendations of the report are those of the task force.

RICHARD L. ARMITAGE: You're throwing us under the bus this early? (Laughter.)

(Cross talk.)

SCHMEMANN: (Inaudible) -- no responsibility for that.

We'll just some answer some questions. If you could just identify yourselves for us, and I'll be calling on people, so try to catch my attention.

Yes, go ahead.

QUESTIONER: I'm Shaun Tandon. I'm with AFP. I know you addressed this in the -- in the book and in the presentation upstairs, but in terms of the metrics for judging success or for judging whether there's progress, as you put it, what do you think the most important things to be looking at would be in terms of whether to transition to a different -- a different strategy?

ARMITAGE: Well, you'll notice that what we stayed away from -- we stayed away from such metrics as "killed" and things of that nature, because they're kind of meaningless, as I say, when we -- you go with a flat organization. And strictly the number of people trained, for instance, is not as meaningful. Though it's helpful that the goal of 240,000 has been met by the security forces, the real question is, are they doing anything with it? And these are the type of questions we expect the administration to be able to come up with answers to. Another is whether we have actually prevailed in Kandahar or whether the Talibs in Kandahar simply slipped off to the north or the west and are causing us more difficulties there.

Whether we are, actually, does the president think he can stand up and say to the -- to the American people that, yes, we are getting a handle on the question of human capital, which has bedeviled us in Marja and I suspect will be difficult for us in Kandahar.

Bob, join us up here. Come on.

MR. : I thought I had -- (inaudible).

(Cross talk.)

SCHMEMANN: No, he's fine there.

MR. : Shirin?

MR. : If I could -- if I could just add on that, the point was made to some degree upstairs, but what we were looking were -- for were not metrics but broad markers of progress and things that could be sustained over the long term. And if I could add, we also had -- we had extensive conversations about that, about whether we could identify something more narrow, and we consciously steered clear of it.

We also recognized that there were some things that we would all like to see and which would denote success but which we shouldn't expect to see all that soon. Some things are going to take a long time and cannot be -- so the kinds of questions that we identify should be asked over the next six months, really try to -- stick to things that we could likely see signs of progress in that time frame, not the sort of thing of -- you know, we don't ask, "Have we seen broad macroeconomic development," right? Because that's a long-term dynamic that we might not see and which probably shouldn't guide us in our decision-making process in that near-term sense.

SCHMEMANN: Yes.

QUESTIONER: Yeah, Lalit Jha from Press Trust of India. I have two questions. One, President Obama was just in India last week at -- (inaudible) -- and he addressed the Indian parliament. He said U.S. would endorse India's place in the U.N. Security Council as a permanent member.

There has been some reaction from Pakistan. Pakistan's cabinet has opposed that, expressed its concern on it. And you know, Pakistan's very important for the United States. So how do you see this? Is this -- can you explain the reasons behind making the announcement? Was the Pakistan view taken into consideration?

ARMITAGE: First of all, I believe the president used the formulation that we -- he endorsed India's membership of the -- on the Security -- on a reformed U.N. Security Council. And that's just making an obvious point that a country that's so large, so growing, so big and so young and so important has to be part of a reformed Security Council. If not, it makes a mockery of the Security Council. That's it, in a nutshell.

Now, the reaction from Pakistan -- not unexpected, period. He was not talking in that time about Pakistan, and this was strictly a U.S.-India -- at that point -- comment. He was -- I'm sure the president was aware there'd be some blowback, just as there was some grumbling in Pakistan that the president didn't travel to Islamabad or to Pindi.

SCHMEMANN: Though I think it's important to note that he announced before going to India that he would be visiting Pakistan next year.

QUESTIONER: But do you see in this announcement, the reaction that's coming from Pakistan -- would there be some reluctance from Pakistan's side to go ahead with its war against terrorism?

ARMITAGE: Would they be more encouraged or less encouraged?

QUESTIONER: Yes.

ARMITAGE: I think it goes to what one of our dissenters said. If -- they're going to do what they see is in their interest. And I don't think this in and of itself is going to be the thing that determines their interest. I'm sure they're annoyed about it. Fine, that was understood. You were at the -- as you mentioned, at the unveiling of our CNAS paper on India. And they were annoyed with that, but they got over it.

SCHMEMANN: Yes, sir.

QUESTIONER: I'm Muhammad Atif for the Voice of America, and I broadcast for the Pakistani audience, so I'm going to ask my questions from their perspective.

There's a common perspective in Pakistan that the United States would want Pakistan to be dependent on its aid. And recently in an interview, President Musharraf said when he was the president and he had meetings -- and he said that Pakistan would welcome trade agreements rather than aid.

So from a common Pakistani's perspective, why is it that, okay, Pakistan is getting more aid day by day because it's been facing some disasters, but when it comes to trade agreements and when we see (at our Aziz ?) -- it is still awaiting approval from Senate. Why is that?

ARMITAGE: Well, first of all, I think -- the way I look at aid, our assistance to Pakistan is simply the way one looks at a bandage. You know, you're trying to stop the hemorrhage, stop the immediate problem, and then kind of bring some small stability to this very dynamic country. And no one in our task force has any illusion that we can continue this kind of assistance, and that's why we stress the textile agreement, et cetera.

Now, on the whole question of agreements and trade in the Senate, look, this president up till 10 days ago had a Congress that was not going to touch any trade negotiations. I don't know what's going to happen with the new Republican Congress in January. There's some speculation that they may be slightly more inclined to be helpful.

And let me clear what -- in our -- if you read carefully our report, we make the point that a textile agreement, for instance, from Pakistan is not anything other than an assistance to our national security. That's the point in which it should be seen. That argument has not been had. There's been a fear in the present administration to address these trade issues, and it exists until today if the -- what I see from Korea in the headlines today about the trade talks with Korea stalling.

So I don't think that will rectify itself immediately, but it may in the new Congress. (Inaudible.)

MS. : It is about a million times easier to get an aid appropriation than it is to vote changes in textile duties. And that's a political reality that all administrations have to work with. The idea of free access for Pakistani textiles came up in the previous administration. It didn't go anywhere then either.

Personally, I think this is a great pity, for all kinds of reasons. But I think that a generous aid response was entirely appropriate, but was made more important by the fact that this was what was doable by the administration, whereas, in the view of two administrations, changing the textile laws was desirable but not doable.

SCHMEMANN: Yes.

QUESTIONER: Michele Kelemen with National Public Radio. I wonder if you can talk a little bit about the effectiveness of U.S. aid in Afghanistan or Pakistan, I mean, given that so much of it ends up going to security overhead, et cetera. Are there suggestions that you make to change the way the U.S. delivers aid?

ARMITAGE: I'll make a start and turn over to Dan. I want to make sort of a -- sort of what they'd call in diplomacy a chapeau statement.

ARMITAGE: (Chuckles.) Shirin, don't laugh.

You know, there's a real irony in U.S. assistance programs. First of all, I think it's misnamed. We're not so much trying to help people as we're trying to help ourselves. So let's be clear about this. So these are -- in my view, they're cold calculations of national security and not aid programs.

But having said that, the irony is this: that as deputy secretary or under your colleagues in the administration today, as Daisy correctly points out, could go to the Hill tomorrow and get plenty of money for clinics and schools and women's health clinics, baby nursing clinics, et cetera, get all kinds of money for that, and Congress will feel really good about appropriating them.

But if I were to go and suggest we have a major infrastructure problem -- program and I needed $400 million for it, to put a dam, to be able to provide power to Waziristan, this would be at least resisted very heavily, if not totally dismissed out of hand. And the irony that I'm pointing to is, in the long run, the power plant is what's going to benefit the most number of people for the longest period of time.

The other irony is, the clinics depend on the government to ultimately fund them, year after year, and there's the rub.

We found that in Afghanistan, for instance -- we have schools, we have clinics, and we're still having to maintain them because the government is either unable or unwilling to put the money forward to have them -- to have them function properly.

DANIEL S. MARKEY: I think that's exactly right. I think the report tries to identify at least two areas where assistance programming could be changed. One of them is, as Mr. Armitage has said just now, on large infrastructure projects, high-profile signature projects. These are the sorts of things that have a political effect or can have a political effect beyond simply what they deliver in terms of electricity and so on, and which will, I think, have the potential to shift attitudes about partnership with the United States. And the report makes that clear.

The other point that it makes is that in the aftermath of the floods in Pakistan there probably needs to be some serious rethinking about the projects that had been on the table over the past year. And so while we had Secretary Clinton go out to Pakistan and unveil a series of projects that they had in mind, many of these things will probably have to be revised, perhaps significantly, in light of the floods.

Now on the upside -- and the report doesn't say this, but the floods do clear the table, in some cases, I think create needs that we could address if we were more inclined to take on these bigger, more comprehensive projects. But it is difficult, and that's -- and it's been a struggle. I had somebody in my office just yesterday talking about how he hasn't seen that as being the guiding -- the driving force in the way the United States is expending its resources, and he's troubled by it. This was a Pakistani speaking.

ARMITAGE: If you go to Islamabad, Rawalpindi today, and you want to go to Peshawar, it's a lot easier than it used to be, because they have the, quote, "Japanese highway," unquote, Japanese overseas development assistance program. If I were to ask you what's the biggest -- what's the most famous assistance you know, you'd probably say Aswan Dam or something, but these are not popular with the U.S. Congress.

SCHMEMANN: Yes.

QUESTIONER: Hi. Xiang Zhou (sp) with the Legal Daily --

SCHMEMANN: Can you just speak into a microphone.

QUESTIONER: (Inaudible.)

SCHMEMANN: Pull it closer.

QUESTIONER: Okay.

SCHMEMANN: There you go.

QUESTIONER: Is that okay? Okay. Hi. Xiang Zhou (sp) with the Legal Daily of China. Yeah, I have two questions. One is that in your report that -- I think you mentioned some regional powers' potential role to play, like India, Iran, even China. My question is specifically on China. I wonder what kind of specific role the U.S. would like China to play on the Afghan issue.

Second is about, you know, we've heard a lot about the negotiations with the Taliban, and could you tell us more about what the achievements we have made on this and how the -- what is the status now on this -- negotiations? Thank you.

ARMITAGE: China is important in this context, for several reasons -- first of all, a, quote, "special relationship," unquote, with Pakistan. We believe it gives China some influence on Pakistan. I'm not saying you're in charge, or China's in charge, but it's some influence. Second, geography counts: Central Asia is important. China's right there.

In Afghanistan, you'll note China is now more active now. It's in a -- an economic role, it's in a mining role, et cetera. But it is one of the few countries in the world that is relatively flush with cash, and in that way can have some -- some -- influence on the government in Afghanistan.

On the question of the negotiations with the Taliban, I may be the one who's uninformed, but I think they don't amount to much. I have seen no noteworthy Taliban who have come forward. I have seen some comments attributed to people in the intelligence community that there's less there than meets the eye, and I suspect that's right. I suspect that there's an attempt by somebody to even take a small discussion with some this or that Taliban, and trying to sew some dissent into Taliban ranks by making it more than it is. That's a personal suspicion; I don't know that.

QUESTIONER: Can you just compare that to what you experienced? Because there was talk with the Taliban earlier on in this conflict.

ARMITAGE: What -- mine?

QUESTIONER: Yeah.

ARMITAGE: We did our talking -- throughout, of course, there was an ability to talk in Islamabad before we invaded. And I'd send messages from -- to Mullah Omar directly, then carried by the director of ISI, in 2001, prior to our -- to our invasion of Afghanistan. And the answer that I got back was, in my view, very unsatisfactory, and it was a complete rebuff, with a few strong invectives thrown in. (Laughter.)

QUESTIONER: What was the specific answer from Mullah Omar at that time?

ARMITAGE: What was the expected?

QUESTIONER: What was the answer from Mullah Omar?

ARMITAGE: No! Pushtunwalli. "No," with exclamation points -- as I say, some careful invective. (Laughter.)

MARKEY: I might just add to that a little bit. In fact, I had the opportunity to -- during that time, to meet directly with Mullah Osmani, who was the number-two figure in the Taliban at the time. And in fact, we continued to speak via telephone for a brief period after the start of hostilities. Those exchanges were rather short and sharp, I would say.

But, no, the bottom line was that, while they showed some interest in trying to temporize, there was an indirect message from Mullah Omar, passed through Mullah Osmani, to the effect that: Well, you must understand, we have our own domestic politics, and you need to give us more time to condition all this. It was -- it was very clear that, essentially, they were attempting to play for time.

As some of you may remember, there was -- it was a conference of Afghan Ulema that was held in Kabul at that time. And they delivered a fairly nuanced message which, had he been inclined to do so, Mullah Omar could have seized upon as a pretext to go at least some part way toward doing what it is -- what it was that we wanted him to do. And he absolutely categorically refused to do so.

If I -- If I could just -- oh, do you want to talk about something?

ARMITAGE: Yeah, and I just want to make one point, Dan.

It's forgotten now in the wake of history, but the temporizing that the Taliban were doing to kind of figure out how they wanted to move forward was met by our own temporizing regarding the Taliban, because at the time we had a couple of aid workers who were hostage. And this is one of the reason we didn't want Pakistan to break relations with the Taliban, although some who were not in the game in Washington were screaming Pakistan must do this. We wanted to keep relations with them because it could be the case that Pakistan, by having relations with the Taliban, could be helpful in getting our hostages back.

As it turned out, we got them back from another method, and then President Musharraf was quite keen on cutting the cord with the Taliban.

Excuse me, Dan.

MARKEY: That's fine. I only wanted to reiterate that the report itself expresses a certain degree of skepticism about the prospect for this negotiating process with the Taliban. But it also recognizes that the outcome in Afghanistan will ultimately have to be a political one. So what it goes on to say is that the process of reconciliation, as we talk about it, needs to be a more inclusive one on the Afghan side; that is, it needs to include a wider range of Afghans at the table, not just those that we recognize to be sort of Karzai's inner circle, which is what currently dominates the Afghan side of what limited talks are currently ongoing.

And the concern there is that, if it continues to be a very narrow group of Afghans at the negotiating table, then that will actually drive wedges within the broader Afghan national unity. And we're already seeing that. And that's very, very dangerous because Afghanistan is difficult now. It would be far worse if you saw a real breakdown between the Karzai element of the government and the north and the west in a real civil war-type way.

One other point; you asked about China's role. You know, China has made, I believe, the single greatest -- single greatest investment in Afghanistan with its copper mine purchase. But it has done almost nothing to actually develop that copper mine in a way that would create jobs and add to the economic opportunities and the growth of the Afghan economy. It has essentially purchased it and sat on it. And --

ARMITAGE: On the contrary, bring in Chinese workers and buy China.

MARKEY: That's what they'd like to do. So the question -- you know, you ask what could China do. It's not just a matter of buying things, but also then developing them in a rapid way that contributes to economic prospects that adds to the bottom line of the Afghan government, creates opportunities for the Afghan people. That's exactly what China could do.

SCHMEMANN: David or Eric, I wonder if you have questions. And those of you who aren't able to join us upstairs, we do have a little summary here. Also, the introduction to the report does act as a type of executive summary.

`

Eric?

QUESTIONER: Eric Schmidt, the New York Times. To Ambassador Armitage, as well as to Dan.

I'm curious what your take is on the strategic dialogue, both as a forum for advancing some of the ideas you put forward here and maybe -- any intelligence you have from the most recent meeting that was here in Washington, how effective this is and what's being accomplished?

ARMITAGE: I talked to several of the Pakistani members of the dialogue and they found it useful in terms of what I would call technical issues; how many helicopters or what the delivery dates are and things of that nature. They're not unimportant, but it's technical.

In terms of what we really need is a better understanding of the entire mindset of Pakistan and they of us. I don't think we're there yet. Now, I don't have any specific intelligence, but I think, I -- certainly, that was the thrust of the comments those Pakistanis who visited me had; maybe they just weren't listening. But I have got a feeling that we haven't made that breakthrough yet, but I defer to anyone else who might have a better -- Shirin -- Ambassador Tahir-Kheli?

QUESTIONER: I think that in some -- there are a couple of phases to this. They celebrate the fact that this may get the relationship, which has not been a very complex relationship in many a year, off to a different start.

So in that sense they want to take it, I think, more seriously, and the strategic dialogue offers multiple channels through which to do this. But I think there's a lot of skepticism in -- not just amongst the government people, but on the part of Pakistanis who follow such things -- that this is going to go anywhere very substantial because of all kinds of problems they see in both countries.

Whether this ends up being a more robust relationship subsequent to the establishment of the strategic dialogue remains to be seen. But they want to show a certain level of enthusiasm because it is something new and it could potentially get somewhere. But I don't think that anybody thinks it's gone anywhere.

(Cross talk.)

QUESTIONER: -- according to Ambassador Armitage, Mark it doesn't sound like they've gotten over the distrust factor.

ARMITAGE: By the way, if I can on the question of strategic dialogue. Normally -- normally, strategic dialogues are something you do have with allies. You have normally high level dialogue with non-allies, so I think in that respect it scratches some small itch.

Pardon me, Eric. I didn't hear you.

(Cross talk.)

SCHMEMANN: Could I give a slightly different perspective? I'm not sure that we have failed to understand each other's strategic compulsions. I think we haven't brought them together. And there is a powerful drive at the conclusion of a strategic dialogue or any other high-level, high profile encounter between Pakistani and U.S. leaders to put out a statement that appears to create strategic unity between the United States and Pakistan.

To some extent, I think, both countries have their fingers crossed behind their backs, not that they're intending to dissemble, but that they know there are issues that haven't been resolved and that will become important. And that's why the distrust factor is still there; I mean, it is to some extent there on both sides, although its always been more acute on the Pakistani side for reasons of the very different ways that we see our history.

MARKEY: Let's not forget that the alternative to the strategic dialogue is not to have it, right?

SCHMEMANN: Yeah.

MARKEY: That has been the previous alternative and that even if it accomplishes things at the working level -- in other words, it tees up items for decision across a range of, I think, 13 different working groups. It forces U.S., essentially, bureaucrats and Pakistani bureaucrats to get stuff done that they would otherwise talk a lot about on high level visits, but you never see any movement. To the extent that it becomes regularized, that it's routine, that people are expecting it. These are all positive things that hadn't been there before. And to the extent that it brings, continues to bring Pakistani civilians and military together at the same table to talk to Americans at the same time, I think that's not bad for their own system and should be continued for those reasons alone. But we shouldn't overstate it. It doesn't solve -- it's a process. It doesn't solve the problems.

SCHMEMANN: Yeah, David?

DAVID R. IGNATIUS: There were two -- just following up on Eric's question - there were two statements about Pakistan in the report I just wanted to ask you to elaborate on. One was, whatever its rationale, Pakistan's apparent strategy of distinguishing between various military outfits -- militant outfits is dangerous. And this gets to the differentiation they've made between Afghan Taliban, Pakistan Taliban.

I'm wondering whether or not you can say whether you believe as you were working on this report that actually changed and improved or it's as bad as it was? And the second question I had for you came from your discussion of Pakistan's nuclear arsenal. You said the task force remains deeply concerned by Pakistan's unique combination of the world's most sophisticated terrorist groups and what appears to be the world's fastest-growing nuclear program.

The administration's at least on-the-record position has been that they believe Pakistan nuclear security was good the way the Bush administration left it and has improved since. and this is less of a concern. When you scratch beneath the surface of that, you hear a bit more dissonance. I'm wondering where you came out on those?

ARMITAGE: On -- let me take the latter first. Having been involved in the initial discussions with General Kidwai and let me say -- understanding of and assistance to the Pakistani nuclear program that I agree -- and the fact that the army is a Punjabi-dominated army, in the main, it leads me to conclusion that while anyone has nuclear weapons, can never be sure of 100 percent safety, they're in pretty good shape.

So I would generally endorse what the administration said and I think it was the case at the end of the Bush administration.

And the question of the Haqqani Network, the Quetta Shura and LET, for my point of view, Mr. Sanger, the answer is no, it's not any better.

QUESTIONER: Not any better.

ARMITAGE: That would be my answer. My colleagues may have a different view.

QUESTIONER: And I'd be interested in just hearing you and this is, obviously, been one thing the administration has been beating on from day one, why have -- to your mind have they been not --

ARMITAGE: Well, I just look at LET, first of all, for years, LeT -- we well understood it. There were times when there were collection boxes on the street in Islamabad and other great cities where you'd actually -- citizens would contribute to the LeT because, quote, "Kashmir was in our blood," unquote. You don't see those anymore. So that might be a good sign. But the fact is in those days, the LeT wasn't active in Afghanistan as it is now. And that leads me to the conclusion that it's worse.

My other colleagues -- you know, these are like belly buttons, everybody's got an opinion -- everybody's got one. And that's my opinion.

MARKEY: I agree with the bottom line on LeT. I'm troubled even more in terms of over the past two years in the context of Mumbai, in the context of what appears to be backsliding in the India-Pak -- broader India-Pakistan relationship, that you haven't seen progress on the Pakistani side, on LeT. To me, it looks like backsliding even relative to 2005, and that's deeply troubling.

And I think at the same time as you've seen backsliding on Pakistani willingness to engage on this issue, I think you've also seen troubling signs that LeT becomes further entrenched and increasingly capable in the broader Pakistani context of southern Punjab and is increasingly engaged on the western side and we hear reports about its engagement in Afghanistan itself.

So you're seeing simultaneous two negative trends that I think the report is right to highlight.

SCHMEMANN: And one other observation, which is that LeT was apparently implicated in a number of the major bombings that took place inside Pakistan. So you had this curious phenomenon that they have been, at least associated with threats to the Pakistani state, and yet I think it's hard to avoid the conclusion that they are getting some kind of protection from sources within the Pakistani state.

(Cross talk.)

SCHMEMANN: Sorry, can we get Shirin on this and then I'll come right back to you, Eric.

QUESTIONER: What I just wanted to add was that if you take as an important American interest a stable, secure and moderate Pakistan, the further entrenchment of LeT within the body politic and beyond the body politic and just the existence of the average Pakistani and they're making inroads on that.

So I think that has implications for the state, which could end up being absolutely horrendous. And no government and particularly in Pakistan given the poor governance or absence of any governance that is currently the state of affairs, you know, who can check that?

So it's down the road, I think, two years, five years, certainly, 10 years, I mean, this is sort of changing the very nature of the state. And that's why would one hope that governments to the extent that they can influence it and friends from the outside to the extent they can influence it can begin to at least arrest this trend, if not reverse it.

MARKEY: Not to elaborate on this too far, but I think these involve enormously complicated calculations by the Pakistanis on at least three levels, maybe more. On one level, there is what we might describe as strategic ambivalence for all the reasons that we've been talking about.

Yes, there is still some ambivalence on the part of the Pakistani government with regard to maintaining tools, of pressure that can be used against the Indians, that can be used to further Pakistani goals and aspirations in Afghanistan. Even if the Pakistanis were onside from our point of view on those larger issues, they would still have issues involving sequencing because the last thing that you want to do is to attack all of your enemies at once and somehow consolidate them against you.

So even if the Pakistanis wanted to do what we would regard as the right thing against the Haqqani Network, for instance, in North Waziristan, they would certainly not want to see the Haqqanis allied with, what's the name, Gul Bahadur in that area. So there would have to be some sequencing of effort, if you will. And they're going to focus, understandably enough on those who pose the most clear and present danger, first, to themselves before they're going to start worrying about U.S. interests in Afghanistan.

And then, thirdly, there's the issue that as you -- as you make a decision, if you do, to take actions that will help you in the long run, addressing the sorts of issues that Ambassador Tahir-Kheli has just addressed, the problem is that -- as you do that, you increase your problems in the near-term. So if you take action against a well-entrenched organization like Laskhar-e-Taiba, the situation is going to get worse before it gets better and you can come up with any number of reasons why, yes, even if I want to do this, I really don't want to start today. I want to put it off until next week.

SCHMEMANN: Laura, did you have a question for us?

QUESTIONER: I'm just going to talk about the difficulty getting to a lighter footprint even if that's what the president decides that he wants in terms of who in the bureaucracy is arguing -- (background noise) -- all thought about that. I don't know if Petraeus is trying to put more time on the clock for staying bigger or longer, but just talking about the bureaucratic role in sort of decision-making.

ARMITAGE: I think you ought to direct that question to Eric or to David.

QUESTIONER: Okay.

ARMITAGE: They report on it regularly -- (chuckles) -- and are much more informed than I would.

SCHMEMANN: Eric or David, do you want to jump in on -- (laughter) -- in the formal question?

ARMITAGE: Naming your sources, of course.

SCHMEMANN: I want to take someone who hasn't asked a question yet. Is there anyone else? Because otherwise we'll be wrapping this up fairly soon. Okay. Go ahead.

QUESTIONER: I have one question.

(Cross talk.)

SCHMEMANN: Yeah, we'll get you in a minute.

QUESTIONER: Can you briefly analyze the role of Ambassador Holbrooke in the last two years of this administration --

SCHMEMANN: Ask David.

QUESTIONER: -- what his role has been in Afghanistan and Pakistan?

ARMITAGE: No. (Laughter.)

IGNATIUS: Can you make that answer any shorter?

QUESTIONER: Do you want to comment on this?

ARMITAGE: No, thanks.

SCHMEMANN: I don't do Holbrooke-ology.

Jim?

QUESTIONER: Sorry, I came late, so if the question was asked --

SCHMEMANN: Just pull the mike towards you a little.

QUESTIONER: I'm sorry. I came in late and so if the question was asked, I apologize. But did the task force address at all the role, if any, of Iran in all this and the administration, well, Iran's recent participation in the negotiations around Afghanistan?

ARMITAGE: As I recall, we mentioned Iran only as one of those states who have an interest, as we mentioned, the Central Asian states, et cetera. And in the previous discussion upstairs, we talked a little bit about Iran and in several other Central Asian states as well as Russia having interest in the narcotics area. But beyond that, I don't --

MARKEY: Yeah, there's not a great deal on Iran. Iran falls into the context of a state that needs to be included, as the report suggests, in a process of regional diplomacy, but that we understand clearly the barriers to engaging with Iran that have existed between the United States and Iran.

It also falls into the category -- it comes in one other mention in the report -- of states in the region that appear from Washington's perspective to be pursuing a relatively narrow interest in Afghanistan rather than contributing, as they might, to a broader stability. And that brings us back to the China example as well. So China, Iran, Russia are seen as states that could be more helpful in a regional effort, but as yet have not been.

MS. : If we could ask Armitage to follow up on that, because the Bush administration did try to bring Iran into regional diplomacy on Afghanistan.

ARMITAGE: Well, certainly at the time of the Bonn meeting and all of that, Iran was very involved. We'd had a lot of discussions of the many things have changed since that. And I'm unaware of the present state of discussions in our government and Iran, if any. But you remember during the first Bush, we had a full range. Now, it wasn't very successful because at the end of the day, we were quite keen on getting certain people who we felt were terrorists and who were in Tehran under observation if not house arrest by the Iranians, and we weren't very successful. But my impression is that the -- "discussions" is probably too strong a word to use when talking about our own interaction with the Iranians right now.

MS. : The one thing that has happened is that Iran decided to send somebody to a meeting that was taking place in Italy that would include the United States and Afghan representatives. So I think this is -- has to be seen both in the Afghan context and in the context of this administration's efforts to establish some kind of channels of communication.

QUESTIONER: Can I just ask, are you all briefing the administration, or is the task force going to be talking about your report to people in the government?

MARKEY (?): Yes, I don't know -- Anya, do you want to --

SCHMEMANN: The -- I mean, the report is in everyone's hands.

QUESTIONER: Is there more than -- I mean, are you meeting with Lute or whoever about --

ARMITAGE: Well, we did consult with the administration. And in fact, Ambassador Holbrooke was kind enough to come down -- it might have been in this very room -- and spend some time with us, for which we're enormously grateful. So there's not going to be any secret to the administration about this, but beyond that, I couldn't say. I don't know what -- Dan, Anya?

SCHMEMANN: There were also a number of administration officials upstairs earlier.

Yeah, we'll take you last, and then we'll ask our panel just to have any concluding words. Yes?

QUESTIONER: Since the Republicans have taken the House, I've seen some interviews by former Republican leadership that America should have supported Pakistan military or, quote-unquote, "President Musharraf."

Do you see more relationship towards Pakistan's military now since the Republicans are in power in Congress?

And part two, Mr. Nawaz Sharif, the leader of PML-N, would be most probably in the assembly in January because his tenure's agreement ends in December. If that happens, it will be more problem for Pakistani government because what has been working in their benefit that no big political name was in the assembly. Do you see any kind of relationship between Nawaz Sharif and the U.S. administration? Or what is the next strategy?

ARMITAGE: Well, on the question of a greater or more in-depth involvement with the Pakistani military, it's kind of hard for me to imagine that we could get much more in-depth. I think you'd be quite surprised at how close, at least in terms of discussions with them. So I don't think Republican House control is going to change that at all. I think it's pretty in-depth. Now, you can question how much both sides get out of it, but we're pretty close to the Pakistani military.

On the second, as -- if I understand, the question was would there be more affection for Nawaz by the government here -- by the U.S. government?

QUESTIONER: Yeah. I mean, some kind of relationship among the U.S. administration and the leadership of Nawaz Sharif's group, or let's say -- (inaudible).

ARMITAGE: Well, I met with -- and we did -- with Nawaz Sharif's brother when we went to Islamabad. I think -- I can only imagine that the position of the U.S. government is to meet with all leaders of whatever political stripe. And we're not in the business anymore of selecting who's in charge of what in other countries. We'll take the hand that the people of Pakistan deal us, as far as -- I can't imagine that's not the position of the U.S. government.

SCHMEMANN: Okay, good. I'll just ask folks here if they'd like to have any last words, particularly any bottom lines, headline-type phrases that you want this group to go away with. We haven't talked a whole lot about Afghanistan here in this session, although we did upstairs as well.

So Chairman Armitage.

ARMITAGE: I just -- we gave the headline upstairs, but -- such as it is -- I think the real subtext here is how extraordinarily difficult the problem the president's wrestling with is and how complex it is. And I think we tend, in our shorthand discussions generally, to focus on one or another issue, whether it's election in Afghanistan or whether it's how many drone attacks or something. But what we tried to do in this report was to kind of holistically embrace the whole problem. And I think even from members of the task force, who probably all thought we knew something going in, were surprised at the enormous complexity. At least this member was.

MARKEY: If I could only add. In terms of given the opportunity to stress bumper sticker headlines here, it's left the headlines, but look at the objectives that were identified by this group. I think that puts this report in contrast to prior reports. This group, I think, took a more wide-ranging assessment of what U.S. objectives in the region are, but -- and not just over the short run. Here I'm drawing a pretty clear contrast to another report on Afghanistan, the Afghanistan Study Group report, which I think focused on al Qaeda and Pakistan's nuclear weapons as THE U.S. interest.

This report takes those as being centrally important, but then recognizes -- for instance, in the case of Pakistan -- that it would be very difficult to work on the Pakistan nuclear problem, very difficult to address the problem of al Qaeda or other militant terrorist networks in Pakistan without working with the Pakistanis. And so therefore, it creates a set of then challenges about how best to do that.

If we try to too narrowly focus the agenda, I think we miss out on what, in fact, are broader and very significant U.S. interests and objectives in the region. And I think this report does a better job than others I've seen at laying those out. So.

SCHMEMANN: From our other task force members, any last words? (No response.) No.

Good. Thank you all.

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