Joe Biden, Obama's Mr. Fix-It, tells NATO time to talk to 'moderate' Taliban -- read full text here
Vice President Joe Biden's become the go-to guy of the Obama administration, called on to handle every problem from middle-class prosperity to oversight of the government's mega-billion-dollar economic recovery plan.
Quite a contrast to former Vice President Dick Cheney, who spent his eight years in office commissioning legal briefs that reasserted the executive branch's power over almost all aspects of our lives. As the Washington Post's Jim Hoagland put it, "Joe the Glad-Handing Mechanic has replaced Dick the Secretive Influencer. Sunny, visible and verbose have chased gloomy, occult and clipped from the office."
Today, Biden's role was to assure NATO allies that after eight years of the brush-off from Washington, the Obama administration wants to rejoin the team. With the White House already committing 17,000 more U.S. troops to Afghanistan to bolster the 38,000 that President Bush already sent there, Biden told the 26-member European alliance that it was not too late to rescue the onetime Taliban stronghold where intelligence agencies believe Osama bin Laden plotted the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
The deteriorating situation in the region poses a security threat not just to the United States but to every single nation round this table ... I want to make it clear to you, from the perspective of the average United States citizen, an attack, a terrorist attack in Europe is viewed as an attack on us. That is not hyperbole -- that is not hyperbole -- because we understand and we view it as an attack on the West. And we view it as a gateway to further attacks on the United States.
After three hours of talks with Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer (pictured above) and other members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, Biden told reporters in Brussels that options include direct talks with so-called moderate elements of the Taliban, those involved in the insurgency only for the money. With violence increasing in the Afghanistan-Pakistan border area believed responsible for last year's deadly attacks in Mumbai, India, Biden cautioned that such an outreach would have to come not from Washington but from Kabul.
Whatever is initiated will have to be ultimately initiated by the Afghan government, and will have to be such that it would not undermine a legitimate Afghan government. But I do think it is worth engaging and determining whether or not there are those who are willing to participate in a secure and stable Afghan state.
As he told the allies, "We are not now winning the war, but the war is far from lost."
Read the full text of Biden's remarks and his news conference below.
-- Johanna Neuman
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Photo: Virginia Mayo / Associated Press
THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Vice President
For Immediate Release March 10, 2009
OPENING REMARKS BY THE VICE PRESIDENT
TO THE NORTH ATLANTIC COUNCIL
VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN: Well, thank you very much, Secretary General, and thank you for the warm welcome. It's a pleasure to meet and greet every one of you.
To the NATO allies represented at this table, my purpose here today is quite straightforward and simple: I came to listen. I realize there may be some questions for our administration, but I primarily came here today to listen.
In January, President Obama ordered a strategic review of U.S. policy in Afghanistan and Pakistan to make sure that our goals were clear and that they are achievable. And as part of that review, at that time the President pledged that we would consult closely with all of you in an attempt to form a -- and forge a common and comprehensive approach. That's why I'm here, straightforward and simple: I came to keep the commitment that the President made within weeks after becoming the President of the United States of America.
What we want to learn is what your countries believe are working, what you think is not working, how we can do a better job in stopping Afghanistan and Pakistan from being a haven for terrorists. And the United States believes that we share a vital security interest in meeting that challenge. Each of our countries has a vital interest in the -- from the point of view of the United States in meeting that challenge.
The deteriorating situation in the region poses a security threat, from our perspective, not just to the United States, but to every single nation around this table. It was from that remote area of the world that al Qaeda plotted 9/11. It was from that very same area that extremists planned virtually every major terrorist attack in Europe since 9/11, including the attacks on London and Madrid.
And if I might add, we had a brief discussion with the Secretary General before I came in -- he was kind enough to host me in his office. I want to make it clear to you, from the perspective of the average United States citizen, an attack, a terrorist attack in Europe is viewed as an attack on us. That is not hyperbole -- that is not hyperbole -- because we understand and we view it as an attack on the West. And we view it as a gateway to further attacks on the United States.
So please understand this is not a U.S.-centric view that only if America is attacked is there a terrorist threat. It was, as I said, from the very same mountains the attacks of 9/11 were planned and the attacks that have taken place thus far in Europe, and -- and -- it is from that area that al Qaeda and the extremist allies are regenerating and conceiving new atrocities aimed at the people around the world -- from Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India, to the United States, Europe, and Australia.
And our responsibility, in my humble opinion, each of our responsibilities, is, first and foremost, to protect our citizens. President Obama and I are deeply committed to NATO. Let's get that straight right from the start. There is no ambivalence on the part of our administration about the value and necessity of a strong, coherent NATO. We know that our Alliance works best when we've listened to each other. I had been a United States senator for 36 years before becoming Vice President. I have made multiple trips to this building. I've observed when we consult, when we genuinely consult, when we internally argue and bang out our differences, we generate the kind of consensus that our political leadership needs to take to our own people to make the case about what we've decided. When we build strategies together, it works.
And once we reach an agreement, when we commit to putting the full measure of our strength into achieving our common goals, then it works. I want to make it clear: We're here to consult; we're here to listen; we're here to come up with a joint common strategy. Once that is arrived at, we, the United States, expect everyone to keep whatever commitments were made in arriving at that joint strategy. It's as simple and as straightforward as that.
Together, I am absolutely confident we can handle not only Afghanistan, but many other crises we'll face in the 21st century. I'm also equally as confident that absent that kind of cohesion, it will be incredibly more difficult for us to meet the common threats we're going to face.
We always use the phrase, gentlemen and ladies, that we have common values, which brings us together. Well, that is literally true. And it's time for us to put it to work. Our administration is committed to doing that.
And again, I want to thank you, Secretary General, for the opportunity to be here. And thank you all for giving me the opportunity to come and hear what's on your minds. Thank you very much.
THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Vice President
For Immediate Release March 10, 2009
REMARKS BY VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN
AND NATO SECRETARY GENERAL JAAP DE HOOP SCHEFFER
IN JOINT PRESS CONFERENCE
12:45 P.M. (Local)
VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN: I'd be happy to take your questions.
Q Thank you, Mr. Vice President. Over the weekend, President Obama opened the door, said that he would possibly talk to and create alliances with moderate Taliban in Afghanistan. How much of a factor meets -- how many moderate Taliban are there, and is it enough to make a difference there? And what kind of concessions would the U.S. consider giving them?
VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN: Well, let me just say -- and to paraphrase Secretary Holbrooke, our Special Envoy, and I agree with his assessment after numerous visits to the region and throughout the country -- 5 percent of the Taliban is incorrigible, not susceptible to anything other than being defeated. Another 25 percent or so are not quite sure, in my view, the intensity of their commitment to the insurgency. And roughly 70 percent are involved because of the money, because of them being -- getting paid.
To state the obvious, as you know, the Taliban, most of whom are Pashtun -- you have 60 percent of the Pashtun population in Pakistan; only 40 percent live in Afghanistan. The objectives that flow from Kandahar may be different than Quetta, may be different than the FATA. So it's worth exploring.
The idea of what concessions would be made is well beyond the scope of my being able to answer, except to say that whatever is initiated will have to be ultimately initiated by the Afghan government, and will have to be such that it would not undermine a legitimate Afghan government. But I do think it is worth engaging and determining whether or not there are those who are willing to participate in a secure and stable Afghan state.
Q To continue on this same subject, what kind of negotiation could we have with moderate Talibans? And is the British experience on this matter useful for NATO and for you? And then, Mr. -- President Obama said this weekend also that we're not winning the war in Afghanistan. I would like to have your analysis on this.
VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN: Well, I think the President is accurate; we are not now winning the war, but the war is far from lost -- number one. Number two, with regard to the experience, it is different, but not wholly different. We engaged in Iraq the most extreme elements of the Sunni resistance in Anbar Province. We ended up with an operation called the Sons of Iraq, because we accurately determined, as some of us had pointed out in numerous visits there, that the idea that every Sunni was a supporter of -- every Sunni insurgent was a supporter of al Qaeda was simply not true -- simply not true.
The same principle pertains here. Whether or not it will bear as much fruit remains to be seen. There's only one way, and that is to engage -- engage in the process, looking for pragmatic solutions to accomplishing what our goal is; that is an Afghanistan that is, at minimum goal, is not a haven for terror and is able to sustain itself on its own and provide its own security.
Q Mr. Biden, when we speak about Afghanistan, I wanted to ask you what do you plan for Kosovo? For example, how do you assess the security situation there? And do you plan withdrawing some troops and relocating them, these troops, in Afghanistan when you need them more? And I'm sorry, but I'm using also this opportunity to ask you how do you assess the developments in Kosovo since independence? Are you expecting some recognition from member countries of NATO? Thank you.
VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN: Thank you for all three questions. (Laughter.) No, we do not believe we need to withdraw or make a judgment relative to Afghanistan based on progress or lack thereof in Kosovo. Number two, there is more to be done in Kosovo. The business is not finished. Number three, it is primarily the responsibility of the European Union and the European Community to follow through on the commitments that we have made. But on balance, I want to make it clear that there is not a tradeoff in terms of our concern for Kosovo and the progress in Kosovo and what need be done in Iraq.
Q On another subject relating to the summit next month, do you expect that the Alliance will decide at that summit who the next Secretary General will be? And could you give us some sense of the U.S. thinking in this debate? Would you like to see, as is traditional, another Western European? Is it perhaps time for an Eastern European, or as a widely read American newspaper columnist said on the weekend, would the U.S. like to see a Canadian?
And if I could ask the Secretary General, realizing that you're not part of the search process, to give your thoughts on how this process is going.
VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN: The Secretary General has decided to stay. (Laughter.) That was a joke. (Laughter.) That was a joke. Look, let me say that the United States has not made a decision yet. This is a consensus matter, it is a consultative matter. We believe there are -- it's a very strong field. We don't think as a matter of policy any -- any member nation should be ruled out as being able to provide a Secretary General, but we have not taken a position on who should be that successor of the Secretary General I'm standing next to. And, yes, I do believe that decision will be made, and hopefully will be made by that time.
And I'm sure the Secretary General hopes that to be the case, too. (Laughter.)
SECRETARY GENERAL JAAP DE HOOP SCHEFFER: I do indeed, Mr. Vice President. (Laughter.) Otherwise I would have to change plans, which I do not intend to do. But as the Vice President was saying, that is, of course, a decision which needs consensus and which will be taken by the allies at the appropriate time.
If I could hear your question to me through the -- all the tricks of the camera -- it was about the surge in Afghanistan? Is that correct? Would you otherwise repeat it, because I had difficulty in hearing it?
Q No, I just wondered, since you're not part of the process of finding your own successor, if you could, nonetheless, give us your thoughts on the essential qualities that the Alliance should be looking for.
SECRETARY GENERAL JAAP DE HOOP SCHEFFER: No, no, no, yes. I can give those thoughts, but I will do that in the privacy of my own office or my own house, but certainly not to you and your highly respected colleagues -- since I'm not part of the process. Many qualities; it goes without saying, many qualities.
VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN: Well, thank you all very much. Appreciate your time.
SECRETARY GENERAL JAAP DE HOOP SCHEFFER: Thank you.
END 12:55 P.M. (Local)