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The Vice President's Press Conference with NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer in Brussels, Belgium

March 10, 2009

VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN: Thank you very much, Secretary General. I want to thank all the members for the warm welcome they've afforded me. And thank you for your leadership of the Alliance.

Less than a month from today, NATO is going to meet to celebrate the 60th anniversary of NATO. There's a great deal to celebrate, but there's also a great deal left to do. The Alliance has been the cornerstone of our security since the end of World War II. And to state the obvious, it has anchored the United States in Europe. And I believe it's been helpful in forging a Europe whole and free. There's much to celebrate, as I said, but there's also much to do.

Our community of democratic nations faces extraordinary challenges: a worldwide economic crisis, the likes of which we haven't seen; the spread of mass destruction weapons and dangerous diseases; the growing gap between the rich and the poor; ethnic animosities and failed states; a rapidly warming planet and uncertain supplies of water, energy, and food; and the challenge to freedom and security from radical fundamentalism. And nowhere is that challenge more acute than in Afghanistan.

I know the people of Europe, like the people of my country, are tired of war, and they are tired of this war. But many of our citizens both here in Europe and at home question why we need to send troops and treasure so far from our homes. But we know, we know that it was from the space that joins Afghanistan and Pakistan that the attacks of 9/11 occurred. We know that it was from the very same area that extremists planned virtually every major terrorist attack on Europe since 9/11, and the attack on Mumbai. We know that it was from this same area that al Qaeda and its extremist allies are regenerating and conceiving new atrocities to visit upon us.

As leaders entrusted with the security of our citizens, none of us -- none of us -- none of us can deny that the new threats of the 21st century must be dealt with. None of us can escape the responsibility to meet these threats.

And that's why President Obama ordered a full-scale strategic review of our policy with regard to Afghanistan and Pakistan. He insisted that we consult with our allies and partners so that we produce a truly common vision of how to proceed. And that's what I had the privilege to do today at the North Atlantic Council.

I heard from our allies. I heard the concerns and they listed their priorities. And I pledged to them, as I pledge to all Europeans now, that we will build their ideas into our review, which we expect to present to President Obama before the end of this month, in preparation of the NATO summit in April.

I also shared with my colleagues some of the factors that are shaping our thinking right now, including the requirement that we set clear goals and achievable goals: We need to look at Afghanistan and Pakistan together, because success in one requires progress in the other; the imperative of a comprehensive approach with a strong civilian and diplomatic effort is necessary because we know there is no purely military solution to either Afghanistan or Pakistan; the centrality of building up Afghan security forces -- because our goal is not to stay in Afghanistan, it's to be able to leave, and to leave behind Afghan forces that can provide for the security and safety of the people of Afghanistan; and the need to ensure the security and legitimacy in this year's presidential elections.

In each of these areas, NATO and it member countries plays a critical role. So does the European Union. The Secretary General and I will meet with that leadership after this press conference. And I look forward to hearing from representatives of non-NATO countries, as well, who are doing so much in Afghanistan.

So we had a very good meeting. There was an incredible amount of consensus around the table. Each member country spoke, including two of the aspirant nations. And I came away with a much clearer sense of what our NATO friends would like us to consider in this review.

I might add this is not the end of the consultation; this is essentially the beginning of it. Each of the member countries is going to submit in more detail their concerns, their recommendations and their observations. They all will be taken into consideration -- because I know from my significant experience in this building -- over 37 years -- that we only succeed when, in fact, there is a real consensus. There's a need for a real consensus as it relates to Afghanistan.

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.

Joseph R. Biden, The Vice President's Press Conference with NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer in Brussels, Belgium Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/321287

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