Thank you, Mr. President, and thank you to all the briefers who briefed us today.
The United States welcomes the outcomes of the Geneva Ministerial Conference on Afghanistan. Three weeks ago, the international community reaffirmed its long-term commitment to a peaceful, prosperous, and self-reliant Afghanistan.
At the Geneva Conference, Afghanistan’s international partners underscored their commitment to supporting the peace process. We also agreed on the need to look beyond peace negotiations to begin planning for the broader economic agenda required for a lasting peace.
Underscoring the priority President Trump places on achieving a durable peace agreement in Afghanistan, Secretary of State Pompeo appointed Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad as the U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation to lead U.S. government efforts to bring an end to the Afghan conflict.
In appointing Ambassador Khalilzad at this time, the United States is sending a clear message that we believe peace in Afghanistan is possible. Now is the time for the parties to the conflict and the broader international community to seize this opportunity for peace.
While we are reminded regularly of the challenging security environment in Afghanistan and the heavy toll of the ongoing conflict on the Afghan people, we have also seen some encouraging signs that point to prospects for peace.
We call on the Taliban to establish an authoritative team of negotiators to engage in intra-Afghan talks with the Afghan government and other Afghans.
To fully seize this opportunity, we welcome the decision taken by Afghanistan’s partners – and reflected in the Geneva Conference Communique – to accelerate our collaboration on the socio-economic requirements for peace.
We urge all our fellow donors, development partners, and all stakeholders to prioritize the development of an action plan for a broad-based program of post-settlement economic initiatives. This includes a return of Afghan capital, increased Afghan and foreign investment, job creation, and enhanced regional economic integration. We thank the World Bank for its key role in working to make this plan a reality.
Such a commitment requires broad-based collaboration and can only be sustained through effective burden sharing among donors, Afghan stakeholders, and the broader international community.
In addition to lending support to Afghanistan’s peace process, the United States also remains committed to supporting preparations for the presidential election to ensure that it is transparent and credible.
We were pleased to witness millions of Afghans exercise their right to vote in October parliamentary elections, despite the security challenges. In advance of the presidential election, we believe it will be important for the Independent Election Commission to address technical issues based on lessons learned from the parliamentary elections. We also note the importance of conducting credible investigations into allegations of electoral fraud.
UNAMA plays a critical role supporting Afghanistan’s electoral process and coordinating donor assistance. We urge the mission to continue to prioritize its efforts to bolster the capabilities of the Afghan election commission to ensure the presidential election is as credible and transparent as possible.
Regardless of which candidate ultimately prevails, the United States will remain committed to working with the Afghan people and the next Afghan government on areas of mutual interest, including the fight against terrorism, promoting the rule of law and inclusive democracy, protecting human rights, and increasing economic prosperity.
On security, the United States is deeply concerned that violence in parts of Afghanistan remains at unacceptably high levels. Despite the challenging environment, the United States and our NATO partners remain committed to strengthening the professionalization and ability of Afghan security forces to protect the people of Afghanistan.
Indeed, building this capacity in a way that prioritizes long-term sustainability and ensures that Afghanistan’s security forces are inclusive and representative of the Afghan population is an essential element of laying the groundwork for long-term peace.
The United States also supports the work of the 1988 Sanctions Committee and encourages Member States to fully implement their sanctions obligations. Implementation is key for sanctions to be an effective tool for achieving peace and reconciliation in Afghanistan.
We also thank UNODC for again providing a valuable report on the status of opium production in Afghanistan. Despite the reduction in production in 2018, it is clear that the opium challenge in Afghanistan remains acute and will require dedicated focus in the months and years ahead.
Our collective approach to addressing this complex challenge must remain broad. Direct efforts to scale back production, including eradication, must be part of the solution. At the same time, we must also focus on supporting Afghan law enforcement and criminal justice agencies, increasing access to evidence-based treatment for substance abuse, and – perhaps most importantly – supporting efforts to help Afghan farmers develop alternative, licit livelihoods.
We urge the Government of Afghanistan to advance the implementation of its National Drug Control Strategy and National Drug Action Plan. We also ask our fellow donors to consider ways in which we can support these efforts.
The United States welcomes this opportunity to reaffirm our commitment to the long-term peace and prosperity of Afghanistan and to the Afghan people.
Thank you, Mr. President.