Obama, French President Discuss Afghanistan After Summit
By Claudette Roulo
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Jun. 19, 2013 President Barack Obama held a private meeting yesterday with French President Francois Hollande in Lough Erne, Northern Ireland, following the annual G-8 conference.
Speaking to the reporters following the meeting, Obama said the two leaders discussed the progress made by Afghanistan’s security forces, now in the lead for security throughout the country. This meets the milestone agreed upon at last year’s NATO summit in Chicago, the president noted.
“Both President Hollande and I agree that an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace process is the best way to end the violence and to ensure lasting stability in Afghanistan and the region,” Obama said.
Qatar’s recent announcement that an office would be opened in its capital city of Doha to host negotiations between Afghans is an important first step towards reconciliation, Obama said.
“It's a very early step -- we anticipate there will be a lot of bumps in the road -- but the fact that the parties have an opportunity to talk and discuss Afghanistan's future, I think, is very important,” he said.
“The one thing that we do believe is that any insurgent group, including the Taliban, is going to need to accept an Afghan constitution that renounces ties with al-Qaida, ends violence and is committed to the protection of women and minorities in the country,” the president continued.
Obama noted that discussions on this issue have taken place over the last several months between himself, Afghan President Hamid Karzai and Qatar’s emir, Sheik Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani.
“I want to publicly commend President Karzai for taking this courageous step, and his determination to end the conflict and build a future of security and peace and prosperity for the Afghan people,” he said.
“I want to repeat, we don't anticipate this process will be easy or quick, but we must pursue in parallel with our military approach,” the president said. The United States remains fully committed to its military efforts to defeat al-Qaida and to support the Afghan security forces, he added.
In addition to the transition in Afghanistan, the two leaders discussed the situation in Syria. Obama noted that both countries have strong evidence that chemical weapons have been used in Syria by the Bashar Assad regime.
“We are very comfortable with the approach taken by the G-8 that allows the U.N. the full powers it needs to investigate and establish these facts on the ground,” he said.
“In the Middle East and Syria, we very much share the view that it is important for us to build on the G-8 communiqué -- to move towards a political transition inside of Syria, to build a strong opposition that can function in a post-Assad world -- and that we will continue to work to try to find a political solution to this process and, most importantly, alleviate suffering and ensure that chemical weapons are not used by anyone inside of Syria,” the president said.
Obama also praised French efforts in Mali.
“This is a situation in which France was able to stop the splintering of a nation-state by a terrorist organization, and now is in a position to reaffirm democracy and legitimacy and an effective government inside of Mali,” the president said.
“That involved considerable sacrifice on the part of the French people, but it's part of a broader commitment on both our parts to pursue a smart counterterrorism policy that works with partners in the region,” he continued.
Finally, the president said he welcomes France’s decision to support the European Union’s designation of Lebanese Hezbollah as a terrorist organization. “I think that sends a powerful signal that Europe stands firmly against Hezbollah's terrorist activities,” Obama said.
The action “is consistent with the view that the only way that we can bring about a peaceful and prosperous Middle East is to isolate extremism and to promote those persons and institutions that are committed to a pluralistic, open and tolerant society that's based on rule of law,” he added.
The United States is committed to strengthening its relationship with the French government, the president said. “When countries like the United States and France act in concert, we can get an awful lot done,” Obama added.