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Cheneys Attend Afghan Parliament Opening Session

By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Dec. 19, 2005 – With Vice President Richard B. Cheney and his wife, Lynne, in front-row seats, Afghan President Hamid Karzai opened the first session of his country's new parliament today in Kabul, Afghanistan.

"This gathering represents the assumption of full sovereignty by the great people of Afghanistan," said Karzai during his address before the assembly. "Establishment of the parliament completed the main pillar of the government of Afghanistan in light of the constitution."

During his hour-long speech to the first elected legislature since 1969, Karzai said "Afghanistan and the United States share common views on combating terrorism."

"Terrorism is still a threat to our country," Karzai acknowledged in his address. But, he vowed, "Afghanistan will not be (a) place of terrorists."

Afterward, Karzai escorted the Cheneys to his official residence, where he met with the U.S. vice president.

When reporters asked Karzai what Cheney's visit represented, the Afghan president responded in English: "It means a lot. It means progress. It means achievement. It means togetherness."

In Washington, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice wished the governing body's members well "as they assume the tremendous responsibility for Afghanistan's national welfare."

Rice said Afghanistan's citizens have labored hard to transform their country into a democracy in the four years since the Taliban were deposed.

"The extremist elements who threatened to disrupt Afghanistan's electoral process and democratic institutions have failed," Rice observed. "The seating of the National Assembly is the final step in the process begun four years ago with the assistance of the international community to create Afghanistan's democratic institutions."

Afghanistan's legislators will represent their people's dreams of building a peaceful country with democratic institutions, Rice said, as well as an improving quality of life.

The United States stands with Afghanistan in a long-term commitment, Rice said, to assist the Afghans in erecting a free, secure and prosperous future.

"We applaud the Afghan people and government on this momentous occasion," Rice said.

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