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Secretary Esper's Remarks on the Afghanistan Joint Declaration

President Ghani, Secretary General Stoltenberg, Minister Khalid, distinguished guests; we join here today with great hope for the future of Afghanistan.

Since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the international community and government of Afghanistan have united together in the fight against threats to international peace and security. Along with our NATO allies and partners, we have been committed to ensuring that Afghanistan never again becomes a safe-haven for terrorists to threaten our homelands. Throughout this long war, we have worked closely with the government of Afghanistan to strengthen its security forces and develop the democratic institutions needed to chart a safe, secure, and prosperous future for this country.

America and its allies have made tremendous sacrifices in pursuit of these goals, as have the people of Afghanistan. We honor our brave service members who have served here, especially those who have been casualties in this war. And we remember the innocent civilians lost in this struggle. The ongoing efforts to achieve a political settlement after many long years of fighting, reflect a shared desire for a sovereign, unified Afghanistan at peace with itself and its neighbors.

Thanks to President Trump's leadership, we are finally making substantial progress toward ending our nation's longest war. Today's release of the Joint Declaration between the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and the United States marks a pivotal moment in the peace process. Our declaration acknowledges the deep bond shared by Afghan and U.S. forces, and reflects our commitment to working together to achieve a sustainable negotiated agreement that ends the war, for the benefit of all Afghans. Central to this agreement are measures to prevent the use of Afghan soil by terrorist groups or other individuals who seek to harm the United States or our allies.

Over the past week, we have observed a significant reduction in violence, which has created the necessary conditions for the United States to approve an agreement with the Taliban. This agreement, which will be signed in Doha shortly after this ceremony, paves the way for intra-Afghan negotiations to proceed so that a permanent and comprehensive ceasefire may be achieved. Afghanistan deserves a chance to enjoy the security and prosperity that comes from peace and stability. This will only happen if Afghans join together with one another to embrace this opportunity.

We call on the Taliban to abide by their commitments as outlined in the agreement with the United States, to include maintaining the ongoing reduction in violence across the country. As intra-Afghan negotiations progress, the United States will watch the Taliban's actions closely to judge whether their efforts towards peace are in good faith. If the Taliban uphold the agreement, the United States will begin a conditions-based reduction in forces. Concurrently, we will work with other members of the Coalition to carry out a proportional reduction in troop levels. However, should the Taliban fail to honor their commitments, they will forfeit their chance to sit with fellow Afghans and deliberate on the future of their country. Moreover, the United States would not hesitate to nullify the agreement.

Meanwhile, the United States and our international partners remain committed to our longstanding security relationship with the government of Afghanistan. For several years now, the Afghan Security Forces have been in the lead for providing security, and their effectiveness continues to grow. We will continue to provide them support as necessary to assist in their defense against internal and external threats to the sovereignty of Afghanistan.

This is a hopeful moment, but it is only the beginning. The road ahead will not be easy. Achieving lasting peace in Afghanistan will require patience and compromise among all parties.  But for the first time in many years, Afghanistan has a real path toward the future this country deserves. We look forward to the coming weeks and months with great optimism, as we advance these important efforts to finally achieve peace.

Thank you.