This is historical material “frozen in time”. The website is no longer updated and links to external websites and some internal pages may not work.

Search form

The White House

Transcript of Q&A Session of Press Conference with Vice President Biden and NATO Secretary General

Office of the Vice President
For Immediate Release                                         March 10, 2009
NATO Headquarters
Brussels, Belgium
12:45 P.M. (Local)
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.
12:55 P.M. (Local)