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Tillerson Makes Unannounced Trip To Afghanistan

Oct 23, 2017
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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson took an unannounced trip into Afghanistan today amid tight security. He says the Trump administration remains committed to helping Afghanistan get on a path toward peace and reconciliation, but this is no blank check. Tillerson also had a message for Pakistan, where he'll visit tomorrow.

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SEC OF STATE REX TILLERSON: We're as concerned about the future stability of Pakistan as we are in many respects here in Afghanistan. Pakistan needs to, I think, take a clear-eyed view of the situation that they're confronted with in terms of the number of terrorist organizations that find safe haven inside of Pakistan.

MARTIN: NPR's Michele Kelemen has been traveling with the secretary of state, and she joins me now. Michele, Secretary Tillerson met with the president of Afghanistan, Ashraf Ghani. What was that meeting like? Do we know what came out of it?

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: Well, he said that the President Ghani assured him that the country is going to continue with reforms and crack down on corruption, and also talked about the possibility for peace talks. I mean, the Trump administration - President Trump was really reluctant to send more troops to Afghanistan, but Tillerson's message was the U.S. remains committed but it's not going to be a blank check. It's going to be a conditions-based commitment, and what the U.S. wants is to get peace talks underway. And one of the interesting things that Tillerson talked about was that he's convinced that there are moderate forces in the Taliban that could be able to talk. That, you know, first the message on the battlefield has to be that the Taliban's not going to win this on the battlefield, but then he thinks that there is going to be some sort of chance for a peace process.

MARTIN: But, you know, we've heard this for a long time now, and especially about Pakistan's role in the ongoing instability in Afghanistan. U.S. officials have conceded for years that in order to defeat the Taliban you have to get Pakistan to stop supporting them. So what is Tillerson going to do that's different than previous secretaries of state?

KELEMEN: I think it is a lot of the same, to be honest. But he says that, again, there's - this is a conditions-based approach to Pakistan. He's going with some very specific asks for them. U.S. aid is going to be contingent on this. The U.S. relationship with Pakistan is going to be contingent on this. And, you know, obviously the big ask is the one that the U.S. has made many times before, and that is to deny the Taliban safe haven in Pakistan. And, you know, Tillerson says that it is in Pakistan's security interests that this isn't just about Afghanistan, this is also about Pakistan's future.

MARTIN: And the whole South Asian region, really, which is why Tillerson is going also not just to Pakistan but to India on this trip. Is that visit to India likely to add another layer of complication on his asks to the Pakistani government?

KELEMEN: Well, surely because the Pakistanis don't like the fact that India's involved in Afghanistan. But the secretary's approach is a regional approach. That's what he keeps saying. The only way to resolve this, the only way to get to peace talks, the only way to get to a stable Afghanistan is for all sides to work together. And the India piece of that is to work on development, work on the economy. India's doing that already with some big projects here, but that's the big ask, is to continue to do that and to play that kind of strong supporting economic role.

MARTIN: NPR's Michele Kelemen traveling with the secretary of state. Thanks so much, Michele.

KELEMEN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.