Pelosi Remarks at Press Conference on Congressional Delegation to Italy, Afghanistan

February 23, 2009
Press Release

Washington, D.C. - Speaker Nancy Pelosi and members of the Congressional delegation to Afghanistan and Italy held a press conference today. Below are the Speaker's opening remarks:

Good afternoon. Last evening, we returned from a trip to visit our troops. As Speaker and as leader, my first trip every year is to visit our men and women in uniform to thank them for their courage, their patriotism, the sacrifices that they and their families are making for our country.

We first went to Aviano Air Base where we paid our respects to our troops. I had the privilege of giving one of the airmen there, Phoebus Lazaridis, a Bronze Star for his service to our country. We met with soldiers, sailors, and Marines in Naples as another part of the trip.

We wanted to thank the men and women in uniform and, also, the people of Italy for the support that they have given to U.S. troops on their soil for a long time -- we did that in Aviano. We then went to Florence where we visited the American cemetery there to thank the officials and the volunteers who keep the memory of our fallen heroes so alive there.

[Next we went] on to Rome to thank the leaders of the country for the military cooperation we receive. I maintain that America has no better friend and partner in NATO than Italy. Their bases and installations and -- all over the country. And so I was able to thank -- our delegation was able to thank -- the President of Italy, President Napolitano, Prime Minister Berlusconi.

We met with what they call the President of the Chamber of Deputies, [Gianfranco] Fini.  I made a major speech to the members of the Chamber of Deputies. We also met with the Minister of -- Foreign Minister and the Minister of Defense while we were there.

It was a special joy for me and my husband to meet with His Holiness, Pope Benedict the XVI, and it was so special for us.

While we were there, we also all participated in a major climate change conference that was held there. The presiding officer of it was Prime Minister Amato, the former prime minister of Italy, a very high level with many young people participating; hundreds of young people participating. That was great for us.

And we also, when we visit Italy, on our way to another place of challenge for our country, we always visit the World Food Program to get the assessment of what is happening in terms of food. And our Congress has no greater leader, indeed, our country doesn't, than Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro, who has been a champion on issues relating to nutrition and food assistance -- emergency food assistance both at home and abroad.

Chairman George Miller and Chairman Markey led the way in our discussions in the climate change meeting that we had.

The central issue when we were in Italy meeting with our troops and with the Italian government was the situation in Afghanistan. The delegation then went on to Kabul and to Bagram Air Base where we met with members of our armed forces. We met with people doing community work in Afghanistan. We met with leaders of women's groups in the country and met with non-governmental organization workers who are in the PRTs -- provincial reconstruction teams.

So we tried to see what the attitude was of the allies, what the assessment was from our military, what the on-the-ground read was from the people on Afghanistan, from American workers in Afghanistan and those who are trying to respect the culture of the area and how this all comes together in the interest of our national security.

It was clear to us that Afghanistan cannot be allowed to be a safe haven for terrorists to launch attacks against the United States. Everybody has known that since 9/11. No country can be allowed to do that.

In 2001, the Taliban and now Al Qaeda were routed, but they were not eliminated as threats. The Bush Administration policies failed to prevent their resurgence. So we need a change.

The consensus at our meetings was that the U.S. national security interest is in a secure Afghanistan with a government considered to be legitimate by the Afghan people. And that cannot be achieved by military force alone.

A successful strategy, we believe, is -- and when you go on one of these visits, you don't go just seeking answers. You come back with many questions. And so these are questions that we want to share with the Administration.

But I would divide the categories this way. Military force -- we need a force tailored in size to achieve a specific, clearly defined objective. Improved governance -- any strategy must address systemic corruption within the Afghan government and crackdown on drug trafficking.

Regional emphasis -- this is very important. In the words of the DNI Director Blair, when he testified before Congress earlier this month, he said “no improvement in Afghanistan is possible without Pakistan taking control of its border areas in improving governance creating economic and educational opportunities throughout the country.”

There must be increased diplomatic engagement with neighboring countries, as the administration has indicated by appointing Mr. Holbrooke. This is a regional challenge. And it's not just India, Pakistan, Afghanistan; it also involves the other Stans and Russia, China, Iran, perhaps, some Persian Gulf countries who have their own security interests in a secure Afghanistan to find ways so we can work together to bring security to the country. On the economic development side, community development efforts like the provisional reconstruction teams, must have Afghans in the leadership roles and establish accountability -- assure that development dollars are spent effectively. And so, again, military, economic, governance issues, and the role of the neighbors -- all of these have to be done working with our NATO allies, and we're all awaiting the President's review of the Afghan policy and use of the military there.

I don't know when that is coming, but it is imminent. But I know that Members of Congress, on both sides of the aisle, have an interest in following this issue, contributing their thinking to it, raising questions about it. And to that end, I've asked Caucus Chairman John Larson to work with Republican Conference Chairman Mike Pence to convene briefing in the House chamber in a bipartisan way with leaders in the Administration on this subject -- the Secretary of State, the Secretary of Defense, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Mr. Holbrooke, and others.

I spoke with Mr. Boehner about this morning, and he agreed that we wanted to do this in a bipartisan way and in a timely fashion.

I think that all of you know who accompanied me on the trip by now, but I want to acknowledge them as well. The Chair of our Caucus, John Larson, Congresswoman Anna Eshoo from California, Ed Markey -- who came a little late to this press conference because he was at an energy policy conference that I left earlier today.

I mentioned that you and Mr. Miller took the lead for us at the climate change conference in Italy.

Mr. Miller -- he and Congresswoman DeLauro,  Co-chairs of our Steering and Policy Committee. He is also the chair of the Education and Labor Committee. And Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro, again, our champion on so many ways.

I'll just close because this happens that the two of them are -- the last two are here.  Congressman Michael Capuano was with us and Congressman Bill Pascrell. You might say the delegation had a Italian flavor because we've had this invitation for a long time from the Italian government, but we could only accept it when it fit into our -- going further on to Afghanistan.

But what was interesting was -- in Italy and in Afghanistan -- when Congresswoman DeLauro and Chairman Miller were talking about issues and the rest, they were praised by the Italians and the Afghan women for what they had done on the Lilly Ledbetter bill and passing it into law.

In Italy, they said this has opened up this whole question again for us. That's pretty thrilling. In Afghanistan they, again, were praiseworthy. I think some of the Afghan women are a little further down the road in terms of the law. We want that to be the case in terms of the practice as well.

So with that, I'd be pleased to take any questions that you may have.