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Sir Jeremy Greenstock

November 19, 2001 at 12:00 AM EDT


GWEN IFILL: The United Nations Security Council passed a resolution calling for a central U.N. role in establishing a post-Taliban government in Afghanistan. Plans are also underway for a U.N. force to help keep order, but that has run into some resistance from the Northern Alliance. But the Alliance may agree yet to meet at a neutral foreign site to begin negotiations on the country’s political future. The United Kingdom is a key backer of the U.N. efforts. We hear now from its ambassador to the U.N., Sir Jeremy Greenstock. Mr. Ambassador, welcome.

SIR JEREMY GREENSTOCK, U.N. Ambassador, United Kingdom: Good evening.

GWEN IFILL: So what is the significance of the resolution that was passed by the U.N. last week?

SIR JEREMY GREENSTOCK: It’s to set the principles for Lakhdar Brahimi’s negotiation to try and get a much more stable government installed in Afghanistan in a number of stages and to have backing from the international community for the humanitarian effort and for economic reconstruction to give the Afghan people a sense that this is moving their way, that something is happening that will be in their long-term interest both politically and economically.

And the resolution also asks member-states to support the effort to bring safety and security to Afghanistan, and it’s on that basis I think that a number of member-states of the U.N. are contemplating offering forces for that security operation.

GWEN IFILL: How do you gauge at this point the willingness of the different parties within Afghanistan, the Northern Alliance, all the other parties involved in this, to participate in this kind of international action or to accept it?

SIR JEREMY GREENSTOCK: Well, this has been a war, a short one but quite an intense one. And of course those who are holding military territory are going to be interested in holding a political advantage.

But I think from discussions so far that Lakhdar Brahimi and his team have had with a number of different political and military players in Afghanistan, people are beginning to realize at the top that this needs to be a new approach to a stable, broad-based government in Afghanistan.

Otherwise there will not be the kind of international input, which the people of Afghanistan needs. So of course there is going to be haggling. Of course there are going to be marking out of positions not just in Afghanistan but amongst neighboring states and other states interested. But that’s to be expected.

And I think the U.N. team is capable of sorting this out and getting us going with some good negotiations.

GWEN IFILL: How critical is this weekend’s, this meeting we’ve been hearing talk about all day today perhaps in Berlin among all the parties? How critical is it that this gets it off to the best start?

SIR JEREMY GREENSTOCK: Well, the first step in a long journey is the most important one. And this will be the beginning of a negotiation for a long-term, stable constitution and government in Afghanistan, and to see who turns up, who they represent, how broad that representation is, how they talk to each other, and what mood they begin to discuss sharing power is going to be very important and to set the tone for the subsequent stages. So it is an extremely important juncture that we’re looking at now.

GWEN IFILL: Did everything that happened last week, all the military gains basically outpace the political ability to be able to follow up on them? Did it all just come together so fast?

SIR JEREMY GREENSTOCK: Well, I think we’ve all been surprised by the speed of events on the ground, but it’s a good surprise in many ways. The Taliban have basically disappeared or at least to a small corner of Afghanistan.

We didn’t think that they would collapse so soon, that there would be more bloodshed across Afghanistan. It means that the humanitarian effort can have access to many more people within Afghanistan particularly in the North and the Northeast where the mountainous terrain is so difficult. So that’s good.

The whole speed of progress has brought its own problems in terms of the tendency of military men to hold the territory and the political control of the territory that they do.

GWEN IFILL: Is that considered a broken promise, the idea that the Northern Alliance, for instance, is in Kabul, where it promised not to be holding territory?

SIR JEREMY GREENSTOCK: Well, the Taliban vacated Kabul, so it was natural for them to move in. We have to deal with that. But the Northern Alliance leaders are discussing with the U.S., with the UK, with the U.N., how the talks over sharing power can take place, and I think that’s a good sign

GWEN IFILL: How much important is it in order for this to come together, this plan to come together that there be some sort of international financial aid package in place as an inducement to get everyone to agree?

SIR JEREMY GREENSTOCK: Well there’s already a huge amount of humanitarian money available and that’s being dispersed now, but the long-term reconstruction of Afghanistan is going to be an extremely important instrument in persuading people to cooperate and to look after the interests of the Afghan people. So in the medium- to long-term, absolutely vital.

GWEN IFILL: One more thing in that resolution that was passed last week, you also call for the parties, the Afghan parties, to refrain from acts of reprisal. Do you have any evidence that there have been any, or are those just fears that you’re trying to hedge against?

SIR JEREMY GREENSTOCK: There have been some isolated incidents. The story from Mazar-e-Sharif, which you looked at earlier, was perhaps not as bad as the first reports. We’re now very worried about the Taliban cooped up in Kunduz, and there could be killings there if people do not restrain themselves.

So it clearly is right for the Security Council to ask for restraint, but there also has to be a structure for defeated soldiers to pass into a prisoner of war camp or to justice in some sort of way, which avoids their being slaughtered on the ground. And that is something that the U.N. is looking at closely at this moment.

GWEN IFILL: As we watch these things come together as these parties begin to meet how do we keep track of who’s on first especially with the Brahimi plan? Who are the people who are objecting to it the most? Who are the folks who have to be placated the most? How do you get to the next step?

SIR JEREMY GREENSTOCK: You have to persuade people that the long-term is more important than the short-term and that international economic action is not just going to come to one narrow faction.

You know, we don’t want to move from the Taliban appearing from one end of the spectrum only to have the mirror image with the Northern Alliance from a narrow part of the spectrum elsewhere. This has got to be more broad-based. And I think that the input of the international community in that persuasive act is going to be very important.

But I say, again, military commanders who hold ground are going to be difficult to persuade, so wherever you see warlord activity, you can be sure there is going to be a tendency to try and use leverage to get advantage.

GWEN IFILL: Does it help the case or does it make it more difficult that the former Afghan president Rabanni has returned to Kabul?

SIR JEREMY GREENSTOCK: I think he’s showing some interest in restoring his former position as president of the country. He failed in what he did in the mid ’90s. And I don’t think that many of us would be happy just to see him in charge again.

It has to be broader than the Northern Alliance as we see it at the moment. I think he realizes that. He wants to have discussions about power participation. Let’s judge it as we go along. But I don’t think that many outside nations, the U.N., would be happy if it was just the same old government as the pre-Taliban era.

GWEN IFILL: From Britain’s point of view, what is the most important goal now? Is it hunting down bin Laden as we have heard increasingly U.S. officials talk about or is it, for instance, setting up an avenue for humanitarian aid? We’ve heard Tony Blair talk about that.

SIR JEREMY GREENSTOCK: Well, I think we have the same objectives as the United States in this. Terrorism of the kind we’ve seen in the last two months has got to be eradicated. It’s got to come to an end, so dealing with those who did it is one important aspect.

Then there’s Afghanistan which over the years has become such a failed state that it allowed terrorism to grow so Afghanistan has to be looked after and any other country that harbors terrorism of this kind that is connected to the 11th of September has got to be sure that it begins to deal with terrorism on its soil.

That’s the business of the Security Council counter-terrorism committee, which I chair. So there’s a short-term business to be done: Hunt down the terrorists. Medium term: Restore Afghanistan. Long term: Make sure that nobody allows this to happen on their soil ever again.

GWEN IFILL: When you talk about, I guess, the medium term, that is, looking after Afghanistan, what kind of commitment does that take on the part of Britain or any of the other coalition members in terms of troops on the ground and other kinds of commitments?

SIR JEREMY GREENSTOCK: Well, we’re ready to play our part. The prime minister in London has announced the availability of up to 6,000 UK troops. We are thinking in theory of an international coalition force to come and help security on the ground, if the Afghan leaders want that to happen, it’s got to be in cooperation with the Afghans of anything up to 50,000 troops.

These things are going to be put together in stages quite carefully to make sure that nobody misunderstands our motives in this. And there has to be general U.N. cover and authorization for this to happen. So people are ready to do this. But the Afghan leadership in charge at the moment has got to be wise, look ahead and see that we’ve got to do this together.

GWEN IFILL: But right now they’re kind of resisting some of these offers of help.

SIR JEREMY GREENSTOCK: They’re kind of resisting, they’re kind of agreeing. Let’s make sure that the one kind wins over the other.

GWEN IFILL: And when you say they’re resisting, when you say that… You don’t want your intentions to be misunderstood, are you talking about that they might think that you’re there to get into ground combat or to in other ways overextend your role?

SIR JEREMY GREENSTOCK: They need to be convinced that we are not there for the long haul. We want to hand over, all of us who are involved in the outside, hand over to responsible Afghans who represent the people to run their own affairs in their own way. Nobody in history has ever survived doing anything else in Afghanistan so we want this to be as short term as possible but it’s got to be effective, efficient, responsible, caring, and then I think we’re getting somewhere.

GWEN IFILL: Ambassador Jeremy Greenstock, thank you very much for joining us.