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RFE/RL's Afghan Service interviewed U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on 17 March.
RFE/RL: What is the purpose of your visit to Afghanistan and are you going to discuss any new issues with the Afghan authorities?
Condoleezza Rice: This is my first trip to Afghanistan and I came here to demonstrate the commitment of the United States as a long-term partner and friend of the Afghan people. To congratulate the Afghan government and especially the Afghan people on the inspirational efforts that they are making to build a democracy and a better and more prosperous life. I discussed with President [Hamid] Karzai the upcoming parliamentary elections and I also had a chance to discuss that with the independent election commission. That was very good. I had a chance to talk to people about the rights of women and the progress that women are making in this country and the need for further education.
RFE/RL: You are arriving at a time when the United States and the Afghan government are discussing the possibility of establishing long-term or permanent bases in Afghanistan. Is there any connection?
Rice: Well, we have not yet determined what we would do in terms of a presence here, but we are committed to a long-term relationship -- whatever that might mean -- and we understand that it was not a good thing the last time when the Soviet Union left that the United States did not stay by the Afghan people. This time around the Afghan people can be certain that they will have friends and partners for a long time to come.
RFE/RL: It is your first trip to Afghanistan, so how do you assess the general situation here, and from your point of view what kind of challenges are the Afghan people, Afghan government, and the United States facing.
Rice: I find Afghanistan incredibly energetic and vibrant. The Afghan people have obviously had tremendous challenges. After 25 years of civil war, to build a strong and stable economy will take time.... I hope that the people are responding to President Karzai's call that responsible Afghan citizens would not engage in poppy growing. I know that he has made that call. We also have challenges to complete the efforts to rid Afghanistan of terrorists on this side of the border and also with the Pakistanis. It is a wonderful story of the last three years. So much has been accomplished and, even though there is much more to achieve, we have seen a lot of progress.