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Kenton Keith and Stephen Evans
Kenton Keith and Stephen Evans
BBC BREAKFAST WITH FROST INTERVIEW: STEPHEN EVANS BRITISH REPRESENTATIVE, KABUL and KENTON KEITH, COALITION SPOKESMAN, ISLAMABAD NOVEMBER 25TH, 2001

Please note "BBC Breakfast with Frost" must be credited if any part of this transcript is used

DAVID FROST: Two new players have just come into the public eye this week on the coalition front, on the war front, as we continue to watch the way the military campaign is going in Afghanistan. They are Stephen Evans who's the new British Representative in Kabul, the first British Representative, by the way, since 1989. And Ambassador Kenton Keith the American who's been appointed as the Western Coalition's Chief Spokesman in Islamabad and I'm delighted to say that I can see they're both with us right there. Well let's go to Kabul first, to Stephen Evans. When were you last in Kabul Stephen?

STEPHEN EVANS: I was last here in March 1997, at the time I was working with the United Nations Special Mission to Afghanistan and visited fairly regularly during a six month period, so March 1997 was my last time here.

DAVID FROST: And apart from obviously the war damage how different have you found the mood of the people, is there a difference between now and 1997, is it more joyous or more frightened or more?

STEPHEN EVANS: I think it's more relaxed, it's quite interesting up here on the roof of the Intercontinental Hotel I was looking over the city and you can see kites flying, the children are flying kites and that's something that they were not allowed to do in Taliban times. There is a sense of hope here now, people know that the road ahead is not going to be absolutely straightforward but they do think that they have a chance now of moving towards peace and also moving towards a proper government that will represent their interests and where they can get a reasonable standard of governance. And along with that comes the hope that aid will get in and the general prosperity will increase.

DAVID FROST: And what do you think, as an expert of the region in addition to being there now, this broad, broad-based government that we all dream about, do you think that will be realistic after the meetings in Bonn this week?

STEPHEN EVANS: First of all, I don't think it's a dream, I think it's a realistic goal, we mustn't expect too much from Bonn, it's, that's the first step along the road, it's an important first step but what we're obviously are hoping is that the parties in Bonn will be able to agree on the principles upon which a broad-based government will be based and we'll be able to start work on the mechanism for bringing about the transition to that broad-based government.

DAVID FROST: And what about our troops, we get conflicting stories that, that the hundred troops at the airport maybe have to come back, on the other hand 25,000 joint force to storm Kandahar including our troops, our our troops coming or going?

STEPHEN EVANS: My understanding is that we have a relatively small group of troops at Bagran airport, what they're doing is actually an important task, it's surveying the airport which is badly damaged and also mined and there's a lot of unexploded ordnance there to establish whether it could be used as the bridge-head for humanitarian aid. There are, I know, other troops on 48-hours notice to move but I'm not in a position to comment about whether they will be deployed and if so to where.

DAVID FROST: And what about, in terms of the Northern Alliance, do they have a veto on whether we send in more troops, are they consulted or do they actually have a veto, is it, as it appears in the last two or three days?

STEPHEN EVANS: I don't think it's a question of having a veto but we are certainly consulting them. We're working closely with the United Front both politically and in other ways and clearly we would consult them before we took any action on the ground which they're controlling. DAVID FROST: Would you be in favour of moderate Taliban being, being allowed to go to Bonn?

STEPHEN EVANS: I think it's very important that we don't be, find ourselves in this position where Taliban participate in Bonn as representatives of the Taliban and I think it's very unlikely that the others participating in the conference would let Taliban attend as Taliban. There may be some individuals who were once members of the Taliban movement but who've now left who would join, who enjoy sufficient confidence on the part of the other participants to be allowed to participate. But in the end this is one for the Afghans themselves. We are not just influencing or deciding who will attend in Bonn, the Afghans themselves must work out who's going to sit round the table and negotiate on behalf of the Afghan people.

DAVID FROST: Stephen thank you very much indeed, I imagine you're in pretty uncomfortable digs at the moment?

STEPHEN EVANS: Well not too bad, the great thing was yesterday we got our big new generator up and running so we've got hot showers and the heating's working so we're not doing at all badly.

DAVID FROST: Thank you very much indeed. And now we move across to, to Islamabad to talk to Kenton Keith who was, as we were saying, is now our man, the Coalition man there in Islamabad giving a triangle of information now with Islamabad, London and Washington. Would you agree with what the Ambassador was just saying, or in fact the soon-to-be Ambassador was just saying. You have the title Ambassador, would you agree that nobody must go to Bonn representing the Taliban?

KENTON KEITH: Absolutely, the Taliban is a completely discredited political force, there is really no place for them at the table as Taliban and as Stephen Evans was saying that doesn't rule out the possibility that later on certain individuals might be, who are former Taliban, or formerly linked with Taliban, but who have expressed commitment to the broad principles of multi-ethnic government representing all factions that there is that possibility that in the future they could be included. But not as Taliban and not representing the Taliban movement.

DAVID FROST: And as we were talking earlier about, we, we've had reports overnight on the wires here that there was a sighting, there has been a sighting of Osama bin Laden, have you any information on that?

KENTON KEITH: Not really, what we know is that the net is tightening on bin Laden, that the areas within Afghanistan that he could consider safe havens are, are diminishing in size hour-by-hour, there are fewer and fewer places for him to hide and I think it, I'm not sure about the sighting but I think it won't be long before the noose is finally tightened.

DAVID FROST: And we are absolutely certain, are we, that he is still in Afghanistan?

KENTON KEITH: I don't think we can say that we're absolutely certain, we certainly have no reason to think that he has left the country, he or his top lieutenants.

DAVID FROST: And looking, looking ahead to these negotiations, how long a process do you think it's going to be to get this broad-based government?

KENTON KEITH: That's a very good question, certainly the first step in Bonn probably will not last very long, it is hoped, as Stephen Evans was saying, that they can agree to the basic principles and then we can go to the mechanisms for installation of the broad-based government. It's hard to say how long it's going to take, it's going to be tough, it's not going to be easy, there will be setbacks and advances, stops and starts but this is an extremely important first step.

DAVID FROST: And are we, in this case I mean the United States and the UK, are we there for the long haul in Afghanistan, to rebuild the nation as we promised a few weeks ago, or do you think we will all get out as soon as bin Laden is found?

KENTON KEITH: I think we're in for the long haul, certainly I think we've learned lessons in the past, definitely the United States and Britain have shown already a financial commitment to the future of Afghanistan. I think we're there for the long haul and I think I can speak for other members of the coalition too.

DAVID FROST: And what about the story here, Ambassador, this morning in the London Sunday Times, that the United States are now targeting three more countries, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen, is that official policy?

KENTON KEITH: I think what we have to focus on in, is Afghanistan, obviously we are aware that Al Qaida operates elsewhere in many other countries but our focus now has to be on Afghanistan, we have to cut off the head of the serpent, we have to destroy Al Qaida, we have to make Afghanistan a place that doesn't export terrorism so we have to do job one first.

DAVID FROST: Well thank you very much indeed Ambassador for joining us this morning, we'll be talking again no doubt, regularly and hopefully with more and more good news, but Ambassador thank you very much and nearly Ambassador, Stephen, thank you for being with us too.

KENTON KEITH: Good to be with you.

STEPHEN EVANS: Thank you very much David.

DAVID FROST: Our all-star duet there.

END


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