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Kerry: Administration lacks 'real strategy' for handling Pakistan
Updated 4/22/2009 5:03 AM ET
WASHINGTON — Just back from a visit to Pakistan, Sen. John Kerry says the Obama administration's plan for that volatile country, rolled out last month with great fanfare, "is not a real strategy."

"Pakistan is in a moment of peril," Kerry, the Democratic chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said during a session with USA TODAY reporters and editors. "And I believe there is not in place yet an adequate policy or plan to deal with it."

In an interview after the session, Kerry advised the Obama administration to stop using the term "Af-Pak," to describe a unified strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, because "I think it does a disservice to both countries and to the policy. The two governments, he said, are "very sensitive to it" and "don't see the linkage."

Kerry's spokesman, Frederick Jones, said that the presidents of Pakistan and Afghanistan are scheduled to embark on a rare joint visit to the U.S. for meetings in May, and Kerry plans to host them for lunch May 7.

Richard Holbrooke, President Obama's special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, has said the United States must have a unified strategy for both countries, which share a mountainous border region that is a hotbed of Taliban and al-Qaeda activity.

Kerry's comments amounted to one of the sharpest appraisals by a Democrat of one of Obama's signature foreign policies. They marked a change from his initial reaction to Obama's announcement of his plan for the region in a speech March 27, when Kerry issued a statement calling it "realistic and bold."

"Obviously the president disagrees with the chairman on this, and the issues he raised are being aggressively worked in the president's new strategy," White House spokesman Tommy Vietor said in an e-mail.

As an example of how he believes counterinsurgency strategy is lacking, Kerry cited the example of a recent Pakistan army operation in Peshawar.

"The army went in, they expended a lot of energy for us, some lives, and you know, nothing came in underneath it — absolutely nothing. So you're going to wind up with a bunch of folks who are going to hate you.

"If the army's going to take the risk of going in there, for God's sake you have the civil component coming in, so you win something for it," Kerry said.

The Massachusetts senator has sponsored a bill that would steer $1.5 billion a year in aid to Pakistan. He said he opposes language in a companion bill in the House requiring the president to certify that Pakistan does not support terrorists. Pakistanis consider that "insulting," he said.

Later Tuesday evening, Kerry called a reporter to clarify his comments, saying he did not mean to criticize Obama. "I was not blasting the president," he said. "What I'm saying is that the details have not been fleshed out. We're working hand in hand on it."

Kerry praised Obama's stepped-up attacks against insurgents in Pakistan by unmanned U.S. drone aircraft, saying they had driven "bad guys" into Yemen.

"I think it has had a dramatic impact, and I think that is one of the reasons why people are screaming about it," he said, adding that he did not think there has been inordinate civilian casualties.

In other comments, Kerry said:

• He did not recommend Caroline Kennedy to be U.S. ambassador to the Vatican. Kerry believes an abortion-rights supporter should not be in that post, to avoid offending the Holy See.

"I made no such recommendation," he said, refuting Italian news media reports. "I think that if you're going to have an ambassador who has access to His Holiness … it is best not to make things difficult from the outset."

• The decision by the International Criminal Court to issue an arrest warrant for Sudan's president had worsened the humanitarian situation in the Darfur region and complicated efforts to resolve the situation.

"The people are worse off since the indictment than before," he said. "So it complicates things."

Posted 4/21/2009 8:04 PM ET
Updated 4/22/2009 5:03 AM ET
Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., said he did not mean to criticize Obama. "I was not blasting the president," he said. "What I'm saying is that the details have not been fleshed out. We're working hand in hand on it." Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., said he did not mean to criticize Obama. "I was not blasting the president," he said. "What I'm saying is that the details have not been fleshed out. We're working hand in hand on it."

By H. Darr Beiser, USA TODAY