ABC News’ Karen Travers and David Kerley report:
Wrapping up his 32-hour trip to Lisbon, President Obama said today that his goal is to end the current U.S. combat mission in Afghanistan by 2014 but said there will still be a training and support function for American troops there, just as there is now in Iraq.
“My goal is to make sure by 2014 we have transitioned, Afghans are in the lead and it is a goal to make sure that we are not still engaged in combat operations of the sort that we’re involved with now,” he said at a press conference at the end of the NATO summit. “Certainly our footprint will have been significantly reduced.”
Still the president acknowledged that it is “hard to anticipate” now what will be necessary in Afghanistan in four years.
Mr. Obama said that Afghanistan is “in a better place now than we were a year ago” and expressed confidence that the U.S. forces will be able to begin its withdrawal starting in July of 2011.
Relationship with Afghan President Karzai
The president sat down earlier today with Hamid Karzai, just days after the Afghan President expressed his frustrations at the U.S. military presence in his country. In an interview, Karzai said the U.S. should begin its withdrawal. During a brief photo op before their meeting, the two leaders presented a unified, cooperative front.
At the press conference, Obama said the relationship is a “two-way street” — the Americans cannot just tell the Afghans what is good for them, but must also listen and be mindful of their sovereign decision making.
But he said that if the U.S. is “putting in big resources” and “ponying up billions of dollars” to build up and secure Afghanistan, then Karzai has to pay attention to American concerns as well.
“I don’t think that’s unreasonable and I don’t think he thinks that’s unreasonable. There’s going to have to be a constant conversation to make sure that we’re moving in the right direction,” he said. “And sometimes that conversation’s very blunt – there are going to be some strong disagreements.”
START Treaty – “Important that we don’t leave a partner hanging”
On the nuclear treaty with Russia, Obama kept up his push for Senate ratification during the lame duck session.
But when asked if Republican opposition, specifically that of Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ), was “political” the president softened his tone.
“Sen. Kyl has never said to me he does not want to see START ratified. He hasn’t publicly said he’s opposed to the treaty,” he said. “What he’s said is that he just felt like there wasn’t enough time to get it done in the lame duck and I take him at his word.
Obama stressed the urgency of getting this done now.
“It’s also important that we don’t leave a partner hanging after having negotiated an agreement like this that’s good for both countries,” he said of Russian President Medvedev.
He once again called for politics to be put aside.
“There are going to be a lot of issues to debate between Democrats and Republicans over the next two years – this shouldn’t be one of them,” he said.
The president stated the obvious and said that he does not go through security checks any more so he hasn’t experienced any of the new TSA measures.
But he admitted that the effort to fight terrorism and keep air travel safe “causes huge inconvenience for all of us.”
TSA Security Measures
Finally, on the new TSA airport security measures, President Obama said he understood Americans’ frustrations but this was the best way right now to ensure their safety.
But he indicated that his thinking on the issue could evolve if he got feedback that suggested there were better ways of doing business.
“What I’ve said to the TSA is that you have to constantly refine and measure whether what we’re doing is the only way to ensure the American peoples’ safety and you have to think through are there ways of doing it that are less intrusive?” he said.
The president said his counterterrorism advisors have told him that these procedures “are the only ones right now that they consider to be effective against the kind of threat we saw in the Christmas Day bombing.”
“Every week I meet with my counterterrorism team and I’m constantly asking them whether is what we’re doing absolutely necessary, have we thought it through , are there other way s of accomplishing it that meet the same objectives?” he said.