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Holbrooke Takes Questions on Afghanistan and Pakistan in Live Web Chat

Richard Holbrooke (File)

The U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, Richard Holbrooke, took questions from reporters and citizens in separate events at the State Department on Monday. He addressed topics ranging from Afghan President Hamid Karzai's upcoming visit to Washington to the importance of dealing with energy and water issues in Pakistan.

Speaking to reporters, Holbrooke said Afghan President Hamid Karzai and a number of senior Afghan cabinet officials will visit Washington from May 10 through the 14, at the invitation of President Barack Obama.

Holbrooke said the details are still being worked out, but that meetings will likely include the U.S. counterparts of the Afghan officials in attendance.

Holbrooke said he expects an "intense bilateral" meeting between Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Mr. Karzai as well as meetings at the White House and on Capitol Hill.

"It's going to be a very, very intense, whole-of-government effort, involving many members of the U.S. government," said Richard Holbrooke.

In addition, Clinton will attend an international conference in Kabul on July 20.

Shortly before Holbrooke spoke to reporters at the State Department briefing room, he took part in an Internet discussion organized by the State Department. Holbrooke was joined by State Department Spokesman P.J. Crowley and Marc Grossman, chairman of the Washington-based World Affairs Councils of America, which seeks to educate Americans about international affairs. People had submitted questions in advance through the State Department's Web site, and some of those questions were answered during the broadcast.

The State Department described it as the first in a new series of online discussions with high-level officials. The speakers sought to be both informal and informative.

"I love this experiment, and I hope it works," he said. "Now what was your question again?"

That was Holbrooke, before he answered a question Grossman posed about U.S. strategy in Afghanistan.

"'Why are we in Afghanistan?' is a question I'm asked repeatedly," said Holbrooke. "We recognize that it's a daunting mission. It is a difficult and remote area of the world with its very powerful, traditional culture, and we also recognize its history. And yet, we are committed there since September 11, 2001 for the simplest of reasons. It was on Afghan soil and from Afghan soil that the attacks on Washington and New York were plotted and directed."

Holbrooke emphasized that it is in the interest of U.S. national security to ensure that Afghanistan and neighboring Pakistan are strong and stable.

About 50 submitted questions were visible on the State Department's Web site prior to the start of the Webcast.

Some people posted questions about U.S. goals in the region; others posted proposals, such as unifying Pakistan and Afghanistan. Some supported the military mission in Afghanistan; others criticized the operation.

Those who submitted written questions online included people who identified themselves as citizens of the United States, people in the U.S. with loved ones serving in the military overseas and high school students in Afghanistan as well as questioners from Canada, India and Britain.

Marc Grossman of the World Affairs Councils of America:

"We had a question from Ejaz in Pakistan about the acute shortage of energy that is severely affecting the economic growth of Pakistan," said Marc Grossman.

Although the Web event was billed as "Conversations with America," Holbrooke addressed people in Pakistan directly.

"I want to assure anyone in Pakistan who is watching that, led by President Obama and the Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, we are putting more and more emphasis on energy and water issues, and we will continue to do that up to the absolute limits of what the Congress will fund," he said.

Holbrooke noted that Clinton announced six energy projects while she was in Pakistan last October and that Memorandums of Understanding have been signed on two of the programs. He added that water projects are being developed.