Transcript of Foreign Minister Rassoul's interview with CNN's Wolf Blizter during the 68th United Nations General Assembly

Aired: September 26, 2013 - 13:30 ET

BLITZER: And joining us now, Zalmai Rassoul, the foreign minister of Afghanistan.

Mr. Minister, thanks so much for joining us.

ZALMAI RASSOUL, AFGHANISTAN FOREIGN MINISTER: It's my pleasure, Wolf.

BLITZER: Yesterday, we heard President Obama say at the United Nations General Assembly that, "The United States has achieved its mission of dismantling the core of al Qaeda in Afghanistan." Is the core of al Qaeda in Afghanistan destroyed?

RASSOUL: Absolutely.

BLITZER: The Taliban is still powerful in Afghanistan. That has not been destroyed?

RASSOUL: Taliban is not powerful enough in Afghanistan, but they continue to disturb our security. One thing that we're focusing on now is the peace process to convince. Those in Taliban to come to the peace process, join Afghanistan and stop fighting.

BLITZER: There are still 60,000 U.S. troops and other NATO troops in Afghanistan. They're scheduled to stay there at least until the end of 2014. That's when U.S. troops are supposed to be out. Is that schedule OK with you?

RASSOUL: Absolutely. The schedule has been decided and there has been a meeting, a NATO meeting, a summit meeting in Lisbon. That's something they want. And at the same time, our security forces now are not as strong to take place. Today, in Afghanistan, 95 percent of Afghanistan is comfortable --

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Why do you need U.S. troops to stay until the end of 2014? Why not let them all leave now?

RASSOUL: As I mentioned to you, the transition of the security has been fairly finished. The third phase has started. We need not a sudden disruption of the security. By the time our security forces are fighting and replacing the NATO forces, we need their training and equipping the Afghan security force.

BLITZER: Do you want an accelerated schedule or withdrawal as scheduled? RASSOUL: Withdrawal as scheduled.

BLITZER: What about after 2014? Do you want U.S. troops to remain in Afghanistan?

RASSOUL: Yes, we're in discussions with United States on a security agreement to which a number, a limited number of United States forces and also other NATO forces would stay in Afghanistan.

BLITZER: How many?

RASSOUL: We don't know a number.

BLITZER: Give me an estimate?

RASSOUL: It's not up to Afghanistan to decide. Somewhere around 10,000.

BLITZER: About 10,000 U.S. troops, U.S. and NATO troops. Would they have immunity from prosecution?

RASSOUL: We are discussing about this, with the security agreement, training, equipping, and advising the Afghan security forces.

BLITZER: Would they be immune to that?

RASSOUL: We're discussing with the United States and we're trying to find a line that hopefully by the end (INAUDIBLE).

BLITZER: There are no U.S. troops in Iraq now because the U.S. and Iraq couldn't reach an agreement on --

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: -- immunity for the United States.

RASSOUL: We are taking into consultation this issue.

BLITZER: How is the U.S./Afghanistan relationship right now?

RASSOUL: Basically, solid.

BLITZER: Solid?

RASSOUL: Yeah.

BLITZER: Foreign Minister, thank you for joining us.

RASSOUL: Thank you very much, Wolf.

BLITZER: Good luck to you and all the people of Afghanistan.

RASSOUL: Thank you very much.

BLITZER: Thank you.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: I asked the foreign minister, by the way, if he might run for president. Hamid Karzai, his term is over with next year. He said he's not running again, can't run again. The foreign minister told me he would make up his mind by the deadline, October 7th. But a lot of people think this foreign minister will run to be the next president of Afghanistan. We'll see what happens.

By the way, as U.S. troops are on the ground now in Afghanistan, 60,000 American troops, it's costing American taxpayers billions and billions of dollars, roughly about $2 billion a week to maintain that troop level between now and the end of 2014. The U.S. will probably spend at least another $100 billion maintaining that troop level, withdrawing those troops from Afghanistan. And if there's an arrangement worked out as you heard the foreign minister say, to keep another 10,000 troops in Afghanistan beyond 2014, beyond the end of next year, billions more will be spent in Afghanistan.

And the question is, is that money being well spent? Should the U.S. be spending $100 billion, let's say, between now and the end of next year, on keeping that troop presence in Afghanistan or take that $100 billion and spend it here in the United States, whether on education, infrastructure development, or even simply reducing the national debt?

These are serious questions that a lot of national security people are asking right now because they wonder, when all is said and done, will there really be a democracy, stability in Afghanistan, despite this huge investment that U.S. taxpayers, the American people, have made in blood and treasure over these past many, many years. Lots to digest right there.