Secretary of State
FOREIGN MINISTER AL-JUBEIR: (Via interpreter) (In progress) the Saudi Arabia, which has two purposes. He is going to meet with His Majesty King Salman bin Abdulaziz and His Royal Highness Prince Mohammad bin Salman, the deputy crown prince and the minister of defense of Saudi Arabia, after this meeting. We have met with his excellency, the foreign ministers of the GCC in the framework of the deliberation and the continuous coordination between the U.S. and the GCC countries, and particularly after the summit of Camp David. And during the meeting, we discussed the bilateral relation between the U.S. and the GCC countries in general, and we also discussed the issues in the region, whether this is in Syria or Yemen or the process of peace and the attempts to find a solution to that. And of course, we have looked deeply into the Iranian role and the interventions of Iran in the region and how to confront that, and we have also looked into the latest development in what had been achieved in Camp David meeting. And the meeting, as was the case in all the cases, was clear and transparent and frank, and there was – we were on the same page, on different – and I would like to give the floor to his – to the Secretary of State.
SECRETARY KERRY: Thank you very much and good morning, everybody. Assalamu alaikum. I’m honored to be here again, one of many visits, and I’m particularly appreciative to His Majesty King Salman’s welcome, and I look forward to seeing him shortly. And I’m very grateful to my counterpart and longtime friend, Adel al-Jubeir, for his hosting this meeting here today and making arrangements on short notice for us to be able to discuss some very important issues.
I would have to say to you that really, today was one of the most constructive conversations that we have had in a time, and there is a real meeting of the minds about the agenda that we face and the urgency in some of that agenda. And we were able to discuss a great deal in a short span of time, and there are further discussions that will take place over the course of the day as I meet with His Majesty King Salman, also with the deputy crown prince, the minister of defense, and also with the members of the negotiating committee that came together here in Riyadh, and specifically with its leadership and with Dr. Riyad Hijab.
I think that the first thing that we agreed on today, overwhelmingly, is the importance of the partnership between the United States and the GCC, and we remain as committed to the success and continued engagement of that partnership. In fact, we agreed today very quickly on meeting again very soon and repeatedly, because we all view this as a moment with a number of opportunities and choices that face us. The events of the last weeks really underscore how fast events are moving and how active and prepared we have to be on a lot of different fronts simultaneously.
In Yemen, we face the Houthi insurgency and the ongoing threat that is posed by al-Qaida, threats to the territorial integrity of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and we have made it clear that we stand with our friends in Saudi Arabia. We’ve assembled a coalition of more than 65 countries that are taking on Daesh, and we’re working with our Iraqi partners in order to develop a more inclusive and professional military force to prepare the local population to be able to take back Anbar province. And I congratulate – I met yesterday with Prime Minister Abadi. We talked about the campaign ahead in the wake of their successful retaking of Ramadi, and good things are happening. People are coming together. The armed forces are gaining confidence. And I am convinced that over the next months, we will deliver significant and critical setbacks to Daesh, not just in Iraq but also in Syria.
We also discussed the implementation of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action with respect to the agreement on Iran. And I think it was reiterated that while concerns have been expressed throughout this process, and we understand that, there is support for this agreement for its full implementation, and that eliminating a nuclear weapon from the region is a critical strategic priority for all of us.
Now, we remain concerned, as I have said in many different fora and we said here today: The United States remains concerned about some of the activities that Iran is engaged in in other countries, and we are obviously – we have expressed our concern about support for terrorist groups like Hizballah or support for ballistic missiles, and the President has obviously responded to those concerns. But we also talked about the follow-up process from the GCC meetings that started at Camp David and that I then followed on in Doha and then we had here today, and we have a specific process in place to continue to focus on the priorities that came out of that process.
So one of the things we did today, which I think is really important, is we set up a clarity for how to proceed forward in the initial steps of the negotiations on Syria. And we are confident that with good initiative in the next day or so, those talks can get going and that the UN representative Special Envoy Staffan de Mistura will be convening people in an appropriate manner for the proximity talks that will be the first meeting in Geneva to begin to lay down the process to try very hard to implement the Geneva communique and have a transition that takes place according to the UN Security Council resolutions as well as the Vienna communiques of the Syria International Support Group.
A word about that quickly. We – I won’t announce a date, but we all agreed that immediately after the completion of the first round of the Syria discussions, the International Syria Support Group will convene, and that will be very shortly, because we want to keep the process moving and put to full test the readiness and willingness of people to live up to the two communiques and UN resolution, and begin the process of bringing the transition council – transition governing process of Syria into a reality.
I would just say that we remain deeply concerned that the violence of Syria does not spill over its borders, and steal the opportunities for the citizens of all of the countries of this region who want peace and stability and prosperity. We’ve all seen the gut-wrenching images from Madaya, in Syria, where 40,000 people are in dire need of more food and medical attention. And we still see barrel bombs and airstrikes destroying schools and hospitals indiscriminately, killing men, women and children. And so the urgency of ending this violence of Syria was something very much on the minds of everybody here today, and that is why we will approach the Geneva talks with such seriousness of purpose and also with hopes.
So I think that’s really the heart of the discussions that we had today. We can answer in a question any more details that people may have. But let me just emphasize: I know that Foreign Minister al-Jubeir shares with me, as do all of the ministers here today, that none of us are any – under any illusions that obstacles don’t still exist to trying to seek a political settlement in Syria. We know it’s tough. If it were easy, it would have happened a long time ago. There are sharp divisions within the international community, especially about the future of Assad, but we are clear about that. We know that the war in Syria cannot end – it’s not that it will not end, it’s not that people choose otherwise, it’s that it cannot end because he is the magnet that attracts the violent terrorism and jihadis who will continue to come as long as he or their – his supporters insist that he is a part of the long-term future. We know that’s simply not possible.
So we are going to respect the right of Syrians to define and choose the future of Syria, but we are going to do everything in our power as nations who are deeply impacted by the consequences of Syria to try to push this process forward and help to act as constructive catalysts in trying to help the Syrians to bring about the peace that they desire so much.
So with that, I join with the foreign minister in being willing to welcome a couple of questions. I know we have a meeting at the palace with his majesty, so we are somewhat constrained in time, but look forward to the first question.
MR KIRBY: We’ll first go to Pam Dawkins from Voice of America.
QUESTION: Thank you. Foreign Minister Jubeir, in the last week you’ve seen a series of actions that have involved the U.S. and Iran – the release of the sailors, the prisoner swap, and of course, implementation. Are you concerned that warming ties between the U.S. and Iran could lead to a strategic alliance?
And Mr. Kerry, have you made progress in settling who will represent the opposition in the Syrian peace talks?
FOREIGN MINISTER AL-JUBEIR: No, I don’t see a coming together of the United States and Iran the way some of the pundits have described it. Iran remains the world’s chief sponsor of terrorism. Iranian Government institutions are still designated as terrorist organizations. And Iranian officials, including in the security services, are wanted for terrorism.
With regards to the release of sailors and the – this is an issue that shouldn’t have taken place in the first place. Iran had no business taking people and putting guns to their heads and then showcasing those pictures around the world, and then claiming to be a country that acts in normal ways. Normal countries do not act like this when sailors inadvertently enter their territorial waters.
With regards to the exchange of prisoners, I don’t – I wouldn’t call it an exchange of prisoners because every person released in the United States, as I understand, chose to remain in the United States, which tells you what a great country Iran is that none of them wanted to look forward to going back to it.
With regards to the implementation of the nuclear agreement, Iran signed a deal, it must abide by the terms of those deals, and there will be consequences if Iran does not implement that deal.
So overall, I think the United States is very aware of the danger that Iran’s mischief and behavior, nefarious activities, as I’ve described them, in the region can do. The United States is working with its allies, and particularly the GCC countries, to find ways to push back on those activities. I don’t believe the United States is under any illusion as to what type of government Iran is. And so we work with our American friends in these areas in terms of exchange of information, intelligence, in terms of training, in terms of ballistic missile defense, in terms of enhancing our defensive capabilities. We work with our American friends on trying to find a way to remove Bashar al-Assad from Syria and move the country towards a better future. We work with the United States on bringing stability and security in Yemen, in which Iran will have no role. And we work with our American friends on trying to bring stability to Libya as well as arriving at a peaceful settlement in the Israeli conflict. Now, these are all tall orders. We understand. And they’re challenging. But the work that we’re doing is all designed to bring about peace, security and stability in the region. And much of that work involves pushing back Iran’s aggressive actions in the region.
SECRETARY KERRY: So you didn’t ask me this as part of the question, but let me just say that President Obama, from the beginning, made it clear that the nuclear negotiation was exclusively a nuclear technology issue, and it was calculated to do one thing, principally, and that was to rid this region of the threat of a country having a nuclear weapon and sparking a nuclear arms race in the region. The President’s goal was to deal with the nuclear exclusively, and some people even criticized us, as I’ve mentioned previously, for not including the negotiation about our folks who were held in Iran as part of it. And the reason was we didn’t want other issues to hold hostage one other issue, or vice versa. So I think that strategy worked, and now we have the ability to begin to work together to address the concerns that Saudi Arabia and other countries have, and that we have. I mean, Hizballah has 70-, 80,000 rockets. What do they need that for? It seems to me that – and much of it’s supplied, obviously, across the border from Iran through Damascus.
So these are concerns that we share, which is why the arms component, the missile component, the human rights component, the state sponsor of terror component are all part of the continued sanctions of the United States and the agreement.
Now, we’d like to see those addressed, and maybe in the context of this moment, the opportunity will present itself. We don’t know that yet. We would certainly join with President Rouhani’s statement that hopefully, this could be that kind of a moment of change, and I know Saudi Arabia would love that. Saudi Arabia would welcome knowing that there is a possibility for that transition. So obviously, that remains to be explored and determined.
With respect to the negotiations, yes, we reached an understanding of how to begin this first round of negotiations, and that is why the ISSG will meet shortly thereafter in order to address any concerns that may or may not come up out of the first meeting, in which we need to try to build some consensus. But Staffan de Mistura and the United Nations know that they are the ones issuing the invitation. We believe they have an understanding of the tensions and dynamics that exist, but we’re quite confident that there is a way to invite the various interested stakeholders in a way that provides for cohesion and an ability to be able to move the process forward. And if there are differences in that, that is precisely what the International Syria Support Group will discuss very soon thereafter, so that we keep this process moving and put to test the legitimacy of the words of the two Vienna communiques and the United Nations Security Council resolution that agree on the need for a transition governance process, for a new constitution, for elections, and for a ceasefire. Those are the goals, they haven’t changed, and we all remain committed to them.
QUESTION: (Via interpreter) Hal Dilami from Al Arabiya channel. My question is to Mr. Kerry. You mentioned that you understand the concern of the GCC countries of the Iranian accord, but are there agreements or written commitments that are provided by the U.S. to the GCC to provide these reassurances?
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, we have memorandums of understanding and written agreements with almost every country in the GCC with respect to our current relationships. We have basing in some countries. We have weapons transactions with almost all of them. We have training that takes place, very serious intel – intelligence community and military-to-military participation. So we have a very full existing security relationship, but we are working on – and there are additional parts of that that are soon to be delivered. For instance, working on the missile defense system. We’ve currently had steps – we have working groups that are working on each of the sectors of our relationship, and in some cases, some of it is reduced to writing and is included in a memorandum of understanding or an agreement; in other cases, we agree to do things and we do them.
But let me assure everybody that the relationship between the United States and the GCC nations is one that is built on mutual interest, on mutual defense, and I think there is no doubt whatsoever in the minds of the countries that make up the GCC that the United States, as we have said many times, will stand with them against any external threat and defend, if necessary, together with them against those threats.
MR KIRBY: Thank you, everybody. That concludes today’s press conference.
QUESTION: (Via interpreter) (Inaudible) both of you: What is the role – the position (inaudible) that has been – that you said that has been pushed by the Revolutionary Guard in a number of Arab countries? And the same question to the minister: What is the position of the U.S. on the statement by Iran about this topic? And what if Iran or Israel or one of the European countries is training Daesh? Are you going to have military intervention by other countries?
FOREIGN MINISTER AL-JUBEIR: (Via interpreter) Regarding the statements of the Iranian officials, these are hostile statements and aggressive statements, but we don’t know their credibility. Saudi Arabia, in any case, is ready to take all the necessary measures to defend its territory and its people. And we (inaudible) intervention in the Arab affairs, and we are working with our (inaudible) in the Arab (inaudible) to confront that.
And regarding the statements, these indicate the hostile and the aggressive stance of Iran against the Arab countries, and this is rejected by the Arab world, that it has been stated (inaudible) statement, and it is rejected by the Muslim world, as it was in the OIC, OI – or the Islamic Organization – the Islamic Cooperation Organization that have been issued in Jeddah.
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, I think that the foreign minister and the GCC have spoken for themselves regarding the statements, and I think it’s most appropriate that they do so. With respect to any country training Daesh, that would be regarded as a complicitous act engaged in encouraging terrorism against other countries, and we would act appropriately for anybody who was engaged in helping Daesh. Daesh is an enemy of every country on this planet. No nation-state supports Daesh. Daesh is supported by some individual groups and non-state actors, but there isn’t a civilized country on the face of this planet – not a country that is a member of the United Nations, not a nation that I know of has spoken out in support of Daesh. And any entity found supporting Daesh will find themselves very quickly the target of the activities of the anti-Daesh coalition.
FOREIGN MINISTER AL-JUBEIR: (In Arabic.)
Source: U. S Department of State
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