Background Briefing: Senior State Department Official on Global Counterterrorism Forum in Istanbul

Special Briefing
Senior Department Official
Istanbul, Turkey
June 7, 2012

MODERATOR: We are in Istanbul for the Global Counterterrorism Forum. We have with us [Senior State Department Official], hereafter Senior State Department Official, to walk you through the events for tomorrow. Take it away, [Senior State Department Official].

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Okay. I’m sure you’re all exhausted, so I’ll try to be brief. A little background first on the Global Counterterrorism Forum and a little bit about tomorrow. I think you’ve seen the fact sheets.

It’s important to remember that Secretary Clinton came into office with a strong conviction that we needed a more comprehensive counterterrorism policy and that there was an important diplomatic role to be played. She believed strongly that it was not just a question of taking out the terrorists who were threatening us at any given moment, but that over the long term, we also needed to diminish recruitment, which the terrorists of course rely upon, and help others to do a better job defending themselves against the threats within their borders and in their regions.

You’ve heard her speak at great length about smart power. She – we very much consider this to be a smart power approach. We could call it strategic counterterrorism. And its core elements involve countering violent extremism, undermining the ideology of al-Qaida and other extremist groups, and capacity building. Those are really the two pillars.

And to advance that agenda, she led the effort to create the Global Counterterrorism Forum, a multilateral informal body that is established to focus on those two areas and to really concentrate on strengthening civilian institutions in frontline states around the world. The GCTF was established last September in New York. The United States co-chairs this group with Turkey. She and Foreign Minister Davutoglu presided over the launch, and there are 30 members of the GCTF – 29 countries and the EU.

The GCTF sought from the outset to bridge old and deep divides in the international community between Western donor nations and Muslim majority nations. And it has, I think, done that quite effectively. You have, I know, the lists of the members, so I won’t go through all those. I also wanted – I also sought to bring in the other great powers – China, India, Russia – as well as geographic representation from all continents. So that sort of explains the composition.

At the outset, the group sort of exceeded expectations from the beginning with the announcement of two important deliverables: One was roughly $90 million to support rule of law programming in primarily transition states – those of the Arab Awakening – and there was a great deal of support for that --

QUESTION: In the forum, or United --

MODERATOR: Ninety million --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Ninety million from donors within the Forum --


SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: -- to that end. And also the United Arab Emirates stepped forward and announced its intention to create the first Global Center of Excellence for Countering Violent Extremism.

To bring you up to date, that project is going forward and we expect that the center, with support from the United States and many other GCTF countries, will open its doors in October. And the rule of law work has also gone forward in very important ways --

QUESTION: What is the Center of Excellence? Is that like a hall of fame or something?

MODERATOR: Guys, why don’t we let him finish, and then we’ll go to questions. Go ahead, please.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: The Center of Excellence just – since it does deserve some elaboration – is going to be focused on training, research, and dialogue. And it is going to be a center that provides best practices to a whole array of different kinds of groups, government officials, so that they can help make the policies that will result in a diminution of radicalization. It will also deal with NGOs, communities, religious leaders, and the like.

So the – just to come back for one second to the organization of the GCTF, it consists of a coordinating committee, and that is the sort of superstructure, and beneath that there are five working groups, two functional ones. Countering Violent Extremism is one, and that is co-chaired by the UAE and the UK. Another one is the Rule of Law and Criminal Justice. We co-chair that with the Egyptians. There are also three regional working groups: one in the Sahel, one in the Horn of Africa, one in Southeast Asia. The --

QUESTION: Southeast Asia, you said? Sorry.


Tomorrow we will have the first plenary at the ministerial level since the group was created last September. In the interim, all the working groups have help meetings, some of them multiple meetings. The key initiatives that will be rolled out are as follows. There will be a set of good practices in the criminal justice sector. The document is called the Rabat Memorandum on Good Practices for Effective Counterterrorism Practice in the Criminal Justice Sector. And that is essentially a blueprint for further programs in this area so that countries will have – I’m sorry, let me back up – so that there will be essentially an agreed-upon plan that members of the GCTF will work off of as they provide assistance to different countries so that they can improve the quality of their police, their investigators, their prosecutors, their judiciary, and even their legislators so that they can write better laws for dealing with terrorism.

So the Rabat Memorandum is one blueprint for that. Another blueprint that’s going to be rolled out is called the Rome Memorandum. This has to do with practices for prisons for rehabilitating violent extremists, for essentially disengaging them from groups that they may be involved with and radical ideologies that they may be attracted to. This too is going to be a blueprint for technical assistance. We have worked closely with the UN on this one, and a number of countries will be supporting the work in this area. And we’ve already been getting requests for technical assistance. As many of you know, prisons have become really one of the primary incubators of terrorists, and this is an effort to roll that back.

A number of countries will announce a range of deliverables, support for these different programs as well as some programs of their own that they will be rolling out. There will be an update on the progress in terms of opening the center in the UAE. And finally, there will be the announcement of the intention to establish an international training center dedicated to carrying out the kinds of trainings that I talked about in the Rabat – with the Rabat Memorandum. There’s going to be an actual center of excellence, if you will, another institution focused on delivering those trainings for criminal justice institutions and other rule of law institutions. That – the location of that will be announced shortly, but I’m not prepared to say where it’s going to be just yet.

So that’s – those are the outlines, and if you have questions, I’m happy to answer them.

QUESTION: You have – the Egyptians are a co-chairing rule of law working group?


QUESTION: I mean, do you think that, given the kind of questions about the military, the SCAF that has had serious questions about their rule of law, and now you have a new government that’s completely untested, are you – how can you say that the Egyptians should be co-chairing a group that they’re providing – they’re helping to create best practices? They’re the ones that – I would think they’re the ones that need these type of best practices.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: The best practices are being drawn up by the entire group. Okay?

QUESTION: But how can they provide leadership on this issue right now?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Well, in fact, we’ve found our collaboration with the Egyptians to be quite positive. The Egyptians have said from the outset that it was a sort of a central tenet of the Egyptian revolution that they wanted to have a decent government, a government ruled by transparent legal institutions. We’ve found that the Ministry of Justice and other interlocutors have been quite serious and quite constructive about this effort. Obviously, it’s a period of great change in Egypt, but we believe it’s exactly this kind of partnership that will help change go in the right – change proceed in the right direction.


QUESTION: So – sorry, I didn’t – the $90 million – (telephone rings). Sorry.

MODERATOR: Guess not. Anybody else? Jim, no? Nicole?

QUESTION: Not right now.

MODERATOR: Any other questions for [Senior State Department Official]?

QUESTION: I mean – I just have one last question. I mean, it’s always the kind of thing with these type of groups that it’s great that you have these confabs of like-minded countries that have similar ways of looking at these best practices of terrorism or democracy or anything like that but, I mean, it’s the countries that are not in this group, right, that are the ones that need the actual guidance? And how do you – you don’t want to impose yourself on them, and you can’t. So how do you come strike that balance between spreading your gospel of best practices and --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Well, I think – I’m glad you asked the question. The important thing about the GCTF is that while there are – there’s this core membership in all the working groups, there is an openness to having others participate in the regional working groups. In fact, it’s expected that meetings will invite all the neighbors in.

So when – for example, the Sahel Working Group had its meeting last November in Algiers, Libya was there – Libya’s not a member. Libya obviously has a lot to benefit from the GCTF. I believe Tunisia was there at the time, certainly Cote d’Ivoire, Chad – we had a really big turnout.

And the idea is that the GCTF is going to be providing instruction, providing training, providing best practices, to a whole array of countries far beyond the membership. In the rule of law group, we expect other countries to participate. And in fact, the organization itself is very much focused on bringing others in. It would be unwieldy to just have an organization in which – we had 191 members right now – but as a way of focusing the process and ensuring that we get a good outcome. And then being able to deliver that to others, we think this is a good size.

The CVE center is absolutely intending to provide trainings to any kind of country.

QUESTION: And these three regional working groups for the Sahel, the Horn of Africa, and Southeast Asia, these presumably are the kind of target where you think that that’s the three areas where you need to --


QUESTION: -- most important or vulnerable areas of countering violent extremists?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: No, I think we decided on those based on the consensus of those involved, that those were areas that both had significant problems, but also had a sort of constellation of actors who were prepared to work together most effectively.

For example, in Southeast Asia, we have the Australians and the Indonesians co-chairing the working group. And there are quite good relationships between most of the countries in that region. So it’s a good idea to have it there.

Obviously, there are a lot of other places in the world where there could be working groups. We felt that it was important for the group to be established in a way that it could demonstrate its capabilities, really put points on the board, and then consider expansion elsewhere.

QUESTION: I have a question. The Rabat and Rome document’s going to be available publicly or are they sort of members-only blueprints?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: No, they’re going to be available.

QUESTION: So from that perspective, they can benefit countries that aren’t currently in the forum, so – and provide transparency for those who might want to participate in the future, right?


QUESTION: Can I ask a little more about the Rome Memorandum? My name’s Nicole. I’m with Bloomberg News. So the document will come out at this meeting tomorrow?


QUESTION: Okay. Can you tell us a little more about who worked on it and what kind of conclusions they came to, if possible?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yeah. And I’ll ask [staff] to jump in when I falter. So the Rome document grew out of an original set of principles that was introduced, that was published at the launch last September. And that was called, amazingly, the Cairo Declaration. And from that, there were months of negotiations between – negotiations, maybe consultations, between experts from different countries culminating in a meeting in Rabat earlier this year.

QUESTION: He was in Rome or Rabat?





QUESTION: Well, do both. Do both.


MODERATOR: So but why don’t you finish with Rabat if that’s what --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yeah, Rabat began with Cairo. I’m sorry. The Rs are running together, it’s been a week. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: So this is called the Rabat Memorandum?


QUESTION: This is the one on the criminal justice sector?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yes, exactly, and I apologize about that. So that was done from Cairo, lots of sort of intercessional consultations on areas that we want to focus on, what the best practices were, how to get the wording right. And then after Rabat, in fact, we’ve had one more meeting in The Hague where the members use this really as a blueprint for thinking up the programs that they wanted to do, and some of those will be announced tomorrow.

Now, as for the Rome Memorandum, this began as a collaboration with a UN body called UNICRI, United Nations International Crime Research Institute.

STAFF: Interregional Crime Research Institute.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Interregional Crime Research Institute. And there was a lot of work done on developing best practices at a series of meetings that culminated in a meeting in Rome in April.

STAFF: In May.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: May, okay. A lot of meetings. And again, that’s a case where lots of different countries with relevant experience came to the table, laid out their best practices, exchanged ideas on what would be a useful set of guidelines for the future. And that memorandum was agreed upon, and it is now, again, sort of the guidelines for different programs.

QUESTION: Okay. Is Egypt one of those countries that was involved in the Rome Memorandum?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yes, the Egyptians did participate.


SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: So I should also note that there is a website now for the GCTF, and all these documents will be posted. I believe it’s, right? And all those texts will be available for your reading interest.

MODERATOR: Tomorrow at the --

QUESTION: One more question: Who is chairing the – could you say one more time who’s chairing – the Criminal Justice is Egypt and whom?


QUESTION: And then --


MODERATOR: We have some fact sheets that you should have had if you don’t have them.

QUESTION: Oh, I don’t have them.

MODERATOR: Okay. We’ll give them to you to have.

QUESTION: (Off mike.)

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Well, let me – actually, let me just elaborate on that for one second. One of the goals of the GCTF has been to go beyond the historic debates that have come – bedeviled counterterrorism for a long time to get away from the question of who is a terrorist, for example, and to really let the experts in these various areas come together and work in a very pragmatic way to really get things done. As the Secretary said at the launch, we don’t need another talk shop. We need to be action-oriented. And we very much have tried to realize her vision in that regard.

And so the interesting thing is that the Rule of Law Working Group – the folks who are doing it for our side, it’s the Department of Justice. It’s not the State Department doing this. So it’s the real practitioners rolling up their sleeves and working on very, very practical issues and thinking about what kind of programs they can institute so that others will benefit from the insights that the group brings to bear.

MODERATOR: Any other questions?

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: No. We’re not doing anything on WMD right now.

QUESTION: Okay. But did you say that that was one of the (inaudible)?


QUESTION: Oh, okay. CVE?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: CVE, countering violent extremism, not CVRS. Yeah.

QUESTION: The CVE, is that related to the center which – the new center?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Okay. So there are two centers that are under discussion.

QUESTION: I’m not talking about – I’m talking about your --


QUESTION: -- the one that Roberto was – Alberto – Alberto was --


QUESTION: I’m a little tired myself.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: So one of the sort of subgroups, the work streams in countering violent extremism, has to do with communications and how you push back against extremist propaganda and ideology on the web, on the airwaves, and the like. And in fact, Alberto Fernandez, who is the coordinator at the Center for Strategic Counterterrorism Communications, is leading that effort for us.

MODERATOR: All right, everybody. Thank you very much.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: You want me to repeat something? You look pained.

QUESTION: Yeah – no, because I – you said Alberto’s last name, and I just --

QUESTION: Fernandez.

MODERATOR: Fernandez.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Fernandez?

MODERATOR: Fernandez.

QUESTION: I’m tired.

MODERATOR: All right. And we will, as we said, have these fact sheets for you – shortly, [staff]? Okay.

QUESTION: And we chair the CVE group with who?


QUESTION: Oh, okay.

MODERATOR: Okay. Thank you.

PRN: 2012/T65-16