Background Briefing Reading Out Bilateral Meetings With Egyptian Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmy, UAE Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed, Jordanian King Abdullah and Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisals

Special Briefing
Senior State Department Official
Waldorf Astoria Hotel
New York City
September 22, 2013

MODERATOR: This background briefing will be to provide all of you a readout of the bilateral meetings the Secretary has had this evening. He met one-on-one with both the Saudi and the Emirati Foreign Minister. We have, of course, been in touch with the aides who are traveling around New York with him, but keep that in mind as you ask your questions.

QUESTION: Just – can you just send that brief thing by email, that on-the-record thing?

MODERATOR: The statement? Sure. Yeah, we can definitely do that. Okay.

QUESTION: And [Moderator], that was on the record?

MODERATOR: Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. And now we are going to move to the background portion of the evening.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: So, good evening, everybody. The Secretary, as [Moderator] said, met with Prime Minister Fahmy this afternoon. In that meeting they concentrated their discussion on Egypt, the U.S.-Egyptian relationship. They discussed from both sides how important the relationship is to both the United States and Egypt, each side confirming that, and talked about how important it was for that relationship to prosper for there to be progress on the roadmap and there – and a recognition of the importance of building the democratic institutions that are important to Egypt and important to the United States.

They – in that discussion they talked about journalists being arrested, about the importance of free speech, the importance of combating terrorism, the importance of differentiating between the two, the importance of there being a transparent, inclusive process, as the roadmap progresses, and the importance of allowing the judicial process to move forward in an appropriate way as Egyptians look at the numbers of people who have been arrested and other judicial processes that they’ve got underway.

There was a very brief discussion about other elements in the region, but very brief on – just very, very brief on Syria and just a quick mention of the negotiations in The Hague and in New York.

In the meeting with – the one-on-one meeting with Prime Minister Abdullah of the UAE, that was a one-on-one meeting. So the report that we have that is that the – that it was a productive meeting that they – that the Secretary thanked the Foreign Minister for the Emirates’ strong support for our efforts to hold Assad accountable for using chemical weapons, and for their support in bringing about a democratic transition in Syria through the Geneva process. It is very important to the – to all of us that our London 11 partners and other partners work with us to push the SOC to participate in the Geneva process.

They talked briefly about – to update – the Secretary updated the Foreign Minister on efforts in the – in OPCW in The Hague and in New York on implementing the U.S.-Russia framework agreement, and they affirmed the importance of our insisting on a binding, verifiable removal of chemical weapons. And it was discussed that it was very important that the United States – that the U.S. threat of military action was what brought this diplomacy about.

They had a brief discussion also about Egypt, and the Foreign Minister underscored the UAE support for building a transparent and inclusive, democratic, civilian-led government in Egypt.

The next meeting was with King Abdullah of Jordan. There the discussion focused primarily on Syria, again on the importance of getting to agreement in The Hague on the OPCW decision, as well as in New York on a UN Security Council resolution to underpin that OPCW decision. And they talked at considerable length about how this – as important as the CW framework agreement is, that it is equally important, if not more so, to maintain the political track to get to a Geneva conference based on the Geneva communique of June 2012 that, as – that, yes, there were – that the CW attack was a terrible thing, but there have been many, many hundreds of thousands more killed through conventional means, and it’s critical to get to a political solution based on the Geneva communique.

They talked about the – they also talked about the devastating results of the crisis in Syria in terms of extremism, how many more organizations there are in Syria who are – that are extremist, how impossible this is for Syria, for Jordan, for the region, and that we must find ways to work more effectively to undercut the ability of extremists to operate in Syria the way they do now.

The Secretary met one-on-one, then, with Foreign Minister Saud of Saudi Arabia. And that discussion, they had a discussion of a broad range of issues, including Syria, in which the Foreign Minister reiterated Saudi Arabia’s strong support for the U.S.-Russia framework agreement, as well as for moving on the political track with the SOC, and especially that Saudi Arabia supports the Syrian Opposition Coalition moving to the – to Geneva on the political track.

On Egypt they talked about their support for the democratic transition, and reinforced our shared goal to see a transparent and inclusive move to a civilian-led government. They talked about the importance of supporting and encouraging Egypt to make the necessary economic reforms as well for a sustainable transition in Egypt.

On the Middle East peace process, the Secretary and Foreign Minister Saud talked about the ongoing negotiations. The Secretary conveyed to Saud that the talks have been sustained and they’re serious, as the parties – and they are as serious – as the parties agreed. We’re encouraged by this. They discussed the importance of the economic initiatives and supporting the Palestinian Authority as part of those efforts.

They also had a discussion on Iran. The Secretary underscored our clear policy of working to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. We’re focused on our – focused on and committed to our dual-track approach of pressure and engagement to reach a diplomatic solution with Iran. And they talked about the importance of Iran now matching the more positive rhetoric we’ve heard with concrete steps to ease the deep concerns of the international community about Iran’s pursuit of its nuclear program.


SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: So those are the four meetings that the Secretary had this evening.

MODERATOR: We won’t make this a marathon given it’s late, but let’s take some questions from all of you. Arshad.

QUESTION: Could we go to a quick one on Egypt? Did Foreign Minister Fahmy and the Secretary discuss at all the – whether the United States plans to continue to provide military assistance to Egypt?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: They didn’t talk explicitly about any detail on assistance. The Secretary talked about the importance of our – of Egypt pursuing its roadmap and doing so in a genuine, inclusive, transparent way, and to demonstrate early that it’s moving definitively to a civilian-led government through elections. But they did not talk about any specifics about this kind of assistance or that kind of assistance.

QUESTION: And – or overall assistance levels at all?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: They did not discuss overall assistance level. They said it is important that the – that Egypt demonstrate progress on these things because of Congress’s interest in assistance.

QUESTION: And what about --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: It was a very general statement along those lines.

QUESTION: Did the – has the Administration yet adopted a position on whether to provide any of the FY2013 military assistance that so far has not been provided to Egypt?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: There’s no decision on it. That’s all still under review.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: And did Foreign Minister Fahmy make any commitments about the progress to have judicial proceedings, for instance, for the 2,000 Muslim Brotherhood detainees who are still being held without charges?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yes. He was very clear that it’s all in judicial process, that all of those under arrest are being – it’s all under court review. He said that there are time limits as to the length of time that interrogations can occur and how long – there are time limits on the entire process. Although I don’t personally know what they are; that’s something I made a note to myself to check on.

MODERATOR: Yeah, and they can often be extended.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I need to check on all of that.


QUESTION: Can I ask – sorry – in the discussions about the OPCW, did you make it clear whether the United States has already put forward the Russian-U.S. plan to the OPCW?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: There was no discussion in either of the bilats in which I participated on any details on OPCW or on the UN Security Council. It was simply the Secretary saying we’re working on OPCW decision in The Hague and working on an UNSCR in New York. But there was zero discussion of specifics on either.

QUESTION: So can I ask more broadly then, is it your understanding that had it been put forward – this is going outside of the bilats – is it your understanding that the document has now been lodged with the OPCW?

MODERATOR: We’ll have to check on that for you, Jo. We’re happy to do that.


QUESTION: I'm sorry --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I will. I don’t know which document – which document do you need?

QUESTION: The Russian-U.S. framework that was agreed in Geneva last weekend. If it’s actually been lodged with the – if it’s actually gone to the OPCW yet as the resolution – as the basis for a resolution out of which we’ll then – that will then go to the UN as the basis for the UN Security Council resolution.

MODERATOR: Well, it still is the case that we haven’t – that the OPCW has not provided it to member states. I know this isn’t your question, but it’s an important point here – has not provided their own report to member states, right, and you’d have to check with them on the specifics there. In terms of other interactions with the OPCW, we’d just have to check on that for you unless there’s any more specifics.

QUESTION: Can I just follow up? When Ben Rhodes did his briefing Friday, he said the U.S. hadn’t had a chance yet to look at the representations that Syria had made about their chemical stocks. So I’m just wondering if there’s any update. That was Friday; now it’s Sunday.

MODERATOR: Not that I’m aware of but we’re happy to check on that and see if there’s one to provide for all of you. But I talked to them earlier today and there wasn’t an update.

QUESTION: [Moderator], on this subject, I think – apropos Jo’s question, I thought the U.S. and the Russians were to provide a detailed kind of plan for verification, inspection, how we’d do this to the – to this organization. I think that was the question.

MODERATOR: Right, I --

QUESTION: And that hadn’t happened yet.

MODERATOR: I would – I just have to check on it. I don’t know what the latest status is.

QUESTION: Could I ask you one more --

QUESTION: You mentioned on Iran in the context of one meeting, I think, with Saud al-Faisal. Is that really the only place it came up? And was there any other discussion today to kind of fill us in on current U.S. thinking about how this week is going to go with Rouhani and Jabad and everybody?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: There was no discussion of Iran in the meeting with Foreign Minister Fahmy. I would – I do not recall that there was any discussion of it in the meeting with King Abdullah. And the notes I have on what happened in the other two meetings were as I related to you.

MODERATOR: And in terms of the status, we know there’s been, of course, a lot of speculation. Nothing has changed. There isn’t a meeting scheduled. We still remain --

QUESTION: Between whom?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Well, there are two possible, which – there’s no meeting with --

QUESTION: There’s more than two possible.

MODERATOR: There is no --

QUESTION: There are no meetings scheduled between the U.S. and Iranian officials?

MODERATOR: A lot of the speculation, to be clear, has been about President Rouhani and President Obama. There’s no meeting scheduled. There’s no meeting scheduled between --

QUESTION: I think a lot of the speculation is about Wendy Sherman hanging out in the lobby of the Intercontinental Hotel trying to run into him accidentally. (Laughter.)

MODERATOR: I’m not aware of that speculation. That’s a different question.

QUESTION: I just started it. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: It’s right next door.

MODERATOR: There’s no new updates or new scheduled meetings to announce is the short --

QUESTION: Can you just state for the record that, as of now, there are no plans for any U.S. officials to meet any Iranian officials this week?

MODERATOR: I can state what I just stated, which is that there are no meetings scheduled. So if there’s an update, I’m sure we’ll provide them.

QUESTION: Between any officials? I’m not just limiting it to the President or the Secretary.

MODERATOR: I’m not – I haven’t looked at – I’m not aware of any. So --

QUESTION: Sorry, just to clarify --


QUESTION: -- does that mean there’s no P5+1 with Iran scheduled also for this stage?

MODERATOR: Well, I know there’s a P5+1 meeting later this week.


QUESTION: (Inaudible.)


MODERATOR: I don’t think Iran is attending. I don’t believe Iran is attending that, though. Right? That’s right. Okay. Yeah.

QUESTION: Is Kerry going to any lunch – to the lunch that Obama is going to that Ban Ki-moon is hosting on Tuesday?

MODERATOR: I believe he’ll be with him most of the day. I’d have to just check on that specifically. I know we’re lining up the schedules.

QUESTION: And will the Iranian President be at that lunch, as well, that --

MODERATOR: I don’t know. You’d have to ask the organizers that question.

QUESTION: Can we go back to Egypt for one quick second?


QUESTION: So you talked about the Secretary having made the point about the importance of allowing the judicial process to move forward in an appropriate way. I mean, did he directly address the allegations that many people are being – well, incarcerated under the emergency law? This is something the U.S. had long opposed. Did he call for it to be withdrawn, et cetera?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: The Secretary talked – he asked about the – all the numbers that have been arrested. He talked about the difficulties with civil society that – the difficulty that civil society is experiencing now in Egypt. He – and in asking about it, said what is the prospect, for instance, on lifting the emergency – the state of emergency, that the – that that would be an important indicator of Egypt’s plan to actually build democratic institutions and move to the kind of civilian-led government that it has said it’s moving to in the roadmap.

Foreign Minister Fahmy, in reply, said all of the people who are under arrest will be put through the normal judicial process --

QUESTION: Not military courts, meaning?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: He said not – he said specifically not military courts, that civilians would be tried not in military courts, and that – how did he put it? – that the judicial process would move forward in the normal way the judicial process is meant to move, something along those lines.

QUESTION: Did he also – on the state of emergency, did he give any indication of when the Egyptians might --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: What he – he said that the idea had been to lift the state of emergency until the attack on the Minister of Interior, and because of that and because of the concern about the lack of security and the lack of safety for Egyptians, that they had extended the state of emergency by the two months that it’s permitted to be extended. But he said that it could not be extended again without it going to a referendum.

QUESTION: Can I – could you remind us again the – what the U.S. view is of the Egyptian judiciary? Is it an independent judiciary? I mean, has it changed at all post – from Mubarak to now, from Mubarak to Morsy and now?


QUESTION: Or is it still God-awful?


QUESTION: Yeah. So it’s --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: And it’s all the same laws.

QUESTION: So is it --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: So it’s – it remains to be seen how it will all proceed.

QUESTION: Okay. But when – so it is reassuring at all to you to hear the Foreign Minister say that these people who have been arrested will be dealt with --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: As I said it earlier, this is all things that – the details that he provided are all things I’m going to check on.

QUESTION: Okay. And then my only other one is: In the conversation with Saud al-Faisal, did Bahrain come up at all?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: That is – I don’t know that. It’s not in the notes I was given as to the subjects that were discussed.

MODERATOR: We can check on it.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: But that’s something we can check.

QUESTION: Any update on Omar al-Bashir’s visa?

MODERATOR: I don’t believe we have an update.

QUESTION: Meaning he might be granted a visa? As you know, he announced today that he is coming and he’s booked a hotel room.


QUESTION: So have you issued a visa?

MODERATOR: I read the news.

QUESTION: I know. (Laughter.) You’ve been at your sister’s wedding, so --

QUESTION: The good news is it’s not a tent in Central Park. (Laughter.)

MODERATOR: Yes. I understand the interest. I’m happy to check on that. We were focused on these, so I didn’t have one. But we can get that around to all of you guys.

QUESTION: Did – I wonder if in the meeting with Foreign Minister Fahmy, did the Secretary again ask for the release of former President Morsy, and was there any assurances about his health or how he’s doing?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: The Secretary noted that there had been quite a delay in former President Morsy’s ability to speak to his family. The Foreign Minister said that he had regular contact with his lawyer, but the Secretary did raise that. There was no discussion of his health.

QUESTION: And did he repeat that the United States would prefer for him to be released?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: There was no discussion of that.

QUESTION: Does the United States want --

MODERATOR: But it remains our position.

QUESTION: It is your position that he should be released?

MODERATOR: It has been for months.

QUESTION: So why not raise it with the Foreign Minister when you meet him?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: It was – because it was a more general discussion about how all of the Muslim Brotherhood would be – well, the discussion --


SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: The discussion was how to assure inclusivity in the political process, and there was discussion about how to establish channels of communication that were – that could produce the kind of inclusivity and conversation that would be necessary to produce that.

QUESTION: Was there any suggestion that there are any active talks between members of the Brotherhood who are still out, like Amr Darag, who had been talking to Bill Burns?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: There was discussion of how to get those kinds of discussions going.

QUESTION: On housekeeping, the Secretary tonight said he would have more to say on the situation in Kenya tomorrow. Do you know – have a venue for that?

MODERATOR: Not yet, but I will follow up on that and see. It might be just providing regular updates on where things stand. Obviously, there are a number of components we’re still looking into, given how fresh the news is. But I don’t know if there’s an established venue or something where he could just say something at the top of the meeting for all of you if there is an update to provide.

QUESTION: Official Number One, could you remind us or could you tell us what were the things that you want to go back and check on that Foreign Minister Fahmy had said?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: That there is a specific period of time in which the interrogations must take place, that there is specific time limits on – the implication was specific time limits before the case has to come to court, but he wasn’t very clear on what he meant by that. So I just – I just haven’t spent time understanding the exact judicial process in Egypt.

QUESTION: And just also housekeeping, this is the first time that the Secretary’s met with Foreign Minister Fahmy since he became elected?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: No, no. They met in Paris a couple weeks ago.


QUESTION: Oh, they did? Okay. So I missed that.


QUESTION: You mentioned in a couple of your readouts the discussions – I think it was with the Emiratis and the Saudis – about how important it was to get the Syrian opposition to Geneva.


QUESTION: What’s the latest status of that?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: The latest status is the Syrian opposition has issued a statement saying they would like to go to – they are prepared to go to Geneva as well. They’ve been working very hard in Istanbul with quite a number of the – what we call the London 11 countries at expert level to get prepared for negotiations both in terms of negotiating expertise and to establish a working group – they’ve established two working groups, one of which is based in Gaziantep and is meant to be in touch with local councils, provincial councils to make sure that they’re in contact with them and getting their views and have good engagement on the kinds of issues that might come up in a negotiation.

QUESTION: And is Secretary Kerry meeting with al-Jabra while he’s here?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: That’s the goal. It hasn’t been scheduled yet, but that’s a scheduling issue as opposed to anything else.

QUESTION: As is always the case.


MODERATOR: All right, we’ll do this again tomorrow.

QUESTION: Thank you very much.

QUESTION: Yes, thank you very much.


MODERATOR: And I’ll follow up on a couple of things that you guys asked about.


PRN: 2013/1158