Background Briefing On Secretary Kerry's Meeting with GCC Foreign Ministers
QUESTION: First of all, has the Egypt meeting been rescheduled yet? You know when that’s going to be?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Not yet. We’re working on it.
QUESTION: But it will definitely happen at some point?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Well, I don’t know “definitely.” We’re definitely going to try. (Laughter.) I mean, it’s --
QUESTION: We’re definitely going to try to reach an Iran nuclear deal, right?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Time is finite, Matt, and there are lots of meetings.
QUESTION: It does not mean that we’re gonna do it.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: I can’t promise you it’ll get rescheduled, but we’re doing the best we can.
MODERATOR: This is starting out on a very aggressive tone.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Seriously. (Laughter.) If this counts as a hostile topic, we’re in real trouble.
QUESTION: I was kidding.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: I know.
QUESTION: Now you got a bunch of journalists who haven’t had any communications today, so we’re all --
MODERATOR: I haven’t emailed any of you guys back at all, that’s true. (Laughter.)
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: So don’t put our hands inside the cages is what --
QUESTION: No, no, no. No, I didn’t mean --
QUESTION: We have no wi-fi. We had no wi-fi.
QUESTION: No, I didn’t mean from you. I meant the --
QUESTION: We haven’t been able to --
QUESTION: We’ve had real communications issues.
QUESTION: “We haven’t had wi-fi” issues.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Oh, you don’t have wi-fi?
QUESTION: And if you do, it’s working badly.
QUESTION: What’s the attribution on this? Senior State Department --
MODERATOR: Senior State Department officials, yeah.
MODERATOR: Yeah. So this is – just for the purposes of the transcript, this is a background readout of the Secretary’s meeting with the GCC this evening, and we have – attribution is to senior State Department officials.
So with that, we’ll it turn it over to you, [Senior State Department Official One].
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Thank you. The Secretary met for about 90 minutes with the GCC foreign ministers, with the exception of the Saudi deputy minister, who – since the minister’s in the hospital. This, as many of you know, is one of a series of meetings with GCC ministers. Most of them are coming to the CVE summit on the 18th, and we will likely have another session with them on the margins of that meeting or soon thereafter. They were very anxious to have more encounters with the Secretary – well, because they value it, but also because of the range of challenges and issues in the region.
The Secretary started off with discussions of the coalition and the progress against Daesh and that things were going pretty well in Iraq. I think there was broad consensus among the ministers that that was the case. There was still what I would call concern that Abadi was not reaching out sufficiently to the Sunni population, but I think there was a broad agreement that the situation in Iraq was improving and that progress was being made against Daesh.
There was other discussion of coalition business. One of the countries – GCC members, as you know – has had some suspension of flights. I think it’s fair to say that they reaffirmed their commitment to the coalition and suggested that there was going to be positive news on the flight issue within the next few days.
QUESTION: I’m sorry, on the what issue?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: The flights.
QUESTION: Flight issue.
QUESTION: On that – sorry, how long --
QUESTION: Can you just, for the record, say what that country was?
QUESTION: -- was positive news? In the next couple days?
MODERATOR: (Inaudible) background, yeah, UAE.
QUESTION: UAE? Yeah, thank you.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Huh?
QUESTION: In the next --
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Couple days.
QUESTION: -- couple days?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Yeah, few days.
A lot of concern about the situation on the ground in Yemen, which is very confused and fast-moving at this point. Most of the ministers had just seen the Houthi announcement and, of course, were articulate about the threats that an unsettled Yemen poses to GCC members, which is – and so there was a considerable discussion of next steps that we might take together and as members of – with the GCC and with the international community to help stabilize the situation in Yemen along diplomatic security and other ways that we can move forward on that.
A topic they discussed, as they all do constantly in these meetings, about Iranian influence in the region. And the Secretary assured them once again that we would not conclude a bad nuclear deal with Iran, and in no way did it mean that we were going to be ignoring – of Iranian adventurism in the region. So there was some back-and-forth about that.
And then finally, there was discussion of next steps that could be taken in Syria; totally predictable concern about Bashar al-Assad’s longevity in power; some discussion of steps that Arab countries might take as part of the coalition in Syria. And then the Secretary reaffirmed again, as he’s done before, that our policy is that Bashar al-Assad must leave to reassure the GCC members, but that essentially, there was business to conduct in Iraq first. (Inaudible.)
MODERATOR: Yeah. Let’s go to questions.
QUESTION: On Yemen, can you elaborate a little bit on what you all know and what was discussed at the table? I mean, is anyone okay with what’s happened --
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Nobody’s okay with – nobody was okay before either.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: So this has been building for some months. But yes, it looks as though the most concerning element, of course, is that the Houthis have abolished the parliament and that these other efforts from the UN – and there was a second issue under – negotiation underway – seemed to have been trumped by the Houthi announcement. And again, there was a concern around the table about that, and there was a feeling that the international community needed to take a stronger position, either through the UN or another multilateral organization. And the Secretary challenged them to say what they were going to do to help resolve the situation in Yemen. And there were some ideas that came out during the discussion and had come out earlier in the day in discussions with GCC ministers.
QUESTION: Can you elaborate on what they might --
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Well, diplomatic – some diplomatic approaches, some security approaches. The Secretary urged them to be in contact with players on the ground. Some of the GCC ministers, some of the GCC countries have good contacts with one or another group, and to see what their views were on the situation.
QUESTION: What about with the Iranians?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: There was concern about Iranian influence in Yemen, but no one discussed getting in touch with the Iranians.
QUESTION: Even though the Secretary had just come from two hours of meetings with Zarif?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: It was not – right.
QUESTION: Did that come up in the – with Zarif?
MODERATOR: Not during the bilateral portion.
QUESTION: So are you saying that the tenor of this was “You can’t expect international groups to do much until you do something yourself”? Is that what you’re suggesting? Or am I reading too much into it?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: No, no. I don’t think so. I mean, the – I’ve been – sat through a number of these now, and there was certainly a lot of concern in the room, but their solution is that they want closer relations and closer coordination with the U.S., and we’re, frankly, eager to hold another meeting soon so they can go through these efforts in more detail. In other words, it was – felt like we didn’t have sufficient time to address, for instance, the complexity of the issues in Yemen, and a lot of people weren’t sure what was going on in the first place because they had been getting sporadic reports during the day.
But no, I think the GCC, again, has some – and there was obviously a division of opinion among GCC ministers about how to proceed on Yemen, I might add, predictably, given their interests. And the Secretary said we need to sort that out together, we need to talk to the UN, so that’s sort of where we left it.
QUESTION: Is there any kind of – was there any suggestion in the meeting that that might be – there might be some immediate kind of demarche from any of those countries with Yemen?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Some of them are in contact with people on the ground constantly, and I don't know exactly who you would demarche right now in Yemen.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: That would be, I think, the issue. Because as the Secretary said today – you’ve got the direct quote, but this is not – this does not reflect our view that you should have a consensus government in Yemen. So – but there was --
QUESTION: Well, how do you see it proceeding from here, from the – from Munich, how do you think – proceeding with Yemen?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Well, we’re still – again, we’re still trying to sort through that in Washington as well, but I think, obviously, there is very intensive discussion underway right now with our allies like the GCC and with other allies who have a presence on the ground, and the UN. I mean, the UN has played a major role in Yemen through its special rep, Jamal Benomar.
QUESTION: What does the U.S. believe the GCC can do? I mean, obviously, maybe they have more leverage? More – I mean --
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: They have very – enormous leverage. I mean, to put the obvious case out there, the most enormous leverage is financial. And the Saudis have supported or aided Yemen, I think, to the tune of $2 billion last year. But the financial support has been considerable, and still Yemen is a country that is deeply dependent on foreign assistance through the IMF, through the World Bank, through the Friends of Yemen, and through, frankly, some deposits that the Saudis have in the Central Bank of Yemen. So in terms of going forward in any stable economic sense, the GCC has quite a bit of clout.
QUESTION: What, on multilateral or UN level, can be done? I mean, Benomar has been struggling to get the talks moving forward, so --
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: He’s been struggling and he was – I think he felt he was close when he was trumped by this. And there’s some discussion of whether we should go back to the Security Council. I think the secretary general is in Riyadh today and I haven’t seen what he has said about this, but – and then there are members of the GCC that are in direct contact with the Houthis and have urged them to exercise restraint and try and point out some of the practicalities of the situation – that you can’t govern, really, without strong international support.
QUESTION: What can you do on Security Council level? I mean, who would you sanction, and the Houthis don’t have assets overseas.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Well, we – I don’t know. We’re still sorting through that. I mean, we’ve been to the Security Council a couple times on this. But I don’t --
QUESTION: Were there any discussions about the oil situation in general, or --
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: There was no discussion of that. Yemeni oil?
QUESTION: There’s oil in the Middle East, oil (inaudible) prices.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: None whatsoever
QUESTION: What about the Jordanian pilot? Was there any talk at all about the fact he was (inaudible)?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: The Secretary (inaudible) and others affirmed how – the barbarity of the act. But the substantive follow-through was the country I mentioned that I think will resume its flights – will have positive developments in a couple days. But other than a general discussion of the pilot and the barbarism of ISIL, there wasn’t much detailed discussion.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: I would just add – on the pilot, I would just add that the tenor of the discussion around that issue was indicative of the fact that this has been a unifying event, not a divisive event in any way for (inaudible), which is something, I think, that has been clear from the outset. People are angry about this and are redoubling their resolve to take the fight to Daesh as a result.
QUESTION: And did that --
QUESTION: When the UAE resumes flights, it’s going to be in the same role of carrying out airstrikes?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: That would be my guess.
QUESTION: Excuse me?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Yes. That’s my impression.
QUESTION: And is – was anger the – as far as the UAE is concerned, was there anger over what happened to him? Did that play a role in your decision to say they would resume flights, or not?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: I think that’s a good question. I think probably so. I mean, again, there was considerable outrage around the table about what had happened to the pilot, and as [Senior State Department Official Two] says, it was – and as we’ve seen all over the Arab world, it was a unifying factor. He didn’t say because of that, but he just said, “I expect you’ll have – we’ll resume in a couple days.”
QUESTION: Can I just go back to Yemen? I’m sorry, I was --
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Sure.
QUESTION: -- I’ve been a little bit behind on this today. Can I ask what – (a) what the U.S. position is, and (b) what the – if you were able to (inaudible) what the GCC position was on the idea of a presidential council. Do you agree with it, or --
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: No, we don’t agree with it. We don’t agree with it, and they didn’t agree with it either. Although I think where there may be gradations of opinion within the GCC, that some of them were sort of more accepting – not accepting, but some are gradations of reaction to the Houthis. And that – many of you who have been in this region know that that’s fairly longstanding.
QUESTION: So what would be the – what would be the outcome from any kind of diplomacy that you’re seeking now?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: We don’t know yet. We’re still working on that.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: We’d just be getting ahead of conversations that we’re having in real time right now.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Conversations, again, not just with the GCC, but with all the other – with our other allies there in the UN.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: I mean, it was what time, 4 o’clock --
QUESTION: So you’re not definitely saying we need to see President Hadi back in power?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: President Hadi submitted his resignation.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: And we think he’s determined to go through with that.
QUESTION: Okay. All right.
MODERATOR: Let’s just do a couple more. Anyone else? All right.
QUESTION: Wait, wait, wait.
MODERATOR: Abby (ph), or --
QUESTION: (Inaudible). (Laughter.)
QUESTION: (Inaudible.) Come back to me. I’m just looking back over my notes.
QUESTION: Do you – is there any more information about the ISIS claim?
MODERATOR: No more information than what we’ve told you on the record.
QUESTION: Can you elaborate a little bit more about the concern about Abadi not reaching out enough to the Sunnis? You – how serious is the concern?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Yeah. That’s sort of a constant theme of these meetings, and concern that plays itself out, I think, certainly most vividly in Iraq with former Prime Minister al-Maliki. But it was mentioned again tonight that Abadi needs to – Prime Minister Abadi needs to redouble his efforts with the Sunni community in Iraq.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: I just want – to put that in context a little bit, though – because I don’t want to give the impression that this was – that these were sort of heated complaints.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: No, no.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Having sat through meetings with GCC members under the tenure of Prime Minister Maliki, the tone is night and day the way they spoke about Maliki and the way they speak about Prime Minister Abadi. And I think there is a general belief and a desire for Abadi to be successful, and when – where they see issues, they raise them. But the tenor, the nature of the grievances that they have with the current Iraqi Government is nothing compared to what we used to hear about Prime Minister Maliki.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: I mean, these countries are in their – they – yeah. I would entirely agree with that. There wasn’t any rancor or edge to this. It was just that he needs to do more with the Sunni population. And we agree with that; we agree with that.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: And we’ve made those same points, and made them to Prime Minister Abadi as well. And I would say he agrees, generally speaking, that that’s an important part of successful governance in Iraq.
QUESTION: In reference to your comments on Syria, you said there was concern about Assad’s longevity. Was there something new in that or is this --
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: No. This is also a conversation that has been longstanding. And again, the Secretary’s response was to assure the GCC partners, as he’s done many times before, that we certainly agree that Assad has to go. I mean, the death toll and the destruction has been quite overwhelming. But it was – there was no new issue --
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: And there have been no change in our --
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Yeah (inaudible).
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: We’ve seen stray reports that there had been a – some sort of revision of our position --
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Speculation of change in our position.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: -- with regard to Assad, and that’s – the Secretary made clear that’s not the case.
QUESTION: Was there any talk about Russia’s – I mean, Russia hosted that conference recently, and the Saudis have been (inaudible).
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: There was a passing reference to that, but no discussion of it. No. Very passing, now that I – I can’t even remember (inaudible).
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Right. In the context of the need to continue to support the opposition.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: To support the opposition – yeah, to support the opposition. The GCC ministers, a couple of them in particular, reaffirmed that they were – wanted to do more to support the opposition. And that’s --
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: But it was neither a critical nor an endorsement of --
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: It was just a – information point.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Noted, as we sometimes say.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Yeah.
QUESTION: Did any of the GCC ministers have any encounters with anyone from the Iranian delegation?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: I don’t know.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: If so, we don’t know about it.
MODERATOR: Not that we talked about.
All right. Thank you, guys.