Background Briefing on Secretary Kerry's Trip to Cairo and Doha

Special Briefing
Senior State Department Officials
Via Teleconference
Washington, DC
July 31, 2015


MODERATOR: Thanks so much, and thanks, everyone, for joining us on what is a beautiful Friday morning. Anyway, as per usual, we’re doing a backgrounder call to preview the Secretary’s trip to Cairo and to Doha, and we’re very fortunate to have with us today [Senior State Department Official One] to talk us through some of the details of the Secretary’s trip. [Senior State Department Official One] will henceforth be known as a senior State Department official. And just a reminder, this call is on background.

With that, I will hand it over to [Senior State Department Official One] to give some brief remarks at the top, and then we’ll take your questions. Thanks so much. Go ahead, [Senior State Department Official One].

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Okay, thank you. Thank you, [Moderator]. And just very briefly, the Secretary will be traveling first to Cairo, where we will be doing the Strategic Dialogue with the Egyptians. This is the first time that we’ve done one of these dialogues with them since 2009, so long overdue, and as you can imagine, a lot of issues to discuss. We’ll be covering the political and strategic overview with them, and at the same time, there will also be an economic and commercial dialogue that will be chaired by David Thorne and Assistant Secretary Rivkin.

After that, he will travel directly to Doha for the meeting with the GCC foreign ministers. Again, this is a follow-on from the Camp David summit earlier this year. At that time, as you’ll recall, the Secretary committed that we would get the – get together with the foreign ministers after the completion of the nuclear negotiations with the Iranians. So we’re following up on that. Again, it will be a good opportunity to talk about both the Iran deal as well as broader strategic issues. We’ll talk about Yemen, Syria, and other issues of particular relevance at this time. And finally, it’ll be an opportunity to see where we are on implementing the various agreements and commitments that were made at the Camp David summit.

So that’s really the outline of what he’s doing and I’ll be happy to take questions.

MODERATOR: Great. Operator, you want to hand it over to the first questioner?

OPERATOR: Thank you. Ladies and gentlemen, if you wish to ask a question, please press * followed by the 1. You’ll hear a tone indicating that you’ve been placed in queue, and you may remove yourself from queue at any time by pressing the # key. Once again, for questions, please press *1.

First question today comes from the line of Michael Gordon representing The New York Times. Please go ahead.

QUESTION: [Senior State Department Official One], Secretary Kerry has talked a fair amount already about the Doha leg, and he said last week that one of his goals was to identify new programs and training effort to help the GCC push back against Iranian influence should that be necessary. What specific new programs is he going to propose? And why are you doing this only now since the problem of Iranian influence in the region is well known? It’s not a new phenomenon; it’s been a concern throughout the entire Obama Administration.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Right, and of course, we’ve been working very closely with our partners in the Gulf on many of these initiatives. What we’re going to be doing – if you’ll recall, there were a number of areas that were identified at the Camp David summit in the spring where we wanted to cooperate with our partners in areas like cyber security, ballistic missile defense, also some of the training initiatives that we’re undertaking, and an interest in seeing how we can expedite the delivery of critical foreign military items.

So what we’re going to be doing is taking a look at how we are moving ahead on implementing those things. I think that we have actually a pretty good story to tell about the success rate of follow-through on those items. We’ve had a number of interim meetings at the working level since the Camp David summit, and this is an opportunity to check and make sure that we’re all on the same page.

QUESTION: [Senior State Department Official One], just to quickly follow up, this is more of a matter of assessing how well you’re implementing previously agreed and announced initiatives; it’s not a venue for announcing new initiatives?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Really, that’s exactly right. I mean, it’s mostly a check of where we are. If there are areas that we want to discuss that might be new, additional to the things that were discussed at Camp David, of course we’ll take that. But primarily it’s rechecking the clock.

MODERATOR: Before I move to the next question, I know now that we’ve been joined by a second senior State Department official who I’ll just identify for the – your purposes, who is [Senior State Department Official Two]. [Senior State Department Official Two] will also be able to field any questions related to the Iran deal. But next question, please.

OPERATOR: Next question comes from the line of Carol Morello with The Washington Post. Please go ahead.

QUESTION: Thanks for doing this. I wanted to ask about the Cairo leg of the trip. Can you give us a sense of whether the Secretary plans to say anything publicly about the human rights and political situation there? Both some human rights groups and some senators have suggested he really make that an important part of the agenda. So I wanted to ask you how he plans to balance that with talking to the Egyptians about what’s happening in the Sinai in particular and if we expect to hear anything said in public.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Well, we’ll certainly be discussing the issue of the political environment, human rights issues while the Secretary is in Cairo. That is an important part of our regular dialogue with the Egyptians, and I anticipate that it will be coming up in all of his meetings. As you may know, Assistant Secretary Malinowski is also going to be on the trip and will have an opportunity to discuss with his counterparts some of the issues that we have, some of the concerns that we have about the situation. We also anticipate that the Secretary will be doing some public engagements. He’s going to be doing a press availability with the foreign minister after the dialogue. So I would expect that those issues will come up in public as well as in our private conversations with the Egyptians.

QUESTION: And can you talk a little bit about what he plans to tell them about how things are going with the campaign in Sinai against the militants there?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Well, we have concerns, and it’s going to be an important part of the conversation. We are deeply concerned about the developments in Sinai. And as you know, one of the key areas and one of the key decision points of why we decided to move forward was our estimate that the Egyptians were facing a very serious threat from ISIL-affiliated organizations in the Sinai and that we needed to help them and support what they’re trying to achieve there. So it’s going to be an important part of the conversation, and we are worried about the direction of events.

MODERATOR: Great. Next question, please.

OPERATOR: The question comes from the line of Pamela Dockins with the Voice of America. Please go ahead.

QUESTION: Thanks for doing this. Can you hear me?

MODERATOR: Yeah.

QUESTION: Can you dissect the Doha section a little bit more, in particular the GCC meeting on Iran nuclear talks? What is your sense going into these talks with this information? The Secretary, of course, over the past two weeks has made a lot of public comments about the Iran nuclear deal. Is it your sense going into these talks with the GCC that they’re, perhaps, more on board or is there a sense that you still have a lot to do to convince them in terms of how the deal will affect their region?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Well, I think that, of course, is an important part of the discussions that he’s going to have with the foreign ministers. I think, as you know, there was a lot of discussion about the Iran negotiations at the summit with the understanding that the Secretary would get everybody together again to have a more detailed conversation once the deal was done. I think that you’ve seen the public reactions of several of the governments, most recently the Saudi foreign minister, Adel Al-Jubeir, spoke publicly about the fact that the Government of Saudi Arabia was satisfied that it was a good agreement. This is an opportunity, really, for the Secretary to do a deep dive with the GCC foreign ministers to try to respond to any remaining questions that they might have and hopefully to satisfy them and ensure that they’re supporting our effort going forward.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: And this is [Senior State Department Official Two] if I could jump in here. Secretary Carter’s trip, this is really building on that when he went both to Saudi Arabia and other places in the region. He had a number of conversations with our Gulf partners on the military side, obviously, after the conclusion of the deal to talk about the path forward here, and I think he has spoken publicly about how positive some of those conversations were. I also would remind people that Secretary Kerry met with Adel Al-Jubeir here at the State Department almost days after we got back from Vienna. So he obviously has spoken with them quite a bit both in person and over the phone. And you have seen the Saudis and others come out and say some positive things about this. So I think all of those are good points to keep in mind.

MODERATOR: Great. Thank you. Next question, please.

OPERATOR: We’ll go to the line of Matthew Lee with the Associated Press. Please go ahead.

QUESTION: Hi, there. I just am curious about – clearly the Doha leg is Iran deal-focused, right? I mean, there – although there might be other issues that come up, and apparently the Secretary will be meeting with Foreign Minister Lavrov there, it is mainly to consult with the GCC about the Iran deal and the Camp David commitments that arose as it was coming together. Is that correct?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Yeah. I would say it’s really – it’s the three pieces. It’s the Iran deal, it’s a chance to look broadly at the regional situation, and it’s also follow-up on the Camp David summit. So all three of those legs.

QUESTION: So if it is the case that the Iran deal is near – at the top if not the top of the agenda, why is it that the Secretary isn’t going to the one country that has been the most vocal in its opposition? Do you guys consider that Israel is just a lost cause on this and there’s no point in trying to assuage or ease any other concerns? Did he want to go and was told that maybe now is not the best time, or was it something else?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Well, what I would say is that our dialogue with the Israelis is probably as rich as any dialogue we have with any government in the world. And certainly, the Secretary has spoken to Prime Minister Netanyahu and others. Secretary Carter was just in Israel a few days ago. So I think that there’s no question that we have a very deep and broad discussion with the Israelis, including on this issue. This trip is specifically – and it was a commitment that we made to the – our GCC partners at the Camp David summit that we would follow up with them and have this discussion with them after the deal was completed, and the Secretary’s trip is to fulfill that commitment.

QUESTION: Okay, last one. You said that you have deep, broad – the Secretary – conversations with the Israelis. The last time it was asked, from the podium it was said that the Secretary had last spoken to Prime Minister Netanyahu on the 16th. Is that still correct? And if you don’t know, can you check?

MODERATOR: I think that’s correct, but we can double-check on that, Matt.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MODERATOR: Yeah. Next question, please.

OPERATOR: Ladies and gentlemen, if there are any additional questions, please press *1 at this time.

And we’ll go to the line of Terry Atlas with Bloomberg News. Please go ahead.

QUESTION: Hi, thanks for doing this. Can you comment on whether you have concerns about the state of economic reforms by the Sisi government and whether that’s been losing momentum, as some analysts say? And secondly, is there any significance to the timing of the delivery of the F-16s this week in conjunction with the Secretary’s trip? Thanks.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Right. In terms of the economic reforms, there will be a separate discussion as part of the larger Strategic Dialogue that we’ll be having on economic issues, and certainly, we were pleased with some of the decisions that the Sisi government made to advance the economic reform agenda. We think it’s important to keep moving ahead on that, and this will be an opportunity to discuss that and maybe to get into some of the more specific areas where we think increasing the pace of reform would be a positive thing.

Of course, next week, August 6th, the Government of Egypt will be inaugurating the second channel of the Suez Canal, which they expect is going to be a big boost for their economy. And certainly, we’ll be looking at opportunities for encouraging greater foreign direct investment in Egypt and particularly, of course, U.S. direct investment in Egypt and how we can work together in order to make that – in order to realize that.

As far as the F-16 deliveries, again, as you know, the Secretary, with the President, made the decision to lift the hold on the delivery of some of these items. After that decision was made, the – we started moving forward on the delivery schedule. So there’s no correlation between holding the Strategic Dialogue and the delivery of these items.

MODERATOR: Great. Time for --

QUESTION: Thank you.

MODERATOR: Please go ahead. I’m sorry, you had a follow-up? No? Okay, great. I don’t know if there’s any more questions.

OPERATOR: Nobody else is queuing up at this time.

MODERATOR: Great. Well, then thank you all for joining us, and look forward to seeing you on the trip. Take care. Have a good Friday.