Press Availability With Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi and French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius
Deputy Secretary of State
FOREIGN MINISTER FABIUS: (Via interpreter) (In progress) – Iraq, and a representative for the United States of America, Mr. Blinken, in the absence of Mr. Kerry to report on the work we’ve done this morning and over lunch. This press conference won’t be too long because the prime minister from Iraq has a meeting at the Elysee at 3:00 p.m. and I shall have to answer a certain number of questions at our national assembly.
First of all, let me explain the meeting. You know that the international coalition against Daesh, which brings together over 60 countries, is very much engaged in Iraq. And it just met as a small group, as it is called – it’s 25 countries, the UN and the European Union – to coordinate at a political level our strategy against Daesh. And so there is a regular follow-up of the coalition’s efforts.
And it was all the more important to meet since recent events made the meeting essential. For nine months now, progress has been made in order to push back the terrorist group Daesh, especially in the Salah ad Din and Diyala provinces in Iraq, but also in Syria. And at the same time – and this is something we all recognize this morning – there have been new pushes on the part of Daesh, and therefore, it was all the more necessary to take stock of the situation, together with the prime minister of Iraq and the – and Secretary Tony Blinken. I chaired the meeting and we had Mr. Kerry on the phone, and he sounded quite sprightly, and I told him he should have listened to Churchill, who said, “No sport.”
Now what I take away from our discussions is this, before I hand over to the prime minister and then Mr. Antony Blinken. Now, first thing, what I see is that our conversation has made it possible to reaffirm our common resolve to fight the Daesh fighters. And I often say of them that they are false holy men but true hooligans. And what you have to know is that it is a long battle that we are waging in Iraq. We supported the Iraqi forces with airstrikes and supplying equipment and training, allowing the Iraqi forces to find the necessary scope to strike back against Daesh. And the effort will be focusing mainly on the Al Anbar province to recapture Ramadi, but there are other objectives as well, and the Iraqi Government announced a plan to bring together the tribal forces in the province, and that is a plan which was supported by the coalition. That’s the first thing.
Now another thing that struck me in this morning’s conversations is that the military strategy cannot be taken without the reconciliation policy and plans in Iraq. Everything is related. And this morning, we were able to reconfirm the necessary commitment on the part of the Iraqi Government in order to implement the reforms planned in order to meet the expectations of all Iraqis and to join them in the fight against Daesh.
The third point that struck me, and this was also discussed this morning, is that stabilization in Iraq will not be totally possible without political transition in Syria, because indeed, Daesh’s actions now straddle the border between the two countries. Daesh ignores frontiers, and the increasing chaos in Syria has a direct impact on the effectiveness of actions in Iraq. What happened in Palmyra recently showed that there was neither the ability nor the true desire to protect the territory against the extremist advance. So we have to show determination with a view to political transition, which is essential.
And finally, last point, I should like to stress that the coalition now intends to include the protection of endangered communities and heritage – endangered heritage – and we saw this with Mrs. Irina Bokova, director general of UNESCO. And one of the things I said in March at the Security Council is now part and parcel of the coalition’s strategy, and it is difficult – and reasons were given – but it is imperative. And France, in the autumn, intends to organize a high-level conference on this matter – in general, the communities which are being persecuted.
So that is what I wanted to say very briefly. As to the concrete outcomes of today’s meeting, which, with a great deal of lucidity, was an opportunity to join further the members of the coalition around a joint determination to fight Daesh, the fight will take a long time, but determination is there.
PRIME MINISTER ABADI: (Via interpreter) I would like to thank the foreign minister, Mr. Fabius. I would like to thank France for having organized this very important conference fighting terrorism together with Iraq. To fight terrorism, we have decided to attend this meeting, and we are fighting Daesh on various fronts. We have been victorious on some fronts. Whatever the war, there are always setbacks; whatever the fights, there are always setbacks. Ramadi was one of those setbacks where Daesh, this terrorist movement, took control of this city and where our forces had to withdraw. We launched an inquiry and are waiting for the results of this inquiry. We haven’t been defeated; we want to take over Ramadi and we are developing a plan.
Our forces are now moving towards Nineveh, and the Nineveh operation has already started. We have now a new military commander, and our inclusive Iraqi Government wishes to go ahead. We have already gone ahead from a political and economic standpoint. Other measures are still to be developed. But as we speak, they are discussed by the council of ministers with a view to take decisions and introduce new bills.
Daesh is not only a threat for us, for Europe, but also for the rest of the world. We need to fight Daesh, and we need to fight Daesh not only in Iraq and the whole region, but throughout the world. We’ve been invited by Mr. Fabius, a very generous invitation; we’re going to meet with President Hollande with a view to strengthen the relations between Iraq and the coalition. But we need more support to Iraqi forces fighting on the ground.
Two-thirds of this war is a psychological war. They are trying to introduce a false narrative, and therefore we need to face also this psychological war. We need to develop a psychological campaign. We need to counter Daesh in the region but also throughout the world.
There is a true war against Daesh, Daesh which is a dangerous movement threatening the region and the world. Most of the combatants are coming from all over the world. They do not come from Iraq only. Therefore endeavors of the international community need to go on. We need to continue those endeavors. We need to disrupt the flow of international combatants. We also need to dry the financing sources – oil trafficking, heritage, antiquities trafficking, and a great number of sites destroyed by Daesh – Daesh having already sold antiquities to get more money. We need to fight all this.
Today we’ve heard all the member countries of the coalition. We’ve heard them reiterate their support to Iraq. They are determined to continue to help Iraq. We need to find a political solution. We need to put an end to this very serious humanitarian problem.
And as you know, Daesh was not born in Iraq, was not developed in Iraq, but in Syria because of events that have nothing to do with the situation in Iraq. They are supported by means from outside Iraq by external combatants. We can make sacrifices to fight Daesh, but as I said, the international community, the international coalition, has to support us, has to support us destroying Daesh, Daesh which is a threat not only for Iraq but for the rest of the world.
DEPUTY SECRETARY BLINKEN: Thank you very much for the meeting and especially for France’s leadership in this coalition against Daesh. As the foreign minister described, we had a very good discussion today, a candid discussion that was honest about the gains that we’ve made as well as the setbacks that we’ve incurred. I think we heard a range of views from our partners, but I took away a number of points similar to the ones the foreign minister underscored.
First, this will be, as we have said, a long campaign. But we will succeed if we remain united, determined, and focused. And we are united, determined, and focused. The coalition is the most effective vehicle for getting to the success that we seek.
Second, every line of effort in what we’re doing is critical and mutually reinforcing: the military campaign, but also the efforts we’re making against foreign fighters, against financing, to combat the narrative that Daesh is putting out there, the humanitarian situation, and stabilization of newly liberated communities.
Third, we have made real gains in the nine months since this coalition has come together. Daesh now controls 25 percent less territory in Iraq than it did when this first started, and it has lost significant numbers of men and materiel. And we have proof of concept that what we’re doing works around Al Asad, where we’re present, and in the north with the Kurdish forces.
But fourth, we also acknowledge that Daesh remains extremely resilient, ruthless, and capable of taking the initiative. We have to learn from and act on our setbacks. In Iraq right now, we have the right strategy: a combination of coalition airstrikes; training, equipping, assisting; and effective local partners. That is the winning strategy, but only if both sides of the equation are present.
What we heard today is that Prime Minister Abadi’s side of the equation is present and adjusting to the challenges that we’re seeing in places like Anbar. He described for us in detail the Anbar action plan that he recently passed through his council of ministers, and I think we concluded that it is the right plan both militarily and politically for Iraq at this time.
We support the plan. It calls for accelerating the training and equipping of local tribes in coordination with Anbar authorities, strengthening the provision of and streamlining the provision of weapons, expanding recruitment into the Iraqi Army, recalling and refitting the local police, ensuring that all associated forces in Iraq act under Iraqi command, and supporting a new development fund for stabilization to get immediate assistance to areas that are cleared of Daesh.
The prime minister knows, as we do and as we’ve heard him say, that the struggle against Daesh must be won by the Iraqi people, just as Syrians must ultimately lead the fight in their land. We must therefore do all that we can as quickly as we can to help Iraq bring fully capable and inclusive national security forces that will operate professionally and under a unified chain of command.
One immediate step that we’re taking is to ship anti-tank rockets for use against the kind of suicide vehicles that were deployed in Ramadi to such terrible effect. The first tranche of these rockets will arrive as early as this week, and we’re also continuing, of course, our air missions in Anbar and elsewhere to keep the pressure on Daesh. And we are moving forward as well and we heard good reports today with each of the lines of effort that are at the heart of the work of this coalition: to shrink Daesh’s territory, to cut its funding, to curb its recruiting, and to expose the gigantic gap between what Daesh claims to be and what it actually is.
We’re also doing all that we can to aid the region’s victims of violence, who include millions of refugees and displaced persons from both Syria and Iraq. The United States has provided $3.7 billion in humanitarian aid to those affected by the war in Syria, and more than $407 million for displaced Iraqis. The magnitude and duration of the regional crisis have stretched the global response capabilities to its limits, but there are times – and this is one of them – when normal limitations have to be set aside. More funds are urgently needed to alleviate suffering and shield the innocent from harm.
Finally, we share the emphasis that Foreign Minister Fabius placed on the urgency of a political transition in Syria, and we will redouble our efforts to help achieve it. It becomes clearer every single day that Daesh stands for nothing and depends on people who will fall for anything. I emerged from this meeting confident that we will defeat them through our unity, our determination, and our commitment to create a future of opportunity and peace for people in Iraq, in Syria, and indeed in the entire region.
Thank you very much.
FOREIGN MINISTER FABIUS: Merci. (Via interpreter) Just three questions. I hope you’ll forgive us, because we shall have to leave very shortly.
Yes, you were the first.
QUESTION: This question is for Mr. Blinken.
FOREIGN MINISTER FABIUS: Wait a minute. We have a mike which is coming.
QUESTION: This question is for – Jamey Keaten, Associated Press. This question is for Mr. Blinken. We understand that you have – the United States may have told Iraq that they will be able to buy weapons from Russia and Iran. Is that indeed the U.S. position, and are you willing to put that in writing? Thank you.
DEPUTY SECRETARY BLINKEN: What we are working on with the entire coalition is a plan that Iraq has put in place, the prime minister has put in place, to streamline the provision of weapons to the forces that need them, including in Anbar, from coalition partners. That is exactly what we’re working on now.
PARTICIPANT: (In French.)
PARTICIPANT: (In French.)
QUESTION: (Via interpreter) (inaudible) Television -- it’s a U.S. television in Arabic. I’d like to know, for Syria – about Syria. Mr. Fabius, have you spoken about Syria? It seems that there is a small change in the French position concerning Syria. Are you going to combat Daesh in Iraq only? What is that going to lead up to?
FOREIGN MINISTER FABIUS: (Via interpreter) No, there is no change in the French position. Quite obviously we’ve spoken about Syria for a very simple reason, as underlined by my colleagues: Daesh is present in Syria and in Iraq. So from that standpoint, there is a relationship between both. You do know the French position. We believe that on the one hand, we must fight Daesh and terrorist groups, and on the other hand, Mr. Bashar al-Assad. And terrorist groups are part and parcel of the same coin. And the future of Syria is not Mr. Bashar al-Assad.
So we are speaking about a political transition. We’ve had Geneva I, and in this new government, there would be people from the regime – because it is out of the question for the Syrian state to collapse, which would have very serious consequences – but also people from the opposition, both. So around a project for a united Syria, recognizing the different communities – we are working at it. It requires programs, train and equip, and a political will.
Now, we do have these discussions with our Arabic colleagues, but also with our friends from the United States, but also with the Russians, who have an important role to play. And they cannot hope for Syria falling into a chaos, because we must avoid a situation where Daesh would have taken over Palmyra and then take Damascus. And the position of our colleagues was to say, “Let us work towards a rapid political transition in Syria which will also help Iraq.”
QUESTION: (Via interpreter) Question to the three of you: You all use the word “unity” in the fight against Daesh. There’s a Turkish paper which published pictures of arms being delivered to the Syrian border. Have you discussed the matter with your Turkish partners and allies to find out some more about these weapons, which seem to be going to radical Sunni groups?
FOREIGN MINISTER FABIUS: (Via interpreter) Now, the Turkish representative was there; now, I don’t know whether such a question was put to him, but – I don’t know if you’ve been able to ask him, but regarding France and our colleagues, there is absolutely no question of launching into arms deliveries. But maybe you’d like to add something.
DEPUTY SECRETARY BLINKEN: What we focused on today were the efforts that we’re undertaking together, including with Turkey, to stop the flow of foreign fighters and foreign equipment across the border into Turkey-- from Turkey into Syria, and then from Syria into Iraq. This is a critical component of the campaign, and I think we’ve made and we heard today we’re making real progress, but we clearly have more work to do.
MODERATOR: Ah, okay. You are the last one, dear.
QUESTION: (Via interpreter) I represent Mayadeen, the TV channel. Prime Minister, today we know that terrorists are entering Iraq through the neighboring countries – Syria, Turkey, and so forth – but have the coalition countries committed to stop the entry of these terrorists through the neighbor countries? Those countries were here in Paris today. Have they made a commitment to putting a stop to this infiltration of combatants?
PRIME MINISTER ABADI: (Via interpreter) Yes, we stated that these movements must indeed stop, and the members of the coalition today all renewed their commitment to be instrumental in doing just that and the – implement the UN resolution. The same thing applies to illegal petroleum sales and illegal sales of antiquities; in other words, all of these means by which Daesh has been financing itself. The slightest drop of petroleum that crosses the border is also a drop of blood, and each month there are something like 400 terrorist attacks carried out by foreigners against Iraqis. This is a crime not just against the Iraqi people, but against the entire world. And so today we did indeed talk about putting a stop to the infiltration of combatants and drying up their sources of financing, whatever those sources may be.