Remarks With British Foreign Secretary David Miliband And Yemeni Foreign Minister Abu Bakr Abdullah al-Qirbi
Secretary of State
Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. Welcome to the Foreign Office. Welcome, above all, to my colleague, the foreign minister of Yemen, Mr. al-Qirbi, and my colleague and friend, Secretary Clinton of the United States.
FOREIGN SECRETARY MILIBAND:
I want to first of all thank the Yemeni delegation who came to this conference headed by Prime Minister Mujawar, but also including the deputy prime ministers for defense and security and economic affairs, as well as Foreign Minister al-Qirbi for traveling here. I’ve just finished chairing a meeting of some 20 countries and five international institutions about Yemen, about its challenges, about how its government is tackling the problems that its people confront, and how the international community can support the government and people of Yemen. The chairman’s statement should be with you now, or if not, it will be on the website immediately.
But I just want to take this opportunity to outline three important things – why we met, what we’ve achieved, and what the next steps are, because it’s very important that these meetings lead not just to concrete outcomes, but to mechanisms for implementation as well. As you well know, the – our prime minister, the UK prime minister, called this meeting shortly after the failed terrorist attack on Northwest Airlines flight 253. We know that al-Qaida seek to exploit instability wherever they can, including places like Yemen. The Government of Yemen have been seeking to tackle the terrorist problem they’ve faced for some time, and the international community has been working to support them in this endeavor.
However, it’s been a common feature of every contribution that we have heard today that the assault on Yemen’s problems cannot begin and end with its security challenges and its counterterrorism strategy. In tackling terrorism, it is vital to tackle the root – its root causes. In Yemen’s case, these are manifold – economic, social, and political. I also want to stress that many of the countries represented in the room upstairs today have not – have been concerned about the challenges in Yemen for some time, have been longstanding friends of the people and Government of Yemen, and have been taking concrete steps to support a united and stable Yemen.
As you’ll see from the website, we stress strongly our respect and support for Yemen’s sovereignty and independence and our commitment to noninterference in Yemen’s internal affairs. Many of you will know that in 2006, we hosted in London a meeting committed to increasing aid for Yemen. The UK is one of the largest Western bilateral donors to Yemen. That conference yielded pledges of some $5 billion, but the vast bulk of that money has not been spent and that’s one of the things that we have been seeking to address today, because it goes to the heart of the problems that Yemen faces.
Working closely with the Government of Yemen, we decided that our agenda needed to cover agreement on the nature of the problem and then address the solutions across the economic, social, and political terrain. Five key items were agreed at the meeting for the way in which the international community can support progress in Yemen.
First, confirmation by the Government of Yemen that it will continue to pursue its reform agenda and agreement to start discussion of an IMF program. The director of the IMF represented at the meeting made a compelling case for the way in which economic reform could be supported by the IMF. This is important because it will provide welcome support and help the Government of Yemen confront its immediate challenges.
Second, an announcement by the Gulf Cooperation Council Secretary General that he will host a meeting of Gulf and Western donors on Yemen in Riyadh on the 22nd and 23rd of February. The meeting will not just share analysis on the improved disbursement of aid to Yemen, but also establish a joint dialogue with the Government of Yemen on its reform priorities.
Thirdly, the international community represented at the meeting committed to support the Government of Yemen in the fight against al-Qaida. It welcomed the recent UN Sanctions Committee decisions on designation and called on all states to enforce the terms of the designation under UN Security Council Resolution 1267.
Fourthly, the meeting agreed to engage in further helping Yemen to address its broader security challenges, including through increased international support for the Yemen Coast Guard. This should help enhance maritime security for Yemen and the wider region.
Fifthly, we agreed to launch a formal Friends of Yemen process made up of those at the meeting today which will address the broad range of challenges facing Yemen, including through two working groups on economy and governance and justice and law enforcement. These should meet in time to report back to the first Friends of Yemen meeting which should take place in the region in late March. So these are issues that will take sustained engagement by Yemen and by the international community. The meeting today was a part of a longer-term process. It was an important step forward and it’s one that we are determined to build on.
I’m now going to ask Minister al-Qirbi to say a few words and then Secretary Clinton, and then we look forward to your questions. Thank you very much indeed.
FOREIGN MINISTER AL-QIRBI: Thank you very much, Your Excellency. (In Arabic.)
FOREIGN SECRETARY MILIBAND: Thank you very much. Secretary Clinton.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you very much, Secretary Miliband. And thank you again, and Prime Minister Brown, for organizing this meeting and, as Minister Qirbi said, accomplishing so much in such a short period of time.
And it is a privilege to be here with Minister Qirbi. I met with him about a week ago and we talked in depth about a lot of the issues confronting Yemen, and I appreciated he and the prime minister coming to this meeting so committed and so well prepared. They presented a document that was a very clear assessment of the challenges facing Yemen, and it gave us a good basis on which to conduct our international consultation.
The United States is intensifying security and development efforts with Yemen. We are encouraged by the Government of Yemen’s recent efforts to take action against al-Qaida and against other extremist groups. They have been relentlessly pursuing the terrorists who threaten not only Yemen but the Gulf region and far beyond, here to London and to our country in the United States. By doing so, they have earned the support and cooperation of the international community that was pledged at the meeting today.
Now, these are essential steps, but we recognize that the challenges facing Yemen cannot be solved by military action alone. Progress against violent extremists and progress toward a better future for the Yemeni people will depend upon fortifying development efforts. The Yemeni people deserve the opportunity to determine their own future, not leaving their fate to extremists who incite violence and inflict harm. To help the people of Yemen, therefore, we have to do more. But we have to work in conjunction with the Government of Yemen.
However, the Government of Yemen must also do more. This must be a partnership if it is to have a successful outcome. The United States, along with many other countries and international institutions gathered here today, are committed to working with Yemeni leaders to secure the country’s borders, deny safe haven to terrorists, promote unity, protect human rights, advance gender equity, build democratic institutions and the rule of law, and implement democratic and political reform.
The United States just signed a three-year umbrella assistance agreement with the Government of Yemen that will augment Yemen’s capacity to make progress. This package includes initiatives that will cover a range of programs, but the overarching goal of our work is to increase the capacity and governance of Yemen, and give the people of Yemen the opportunity to better make choices in their own lives. President Saleh has outlined a 10-point plan for economic reform, along with the country’s national reform agenda. Those are encouraging signs of progress. Neither, however, will mean much if they are not implemented. So we expect Yemen to enact reforms, continue to combat corruption, and improve the country’s investment and business climate.
The progress in Yemen also depends on resolving conflict and ending violence. Armed conflict with rebels in the north, now in its sixth year, has left many thousands dead and more than 200,000 displaced. We’re encouraged by reports that the Saudi Houthi fighting may be coming to an end and a ceasefire among all the parties to that conflict will allow humanitarian assistance to be delivered, negotiations to begin, and the violence to end.
In the south, a longstanding protest movement continues, fueled by grievances a generation old. Urgent reform is needed to encourage robust civil society and ensure that responsible, independent media in Yemen are able to inform citizens without fear of prosecution. A genuine inclusive national dialogue is essential for successful parliamentary elections in April of 2011.
Now, there is much to be done and we recognize that, but the situation in Yemen is of particular concern. It does truly affect all of us in a very direct way. So with the leadership of our partners in the Arab world, friends of Yemen everywhere stand ready to assist the Yemeni Government and people. So I will reiterate a strong message of support from the United States. We believe bringing unity and stability to Yemen is an urgent national security priority of ours and we look forward to working with our international partners and with the Yemeni leadership. So again, to Secretary Miliband, thank you for bringing us together.
FOREIGN SECRETARY MILIBAND: Thank you very much.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) preview what’s different about the assurances you’ve received from your Yemeni counterparts today from those you have had previously?
FOREIGN SECRETARY MILIBAND: I think that the most important development is twofold, really. First, they are concrete and specific in a way that they have not been in the past. Secretary Clinton has just referred to the 10-point plan. Secondly, there is a degree of international engagement that hasn’t existed before, notably through the Friends of Yemen process that will bring together 20 countries to engage on a structured and systematic, not to say intensive, basis with the Government of Yemen for the benefit of the people of Yemen.
I suppose there is one other point which is important. This is a genuinely comprehensive approach. I think that if you look through the chairman’s statement, and certainly having sat through the discussions, there is now a recognition of the linkages between economic, social, security, and democratic reform. So I think that is something that we need to build on.
FOREIGN MINISTER AL-QIRBI: I think the most important thing about Yemen commitments now is that they come out as a result also of a collaborative effort with donors and not only by Yemen alone. This commitment also stems from our belief that challenges we are facing now cannot be remedied unless we implement this agenda of reforms and the 10 points that Her Excellency alluded to, because this is now a priority (inaudible) that we have to start with, and I hope this is – will be one of the outcomes of this meeting.
SECRETARY CLINTON: I agree with what my colleagues have said. I would just add three points.
One of the factors that’s new is the IMF’s involvement and commitment. The IMF has come forward with a reform agenda that the Government of Yemen has agreed to work on. Secondly, the intense engagement of the region. It’s been certainly on a bilateral basis where countries in the Gulf and the wider Arab world have engaged with Yemen, but now we have a concerted effort.
And finally, I saw something today which is rare to see anywhere, and that was a report by a government that was brutally honest about the problems it faces. In fact, there was a category of statistics that was labeled “Appalling Indicators.” I’ve gone to a lot of international meetings and I have worked with many, many governments over many years, but that struck me and I want to commend the Foreign Minister and the Prime Minster because when you look at the statistics of very high population growth, very high illiteracy and so much else, you get an unvarnished view of what Yemen is up against. And I appreciate that honest assessment.
QUESTION: I’ll speak in Arabic first for Dr. al-Qirbi. (In Arabic.)
I’ll put it in English for the two British and American secretaries. Regarding that the Yemenis, in fact, that they have fears that these foreign troops’ intervention into Yemen that will, of course, affect the situation and also will make it worse, especially that people, they are very concerned about the Yemeni sovereignty and they are not really like in any way to have any foreign intervention. And also it will double the problem because there are people who they are emphasized with al-Qaida elements and they will, of course, double this problem.
So what is the intention regarding this intervention, and also what we hear about it? Thank you.
FOREIGN MINISTER AL-QIRBI: (In Arabic.)
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, we share the concern about Yemen’s sovereignty, and in fact, we reiterated support for a unified Yemen, respect for its sovereignty and independence, and a commitment to the non-interference in Yemen’s internal affairs. That was a paramount guiding consideration for all of us and we reiterated it at every turn. You’ll find it in the chairman’s statement. It is not only, from our perspective, the appropriate approach to take, but we think it’s a more effective approach, because ultimately, the future of Yemen is up to the Yemenis themselves, and therefore the Yemenis have to manage and solve their own problems. Where we can be of assistance, we offer to do so.
FOREIGN SECRETARY MILIBAND: Let me just add to that that the allegations keep on being made that, first, the international community is seeking to impose its will on Yemen and Yemenis. Not true. In fact, the Yemenis themselves want a change. Secondly, the allegation that we are pursuing a very narrow counterterrorism agenda. Wrong, because the comprehensive breadth of programs is a denial of that. Thirdly, that we would somehow neglect the importance of reform in Yemen. Wrong, too, because people spoke very plainly about the need for reform. And fourth, this was just a one-off. That’s the fourth allegation. Also wrong, because there will be real follow-up. And I think it’s really important that people understand these points.
QUESTION: I’m a journalist with Al Watan of Oman and Afaq al Mustaqbal of Abu Dhabi. Did it have to – we all know about the problems of Yemen for a long time. Did it have to wait until the Christmas Day incident to trigger this process? And I would like also to ask a question with regard to the help which will be given to Yemen from the West and from the Gulf countries. Are the Gulf countries going to take the financial side and the Western will take the other technical and management side?
FOREIGN SECRETARY MILIBAND: Well, the participation and presence of the GCC countries, I think, is very significant, and the fact the GCC’s Secretary General was there today gives an institutional basis to GCC engagement, I think is very, very welcome.
In respect of whether we suddenly discovered a Yemen problem on the 24th or 25th of December, no. In the case of the UK, not only did we host the London meeting in 2006, but actually throughout 2008 and 2009, in all my talks in the Arab world and more widely, the significance and dangers of the situation in Yemen came through. As it happens, our own Yemen strategy was updated in September 2009, which is not just about aid, but it’s also about serious engagement on the ground. So I think that it’s wrong to say this is the beginning of a process. We are in the midst of a process that is becoming increasingly urgent, and that’s why I think you see the level of engagement that existed today.
QUESTION: For Secretary Clinton, but the Foreign Minister might comment as well. You’ve talked quite a bit about the need for a ceasefire and the instability that’s caused in Yemen by the problems with the Houthis of the north. Did you get any assurances from the Yemeni Government that they might follow in Saudi Arabia’s path and also agree to a ceasefire? And in connection with that, is there any sort of unifying assessment of what the threat is? Yemen and Saudi Arabia really think that this threat comes from Iran, but the U.S. Government doesn’t seem to share that, and it seems there needs to be some sort of kind of coming together on what the threat is so everyone can have a common approach.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, Jake, first of all, we were pleased by the announcement of a ceasefire between the Saudis and the Houthis. That should lead, we hope, to broader negotiations and a political dialogue that might lead to a permanent end to the conflict in the north. It’s too soon to tell, and I think that’s the attitude – and I’ll let the minister speak for himself, but I think that’s the attitude of the Yemeni Government as well. They want to test it and work with the Saudis and try to figure out if there is a way forward to resolve the conflict with the Houthis.
On the issue concerning outside interference, I spoke about this in my meeting with Minister Qirbi on a bilateral basis. We heard more about it today. There are a lot of issues in Yemen that result in conflicts and there are a lot of internal and external forces at work. One that I think has not gotten the attention it needs is that there are 800,000 Somali refugees in Yemen. Think about the instability that causes.
So we’re trying to find a common basis for looking at all of the internal threats and the external outside interference. I don’t want to prejudge it. And I respect the Yemeni Government’s and others’ assessment as to what they think is occurring right now. But the bottom line for me is that there is a multiple-layered set of conflicts that are caused by many different factors.
And I can only end with one statement by one of the Gulf ministers who said, “Look, did the conflicts cause the development problems in Yemen or did the development problems cause the conflicts?” I’m not sure we’ll answer that question anytime soon. What I am absolutely confident of is that we have to address both.
FOREIGN MINISTER AL-QIRBI: Let me comment, if I may. Yemen Government has actually announced previously five ceasefires. And with every ceasefire, we wait only to get the Houthis prepare themselves for another (inaudible). And now we are prepared for a ceasefire if they accept the conditions put to them, and that is to stop attacking, to surrender to – their heavy arms and fortifications. And according to the constitution and the law, we will deal with all their grievances; whatever grievances they have can be dealt with through dialogue. But unless they accept the conditions of abandoning armed struggle and insurgency, we are not going to repeat the previous five mistakes.
QUESTION: A question about counterterrorism. And Yemen just said that the Detroit plane bomber was radicalized in London. And the British Government has insisted it believes the Detroit plane bomber was radicalized in Yemen in the last six months of last year. Who’s right?
FOREIGN MINISTER AL-QIRBI: Well, let me tell you, sometimes probably you don’t read things properly. We said he’s spent in London four years and he spent in Yemen one year. Where did the radicalization take place?
FOREIGN SECRETARY MILIBAND: I always know that it’s very unwise to take an additional question. (Laughter.) And this has proved that beyond reasonable doubt because the harmony and unity that has prevailed – (laughter) – doesn’t find an easy third way in which to answer this question.
But I think it’s important that I say, in all seriousness, that all of our evidence led us to make the very serious statements that we did about the radicalization that took place. We’ve gone in some detail to the time that the attempting – the bomber – attempted bomber spent in London. We are very vigilant about the way in which British higher education and other institutions are used. We have seen no evidence it was used in that way in this case, but it’s something that we obviously keep a very close eye on.
There is one important further point, though, and this is I think where the discomfort that you sought to apply through your question can maybe be avoided. And that’s as far as, in the end, none of the three countries sitting on this platform are interested in pointing their fingers at each other about where things might have gone wrong in the past. Every single country sitting on this platform wants to take responsibility, because the truth is that global jihad knows no boundaries and recognizes no borders.
And we in the United Kingdom are extremely vigilant about our own situation. We are resolute in offering no complacency about how we combine the virtues of an open society with one which is able to defend itself and ensure defense of other free societies around the world. And that is something in which there are more and more partners engaging in this process. And we in the UK will learn all of our lessons in an open way with our partners, and I’m delighted that the Government of Yemen, as always the Government of the United States, committed to do that with us.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Could I – I just want to add one other point, because I think that the question in the 21st century may be somewhat beside the point, with all due respect. The role of ideology knows no boundaries or borders. The internet is an increasingly effective recruitment and radicalization tool. We have evidence that a number of those who have been arrested, engaged in, or having committed terrorist acts in the United States in the last months were in communication with persons on the internet. They never met them necessarily in person, but they were highly influenced by their messaging.
I gave a speech about a week ago really defending strongly internet freedom, but I also pointed out that the internet is a neutral tool. And increasingly, we are having to face, whether it’s the U.S., UK, or Yemen, the threats coming from beyond our borders that cannot be, as David said, pinned on any event in a particular place. It’s an accumulation of influences. And I think we have to look more thoughtfully at this, and I think there’s a role for the free media to play. Because we need a counter message to young people who, for whatever reason, seek out these voices of extremism. And I think that is something that governments need help in doing on both a technological basis and in terms of the media’s narrative.
FOREIGN SECRETARY MILIBAND: Good. Well, we’re definitely not taking another question, but thank you very much indeed, everybody.
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