Remarks With Saudi Arabian Foreign Minister Saud Al-Faisal

Hillary Rodham Clinton
Secretary of State
Gulf Cooperation Council Secretariat
Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
March 31, 2012


SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you very much, Your Highness. It’s wonderful to be back here in Riyadh. And I thank you for your warm hospitality, and I also wish to thank the secretary general and the GCC for the work that went into preparing this meeting and the hospitality you have provided us.

I was delighted yesterday to have the opportunity to visit with the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, His Majesty, King Abdullah. And I want to thank him again, publicly and personally, for his leadership and hospitality.

The partnership between our two countries goes back more than six decades, and today we are working together on a wide range of common concerns, both bilaterally and multilaterally. For example, both the United States and Saudi Arabia share an interest in ensuring that energy markets foster economic growth. And we recognize and appreciate the leadership shown by the kingdom. We are working together to promote prosperity in both our countries and globally.

In today’s inaugural session of the Strategic Cooperation Forum, I underscored the rock-solid commitment of the United States to the people and nations of the Gulf. And I thanked my colleagues for the GCC’s many positive contributions to regional and global security, particularly the GCC’s leadership in bringing about a peaceful transition within Yemen. We hope this forum will become a permanent addition to our ongoing bilateral discussions that exist between the United States and each nation that is a member of the GCC. We believe this forum offers opportunities to deepen and further our multilateral cooperation on shared challenges, including terrorism, nuclear proliferation, and piracy, as well as broader economic and strategic ties.

Among other things, it should help the American and GCC militaries pursue in concert a set of practical steps, such as improving interoperability, cooperating on maritime security, furthering ballistic missile defense for the region, and coordinating responses to crises. Let me turn to a few of the specific challenges facing the region that we discussed.

I will start with Iran, which continues to threaten its neighbors and undermine regional security, including through its support for the Assad regime’s murderous campaign in Syria, threats against the freedom of navigation in the region, and interference in Yemen. The entire world was outraged by reports that Iran was plotting to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to the United States and by allegations of Iranian involvement in recent terrorist attacks in India, Georgia, and Thailand.

Of course, the most pressing concern is over Iran’s nuclear activities. The international community’s dual-track approach has dramatically increased pressure on Iran through crippling sanctions and isolation, while at the same time leaving open the door if Iran can show it is serious about responding to these legitimate international concerns. It soon will be clear whether Iran’s leaders are prepared to have a serious, credible discussion about their nuclear program, whether they are ready to start building the basis of a resolution to this very serious problem. It is up to Iran’s leaders to make the right choice. We will see whether they will intend to do so starting with the P-5+1 negotiations in Istanbul, April 13th-14th. What is certain, however, is that Iran’s window to seek and obtain a peaceful resolution will not remain open forever.

Turning to Syria, tomorrow leaders from more than 60 nations will gather in Istanbul for the second meeting of the Friends of the Syrian People. We heard this week from Kofi Annan, the special representative of both the United Nations and the Arab League, that the Assad regime had accepted his initial six-point plan, which calls for the regime to immediately pull back its forces and silence its heavy weapons, respect daily humanitarian ceasefires, and stop interfering with peaceful demonstrations and international monitoring.

But the Syrian Government is staying true to form, unfortunately, making a deal and then refusing to implement it. As of today, regime forces continue to shell civilians, lay siege to neighborhoods, and even target places of worship. So today, my fellow ministers and I agreed on the need for the killing to stop immediately and urged the joint special envoy to set a timeline for next steps. We look forward to hearing his views on the way forward when he addresses the Security Council on Monday.

Meanwhile, in Istanbul, the international community will be discussing additional measures to increase pressure on the regime, provide humanitarian assistance, despite the obstacles by the regime, and look for ways to advance an inclusive, democratic, orderly transition that addresses the aspirations of the Syrian people and preserves the integrity and institutions of the Syrian state. I’ll have much more to say about this tomorrow, but I want to acknowledge the leadership of Saudi Arabia and the other members of the GCC during this crisis. They have been strong advocates for the Syrian people, and I applaud their efforts.

Finally, I want to emphasize a security concern that is one that is reflected in the great movements for change across this region. We have to continue working people-to-people. We have to continue finding ways to respond to the legitimate aspirations that civil society represents. And the United States will be reaching out to all of the member nations and the people of these nations to find ways that peacefully recognize those aspirations.

So again, let me thank the foreign minister for his hospitality and his partnership and our continuing close and important consultations. Thank you, sir.

QUESTION: Your Highness, Ms. Clinton, welcome to Riyadh. We’re expecting that --

PARTICIPANT: (Inaudible.)


PARTICIPANT: (Inaudible.)

MODERATOR: We’ll start with Jill Dougherty of CNN. Jill.

QUESTION: Thank you very much. Thank you. I would like to ask a question of both of you about this issue of arming the Syrian opposition. Mr. Foreign Minister, the – Saudi Arabia has said that it does support this idea. We have not heard as much of it in recent days, so I wanted to ask you again: Does Saudi Arabia still support the idea of arming the opposition? And how do you guarantee that those weapons will not get into the hands of terrorists or al-Qaida?

Secretary Clinton, is there any type of flexibility in the U.S. approach to that issue of arming? And just one other question: In terms of this political solution, ultimately, should President Assad decide – if he decides to accept some type political transition, is there any possibility or would it be acceptable to the United States or to Saudi Arabia that he remain in control or power in some fashion or another, or must he completely leave the scene? Thank you.

FOREIGN MINISTER SAUD: Well, I think the first part of the question was terrorism. If we believe the propaganda of Syria, there is no real war in Syria. It’s only terrorists making trouble there, and they’re fighting terrorists. Today, they announced that they had finished the uprising in Syria, and yet the cannons continue to fire and tanks continue to move. We are living in a world where truth and falsehood have become mixed. But (inaudible) tell you that what is happening in Syria is a tragedy of tremendous consequence.

So – and this is happening because the Syrians (inaudible). The Syrian Government in Syria have decided that they can resolve everything and control the demonstrations and keep everybody contained by military force. And unless the world, instead of taking decisions to (inaudible) help the Syrians themselves – we didn’t start the fight for them, (inaudible) telling them to fight. But they are fighting because they don’t see any way out. And the killing goes on. So do we let the killing go on, or do we help them at least to get – to defend themselves? Nobody is looking for harmings here.

I think the administration there is doing all it can to do that, and they don’t need any help. The people that need help are the Syrian people who are fighting for their livelihood and for their freedom. And that – yes, indeed, we support the arming of the nationalists.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, Jill, we had a good exchange on Syria, both in a pre-meeting with Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Qatar, and during the GCC Strategic Cooperation Forum in preparation for the meeting tomorrow in Istanbul. And, as you just heard from the foreign minister, King Abdullah has been an outspoken critic of the Assad rule by bloodshed and is committed to assisting the Syrian people. We want to see the Syrian regime fulfill the obligations that it has already made, most recently to Kofi Annan, to end the violence and implement the Annan plan and allow a democratic transition.

Our focus tomorrow will be on four points. First, to intensify the pressure we bring through sanctions. Several of the Gulf countries have been quite advanced in imposing sanctions. We want to see broader international enforced sanctions. Second, getting the humanitarian assistance to those in need. Third, we have to continue working to strengthen the opposition’s unity and democratic vision so that it can represent an alternative to the Assad regime and participate fully in a transition process. They, frankly, have a lot of trouble communicating with one another and communicating from outside Syria into Syria. So we’re all working very hard to assist them. And fourth, we want to discuss how to help the Syrian people prepare to hold those responsible who have been committing these terrible acts of violence.

How we help the Syrian opposition is something we are focused on. We are moving to consider all of our options, and we are talking seriously about providing non-lethal support. We think it’s important to coordinate with our partners in the GCC and beyond. So discussions will continue in Istanbul, and we’ll have more to say after the meeting tomorrow.

QUESTION: I’m sorry. Assad’s staying in power?

SECRETARY CLINTON: We’re going to have more to say tomorrow. But our position is he has to go, that there would be unlikely to be any kind of negotiations with him still in place. But at this point, we want to hear from the opposition, what they’re willing to do, what kinds of steps they would be supportive of.

FOREIGN MINISTER SAUD: I doubt that we are going to really (inaudible).

QUESTION: (Inaudible) from (inaudible). My question will be for both of you. And once again, welcome to Riyadh.

You mentioned Iran so many times in your word, and we know the effect of it. They are supporting Syria; they’re supporting Houthis in Yemen. We know (inaudible) in Iraq, et cetera. Is that going to – or would that impact (inaudible) the missile defense system project for the Gulf – is it going to be (inaudible)? And also, you mentioned helping Yemen or supporting Yemen. How would that be? Thank you.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, we believe strongly that, in addition to our bilateral military cooperation between the United States and every member nation of the GCC, we can do even more to defend the Gulf through cooperation on ballistic missile defense. We began that conversation in this forum today. Admiral Fox, the commander of the Fifth Fleet, made a presentation outlining some of the challenges that we face when it comes to ballistic missile defense. But we are committed to defending the Gulf nations and we want it to be as effective as possible.

So just – without getting into a lot of technical discussion, sometimes to defend one nation effectively you might need a radar system in a neighboring nation, because of the – everything from the curvature of the earth to wind patterns, so that were a missile to be launched, you might get a better view more quickly from a neighboring nation, even though the missile could be headed toward a second nation. So we want to begin expert discussions with our friends about what we can do to enhance ballistic missile defense. There are some aspects of a ballistic missile defense system that are already available, some of which have already been deployed in the Gulf. But it’s the cooperation – it’s what they call interoperability that we now need to really roll up our sleeves and get to work on.

With respect to Yemen, the leadership of the GCC has been commendable. Saudi Arabia and its partners in the GCC laid the groundwork for the peaceful transition of power. And we now think that Yemen has a chance to unite around a different leadership. The road ahead is a long one, but I know that Saudi Arabia and other members, the United States, we are all committed to assisting. And it’s not just on the political front. We want to help the people of Yemen. They are in great need of development assistance and other forms of help so that they can begin to realize the benefits of a new government that wishes to try to help them.

FOREIGN MINISTER SAUD: (Inaudible) for me? Well, you can see how the diplomacy has not moved as fast as American diplomacy. American diplomacy now can speak military lingo when we do not. We don’t understand. We’re going to request your experts. (Laughter.)

But for (inaudible), I think it’s a country that need help. It’s a country – and old country of long civilization. And it has the (inaudible) power and the ability if they can stop the fighting that happened between (inaudible) fighting that (inaudible), a fact of life in Yemen. And they have agreed to appoint a new president, with 75 percent, I believe. I may be mistaken in the number. (Inaudible), which means that most civilians support it.

This fact alone makes this incumbent on the leadership in Yemen to come up with a program (inaudible) for the Yemeni people to unite them, to bring them together, (inaudible) military, and have the people support the program of the government. If that happens, I think we are very free to talk about development projects and development of Yemen. I haven’t visited any country (inaudible) are not willing to assist in that field. And so in that case, I think the resources (inaudible) for development are there for the taking, if they can establish stability in Yemen.

MODERATOR: Next question, Brad Clapper, AP, please.

QUESTION: Yes. Madam Secretary, given the deep skepticism you and many other international leaders have about Iran’s intentions, what steps would you talk about today with your Arab allies in the event that the talks in two weeks time aren’t successful?

And secondly, if I may, you talked about the good cooperation the U.S. and the Gulf countries have, but only just recently one of the countries present here today essentially delivered a slap in the face to U.S. democracy-building efforts. What does that say about the limits of U.S. cooperation? And are you disappointed by that step?

SECRETARY CLINTON: With respect to Iran, we had an opportunity to discuss the P-5+1 negotiations – what we expect, what we are intending to present when the meetings begin. We’re going in with one objective: to resolve the international community’s concerns about Iran’s nuclear program. And I had a chance to talk with our friends here about how we are approaching these talks. I also reiterated what the President has said, that our policy is one of prevention, not containment.

We are determined to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. The President has made clear there is still time for diplomacy to work, provided Iran comes to the talks prepared for serious negotiations. And we enter into these talks with a sober perspective on Iran’s intentions and its behavior. It is incumbent upon Iran to demonstrate, by its actions, that it is a willing partner and to participate in these negotiations with an effort to obtain concrete results. We will know more when the discussions begin. But I want to underscore that there is not an open-ended opportunity for Iran. These discussions have to be viewed with great seriousness from their very beginning.

With regard to your second questions, we obviously had numerous discussions on every issue with our friends in the Gulf – sometimes we agree, sometimes we disagree. But our overriding interests to cooperate, particularly in the security arena, the anti-terrorism arena, are ones that are paramount. And so when we have questions about decisions that are made, we raise them, we discuss them, and often times we can resolve them.

QUESTION: But do you have no direct comment about the NDI?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, you didn’t ask me a direct question. (Laughter.) You were beating around the bush, so I beat around the bush. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Fair enough.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Look, I think that we very much regret it. The foreign minister and I discussed it today. We are, as you know, anyone who’s visited the United States, strong believers in a vibrant civil society, and both NDI and the Konrad Adenauer Foundation Office play a key role in supporting NGOs and civil society across the region, and I expect our discussions on this issue to continue.

QUESTION: (In Arabic.)


QUESTION: (In Arabic.)


QUESTION: (In Arabic.)


QUESTION: (In Arabic.)


QUESTION: (In Arabic.)


PARTICIPANT: Okay. We’ll have more question then.

QUESTION: (In Arabic.)

SECRETARY CLINTON: With respect to your last question, I want to just amplify Prince Saud’s remarks. We are all unified on our goal. Our goal is to see the end of the bloodshed and the end of the Assad regime, which has perpetrated this bloodshed. In order to achieve that goal, it is not enough just for a few countries to be involved. We need many more countries to work with us. And some will be able to do certain things, and others will do other things.

So when we talk about assistance, we are talking about a broad range of assistance. Not every country will do the same. The meeting tomorrow in Istanbul will be focused on what countries are able to do, and we will be exploring that further. But our goals are exactly the same, and we are committed to those goals, but we have to be united. And we also need a united opposition, which has been difficult to achieve. They’re making progress. Many countries, including my own, have been trying to help them. But until they are unified, it is hard to provide the kind of assistance that they need in order to be successful.

So we are all on the same path together, and it may not go as fast as we would like, because every day that goes by where innocent people are murdered is a terrible indictment of this regime. But we are committed and we will make progress together.


SECRETARY CLINTON: Onto Istanbul. (Laughter.) I think you’ll get there before I go.

PRN: 2012/T61-03