Remarks With Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh After Their Meeting

John Kerry
Secretary of State
Treaty Room
Washington, DC
February 13, 2013

The video is available with closed captioning on YouTube.

SECRETARY KERRY: Good morning, everybody. Is it morning still?


SECRETARY KERRY: Good afternoon. Good afternoon. It’s a huge pleasure for me to welcome Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh to the State Department, to the United States. And I also spoke with His Majesty King Abdullah earlier this morning about some of the issues that we followed up on and discussed in greater detail.

We are enormously appreciative of our relationship with Jordan. It is strong and important to us, and the Foreign Minister is really an old friend. We have broken bread together in various meetings in various parts of the world. We have actually eaten in the desert of the Wadi Rum. We’ve ridden motorcycles along the Dead Sea. And we have – I’ve been able to treat him to a good dinner – I think it was a good dinner, I hope – here in Washington, D.C. So we really come at this with a very strong relationship and affection for each other and a sense of the mission. And I think Jordan could not have a more effective advocate for its interests and, in so many cases, our joint interest. And we thank you for that very, very much.

We also – I want to say that over the years I have seen the trade and investment relationship between us and Jordan grow, and that has created jobs here in the United States, and it has created jobs also in Jordan. And I was very proud actually to host His Majesty King Abdullah at our home in Boston shortly after he became His Majesty. And we had a very, I think, positive meeting with our high tech community and others up in the state, and broadened the relationship between universities and technology and Jordan, which His Majesty and the Foreign Minister have followed up on since then. And that has deepened the partnership in many, many positive ways.

Albemarle, which is a chemicals manufacturer, and AES Corporation, which built Jordan’s first independent power plant – because of that relationship, are now doubling down on their investment in Jordan, and that’s good for everybody.

I also want to underscore the very important historic relationship that we have had with Jordan, particularly the compelling and courageous role that His Majesty King Hussein played right up until the moment of his death. I think everybody here admired his commitment to the peace process, and we are respectful and grateful for that initiative and his leadership.

Today, the Foreign Minister and I discussed a wide range of issues. We talked about the important milestone that has been passed in Jordan because of the elections that they’ve held; the very, very significant outcome; a record level of turnout, notwithstanding one group’s decision to boycott – it was higher than any time previously, which shows a full and robust participation by the Jordanian people in the election process. His Majesty informed me today, and so has the Foreign Minister, that they are deeply committed to continuing the reform process and now will form a government and begin to engage with the blocs of the parliament. So we congratulate Jordan on that election.

And I think it’s not insignificant, frankly, in the context of other transitions that have taken place in the region. This is one where His Majesty and the government really worked hard to maintain a peaceful approach to their reform, an important level of stability and engagement with all of the stakeholders in Jordan. And so this election is really the milestone – it represents a huge first step in this ongoing reform process, and I think we all are very proud of what they’ve accomplished.

We also talked about the obvious challenge of Syria. And this is of particular significance to Jordan because they have somewhere in the vicinity of 330,000 – perhaps more – refugees. We are currently engaged in a humanitarian effort directed at about 250,000 of them, with approximately $52 million or so from the American people, in an effort to address this humanitarian challenge. So it is going to grow, not get smaller, as this conflict continues. And it underscores the importance of the global community holding President Assad accountable for what he and his regime are doing to the people of Syria and to the region, and we remain committed with respect to that issue.

We also – on a personal level, this is going to be critical to Jordanians going forward. And so their borders are particularly under siege. I think they had as many as 3,000, several thousand, 2,000 to 3,000 people a night over the last weeks crossing over. That’s a challenge. A camp that was set up in a week to deal with the issue originally is now 90,000 people. It’s their fourth or fifth largest city in Jordan. And there are now needs to grow yet another camp. Clearly, we do not want to turn that region into a refugee center, and so it underscores the urgency of continuing the pressure on Syria.

Finally, we had a discussion about the enduring challenge of bringing peace to the Middle East. And this is something that His Majesty has been deeply, deeply involved in for a long time. I’ve been privileged to attend a number of meetings with His Majesty and the Foreign Minister and others in Aqaba, where we’ve been talking about this over the last few years. And I underscored to the Foreign Minister, as he underscored to me, our commitment, his commitment, His Majesty’s commitment, the mutual commitment to continue to work on that process. And I emphasized to him my personal commitment to do so as Secretary of State.

So, Mr. Minister, we are really, as you can tell I think, happy to have you here. We don’t disagree on much, so it’s easy to be talking a lot. (Laughter.) So please, we look forward to your comments and thank you for gracing us with your visit today.

FOREIGN MINISTER JUDEH: Thank you very much, Mr. Secretary. It really is an honor and a pleasure to be here at the State Department again and to be one of the first foreign ministers to meet you here. I am gratified by that. But I congratulate you on behalf of His Majesty, on behalf of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, wholeheartedly, on assuming your high office, and we wish you all the luck and success in carrying out your responsibilities. For those of you who know the region and for those of you who know what our jobs entail, I think we need all the luck in the world.

Secretary Kerry is no stranger to the important topics we have discussed today, as in fact as he’s a veteran when it comes to many of these issues. We’ve met many times before, as the Secretary has said, exchanged ideas and compared notes both in his former capacity as Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee here in Washington, D.C., and during his frequent visits to Jordan.

Jordan and all Jordanians are extremely grateful to you for the warm words with which you described your relationship with His Majesty, Mr. Secretary, and I am personally humbled by the kind words you said about me. I am truly honored to have this relationship with you. It goes back many years, and I hope that we will all work very, very closely with each other in the coming phase.

But your friendship with His Majesty and your in-depth knowledge of the issues has rendered you instrumental in supporting Jordan and advancing relations between our two countries, which we continue to describe as much more than a friendship but a true partnership, given the common challenges that we face.

Today we discussed – and by the way, I hope the meal that I gave you last time in Jordan was good enough. (Laughter.)

Today we discussed a wide range of issues –

SECRETARY KERRY: Yours was better. (Laughter.)

FOREIGN MINISTER JUDEH: So this wasn’t one-upmanship, was it? (Laughter.)

SECRETARY KERRY: No, I gladly cede that to you.

FOREIGN MINISTER JUDEH: Today we discussed a wide range of issues and exchanged ideas on key developments in the region, particularly the Middle East peace, the situation in Syria.

And as the Secretary very kindly and accurately described, we have been at the receiving end of the humanitarian spillover of the ongoing crisis in Syria with over 360,000 Syrians on Jordanian soil, and this is only since the crisis began in March 2011. As the Secretary pointed out, about 90,000 happen to be in camps, but the rest are in Jordanian towns, villages, living in Jordanian homes. And while we have taken the political decision at His Majesty’s directives to keep our borders open to receive those Syrian brothers and sisters who are escaping these harsh and horrific realities on the ground, it does not come without a toll on our already drained and burdened economy.

But we certainly discussed Syria from the political perspective, the lingering crisis, the continuing violence, and the need to exert our joint and collective efforts to try and arrive at a political solution that restores Syria to what it deserves, which is much better than today, that respects and preserves the territorial integrity and restores the dignity to the great Syrian people.

I also had the opportunity to brief Secretary Kerry on the milestone elections that we had, on the latest developments in our political reform process which is led by His Majesty King Abdullah II, but most importantly, given the results of the elections that took place three weeks ago, the consultation process that is taking place as we speak in order to form our next government leading to consensual, more representative parliamentary government. This process is irreversible; the Secretary knows the details from his conversation with His Majesty this morning and previous conversations, and knows His Majesty’s commitment to continuing on the path of reforms.

On the issue of the Middle East peace process, Secretary Kerry’s firsthand knowledge, experience, and insights will provide the much-needed drive to reinvigorate Palestinian-Israeli negotiations leading to the realization of the two-state solution where an independent, sovereign, viable, and territorially-contiguous Palestinian state emerges living side by side with a secure Israel in a region that will hopefully enjoy peace, security, stability, and prosperity.

This paramount objective has eluded us for far too long, and the time is now to work together with a much-needed leading role by the U.S. and supported by key partners. And His Majesty has always said that Jordan will do its fair share of the heavy lifting to support our friends here. The most important thing is to have results. And I think that we’ve seen failed approaches, false starts, media events. I think we have to look at all of this and put it in perspective and see how we can produce results in the next phase. The Secretary and I are in full agreement that the window of opportunity on this is closing fast, and that makes it all the more important for us to work together in addressing this issue.

Mr. Secretary, thank you so much for your gracious hospitality. Thank you for your personal support for Jordan and for the support that Jordan receives from all our friends in the United States of America. I wish you, again, the very best in leading U.S. diplomacy in the next phase, and we cherish the friendship and value this relationship that we have with you and with the United States. Thank you.

SECRETARY KERRY: Thank you very much. Thank you very, very much. We’re going to take a couple questions. Can we take a couple questions?

MS. NULAND: We’ll take two questions today. We’ll start with Washington Post. Anne Gearan, please.

QUESTION: Hello. First to Minister Judeh, it’s nice to see you again. Would you please give us your view of Assad’s staying power in Syria, and whether he might now be more open to some kind of a negotiated political exit? And also, tell us what you can about Jordan’s role in tracking or disabling chemical weapons in Syria.

And for Secretary Kerry, also on Syria, can you tell us your view of Assad’s staying power. I noticed that in the State of the Union President Obama did not repeat his earlier admonition that Assad must and will go soon. Do you think he’s actually going to hang on for a while? Also, whether you have a view of the announcement from Russia that they’re going to continue sale of arms to Syria? And lastly, since this is our first opportunity to speak with you since the North Korean nuclear test, can you tell us what you think what more the United States can do to sanction or deter that country? Thank you.

FOREIGN MINISTER JUDEH: Your questions are much tougher.

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, you know what I’ve learned? What I’ve learned is that – (laughter) – I thought we were bad in the Senate, but here in the State Department one question is three or four. So it’s very artful. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Three or four, take three or four.

SECRETARY KERRY: Six. I’m impressed. (Laughter.) You hear that, Toria? (Laughter.) Here we go. Mr. Minister.

FOREIGN MINISTER JUDEH: Thank you, sir. Nobody can put a timeline. I think people who have done that in the past have proven that they can’t; you cannot put a timeline on staying power, on how long is he staying, when will he leave. I think we put all that aside and we say that there’s a conviction all around that it is a political solution that needs to kick in and the current situation is untenable. I mean, it’s – there’s violence that’s continuing.

There are overtures being made and initiatives being presented on the table by the opposition, and there’s agreement across the board that a political discourse or a political process that should bring about the transition that is needed has to take place. And I think that rather than setting timelines, we have to start looking at ways and means of bridging respective positions so that we can arrive at a political dialogue taking place and resulting in what we all want, which is a transition and an end to this continuing violence.

The positions are far apart, one requiring immediate departure, one saying that discussions will not take place if that’s a precondition. So I think you have to go down the middle and try to bridge the two positions together. And I think we’ve seen some initiatives in that regard.

On chemical and biological weapons, we are downwind, as you know. We’re a downwind country. This is a subject of much concern, not just for Jordan, but for many of the countries neighboring Syria. I mean, I’ve said in the past that there are different scenarios that we’re looking at – chemical weapons being used within Syria or being used in countries neighboring Syria or falling into the wrong hands or falling into extremely well-intentioned yet extremely inexperienced hands.

In all four scenarios, we are at the receiving end. So it is our right to keep a very vigilant and careful watch on what’s happening here, and of course, our right to be concerned and our right to coordinate with all the countries that are likeminded and that face the potential threat to try and do the same, effectively and correctively, in joint.

SECRETARY KERRY: Thank you. Would you just repeat the part on Iran?

QUESTION: Well, no. It was actually – there were a couple on Syria. First was staying power and whether --

SECRETARY KERRY: Right. No. I have that. But the last question.

QUESTION: On North Korea.

MS. NULAND: It was on DPRK.

SECRETARY KERRY: Oh, North Korea. I’m sorry. I apologize. I’m thinking Iran because it is related to Iran. But I’ll get to that.

Let me just begin on Syria. The President’s policy has been crystal clear on this. It is that his preference – the preference of the Administration is to make sure we have a political solution, if at all possible. That is the preferable outcome here, that there be a negotiated solution, but that it would result in President Assad’s departure. The President I think believes, I believe, that that is going to happen. I’m not going to get into timeframes, but I am convinced that the current track on the ground is going to result, at some point in time – and King Abdullah, in fact, earlier today confirmed to me it was his impression also, and I think it’s the impression of others, that there is an inevitability here.

Now that hasn’t sunk into him yet, obviously. And so there is some need to address the question of his calculation about where things are. And when we finalize the components of my trip and you’re aware of what I’m doing, I think one of my purposes will be to try to see what can be done with respect to that calculation and how we might be able to affect it. That said, the reasons for wanting to have a negotiated solution, which the Syrian Opposition Council leader Khatib has himself courageously spoken out about in the last days is that you want to avoid, if you can – if you can, I emphasize – the implosion of the state, because that’s dangerous for everybody. And it proposes the possibility of the worst kinds of outcomes.

So we need to keep this possibility of a negotiated solution in mind. I still remain hopeful that there may be an equation where the Russians and the United States could, in fact, find more common ground than we have yet with respect to that. And I know that His Majesty will be visiting Russia and there’ll be efforts here to try to follow up on those possibilities.

Finally, with respect to the DPRK, President Obama made it crystal clear last night and previously in all comments, as have other countries, that North Korea’s nuclear weapons and ballistic missile program are a threat now to the United States of America, because of what they are pursuing specifically, as well as to global security and peace. Following their latest provocation, which we have termed and believe is reckless and provocative, needlessly, I called Foreign Minister Kim of South Korea, I talked to Foreign Minister Kishida of Japan, I talked to Foreign Minister Yang of China, and we have placed a phone call to Foreign Minister Lavrov, and consulted with all of them with respect to the steps that we need to take. The international community now needs to come together with a swift and clear, strong, credible response, as pledged in the UN Security Council Resolution 2087.

And so my message about this is really simple, that this is not only about the DPRK and its continued flaunting of its obligations under three separate UN Security Council resolutions. This is about proliferation. And this is also about Iran, which is why I had Iran on my mind in answer to your question, because they’re linked. You connect the dots. It is important for the world to have credibility with respect to our nonproliferation efforts. And just as it is impermissible for North Korea to pursue this kind of reckless effort, so we have said it is impermissible with respect to Iran. And what our response is with respect to this will have an impact on all other nonproliferation efforts.

So that’s why this is important. And I talked with Ambassador Rice yesterday. We also were together at a meeting at the White House. And she will be pursuing, under the President’s directives, initiatives to seek that kind of response from the United Nations over the course of the next days. And we will put energy into that effort. And the reasons are the reasons that I stated. I think if you’re going to say things, they have to mean something. And to mean something, you have to be prepared to follow up on them. And that’s exactly what we’re prepared to do.

MS. NULAND: Last one today, from Nadia Bilbassy, MBC News, please.

QUESTION: Mr. Foreign Minister, the Secretary just said that he is personally committed to the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Yet the President, in his State of the Union, omitted even talking about the process, and many people in the Arab world were disappointed. Can you assure us that this Administration have this peace process as priority?

And on Jordan, the King has been leading the reform. Can you elaborate a little bit more as which direction do you think this reform will lead?

And Mr. Secretary, let me press you a little bit more on Syria. Seventy thousand dead people, and the peace process, or rather the diplomatic initiatives, are not going anywhere. Even Moaz al-Khatib one – many people don’t expect much to come out of it. Can you assure the Syrian people that the United States is doing everything possible to stop the killing in Syria?

And on the peace process, you know the Palestinians said that basically they won’t go to the negotiation unless they freeze the settlements, the Israelis freeze the settlements. This is a non-starter. How do you start? Where do you go from there?

SECRETARY KERRY: On the peace process?

QUESTION: Yes. Thank you.

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, let me start on the peace process first. I’m an optimist. If I weren’t an optimist, I wouldn’t have taken this job. And I have been engaged in, in one way or another, in – as a member of the Foreign Relations Committee in the initiatives through many presidents, through many secretaries of state, and in many discussions that I’ve had with people over the years, 29 years now, in the 29th year. I have learned that often things are not as they appear to be, and they’re not as bleak as they may seem if you approach things openly, honestly, creatively, and build on relationships.

I think that Minister Judeh would agree that I start this journey with some good relationships, and I believe that there are possibilities. The reason I called Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Abbas and President Peres, my first calls, was to emphasize that this is of a concern, and to listen to them, as to whether or not they believed there might be some things that we could do. In every case, there are hopes that there are things that we can do. And everybody understands that the United States of America is an indispensible entity with respect to that process. I understand that. The President understands that. And the President is not prepared, at this point in time, to do more than to listen to the parties, which is why he has announced he’s going to go to Israel. It affords him an opportunity to listen. And I think we start out by listening and get a sense of what the current state of possibilities are and then begin to make some choices.

It would be a huge mistake, almost an arrogant step, to suddenly be announcing this and that without listening first, so that’s what I intend to do, that’s what the President intends to do. And – but we are committed, as I’ve said to Minister Judeh and to others, to explore every possibility. The window is closing on this possibility. The region knows it. All the leaders I’ve talked to in the region have brought this topic up as a prime topic. And so it deserves our utmost consideration, and it will get that.

The first --

QUESTION: On Syria, sir?

SECRETARY KERRY: On Syria, as I said, I think I answered the question. I said in the earlier answer that we need to address the question of President Assad’s calculation currently. I believe there are additional things that can be done to change his current perception. I’m not going to go into them here today now, but those are things that – I’m new on the job here, but I’ve got a good sense of what I think we might propose. And we need to really consult with an awful lot of players here before we start again making any kind of public announcements.

But I can assure you my goal is to see us change his calculation. My goal is to see us have a negotiated outcome and minimize the violence. It may not be possible. I’m not going to stand here and tell you that’s automatic or easily achievable. There are a lot of forces that have been unleashed here over the course of the last months. But we owe it to ourselves, we owe it to the Syrian people and the region and the world, to make every effort to explore ways to achieve that negotiated outcome. And we intend to do that.

FOREIGN MINISTER JUDEH: Thank you very much, Nadia, for the question. On the first part, what Secretary of State Kerry said this morning and your reference to President Obama’s State of the Union Address yesterday, I hope that almost four years on the job has prepared me not to fall into the trap of passing judgment on the U.S. President’s speech yesterday. (Laughter.) But I can tell you, last I heard, Secretary Kerry represents President Obama and the Administration; so when he says that he’s extremely interested in pursuing Middle East peace, I believe that this is the Administration’s policy.

And I totally agree with him when he says that it’s listening mode, perhaps, for the U.S. But there’s agreement between us and the U.S. that the window is closing and that we have to move fast and we have to work together, and that this remains a priority and of paramount importance to all of us. Peace in the Middle East, I’ve said before in this room, is peace of mind for the rest of the world. This is not just a local and/or regional conflict. This is a global conflict with global ramifications and it remains a core central issue, as His Majesty the King says.

So we are extremely encouraged. I mean, the Secretary said that he’s optimistic, otherwise he wouldn’t have taken this job. I would like to say that I have to be optimistic because we live in the region. And some people say that the definition of a pessimist is a well-informed optimist, but I like to stay clear of that and say that we remain optimistic, that we have to pool our efforts together in order to pursue this all-important objective.

Now on the reform process, the elections that took place in Jordan three weeks ago marked the end of the constitutional phase of the steady pace of reforms that was set by His Majesty the King, but the beginning of the second phase of reforms. So you had in the last 16 months an amendment, a total revision of the constitution resulting in amending 42 articles, one-third of the constitution, and a very, very confident stride forward for Jordan. You saw the enactment of laws, the establishment of the independent commission to oversee and conduct elections. And it did so brilliantly by the testimony of so many international observers, I believe about 7,000 international observers. And then the constitutional court, other laws like the political parties law, the public gatherings law, the setting up of the public integrity – national integrity committee, all commissioned by His Majesty. And then you came to elections.

Now the next phase is the process by which a government is formed. I think that is the first milestone. And as I said earlier, currently as we speak, there are consultations taking place between His Majesty or representatives of His Majesty and the different members of the lower house of parliament and the blocs and the coalitions that have shaped up in the last few days, leading to a consensual figure who will be appointed as prime minister who will then go back to do some horse-trading with a lot of the parliamentarians in order to name his cabinet. And then once he’s appointed by His Majesty, he still has to go back to the lower house of parliament and present his political program in order to gain the confidence of parliament.

So it’s exciting times for us. And then when the government sits and we see the interplay between the government and the parliament, you will see a lot of reform-oriented policy and legislation taking shape again through the relationship between the two sides. We are very excited. We’ve stuck to the timeline that was set by His Majesty, and we’re benchmarking ourselves and meeting those benchmarks.

SECRETARY KERRY: Thank you all very much. Good to be with you.

FOREIGN MINISTER JUDEH: Thank you very much, sir.

SECRETARY KERRY: Thank you so much.

PRN: 2013/0156