Remarks With Qatari Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Hamad bin Jassim bin Jaber Al Thani After Their Meeting

John Kerry
Secretary of State
Wajbah Palace Prime Minister's Quarters
Doha, Qatar
March 5, 2013

The video is available with closed captioning on YouTube.

PRIME MINISTER HAMAD: (Via interpreter) In the name of God, the most merciful, the most compassionate, first of all, we’d like to welcome our friend Mr. John Kerry, the Secretary of State of the United States of America, on his visit to Qatar. This is not his first visit, but this is his first as Secretary of State.

(In English) Is it working?

SECRETARY KERRY: No, I didn’t – I didn’t get any of that.

PRIME MINISTER HAMAD: Can you hear anything now? I speak in English.

INTERPRETER: Can you hear me now?



INTERPRETER: Okay. Thank you.

PRIME MINISTER HAMAD: (Via interpreter) Is my Arabic up to standard?

SECRETARY KERRY: There’s a magic man somewhere. (Laughter.)

PRIME MINISTER HAMAD: (Via interpreter) I started by saying that our friend, Mr. John Kerry, you are welcome to Qatar. This is not your first visit, but it’s your first as the Secretary of State. We know you very well. We know your abilities to fulfill the demands of this position, and you will be representing your country in the best way. We congratulate you again for assuming the responsibilities of Secretary of State.

As for our meeting, we discussed some very important topics. We alluded to Syria. We discussed the latest developments of what is known now as the Arab Spring. We talked about what’s going on in our area. We talked about the peace process, which is at a standstill now, or maybe even dead, for all intents and purposes. We hope that there will be some real movement by the main sponsor, and that is the United States of America.

Once again, we welcome you. Please, if you want to have your say, go ahead, Mr. Secretary.

SECRETARY KERRY: Thank you very much, Mr. Prime Minister. It’s a great privilege for me to be here back in Qatar. As the Prime Minister said, I have had the privilege of being here previously, and I thank him and I thank the Amir, who I will be meeting with shortly, as well as I will be meeting with the Heir Apparent, Sheikh Tamim, in a short while. But I thank Qatar and the Prime Minister for their generous welcome always.

QUESTION: (Via interpreter) Thank you, Your Excellency. Hamed Habjee from Al Arab newspaper.

SECRETARY KERRY: Oh, wait. Can I say a little more? I thought we were going to do a translation. I would just like to say a couple more things.


SECRETARY KERRY: Mr. Prime Minister, I want to thank you for the excellent partnership that we have, especially during this very challenging time of change in this part of the world. We intend to continue to work very, very closely with you in the days and months and years ahead. We had a great discussion, a frank discussion, about the critical issues that we’re facing. And on Syria, Qatar and the United States have worked very hard to strengthen international sanctions against the Assad regime, and to help the opposition build the unity and the effectiveness that they need in order to try to change President Assad’s calculation on the ground.

As we work to change that calculation, we need to ensure that our support strengthens the moderate opposition. And the Syrian people have suffered a long time now under President Assad, and we’ve seen a level of brutality that shocks anybody’s conscience – the Scuds shot against children, young students taking an exam, women and children – and we are proud to stand up with you against a man who has lost legitimacy in the leadership of his country and who clearly has decided he’s willing to destroy that country simply to hold onto power.

We also are standing against the Iranians who are helping him and Hezbollah and al-Qaida affiliates. Our goal is the same goal that the Syrian people share, and that is a free, democratic Syria where everyone is protected, and when we say everyone, we mean the Christians, the Alawi, the Shias, the Druze, the Kurds, the Sunni, the men and the women of Syria.

In Afghanistan, Qatar has been enormously helpful, and we are grateful. The United States supports the Qatari Government’s willingness to allow Taliban representation to come to Doha for the potential, potential negotiations with the High Peace Council. And we all hope that this step could ensure peace and security, ultimately, in Afghanistan. As we’ve said in the past, an Afghan-led peace, reconciliation is the surest way to be able to end the violence and to ensure peace and security for the long run.

And finally, with respect to the Middle East peace process, Prime Minister Hamad bin Jassim is committed to try to help move that process forward, and I appreciate, and President Obama appreciates, Qatar’s leadership and willingness to be part of that initiative. We all share the same vision, and that is a vision for two states living side by side and in peace. So as the United States and Qatar face these future challenges, I know that we’re going to be able to do so together in a special partnership. And I thank the Prime Minister for his candor, for his friendship, and look forward to taking any questions you may have.

PRIME MINISTER HAMAD: (Via interpreter) Thank you.

QUESTION: (Via interpreter) Your Excellency, you mentioned that the peace process is dead. How can we revive it? Secondly, there was a press conference held lately in Tehran between – by the Walid al-Muallem, the Syrian Foreign Minister, where he called for pressure on Qatar and America. And maybe another question if I may, please, for his Excellency the Secretary of State. The U.S. Administration did take some clear positions at the outset of the Arab revolution in defense of Arab peoples, why are you so hesitant towards Syria now?

PRIME MINISTER HAMAD: Since you are the guest, you start.

SECRETARY KERRY: Thank you very much for your question. Let me make clear that President Obama and America are not hesitant at all. We are deeply committed to the freedom of the people of Syria, and from the beginning President Obama has moved in a clear way. He began with helping to put the sanctions in place so that we can prevent the money that fuels Assad’s war machine.

Secondly, he has worked very hard, as did Secretary Clinton, to try to identify the Syrian opposition that we were helping and to try to unify them, bring them together, so that they spoke with a unified force and that they had coordination between the Supreme Military Council and the Syrian Opposition Coalition. That is now happening with a clarity that was not there before.

Third, President Obama directed me to go to Rome to meet with the foreign ministers in Rome, which we did in a very successful meeting where there was unanimity, all parties agreeing that we have to change President Assad’s calculation about what is happening and what is going to happen. We have now, for the first time, under the President’s directive, directed assistance straight to the military council and straight to the Syrian opposition. That is not something we’ve done before.

Now, other countries have chosen to do other things. We support that. That is – I think you have to look at the approach to Syria as a whole, not as individual pieces. What we have made clear is that Bashar al-Assad has lost legitimacy in the governing of his people, and there is no way he will restore that. It is only through the Geneva communique where you bring a transitional government with full executive power with all parties agreeing to it – the opposition and the Assad government – and then you give the Syrian people the opportunity to choose the future. That’s what we’re committed to, and we will continue down this road in close consultations so that we continue to put the pressure on. Thank you.

PRIME MINISTER HAMAD: (Via interpreter) As for the two-tier question, first of all, the peace process undoubtedly has gone through a long period of trouble since the Madrid peace conference 20 years ago. On occasions, the feelings that (inaudible) something can happen, on other occasions we saw some time wasting. Now the peace process is just a process. It’s not a solution or a final solution for this crisis.

We felt optimistic when President Obama first came to power and his – when he insisted on the two-state solution and when he insisted on Palestine having full membership of the UN. This is something we both appreciate first, but we wait for it to be activated. But the problem is when Israel has a strong government they say it’s a strong government with popular support, we cannot do anything to (inaudible); a weak government comes to power, they say it’s a weak government, we can’t do anything about it, because they can’t do anything about it if there is any killing happening, you say we cannot do anything because some party is firing missiles into the other, either the Palestinians or the Israelis.

There is no agreement on a fixed timeline or timetable to put an end to this crisis. I think there will be problems, and we’ll lose hope. We felt really optimistic and you know me: I am frank in my views and blunt in my views. I think what Your Excellency has just said is very reasonable and rational, and we hope this dossier will be a priority now for the U.S. Administration and Your Excellency will take personal importance in this. And I know your capabilities and we know we are sure that you can do something. And on our part, as Qatar and Arab countries and as Arab community, we’ll do our best to help you to reach a just and durable solution for the Palestinian question.

As for what Walid Muallem, the Syrian Foreign Secretary, has said in Tehran, I don’t have any response to it except for one thing maybe. It reminds me of the kind of a friend who jokes with you, who says, “Mr. Walid is like a rug trader,” and I don’t have any other answer to him but that. (Laughter.)

MODERATOR: Nicolas Revise from AFP.

QUESTION: Thank you very much, Mr. Secretary. This is a question on Bahrain. Could you tell us what you did say to your Bahraini counterpart regarding the human rights situation in this country? The last Human Rights Report from the Department of State in 2012 pointed out, I quote, “egregious human rights problems in 2011 in Bahrain, including the inability of citizens to peacefully change their government.” Thank you very much.

SECRETARY KERRY: Thank you very much. I appreciate it. We had a very good, constructive conversation about all of the issues of the region as well as the internal issues of Bahrain. And I expressed the concern of all people for the protection of the rights of everybody. And we talked about the dialogue. The Foreign Minister made it clear to me that they remain committed to the dialogue, that they are engaged right now in advancing it, they’re at some important stages within it, progress is being made. And what I did was encourage him to continue that dialogue and to reach a resolution with respect to some of these difficult issues.

He assured me that they are going to continue in good faith, and obviously, all of us encourage that and look forward to some positive results.

MODERATOR: (Inaudible) from Al-Jazeera, Arabic Channel.

QUESTION: (Via interpreter) Your Excellency, I have a question regarding the Syrian crisis. Is there full agreement with the American position vis-a-vis the Syrian question, or there’s still differences, especially when it regards the question of arming the rebels in Syria?

The question for Mr. Kerry is, first of all, yesterday, you called for guarantees before providing any weapons to the Syrian – moderate Syrian opposition. You didn’t specify what kind of guarantees. Can you please elaborate?

And also, Iran said that Assad should remain until 2014. This is a challenge to all the efforts of all parts who consider Assad as some president who lost legitimacy. Also, it’s not just that the United States is not doing much apart from saying much maybe, you just said President Obama considers Assad as someone who lost legitimacy. Away from rhetoric, what kind of practical steps is the administration and President Obama likely to take and in what timeline, please?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, let me begin by saying I’m not sure what guarantees you’re referring to. I never asked for or suggested any particular guarantees. What I did say is there are greater guarantees now that the weapons are being transferred to moderate and to – directly to Syrian opposition. There’s never a full guarantee, and I think I also said that when I was speaking.

But in addition, what I said – and I have no – I honestly have never suggested that Iran – that there’s a date associated with Iran’s support in 2014. So let me make it clear --

QUESTION: No, the Iranians, they said that --

QUESTION: No, no. The Iranians, they said that President Bashar Assad would remain in 2014.

SECRETARY KERRY: Oh, then the translation – we lost something in the translation, and I apologize. Thank you very much. That’s helpful.

In that case, that may be the Iranian position, but I don’t believe it is the position of the people of Syria. And I think ultimately the people of Syria will speak on this. The Syrian opposition clearly is promising a future for all of the people of Syria. Bashar al-Assad is not, and what the Syrian opposition has said is that all people will be protected: Alawi, Druze, Shias, Sunni, Christian. All of the different people will be part of choosing the future of their government. Bashar al-Assad has made it clear that he is unwilling to sit down and provide the negotiation that was called for in Geneva last year. Instead he has responded with Scud missiles, with assassinations, with releasing his army, his air force dropping bombs, and trying to subjugate people much in the way that his father did years ago.

So we are clear and have been clear. There is a framework for a peaceful resolution. The Iranians can support it, the Russians can support it, and Bashar al-Assad can support it. And that formula is set out in the Geneva communique, which provides for a transition government with full executive authority chosen by mutual consent. That means President Assad can choose who will represent him, and the Syrian opposition can choose who will represent them, and then the Syrian people will choose who will represent them as a country. Now, that is a reasonable way to end the violence, a reasonable way to allow the people of the country to determine their future. And that’s what we are supporting.

Now, the Iranians can support that, and so can the Russians. And I believe in my conversations with Sergey Lavrov that he does support that, and he’s prepared to try to help make that happen. So this is really up to Bashar al-Assad and the Syrian opposition to determine if it will be a peaceful outcome or whether or not the Syrian opposition will continue to put the pressure on to try to bring him to the negotiating table. And that’s where we are.

PRIME MINISTER HAMAD: (Via interpreter) As for the Syrian crisis, I think Mr. John Kerry has answered part of the question when he talked about arming the opposition. As you know, there is a change in the international position and the American position in this regard. They’re talking about weapons. We hope that this happened sometime ago before, because this would have maybe lessened the death and destruction that took place in Syria. But now everybody has reached a conclusion and a conviction that Assad has chosen his own way of ending this crisis. This is something that – which cannot be accepted by the international community when he rains Scud missiles on cities and towns in a manner reminiscent of World War II.

After the Rome meeting, I expressed optimism that the international community has started or maybe more than just started. It’s actually working in a way which we think will achieve victory for the Syrian people in a much quicker way, and we will minimize the time and the losses, because with each day that passes, more people are getting killed. We think this problem could have been solved much quicker, but Bashar al-Assad chose his own particular solution as we said.

As for the Geneva declaration, I was part of the committee which formulated that declaration, and the question was clear. We talked about authority should be transferred into a government with full powers to run the country and army. But after the meeting, I think it’s Article 9 in the Geneva declaration, there was differences over how to interpret that and especially on the power transfer question in particular. The understanding was that we talked about a transition period and any discussion will need to be confined to a certain timeline, because the Syrian regime has a way with any initiative; they never say no, but they take time, then they – to accept it, then they take time to interpret it, then time to deal with it, then to turn it into a failure.

And we remember initiative after initiative, this is a tactic to prolong the crisis until another crisis happens somewhere else, which will lessen the pressure on them or some change will happen or victory achieved on the ground. I’m sure none of the three things will happen for simple reason, because it’s not our demands and it’s not us who are fighting. These are the demands of the Syrian people, maybe the vast majority of the Syrian people.

MODERATOR: (Via interpreter) Last question maybe.

Michael Gordon from New York Times.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, you mentioned at the Rome conference on Syria and again here today that when people try to assess what’s being done to help the Syrian Opposition Coalition that it’s important to look at the totality of the international effort, that different countries, different nations are helping in different ways. Has the United States reached an understanding with Saudi Arabia, with the U.A.E., and other states about what sort of weapons should be provided to the opposition and whom specifically, which groups they should be provided to? Or do you have concerns that states like Qatar are providing weapons to groups that you’re not entirely comfortable with?

And lastly, on the way over here, we heard that North Korea is threatening to abrogate the armistice. I wonder if you have any thoughts on that.

And to the Prime Minister, you mentioned that the international community seems to be more receptive to the question of arming the Syrian opposition. Have you had productive discussions with the Americans on who specifically in the opposition should be equipped with arms and what they should be equipped with? Thank you.

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, with respect to the arms and the transfer, we did discuss. We had a discussion about the types of weapons that are being transferred and by whom. We are aware of what people are doing. I don’t think the United States is engaged in a specific allotment process or designated process, but obviously we are aware. And it is that awareness that informs the President’s decision about what is needed and what the United States is prepared to do at this point in time. In addition, we did discuss the question of the ability to try to guarantee that it’s going to the right people and to the moderate Syrian Opposition Coalition. And I think it’s really in the last months that that has developed as a capacity that we have greater confidence in.

I think I said yesterday you can’t guarantee that one weapon or another may not fall, in that kind of a situation, into hands that you don’t want it in. But in terms of the fundamental balance of battlefield tactics and of effort, I think it’s pretty clear that the Prime Minister shares the belief in trying to do what we need to do rapidly, and to try to effect this most effectively through the Syrian Opposition Coalition, and that’s what we’re trying to do.

With respect to North Korea – and let me say one other thing on the thing – and partly in answer to the question before, too. The President’s purpose here, and I think everybody’s purpose, is to try to minimize the killing, is to try to end the killing, end the violence. And it’s the President’s judgment for the moment that we would like to see whether or not President Assad shares that view, and would like to, in fact, save this country and proceed through the Geneva communique to a peaceful process. There are lots of options that remain if, in days or weeks or whatever, that that opportunity is not taken advantage of.

So I think when you look at the whole of those countries that are engaged, the numbers of nations that have come to the table to stand for the Syrian people, there was a very significant amount of support for the Syrian coalition at this point in time.

With respect to North Korea, I think President Obama and the American people and the world would like to see the leader of North Korea, Kim Jong-un, take responsible actions for peace and for responsible activity within the region, and rather than threaten to abrogate and threaten to move in some new direction, the world would be better served if he would direct his people and make the decision himself to engage in a legitimate dialogue, in legitimate negotiations in order to resolve not just American concerns, but the concerns of the Japanese, of the South Koreans, of the Russians, the Chinese, and South Korea – I think I said South Koreans – everybody in the region.

And so that’s our hope, and we will continue to do what is necessary to defend our nation and the region together with our allies. But our preference is not to brandish threats at each other; it is to get to the table and negotiate a peaceful resolution to that crisis also.

PRIME MINISTER HAMAD: I will speak in Arabic, so if you want to use your headphone. First of all, thanks God that North Korea is far away from here. (Laughter.) So you cannot blame us also for that.

(Via interpreter) As for the question of providing weapons, this kind of fame or reputation about Qatar came from the Libyan crisis when Qadhafi started killing people left, right, and center, and the international community was rushing in to providing weapons to the people who were resisting Qadhafi’s regime. Qatar was amongst the first countries to support the rebels with some equipment, and at that time and in that chaos, maybe some mistakes may have been committed.

But let’s look from a practical point of view to this question. Even if there is any party which is providing weapons and there are other parties which fell into the same problem, but they were not mentioned – only Qatar was mentioned because of a political difference and not a practical difference, the political difference between the brotherly countries of this area, who is helping who. They think we are supporting a certain party in Egypt, and of course, everybody’s right to choose who they support. And they have their right to, but who has more right to support is the peoples, whether the Egyptian, Libyan, or others.

The problem started here. Maybe something happened, but not at the magnitude that was portrayed, especially to Western countries, because Western countries, once people talk about terrorism, they pay attention, and I don’t blame them for that. Now, any western government or the United States will be – if people want to attract your attention, they talk about terrorism. We tried that in the past with our friends in the West.

As for Syria, I said in the beginning that if all worked with more diligence and seriousness, this regime would have gone by now. But everything which was provided by countries with the knowledge of other countries was provided through a certain regime, and everybody was keen that such help and support would go for self-defense and nothing more than self-defense or other than self-defense.

But the longer the crisis goes on, other parties will get involved. We don’t want that. We want the moderate parties to prevail and we want our support to go to the moderate factions. And therefore, it’s very important that this issue is not used by the Syrian regime because they know the West gets alarmed when they hear these stories, and maybe this was manipulated by some brotherly states in this region. And therefore, this thing was blown out of proportion and exaggerated.

And I’m not an expert on arms, but if there is some rocket-propelled grenades or RPGs or anything provided, this will not threaten the world order. And of course, we are against that approach anyway, but it is dangerous somewhat when there is a regime which shoots down civilian aircraft and what – the bombing of a nightclub in Germany, and what Qadhafi’s regime did to bring down the TWA aircraft or the French aircraft. You know how these regimes provided weapons to some extremist groups and factions. We want regimes to have a legal outlook. They respect their countries, they develop their countries, they fulfill the needs of their people, and not the kind of regimes to create chaos and destruction to gain their importance.

We are a small country who wants stability and peace with our neighbors, but we cannot tolerate injustices committed in the manner that is inflicted upon the Syrian people. So therefore, to say that terrorism, any terrorist now is Bashar. Bashar is the terrorist who started all of this. He is killing his own people.

Thank you very much. I thank you once again. I thank my friend, His Excellency, the Secretary of State. Thank you.

PRN: 2013/ T01-33