Remarks With Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh After Their Meeting
Secretary of State
Today, there is no doubt that a large part of our discussions touched on the Syrian issue and the crisis that is continuing there, and within the framework of the ministerial meeting that will be held this evening in Amman for the Group of 11. We’re calling it the Group of 11 that met in Istanbul on the 20th of April and before that in Rome on the 28th of February. And the main critical point in this, or the transforming point, was the meeting that brought Kerry together with President Putin and Secretary of State Lavrov in Moscow, and the agreement between the two parties to work on holding an international conference that will be the main sort of foundation for the political path that we have been talking about here in the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan.
Our position, our firm position, is that a political solution is the best solution that will lead to solving this crisis, to ending the violence, ending the killing, ending the destruction, and ending the bloodshed. And I think that this is a common goal of us all. We confirmed this in our discussions, the importance of speeding up finding a solution that will ensure the participation of all components of the Syrian people.
We also discussed the other important point that we all talked about – that we all talk about – which are the humanitarian consequences of the crisis in Syria. Jordan is hosting around 540,000 Syrian refugees, and we’re bearing a huge economic burden and social burden regarding this – because of this. We thank the United States of America for their continuous support of Jordan. President Obama, during his visit to the Kingdom announced – (audio break) – United States is giving to countries that are hosting Syrian refugees. Therefore, we reiterate our thanks to the Secretary of State for this assistance and for the support through the United States of America. We welcome you once again.
(In English.) And in English I would say it is a real pleasure to welcome you here. And as a dear friend and as a friend of Jordan. And we’ve known each other for many years. You are always welcome in Jordan. We just met with his Majesty, the King, had an excellent discussion. Secretary Kerry is no stranger to the region. This is the fourth or fifth time – we’re disagreeing on the numbers or the frequency of the visit – that he has been here in the last couple of months, which shows and reflects his commitment and his enthusiasm to a) resolve the lingering and central core issue of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and also to talk to like-minded countries about this ongoing conflict in Syria, this ongoing crisis, and our collective efforts to bring about a political solution. And of course, we discussed the range of issues, which I alluded to in Arabic. Your wisdom and experience and wise counsel are always welcome and much appreciated. Mr. Secretary, welcome to Jordan.
SECRETARY KERRY: Well – excuse me. Mr. Foreign Minister, thank you very, very much, my friend Nasser. We have indeed gotten to know each other well. We’ve spent a lot of time together over the years. And that helps in this business, as you know. And we’ve been able to have very frank discussions and be able to work together cooperatively in a very significant way, and I want you to know how much President Obama and the American people appreciate your personal friendship, but of course the friendship of His Majesty King Abdullah and the friendship of the people of Jordan for which we are very grateful. And we admire the efforts that you are making here, that His Majesty has been making to institute reforms and to strengthen Jordan and to struggle with the economy, all of which make our being here and these meetings even more important.
Our countries are working together on a number of critical issues, not just the question of Syria but on other issues with respect of the region, and of course, particularly questions of the relationship between Palestine – Palestinians and Israel. So we appreciate your leadership. We also particularly appreciate Jordan’s incredible hospitality to the point of strain and difficulty in trying to deal with the humanitarian crisis that is the overflow of what is happening in Syria.
So I’d like to say a few words to all of you about why we’re here and what we expect from this meeting. And I assure you we come here with a full measure of humility, understanding the complications, the complexity of this challenge, and understanding the many different interests that need to try to be brought together and to be balanced in the process of trying to find peace in a place of great violence, and in a place where that violence is spilling over into other countries and affecting the region and potentially threatening even sectarian violence on a wider scale.
So these are big stakes, and I don’t have any illusions about how difficult it is to find that path forward. But I also have no illusions at all, nor does President Obama, or I think anyone in America, about the need – the compelling urgent need – to try to explore every possibility to end the killing. And that’s what brings us here. All the partners come here to meet this evening with the goal of putting an end to the bloodshed that has cost tens of thousands of lives.
And we would call on President Assad to exhibit the same commitment to trying to find peace in his own country. That is critical. Every single day, the image of more carnage, or the report of a massacre, or the report of women and children being killed, the report of more people being driven out of their homes and across a border, is really challenging the conscience of the world. And that violence has to end. That’s what brings us here.
So we are committed to try to work in the course of this evening to find the unity of purpose and the unity of specific approaches that will help us to try to implement Geneva 1, to implement a transition, a transitional government that will allow the people of Syria to choose the future of Syria.
Today, we are going to discuss the state of play on the ground, the steps that we can take to aid the opposition in its struggle against this violence, and the process of bringing together opposition leaders so that the members of that opposition can represent the broadest base possible in Syria in order to help us try to find that solution.
We’re not here to dictate to them or to anybody an outcome. We’re not here to dictate to the opposition particularly but to any group. We’re here to suggest. We’re here to work with people, to work through different ideas and to try to find the best way forward.
So we will discuss the framework, the structure of what we think Geneva ought to be. And obviously, that will have to be discussed with the Russians, with the United Nations, and with others in order to find the formula that moves us forward most effectively. We will listen to all voices with respect to the format, to the timing, to the agenda, and to the outcomes that should be discussed.
And we will also discuss support for the people of Syria with respect to the humanitarian crisis that is currently being faced. The size of the camps that are being managed by Jordan, the numbers of refugees in Lebanon, the numbers of refugees in Turkey – all of these are growing into one of the largest humanitarian crises of recent memory.
Let me also make clear, in the event that we can’t find that way forward, in the event that the Assad regime is unwilling to negotiate Geneva 1 in good faith, we will also talk about our continued support and growing support for the opposition in order to permit them to continue to be able to fight for the freedom of their country.
So one final comment: Let’s assume there is no Geneva 2. Let’s assume that we don’t come together as a community of nations to try to find a peaceful process to move forward. What will happen? What will happen is an absolute guarantee that the violence will continue and the world will be standing on the sidelines doing nothing constructive to try to find a way to end that violence. That’s unacceptable. President Obama is committed to try to find a peaceful way forward, and he has asked me to join with my friends and colleagues, the foreign ministers of the Core Group that will meet tonight, to push forward in Geneva.
I want to thank President Putin and Foreign Minister Lavrov for their willingness to say that they will work in good faith, in good conscience, to try to find a way to implement Geneva 1. And I will simply remind everybody: Geneva 1 is clear; it says there must be a transition government with full executive authority with mutual consent. And it is very, very clear as a starting point that mutual consent will never be given by any member of the broad opposition of Syria for Assad to continue to run that government.
So that’s what has to be negotiated in Geneva is: How does this transition take place. How do you end the violence? How do you in good faith implement what has already been agreed to? And how do you begin to move forward so that Syrians, everybody – Alawite, Druze, Christian, Jew, Ismaili, Sunni, Shia, everybody – has the ability to choose the future and all will be protected against violence or oppression from their government? Those are the fundamental principles; that’s what will guide our discussion tonight.
And we will look forward to working in the next days to make Geneva a reality, understanding that if Geneva 2 weren’t on the horizon and it didn’t exist, all we would be looking at is the continued tragic disintegration of a country that will go down further into more violence and more bloodshed and more destruction. We believe that trying to get the Geneva process, difficult as it is, fraught with all of the complications that it presents, is a better alternative to the other.
Thank you, Mr. Minister.
FOREIGN MINISTER JUDEH: Thank you very much, sir. We have maybe – we can take two or three questions. (Inaudible.)
QUESTION: As the preparations and efforts are taking place in terms of holding the conference, the Syrian Ambassador, who is representing his government in Jordan, just issued a statement today criticizing the conference and criticizing Jordan for even hosting the conference and called it the fake friends of Syria conference. Having said that, have you received any assurances – and I mean by you the Group of 11 – have you received any assurances or confirmations or signs from the Syrian regime that they would accept to sit at the table of negotiations?
My second question to Mr. Kerry: It looks like the Syrian forces on the ground are making some progress and making gains with the support of Hezbollah forces, who have become publicly and have announced recently that they are taking part in the military activities in Syria. Do you see that further complicates the situation in terms of the efforts to hold a conference on Syria, and do you see a place for Assad in the future of Syria?
FOREIGN MINISTER JUDEH: I hope Syrian Ambassador has enough diplomatic savoir faire not to criticize Jordan while accredited to Jordan. (Laughter.) And secondly, I hope – you said he represents his government. I really hope that he is representing his government because initial signs that we received from the Syrian Government is that it welcomed this initiative. In fact, I’ve heard that they’ve presented names of the delegation that might engage in this.
And thirdly on this point, I would say this whole effort tonight and as a continuation of what happened, what took place in Istanbul on the 20th of April and in Rome on the 28th of February and the effort that the Secretary led in Moscow with the meetings with the Russian leadership there, is all about ending the conflict and reaching a political solution. So I find it very, very hard to believe that anybody’s against that. And what we do in Jordan here is definitely a reflection of our concern for what’s happening in Syria and our belief and commitment to the political solution that will end the bloodshed and guarantee the territorial integrity and the security of Syria.
SECRETARY KERRY: The United States, I think, joins the other core nations who are supporting the opposition in condemning Hezbollah’s destructive role of all of the foreign fighters who are in the region, particularly in Syria. And active military support to the Assad regime simply exacerbates the sectarian tensions and it perpetuates – perpetuates – the regime’s campaign of terror against its own people. The United States and other countries are not sending fighters on the ground, but Hezbollah is, coming across an international border, building a militia in order to attack the civilian citizens of Syria.
In addition to that, Iranians are on the ground, and Iran is actively helping to support Hezbollah, which, as we all know, is a surrogate working with Iran, and they are contributing significantly to this violence. Just last week, obviously Hezbollah intervened very, very significantly. There are several thousands of Hezbollah militia forces on the ground in Syria who are contributing to this violence, and we condemn that and suggest that those who are encouraging it and support it should retreat from that position and obviously become part of the constructive solution rather than part of the problem.
With respect to Assad making some gains in the last days, the answer is, yeah, he’s made a few gains in the last days. But this has gone up and down in a seesaw, as we all know, and it will. And that’s part of the problem. That’s exactly what we’re trying to say needs – calls for a political solution. Because it will continue to go up and down, and the only loser in that are the people of Syria and the country of Syria itself. So that’s why we are trying to pursue this alternative route, complicated and difficult, as I said, as it is.
And finally, with respect to Assad and the future of Syria, just as a matter of practical negotiation, I’d ask anybody of common sense: Can a person who has allegedly used gas against his own people; can a person who has killed more than 70,000, upwards of 100,000 people; can a person who has used artillery shells and missiles and Scuds and tanks against women and children and university students – can that person possibly be judged by any reasonable person to have the credibility and legitimacy to lead that country in the future? I think the answer to that is obvious.
Now, needless to say, that’s at the center of this struggle. And that’s why this negotiation is not easy. But already the Russians signed – as did other nations – an agreement in Geneva to have a transitional government by mutual consent with full executive authority. So that’s the first step, folks. If we can get to that, then we begin to get to the resolution of the other issues of the future of Syria. In the end, the people of Syria must decide whether Assad has that future or doesn’t, and what’s going to happen.
QUESTION: Thank you so much. Indira Lakshmanan from Bloomberg News. Secretary Kerry, if I could start with you. As we know, the Syrian opposition has not yet agreed to participate in Geneva. And meanwhile, as you’ve just been saying yourself, President Assad’s hand has been strengthened as new weapons and foreign fighters have come in from Iran and Lebanese Hezbollah. So as the international community has failed to change both sides’ calculations, what can you possibly hope to accomplish in Geneva?
And secondary to that, you also brought up how President Obama spoke to the Lebanese President yesterday. So what is the U.S. doing, and what messages is it sending to the Lebanese and the Syrian opposition to prevent the Syrian conflict from spilling over to Lebanon?
And for Foreign Minister Judeh, what is Jordan’s position on the arming of extremist groups such as al-Nusrah by other Arab nations, which is causing concern in the West because of their extremist agenda? And is Jordan concerned about the growing presence of Hezbollah and Iranians amid the fighting? Thank you.
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, let me just answer that very quickly. With respect to the question of the gains on the ground of what has happened, as I said to you, I think that’s very temporary. If Bashar al-Assad thinks that the gains that he’s made in the last few days are going to be determinative of this, then he is miscalculating just as he did when he engaged in this struggle against his own people. And the fact is that support for the opposition is growing. The United States is providing additional support, more support. Other countries are providing more support. And I am convinced that support will only grow.
So there is no – in the end, I don’t believe there’s a military victory for Assad that is going to somehow justify the gains he’s made in the last days. What I do think is that he will ultimately realize, as will those supporting him, that this situation is going to get more dangerous, more destructive, and much more damaging to the prospects of the region if it continues in its course. And hopefully they will come to the realization that it needs a political settlement.
That’s why people last year went to Geneva and suggested that it had to have a political settlement, and that’s why President Putin has joined with President Obama and Foreign Minister Lavrov and with myself and others in helping to try to find a way to move forward to have a peaceful resolution. Nobody benefits from that. There will be more foreign fighters, there will be more extremists, there will be more danger to the volatility of the region. There may be more ethnic cleansing, more massacres. Syria may break up into different parts. Nobody will benefit from that continued struggle.
And that’s the virtue, I think – that’s why Geneva is important. It may be that Geneva – Geneva’s not going to be easy. I’ve said that. I have no illusions. It’s not going to happen overnight, it’s not going to be a two-day, three-day event. It’s going to take some time. People are going to have to work at it. But ultimately, responsible nations need to come to understand that the benefit of a political settlement is in everybody’s interest. And I think that's true for Lebanon and that’s true for Iran. And hopefully, Iranians could find themselves even finding a way to be contributing somehow to a solution rather than making the problem worse.
So that’s what we hope to achieve, and I think that with respect to the Lebanon issue, of course we’re deeply concerned about this spilling over into Lebanon. Lebanon is volatile enough without Hezbollah overtly engaging in this activity across the border. And what that does is openly put Lebanon at risk. So you have this major force in Lebanon – Hezbollah – which was – which is a part of the governing, which has chosen, on behalf of all of the Lebanese people, to drag them into this. That’s exactly the kind of danger that we are trying to avoid and that’s precisely why this kind of meeting and the efforts that come out of it are so important.
FOREIGN MINISTER JUDEH: Well, I certainly agree with the main components of the Secretary’s answer, and I want to say that this is a subject that we’ve been asked about many a time – arming the rebels – I mean, early on. And our position was always arming who? And do we have addresses and do we have CVs? And it’s important for us to look at the future of Syria. We are a country that neighbors Syria, and therefore, while we don’t interfere in the internal affairs of Syria, we are certainly affected by the outcome of what’s going on in Syria and we have the same worries and concerns that my good friend, the Secretary of State, alluded to, the – God forbid, the possible fragmentation of Syria or the creation of different entities within Syria, and we’ve always been against that. And if you recall, in my introductory remarks I spoke of the need to preserve the territorial integrity of Syria and not have this potential fragmentation.
And again, the presence of extremist organizations and non-Syrian fighters on the ground is of concern to many of us – those countries that are neighboring Syria and those countries that are interested in preserving, like I said, the territorial integrity and the safety and security of the Syrian people.
So, again, this brings us around to what we are all trying to achieve, and that is a political solution between people who represent all of Syria, represent all the ethnic and religious sectors of the Syrian society – and it is a complex society, and therefore it has to be an all-inclusive process. So we are indeed concerned of these potential dangers, current and potential dangers, and we’re certainly trying to resolve them through this diplomatic and political effort.
I think we have one more question maybe. (In Arabic.)
QUESTION: (In Arabic.)
FOREIGN MINISTER JUDEH: Go ahead.
QUESTION: (In Arabic.)
FOREIGN MINISTER JUDEH: (In Arabic.)
SECRETARY KERRY: The --
QUESTION: (In Arabic.) Shall I repeat the question?
SECRETARY KERRY: No, no, I have the question, I just didn’t know if I was – (laughter.) Look what I did to him already. (Laughter.)
SECRETARY KERRY: The President of the United States has made it clear that he does not intend to put American forces on the ground in Syria, but he has also made it clear that he intends to support the broad-based opposition and he has taken no options off the table with respect to how that support may be provided or what kind of support it might be. So I think we have to hope that Bashar Assad and his regime will understand the meaning of that, and the Iranians and others will understand the meaning of that.
I think that the President will keep those options available to him short of American forces on the ground. The President obviously is deeply concerned, as are all of us, about the question of chemical weapons. And we are currently doing what the President said we would do, which is making our analysis of exactly what happened, when and how, in order to be able to make judgments about what the President called a redline for him. And he has made it clear that remains a redline, and we will go forward from there in the days ahead.
FOREIGN MINISTER JUDEH: (In Arabic.) We are out of time and --
QUESTION: Thank you very much.