Remarks With German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle After Their Meeting
Secretary of State
The video is also available with closed captioning on YouTube.
I particularly want to thank Guido for a friendship that has grown and a wonderful working relationship. We have met both in the meeting of our minds as well I think as physically in terms of being in the same place at a number of meetings now, working hard on critical issues to both of our countries and to our regions.
First of all, Germany has been just a superb partner, and we are grateful to the German people for being hosts for many, many years to the largest American presence of troops in any country. And that has been a very strong source of partnership not just with respect to NATO, but also with respect to other interests that we have in Middle East peace, in Afghanistan, and so forth.
On Afghanistan, Germany has showed important leadership. They’ve stepped up with respect to the number of troops that will stay and be there after 2014. They’ve taken a leadership position on that. They’ve been very, very important with respect to their role in the northern part of Afghanistan, where they’ve played a leadership role. And I think also the Foreign Minister showed leadership in hosting the International Contact Group’s meeting May 14th in Berlin, which has helped to cement the plans going forward after 2014 and as we prepare for the NATO ministerial on the defense side shortly here in June.
On Syria, Germany has been right there with us each step of the way, helping to try to move the parties towards a peaceful resolution. And Guido and I just talked about the importance of a peaceful resolution. We are both committed to working with the Russians and with others in order to try to bring the parties together in Geneva to implement Geneva I, which is a formula for a transition government by mutual consent with full executive authority. That’s what the Russians say they are committed to. That’s what we are committed to. And that is a beginning place to start to try to work towards a peaceful resolution.
Both Germany and the United States also are deeply committed to working towards peace in the Middle East, and Foreign Minister Westerwelle has just come back from the Middle East. He’s had conversations on both sides of that issue, and he has reiterated to me here today Germany’s willingness to be a key partner, whether it’s on the economic side or the political side, to help to move this process forward. That is assistance that we welcome very, very much – very important to us. Our European partners will be essential to any kind of a negotiation and ultimately to any kind of final solution, final settlement with respect to that issue.
And in addition to that, as if those issues aren’t enough, the Iranian nuclear question remains critical to all of us. We will continue to consult and to work very closely with Germany and all of our P5+1 partners on the next steps that are based on our dual-track approach.
And lastly, while we are all working together to address the challenges around the world, we are also focused on our own countries’ economies and on the need to build for the future. Critical to that effort of building towards the future is the TTIP, and that is the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, is a critical step that can add to the already 13 million jobs between our countries, between Germany and the United States, that are created by our businesses today. We believe we can grow that. We are convinced that also the TTIP is a very important transformational agreement that can have an impact on global trade standards and raise those standards to a higher level which benefits everybody in the long run.
So again, I’m really honored to have Guido Westerwelle here as a partner in all of these initiatives. I thank him for his and for Germany’s tremendous cooperation with us.
Thank you for being with us today, Guido.
FOREIGN MINISTER WESTERWELLE: Thank you so much. Ladies and gentlemen, dear John, I am very grateful for the hospitality. It’s so good to be back again, and I would also like to thank you for your leadership and for your personal friendship. I want to say that the transatlantic partnership between United States and Germany is a cornerstone of the German foreign policy.
The United States and Germany, we share common values and pursue common interests in a rapidly changing global environment, and I can only agree to what John Kerry just said: We want to strengthen this partnership even further. We believe the time is ripe for a transatlantic free trade area, an ambitious transatlantic trade and investment partnership open up huge opportunities for growth and jobs on both sides on the Atlantic without further debt. We have to grasp these opportunities. In this age of globalization, a transatlantic single market would be a strong political signal asserting our way of life and the unique cultural community that we share.
Of course, we have discussed international issues as well. I would like to express my full support for the important initiative for an international conference on Syria. For a lasting solution to the conflict in Syria, we need a sustainable political process. We urge the regime in Damascus to finally stop the violence and come to the negotiation table. We also call upon the opposition to unite and to participate in the planned conference.
We are concerned about the latest reports and news about delivery of weapons to the regime of Assad. I would like to make this absolutely clear: We tell our Russian colleagues, “Don’t endanger the conference in Geneva.” The delivery of weapons to the Assad regime is totally wrong.
We also would like to support the important initiative launched by the United States to restart the Middle East peace process between Israel and the Palestinians. I could tell and exchange a bit what we saw on the occasion of my last visit in the region, and I think we share the same idea, we share the same goal that a restart of the Middle East peace process between Israel and the Palestinians is necessary. Facing the fragile situation in the region, a new impetus and direct talks are of utmost importance.
So once again, it was an excellent and very constructive discussion. We have a very close political partnership, which shows us that we are really in the same community of values, and this is what counts. And I would like to say this to our American media here: We are looking forward for the visit of President Obama coming to Berlin. We are looking forward and he is very welcome, and this is an excellent opportunity to strengthen our partnership and our friendship. We are grateful and we are looking forward for a wonderful and successful visit in Berlin and in Germany. Thank you.
SECRETARY KERRY: Thanks, Guido. Thank you very much.
MS. PSAKI: The first question will be from Dana Hughes of ABC News.
QUESTION: Thank you for taking my question, Mr. Secretary. My first question is: What are the consequences if the opposition refuses to come to the table and participate in Geneva II? And conversely, have you spoken to your Russian colleagues about the consequences of the delivery of the S-300s?
I’d also like to know: What are you trying to do to temper tensions between Israel and Syria, particularly given Hezbollah’s increased involvement in the conflict?
And finally, you recently said that there’s a problem with an influx of foreign fighters in Syria, including Americans. Do you have any comments on the reports of the American woman who was killed allegedly fighting for the Syrian opposition? And how many Americans are there fighting in Syria? Thank you.
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, let me begin with question number one of the six. No, I’m joking. (Laughter.)
I’m not going to discuss consequences with respect to the opposition not coming, because I’m convinced the opposition is going to come. And I understand their passionate anger and frustration with the massacre that has been taking place on the ground coming from Hezbollah that has crossed a border from Lebanon and entered into another country and from Iranian forces that are on the ground. So they have changed the complexion of this in a very significant way and in a very dangerous way.
With respect to the opposition, they have achieved a very significant milestone yesterday in Istanbul where they have expanded the base of the opposition by 46 people. Frankly, going into it, we didn’t expect that they might necessarily reach that large an expansion. It is more broadly representative of the base of Syria with grassroots representation, with representation from General Idris and the SMC. So we believe that that is step one moving forward.
Now, in a few weeks – and you can understand why – they need to fill those slots and have a convention, if you will, of their new broader base. They will choose new leadership, and that’s an important next step. And I am convinced that, based on the conversations that I’ve had as recently as yesterday with eight or nine fellow foreign ministers, all of whom are part of the core support group, and that includes critical ones – Turkey, Qatar, Emiratis, Jordan, Saudis, et cetera – they’re all unanimous that it is vital for the group to come and negotiate. They are all supportive of the Geneva process. Please don’t lose sight of that.
Guido was present at the Amman meeting and the Istanbul meetings, and he knows that everybody believes the best solution to the crisis of Syria is a political solution. And the formula for that political solution is already clear. It was set in Geneva I. Everyone has agreed that Geneva I is the basis, the fundamental organizing principle, of Geneva II. It is to implement Geneva I, which calls for a transition government with full executive authority by mutual consent. That means both sides have to agree to who it is would provide that transition government, and obviously, that doesn’t include President Assad by definition, because the opposition will never agree to that.
So if everybody’s serious – and we are and the Russians have said they are – the best chance to save Syria, the best chance to be able to protect minorities and stop the killing, the best chance for a future Syria that represents all of the Syrian people and moves beyond this massacre, devastation, killing, sectarian violence, the best chance is through a peaceful resolution that comes about in an organized way. In Geneva, we will test who is serious. Are the Russians serious about pushing for that? I believe they are. President Putin said they are, Sergey Lavrov has said it, and they are trying to organize it.
Now, it is not helpful to have the S-300 transferred to the region while you are trying to organize this peace and create peace. It is not helpful to have a lot of other ammunition and other supplies overtly going in not just from the Russians – and they are supplying that kind of thing – but also from the Iranians and Hezbollah. The Iranians have said they welcome this conference. Well, if they do, they need to show it in other ways than sending their forces across the border, being the only nation in the world to have their fighters on the ground in an organized, state-supported way. Are there foreign fighters from elsewhere? Yes. But we don’t have control over that, and we’re not attracting them because they represent, for the most part, radical extreme elements that we don’t want to have there.
Now, with respect to any American – on foreign fighters, there are variances in the estimates. The total numbers may be somewhere between 1,500, 2,000, somewhere. It’s hard to get a peg on the exact number. Obviously, far, far, far fewer than the 80- to 100,000-plus opposition personnel fighters and the size of the Syrian military itself, which ranges around 350,000. With respect to Americans who may have chosen to be on one side or another, we don’t have precise information. I can’t comment precisely. I know there were reports today of this American woman who allegedly was killed fighting for the opposition. We don’t have the – I don’t have the details as I stand here now. So we’d have to follow up with you on that.
MS. PSAKI: The next question will be from Mirodrag Soric from Deutsche Welle.
QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, Mr. Westerwelle, thank you for giving me the opportunity to ask you the question. German media – and those questions are to both of you – German media are reporting that there is an American drone program operating out of Germany. So is there any American drone program operating out of Germany? And you have just spoken, Mr. Secretary, about Russia and that they are arming Assad. So on the one hand side, Russia is supporting, as you say, the peace conference; on the other side, they’re giving the very best weapons to Assad. So I’m not sure whether – how much is, from your perspective, is really Russia supporting the policy from the West.
And the last question would be: We are facing – and you mentioned that both of the elections in Iran and – what do you think this – if Iran is going to continue after the 14th of June its nuclear program, don’t you see that Israel is not going to accept that and that Israel might attack Iran and --
SECRETARY KERRY: If Iran is what? I didn’t hear the first part.
QUESTION: Israel then is going to attack Iran, that --
SECRETARY KERRY: In what event? I missed the --
QUESTION: Well, if, after the 14th of June --
SECRETARY KERRY: Yeah.
QUESTION: -- Iran is not going to change its policy, its nuclear policy, and that Israel might then say, well, enough is enough and we will attack Iran and after – and America, of course, has to support Israel, and then the whole West will get involved into that.
SECRETARY KERRY: Okay?
QUESTION: Thank you.
SECRETARY KERRY: With respect to the question on the drone program, I’m not going to discuss any specific counterterrorism operations. We don’t do that. But let me just reiterate about U.S. drone policy, because it’s an important question. And the President spoke purposefully at great length about it last week. He laid out the policy and the legal rationale for exactly how the United States takes direct action against al-Qaida and its associated forces in a number of different ways, including with drone strikes.
Now, despite our first preference for detention and prosecution of terrorists – that’s our first preference – sometimes, lethal action is necessary in order to protect U.S. lives. And we are convinced of the legality as well as the soundness of the basis for making that determination. The President discussed why the use of drone strikes is necessary, legal, and just, while addressing the various issues that are raised by direct action.
Now, clearly, our actions are effective because dozens of highly-trained, skilled al-Qaida commanders, trainers, bomb-makers and operatives have been taken off the battlefield. And the fact is that plots have been disrupted before they were able to be carried out, and they would have targeted international aviation, U.S. transit systems, European cities, and our troops in Afghanistan. And those strikes have saved lives.
So our actions are legal. We were attacked on 9/11. Within a week, the United States Congress overwhelmingly authorized the use of force. Under domestic law and international law, the United States is at war with al-Qaida and the Taliban and their associated forces. And so this is a just effort and it is a war that is waged proportionately, and in the last resort, it is in self-defense.
Now, let me emphasize, when I first came in here, I reviewed this policy personally because I was concerned as a Secretary of State about the conditions by which it is conducted. And I must say to you, I was personally impressed by the level of detail, the length of time, the amazing amount of input, the extreme caution taken with respect to any decisions to employ any kind of lethality. And I think the President has done everyone a service by speaking to it in a very detailed and direct way.
With respect to Russia’s support, let me just say very quickly – I said it earlier – Russia, in the conversations we’ve had and its willingness to say they have embraced the notion that the goal of Geneva II is to implement Geneva I. That means they are supporting a transition government. We will learn very quickly whether or not they and others are acting in good faith in an effort to provide legitimate names that might be acceptable to both sides who could provide that transitional government. And if they’re not, the world will know it.
Meanwhile, we ask them, again, not to upset the balance within the region with respect to Israel and the weaponry that is being provided to Assad, whether it’s an old contract or not. It has a profoundly negative impact on the balance of interests and the stability of the region, and it does put Israel at risk. And it is not, in our judgment, responsible because of the size of the weapon, the nature of the weapon and what it does to the region in terms of Israel’s security. So we hope that they will refrain from that in the interests of making this peace process work.
One other comment: I have said before, and I will repeat again, there is a very serious issue on the table with respect to the use of chemical weapons. And the President has made it clear that that is a redline for him. And we are doing our due diligence, as we should do given past experience, to make certain that the intelligence is correct, that the evidence is real, and then make judgments that are appropriate. But it’s very, very clear that that chemical weaponry is unacceptable if used, and those are judgments that await the President to make in the next days.
MS. PSAKI: Thank you, everyone.
SECRETARY KERRY: Thank you.
FOREIGN MINISTER WESTERWELLE: I would like to answer the question which was addressed to me. First of all, of course, we are aware about the reports of the German media. I do not have any information that this allegation would be correct. I trust our American partners to respect international law as a matter of course.
About the question about Syria, about the weapons, I would like to say it is very important that this Geneva II conference gets a realistic chance. And therefore, we ask and we urge everyone not to spoil this conference. Both parties have to participate, and everyone in the international community should understand how important this conference is. And this is perhaps the window of opportunity; no one knows if this conference will become a success. But I think it is the wrong message which has been sent by our colleagues in Russia to the world and to the region, by delivering S-300 or other parts of weapons. We made this absolutely clear in our conversation in our last meeting with the Russian Foreign Minister, and I think we agree 100 percent in that.
About Iran, I would like to say – and one – I have to add one point. This night, the weapons embargo of the European Union will end. This does not mean that we deliver, or someone would like to deliver, in the next days or weeks, weapons to Syria. That’s a completely different story. I just have to make this clear. So we know that it is important to work on the success of this Geneva II conference, and not one single country in the European Union announced at this stage the delivery of weapons, because we want to give this Geneva II conference a realistic chance that it can become a success.
About Iran, I would like to answer this question, because I think it’s crystal clear for all of us: Nuclear arms in the hands of the Iranian regime is not an option for the federal government of Germany, and I think for our partners worldwide. And we want to revitalize and restart the P – the 5+1 talks. We call them in Europe E-3+3 talks. We want to give these 5+1 talks a chance. We want to focus our efforts on the political and diplomatic solution. That’s absolutely obvious. But just talks for the sake of talks, that’s not what we are seeking for. We want to have tangible results.
SECRETARY KERRY: If I can – I didn’t answer that part of the question. I apologize to you, and I’ll just do it very quickly because I need to run.
I do not have high expectations that the election is going to change the fundamental calculus of Iran. This is not a portfolio that is in the hands of a new president or the President; it’s in the hands of the Supreme Leader. And the Supreme Leader ultimately will make that decision, I believe. So we will continue to pursue, as Guido said, every effort to have a peaceful resolution, but Iran needs to understand that the clock is ticking. I’ve said this before. Every month it goes by gets more dangerous. And the reality is that Israel will do what it needs to do to defend itself.
But the United States of America and others, including Russia and China and the global community, have already spoken that it is unacceptable for Iran to unilaterally or in any other way to have a nuclear weapon. So this remains, regrettably, a point of serious contention and of potential danger. And we asked the Iranians – they can have – everybody has said they can have a peaceful nuclear program – peaceful nuclear program. Other nations prove easily that their programs, where they have them, are peaceful. All Iran has to do is join the international community, meet the standards of the international community, and change life for Iranians and for everybody in the region.
This is their choice, unfortunately not ours. But we will continue to pursue a resolution, and one way or the other, the President has made it clear they will not have a nuclear weapon.
Thank you all very much.
FOREIGN MINISTER WESTERWELLE: Thank you.
SECRETARY KERRY: Thank you.
FOREIGN MINISTER WESTERWELLE: Thank you.