Remarks With Qatari Foreign Minister Khalid bin Muhammad al-Atiyah

John Kerry
Secretary of State
U.S. Chief of Mission Residence
Paris, France
September 8, 2013

SECRETARY KERRY: Thank you very much. Thank you. Thank you for your patience. I want to start by thanking the Secretary General of the Arab League, Nabil Elaraby. And I particularly want to thank my friend, the Foreign Minister of Qatar, Khalid al-Atiyah. And I want to thank all of the other Arab ministers who came to Paris and joined us today for the first follow-on discussions since the negotiations began of the formal follow-on committee for the peace initiative for the Arab League.

This is now our third meeting, actually, with respect to the peace process. And we had a meeting previously in the Middle East, we had a meeting not so long ago in Washington at which a very important statement was made by the Arab League with respect to the 1967 lines with swaps. And today, we had an opportunity to be able to dig further into the Middle East peace process.

I particularly want to thank the Government of France for hosting us here today and for making it possible for us to meet here in Paris. This, as I said, is the first meeting that we’ve been able to have since the peace negotiations began. I think there have been – I think, without getting into specific numbers, there have been a sequence of meetings that have taken place between the Palestinians and the Israelis. And this is my first opportunity today to update the Arab League committee on those negotiations.

As one member, one of the foreign ministers, said today, this meeting is almost as important as the negotiations themselves, because the Arab League and the Arab community’s support for a final status agreement is essential to the achievement of that agreement, and it is a critical component in creating momentum and energy and seriousness of purpose in these talks. Despite tough decisions that have to be made, and despite pressure that exists on both sides, where people act against the interests of the talks – because there are, obviously, those who are opposed – both the Palestinians and the Israelis have nevertheless remained steadfast and determined in their commitment to continue to talk. And they have remained steadfast in their commitment to the ultimate goal of two states for two peoples living side by side in peace and security. And throughout the process, both parties have continued to show that they believe that the formidable challenges that exist that everybody is familiar with are actually worth tackling.

I want to emphasize today – and I emphasized this to our friends – that both leaders, President Abbas and Prime Minister Netanyahu, showed a seriousness of purpose in coming to these talks. Both of them took political risks, personal political risks. Both of them stood up to forces in their own countries that were willing to say no, not enough has been given here, or not enough has been given there. They found a reason to come, despite those who were arguing that there were reasons not to.

And so this meeting today was convened to emphasize to both leaders – President Abbas, whom I will meet later today, and Prime Minister Netanyahu I will meet shortly, as our schedules permit it – that both of them decided that this was worth taking risks for. The Prime Minister of Israel wrote an open letter to all the people of Israel and took a decision regarding prisoners that was obviously unpopular with many parts of his country. Likewise, President Abbas, despite many people opposing the idea, stood up and said even though some of the things they wanted as preconditions had not been satisfied, that he was going to move forward because he thought it was important to do so.

This meeting today here in Paris was convened, as I have promised to the Arab League, that we will meet regularly in order to keep them abreast of these negotiations. One of the reasons that people attribute to a past failure of talks was the fact that many of the countries that are supportive of the Palestinians were not sufficiently kept abreast or sufficiently invested in what was being done. And I think it is critical, obviously, to try to make certain that they are part of it.

In addition, we also talked today about the economic track and the security tracks which are a very essential component of changing life for the Palestinians and beginning to build the institutional capacity and the trust necessary to be able to reach final status agreements. We all of us agree that a final status agreement is important in enhancing regional security and stability throughout the Middle East. And I think it is a very significant statement that even though there is unrest and volatility in parts of the Middle East, obviously, with transition taking place in Egypt, with the civil strife taking place in Syria, with the challenges of Iran’s nuclear program, notwithstanding all of these things and more, all of the parties, all of the support group and the principals themselves are deeply committed to proceeding in order to try to change the dynamics of the Middle East and, despite the turmoil, make peace, the concept of peace, the most important goal of all.

The United States and the Arab League have long agreed that with respect to Syria, which we did discuss today, the end of this civil war is going to require a political solution. We have repeated – and I repeat every time I stand up and talk about it – there is no military solution. And what the United States is seeking, together with others – not alone, but with others, an increasing number – what we are seeking is to enforce the standard with respect to the use of chemical weapons. We are not seeking to become engaged in or party to or take over Syria’s civil war. But as we discussed today, all of us agreed – not one dissenter – that Assad’s deplorable use of chemical weapons, which we know killed hundreds of innocent people, including at least 426 children on this occasion, this one occasion, this crosses an international global redline. And we agreed that the regime’s blatant disregard for the institutional norms that the global community has abided by for nearly a century, it is critical that those be upheld.

So today we discussed the possible and necessary measures that the international community can take to deter Assad from ever crossing that line again. And a number of countries immediately signed on to the G-20 agreement that was reached by now 12 countries on the side of the G-20 meeting, and they will make their own announcements in the next 24 hours about that.

So let me again thank the Arab League Secretary General Elaraby. I want to thank Dr. Attiya and the ministers and the representatives who came here today from Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, the Palestinian Authority, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and the UAE. And I thank them for their continued and critical engagement on the Middle East peace process and other issues, and I look forward to meeting regularly. We will have our next meeting at some point in October, probably after the middle of October, the latter part. And we’ve agreed upon that date for a follow-on meeting.

After His Excellency speaks, we’d be happy to take a couple of questions.

FOREIGN MINISTER AL-ATIYAH: Thank you, John. I’ll do this in Arabic, if we may.

(Via interpreter) In the beginning, I would like to thank my friend, His Excellency John Kerry, and the American Government, and President Obama and the American Administration for the efforts it expends with regards to peace, or the peace process in the Middle East.

On a fair basis, we have discussed today in our meeting several issues, and we heard the different views of the parties to the negotiations, with the exception of the Israeli side. Of course we listened to the Palestinian side. And we – it’s no secret that we are concerned about some issues that we believe could be an obstacle to this process. However, they can be solved, and we are working with Mr. John Kerry and the Palestinian negotiator to make sure that we overcome these obstacles. But there are several obstacles to this process, including the continuous announcement by – and also – by Israel, and also the continued killings and the attacks on Al-Aqsa Mosque. So we urge the Israeli side not to take unilateral actions if it truly has the intention to have peace.

Absence of this direction, we believe that there would be very serious obstacles. And even so, we support the efforts of our friend, Mr. John Kerry, who has moved the stagnant waters in the Middle East and – peace process, and he’s doing so in order to achieve results on a fair basis, as I mentioned, to resolve this problem.

This is what was reviewed today in the meeting. And of course, there is a statement that would be issued by the joint committee and the American side after the meeting.

With respect to Syria, we discussed the situation in Syria. Several parties believe that foreign intervention would take place today or tomorrow or anytime. The truth is war in Syria has started two and a half years ago. And foreign intervention in Syria is already present by several parties that support the Syrian regime. Therefore, we cannot really argue whether there’ll be foreign intervention or not. The Syrian people over more than three years has been demanding or asking the international community to intervene.

The killing has started more than two and a half years ago; it didn’t start on August 21st. But however, on August 21st, it developed into the use of weapons of mass destruction and the use of chemical weapons. Therefore, I don’t believe that the international community, if it really wanted to protect peace, international peace and security, can afford to stand still while an unarmed people is being attacked with these weapons. We in Qatar support the statement of the G-12 out of the G-20, and at the same time we call on all other countries to intervene to protect the Syrian people from what it’s being subjected to. This is our clear position concerning Syria. And once again, I reiterate that foreign intervention is already taking place in Egypt, and has been – in Syria, and has been for more than two and a half years. And if some friendly countries were to intervene, this would not be the beginning of such intervention.

MODERATOR: The Secretary and the Foreign Minister will take four questions. The first will be from Arshad Mohammed of Reuters.

QUESTION: Secretary Kerry, yesterday you – we understand that you urged the European Union foreign ministers to delay the implementation of their guidelines on Israel, particularly on aid to groups in the West Bank. Why is this such a big deal? My understanding is it’s not a lot of money. Why is this so important to the process? Do you think that it could actually derail the negotiations? Have the Israelis threatened to leave if this isn’t addressed?

And French President Hollande yesterday raised the possibility of going back to the Security Council to try to get authorization for action on or a strike on Syria. Do you have any openness to that possibility? In recent weeks you’ve been very clear about saying that you didn’t think anything was possible there.

And Mr. Foreign Minister, you talked about continued Israeli announcements. Did you mean announcements of additional Jewish settlements? Or perhaps I misunderstood. And what specifically is Qatar willing to do to support any U.S. or other strike on Syria? Qatar obviously took part in the Libya intervention with its own aircraft. Would you consider providing aircraft assets, bases, fuel, anything tangible and concrete to a U.S. or other action?

FOREIGN MINISTER AL-ATIYAH: (Via interpreter) Yes. In truth, yes. We are talking about settlements. What we noticed, that each time a round of negotiations is supposed to start, it’s preceded by a declaration of continued settlements or the announcement of the establishment of new settlements. And this is a source of concern for us, and directly affects the negotiations.

As for Syria and what Qatar is willing to provide, Qatar is currently studying with its friends and the United Nations what it could provide in order to protect the Syrian people.

SECRETARY KERRY: Arshad, yes, I did ask the European community if they would consider the suspension. And the reason is not at all that, no, the Israelis won’t depart from or view that as a breach of any condition of the talks. But I think it’s important that the Israeli people and the government see that coming to the talks, taking the risk of moving towards peace, is worthwhile, and that if – that there – and that even more benefit awaits a final resolution of the issues. But also, it sort of underscores that if there’s a failure to achieve a peace, bigger problems await at the same time, because there is discussion now of boycott of Israeli goods and other kinds of measures being taken because of the position held in the European community of the illegality of the settlements.

Now, because Prime Minister Netanyahu took the risk of coming to the talks, because he has paid some political price for making his decision that this was worth doing and that he would release prisoners and take steps to advance the peace process, because of that, I think it’s important for Europe to say in return, “See what this gets? This gets a change in our relationship, a change for the better. And good things await the outcome of peace.”

It’s not asking them to change the policy; it’s asking them to suspend or delay its implementation while these talks are taking place to prove that there is value to being engaged in this initiative. And I think – and this is not a one-way street. We have also taken very significant steps to say to the Palestinians, “If you engage in these talks, there are benefits that are there.” And that’s why, right now, as a result of being engaged in the talks, a major set of economic proposals are being implemented for the Palestinians unilaterally by the Israelis.

Specifically in Gaza, communications equipment for the Wataniya project are being released and moved in. Cement and building materials are now going to be moving into Gaza. The Allenby Bridge is now going to be open 24 hours a day, five days a week, and will greatly facilitate movement back and forth. Water, 8,000 cubic meters of water, are moving per day into the West Bank. Fifty-four wells, additional new wells, are going to be proceeded and authorized in the West Bank. So these are just some of the things that are being done.

So both sides – we want to have both sides see the benefit of engaging in this, because we believe that if you can arrive at a final status agreement, there’s a massive amount of benefit to both that will flow from that. The failure to arrive at it obviously carries its consequences, too.

One of the foreign ministers mentioned today that he thought that Israel should be aware that if, in fact, the Arab peace initiative is implemented so that peace is made with these 19 Arab countries, that Israel and the Arab world would benefit economically as never before, and would become far more economically powerful and wealthy as a consequence of those actions.

So I would like to even ask – I think it would be important to have His Excellency, the Foreign Minister, say a word about this economic potential and the upside of peace, because I think it’s an important part of this. But let me just answer quickly on the Hollande – President Hollande’s comments with respect to the UN.

The President and all of us are listening carefully to all of our friends. No decision has been made by the President. We will obviously take this under advisement, and I’m sure – and the President will make his decision at the appropriate period of time. But I would like His Excellency to maybe say a word about the upside of peace and the way the Arab world views that potential of the economic benefit.

FOREIGN MINISTER AL-ATIYAH: (Via interpreter) Thank you, John. All Arab countries in reality, support the idea of developing the economy in Palestine, whether in the West Bank or Gaza. We in Qatar, for example, are currently supporting several development projects in Gaza, and we also have projects in the West Bank. And in spite of that, we are studying how to support economic packages in Palestine, to support the Palestinian brothers so that they can achieve sustainable development for their future projects. And I believe that if we manage to achieve fair solution to this problem, the sooner we will be able to move the economic conditions in Palestine.

MODERATOR: The next question will come from Elise Labott of CNN.

QUESTION: Thank you. This question is for the both of you. Do you – Secretary Kerry, you said that despite the turmoil in the region, the parties are committed, but do you think that the crisis in Egypt, the crisis in Syria can hurt efforts to make peace, distract the parties, or can it actually help? On that note, you met with the Egyptian Foreign Minister this morning. Did he give you any assurances that democracy would be restored, or is it inevitable there would be a cut in aid to Egypt?

And lastly, on Syria, you’ve been showing members of Congress these very disturbing videos about the situation on the ground after the chemical weapons attack. Now that’s on the Senate Intel Committee website. It doesn’t seem, though, that the issue is that people doubt that this took place, or even that the regime is responsible. There does seem to be a growing acceptance of that. It just seems that there’s a lack of will in the U.S. Congress. Certainly the American people are against it. It just seems that they don’t want to do anything, even though they know this happened. So what do you hope to achieve by these videos? Thank you.

SECRETARY KERRY: I had a very good meeting with Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmy, and of course we discussed the road ahead for Egypt. He assured me and demonstrated a specific schedule by which Egypt is moving towards its democracy. They have succeeded in the first step with respect to the constitutional process, and they are now moving on a schedule with a larger committee with a deadline somewhere towards the end of the fall – I think it’s around November, December – where that committee will fully embrace and report its democratic – its constitutional process. And then an election will be called and announced – the date is pretty firm – and within a month of the parliament being chosen, there will be a presidential election. That is the roadmap that he laid out to me. And they assure us that they are on track and are determined to live up to that roadmap.

In addition, the Foreign Minister indicated they remain totally and wholly committed to the Middle East peace process. They are committed to the Sinai security issues and the ceasefire with respect to Gaza, and want to be a constructive force in helping provide for that peace process. So we had a very – we discussed, obviously, all of the issues with respect to the Brotherhood, the politics, the inclusivity, the need to reach out and have a political process. They are discussing that now, and he assured me that he is making the argument for moving forward in that direction, and obviously, the next days will be measured and will be important to that.

With respect to the videos and the Congress, as a veteran of the congressional process, I’d just say to you that all of these early prognostications about how tough it is, or defeat here or whatever, I think are just that. They’re early and they’re not completely accurate. The vast majority of members of Congress, House and Senate, are undecided. And that’s why the videos are being shown and why the briefings are taking place. That’s why I will go back tomorrow and join in a briefing of the entire branch on one side, and then on the next day, we will brief the other side, and I assume the President will also be communicating with the Congress and with the American people.

And the reason for this is to make sure everybody understands what is at stake. Those videos make it clear that this is not something abstract. This is not something just reported in the news which you can discard and say it doesn’t matter what’s happening over there. Those videos make it clear to people that these are real human beings, real children, parents being affected in ways that are unacceptable to anybody anywhere by any standards, and that it is the United States of America that has always stood with others to say we will not allow this; this is not our values, this is not who we are. And that is why this is important for people to see the connect to this.

Those weapons were outlawed in 1925 after Europe learned firsthand, in the horrors of World War I, how horrendous and completely against all sense of decency – and I know it’s hard to draw lines. People say, well, what about artillery and isn’t somebody dying from an artillery blast the same as dying from this? Well, the answer is the world decided no, because an artillery blast is aimed, and while it may have collateral damage, it is supposed to be aimed at enemy combatants. Gas is indiscriminate. It goes wherever the wind takes it, and the death that comes with it is a death that many people decided was too horrendous to describe.

Those videos are for people to measure for themselves, whether we want to unleash these weapons to be used by a dictator with impunity against his own people, but even worse, to potentially fall into the hands of terrible actors to potentially become used weapons on a daily basis by anybody anywhere because we didn’t stand up and stand for what we arrived at nearly a hundred years ago. And that’s what’s at stake here.

So I don’t think this case has yet been made enough to enough people, and that’s exactly why the videos are posted, and I’m glad that they are.

MODERATOR: The next question will come from Hussein – I think you can hear me – Hussein Fayad from Al Arabiya.

QUESTION: (Inaudible), what are the other countries which are ready today to back a military action, the potential military action, of the U.S. in Syria? And what kind of support they can provide you with?

A last question about your meeting with Prince Saud al-Faisal today: What was the result of this meeting regarding the Saudi Arabia position regarding the strike in Syria? Thank you.

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, Saud al-Faisal and Saudi Arabia have signed on to the G-20 side agreement – the now G-12, actually more than – well, G-12 – and they have supported the strike and they support taking action. They believe that it’s very important to do that. We had a very good meeting. We discussed, obviously, the Middle East peace initiative, their role in that, and we also discussed other issues in the region.

I am not going to name the other countries simply because we agreed in the meeting that they would go back and make their own announcements, which they will do within the next 24 hours. So we need to leave people the freedom to consult, and also, some of the other countries that weren’t certain whether they could but might have wanted to, wanted to go home and consult with their leaders in order to get decisions. But everybody understood that the decisions need to be made within the next 24 hours.

MODERATOR: The final question will be from Harold Hyman of BFM-TV.

QUESTION: (Via interpreter) Mr. Secretary, a question in French. Yesterday, you talked about Munich. You wouldn’t feel like Chamberlain (inaudible) did, because somebody could say, well, there would be no Munich.

This is one thing, one question. Now, concern, action on strikes against Syria – is there a difference between symbolic strikes and strategic strikes against Syria?

SECRETARY KERRY: What Munich represented was a moment of misinterpretation, at best, about what happens if you take people’s word for something and there isn’t an enforceability or a true prevention of actions that people believe will happen under certain circumstances. It is clear that if we don’t take action, the message to Hezbollah, Iran, Assad will be that nobody cares that you broke this hundred-year-old – nearly hundred-year-old standard, and you’re using weapons that have been banned by 189 nations. If the world turns its back on a threat that is clear, which is the linkage to a Munich or other examples, then the action that comes afterwards will hold everybody culpable for having walked away from that.

President Bill Clinton, in great candor, has written and said many times that his greatest regret of his eight years of presidency was that he didn’t go into Rwanda and stop what happened in Rwanda. And I think we all know that there are these moments where if people don’t make the right decision, terrible things can happen. I have cited on several occasions a ship filled with Jewish refugees who were trying to escape what was happening in Europe in World War II came to the shores of the United States and that ship was turned away and it went back because it had nowhere else to go. And the people who were on that ship lost their lives in the war.

That’s what we’re talking about here. This is not fantasyland. This is not some sort of conjecture. Bashar al-Assad has used chemical weapons at least 11 times or so, according to our best judgments, with clarity now in this evidence we have presented to the world on August 21st. He has one of the largest stocks of chemical weapons in the world. And at the moment, he has no intention of really negotiating. So it is certain that if he’s threatened, he will use them again. I, as a leader, President Obama as the President of the United States, and Senator – not Senator – Secretary Chuck Hagel and all of us involved in this, my friend the Foreign Minister from Qatar and others, are unwilling to live with the conscious decision of saying we’re going to turn our backs on that, we’re not going to stop that from happening, we’re not going to do what’s necessary to make it clear to this dictator that he will be held accountable and cannot use those weapons with impunity. And the risks of not acting are, in our judgment, much greater than the risks of acting. And that’s why I say this moment is important.

PRN: 2013/T13-05