Remarks With French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius and U.K. Foreign Secretary William Hague

John Kerry
Secretary of State
Quai d'Orsay
Paris, France
September 16, 2013

The video is also available with closed captioning on YouTube.

FOREIGN MINISTER FABIUS: (Via interpreter) (In progress) discuss the situation in Syria as well as the decisions to be taken over the next few days. And further to that meeting at the Elysee Palace, we held the first working meeting with my two colleagues. And we will be meeting in a minute after this press conference our colleague, the Mr. Davutoglu, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Turkey, and we will also consider with him what should be done.

The purpose of that meeting is twofold: First of all, it is about preparing for the concrete and fast implementation of the agreement on eliminating the chemical weapons (inaudible) that was found in Geneva. It is also about reviving the political process, which is the only way to put an end to the tragedy that’s been affecting Syria for two and a half years now. As I’ve said before, the Geneva agreement is a major step forward.

Since the chemical massacre that took place on the 21st of August, our position has been clear and constant, and I summarized it by saying it was about sanctioning and deterring. This kind of firmness which is ours, the countries represented here, has been fruitful. The Syrian regime has no alternative but to commit to eliminating these chemical weapons. And let me remind you that only a couple of days ago, the regime was denying the existence of these very same weapons, weapons that will be – the report to be published by the inspectors of the United Nations later on today will probably confirm that these weapons were used on the 21st of August. But what matters is that this agreement can be quickly implemented in order to eliminate once and for all the threat of a chemical attack by the Syrian regime against its own population and its neighbors. So we want very quickly to undertake some concrete and verifiable actions, and keep in mind that all the options remain on the table if these statements were not followed by concrete actions on the field.

So this is the reason why the P-3 – France, the United States, and the United Kingdom – want to obtain from the Security Council of the United Nations over the coming days a strong resolution, a resolution that will support the plan for chemical disarmament with all the authority of the Council. And there will be serious consequences provided in the resolution if the plan was not to be implemented. And the resolution shall also say that those responsible for the massacre of the 21st of August will be clearly held accountable if their responsibility is proven. So we will be working on that in order to agree on the wording within the P-3 and then at the level of the Security Council.

Ladies and gentlemen, the chemical weapons are only one aspect, the horrific – the particularly horrific aspect of the Syrian tragedy. It is only one of the means used by the regime in order to repress its people and to do so in blood. Fighting continues, and we know there is no military solution to that conflict. The solution is political.

In Geneva, some 18 months ago, we agreed upon a number of clear principles in order to organize the political transition in Syria, to organize in particular – that was what was agreed upon – the transfer of all executive powers, including control over the army and the security services to a transition authority. But so far, the regime in (inaudible) did not want to implement that agreement. And as Bashar al-Assad said recently, he preferred to eradicate the opposition. So we have to make sure that he understands that there is no alternative to the table of negotiations.

We will continue our efforts over the coming days in order to build a political solution and work together with all the countries that support the principles agreed upon in Geneva. We know that in order to negotiate a political solution, we need a stronger position. We therefore intend to strengthen our support to the Syrian National Coalition. And in that spirit, in New York, on the occasion of the General Assembly of the UN, the major international event will be organized around the Syrian National Coalition.

Ladies and gentlemen, these are the decisions and the mindset which are ours. I will leave the floor to my two colleagues and friends, but before that, let me insist upon the fact that, as we said yesterday, it is decisive that today and tomorrow, the three countries represented here stand united.



Good morning. Thank you, Laurent. I’m pleased to be here with my colleagues where, as you will have gathered, as you’ve heard from Laurent Fabius, we’ve been discussing urgent steps to implement the U.S.-Russia agreement on the destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons. And I pay tribute to Secretary Kerry for the work that he has done with Foreign Minister Lavrov on this. We are in close accord about this as allies, including about the part that the credible threat of military force has played in bringing about this opening, this new possibility. And our first priority is to secure prompt action at the United Nations Security Council that enshrines in a Security Council resolution the Syrian regime’s responsibility to hand over its chemical weapons stocks. A resolution, in our view, should create a binding commitment for the regime to give up its chemical weapons within a specific timeframe and to credibly, reliably, and promptly place them under international control for destruction.

It is the Assad regime that has stockpiled these weapons and that has used them repeatedly against the Syrian people. So the pressure is on them to comply with this agreement in full. The world must be prepared to hold them to account if they don’t, and our three countries are certainly determined to do so. We’ve agreed on the vital importance of accountability for those responsible for using chemical weapons in Syria, and we’ll consult in the future about how that can be achieved in the light of the UN inspectors’ report in New York later today.

And third, we’re determined to do everything we can, as you have heard, to stop the bloodshed in Syria, to support the moderate opposition, and to alleviate humanitarian suffering. Our goal remains to convene a second Geneva conference to bring all sides together to agree a political solution to the conflict, and we will work with Russia on bringing that about as soon as possible. In that regard, I welcome the National Coalition’s decision to appoint an interim Prime Minister, Ahmad Toameh. There can be no peaceful settlement in Syria without the legitimate Syrian opposition.

So the task ahead is very difficult and complex, but our three countries are united and determined to use our full weight as permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, and as each other’s close allies, to implement the agreement on Syria’s chemical weapons, to maintain the pressure on the Assad regime, and to bring about a peaceful end to this appalling conflict.

Thank you.

SECRETARY KERRY: Thank you Laurent. I would like to thank President Hollande and Foreign Minister Fabius for their extraordinarily warm hospitality. We’re very grateful to the President of France for his welcome here today and grateful to our colleague, Laurent Fabius, for his leadership and for his welcome back to Paris so soon, but for very important discussion with an important turn of events since I was last here.

A week ago, the Syrian regime did not admit that it even had chemical weapons. Today, that regime has agreed, at least through the Russians and in some statements publicly, to rid itself of those weapons, to be accountable to the world and its standards, and to sign up to the Chemical Weapons Convention.

Cleary, nothing can be accepted at face value or in words alone, and that is why our meeting and the efforts of the international community to go to the United Nations in these next days is so critical. It is significant that three permanent members of the United Nations Security Council are standing here together – three partners – all joined in unity of purpose and of understanding of what needs to be done, and I want to thank Foreign Minister Fabius and Foreign Secretary Hague for their constant collaboration in these last days as we have worked towards this unique initiative to secure Syria’s chemical weapons. And I know that I speak for President Obama when I say we are very grateful in the United States to have such able and willing partners.

As I said in Jerusalem yesterday, we’re now moving to translate into a broader international effort what was achieved in Geneva with the cooperation of the Russians, with the efforts of President Putin and Foreign Minister Lavrov. But each of us here today are here to emphasize the same thing: that what we achieve in this agreement, as we translate Geneva agreement into a United Nations resolution, has to be strong, and it has to be forceful, it has to be real, it has to be accountable, it has to be transparent, it has to be timely. All of those things are critical and it has to be enforced. If the Assad regime believes that this is not enforceable and that we are not serious, they will play games. And we know that even the UN inspectors, who were there recently, had difficulties getting access in some places. That is why in Geneva, the Russians agreed with us that there should be unfettered, unrestricted access to sites in order to make certain we do this as rapidly as is possible.

What we’re talking about here is a effective action, and every one of us understands that our standing here today and the announcement we waited to make in Geneva will not have meaning until this is ratified at the United Nations in the strongest, most forceful terms possible, and until it is implemented and complied with by the Assad regime. So that’s why we have insisted on this unique, very special structure of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons through the Convention on Chemical Weapons to be able to move as rapidly as is necessary.

I can speak for all of us here, and I think for our presidents and prime minister, we will not tolerate avoidance or anything less than full compliance by the Assad regime to the core principles of what has been achieved here. If Assad fails to comply with the terms of this framework, make no mistake, we are all agreed – and that includes Russia – that there will be consequences. The framework fully commits the United States and Russia to impose measures under Chapter 7 of the UN Charter in the event of noncompliance. And President Obama – and I have repeated his statement – has warned that should diplomacy fail, the military option is still on the table.

So we also want to emphasize something else of great importance here. Removal of the chemical weapons takes away from Assad one of the tools that he has been using against the opposition, against the people of his country, to subjugate, oppress their aspirations for freedom and for opportunity and for a role in the governance of their country. That will be taken away from them and that will, therefore, make the opposition safer.

But nothing in what we have done is meant to offer any notion to Assad that there’s some legitimacy to his process, that he has some extended period as a leader, so-called. We make it clear that Assad has lost all legitimacy to be possible to govern this country, and we remain committed to the opposition and committed to the Geneva process which calls for a transition government with full executive authority by mutual consent of the parties that will lay out the structure for the new Syria. That’s our end strategic goal here, and all of us remain committed to that goal and committed to ending the violence as soon as possible.

We understand that removing the chemical weapons still leaves him with artillery and airplanes and he uses them indiscriminately against his people, and we are going to do everything in our power to continue to push towards the political resolution that is so critical to ending that violence. And we will all be in New York. We will be working with our colleagues there. We will meet with Lakhdar Brahimi on the margins of the United Nations General Assembly meetings, and we will do everything in our power to help the people of Syria to get out from under this chaos and violence that is creating such a human catastrophe for all of us not only to witness but to have to deal with.

Thank you, Laurent.

FOREIGN MINISTER FABIUS: (Via interpreter) Thank you, John. We shall be taking two questions for each of us, if you would agree.

Sir, please. Please wait until you have a microphone.

QUESTION: (In French.) Secretary Kerry, you spoke about a strategic goal. That’s quite interesting. In your strategy, are you thinking of the Christians of Syria and Lebanon? The result – one of the main results, unfortunately, of seven years of American and English occupation of Iraq is the decimation and exile of most Christians in Iraq. Do you – we all remember Mr. Kissinger thinking of transporting in ’75 the Christians of Lebanon to Canada. Do you have a plan, a strategic goal how to protect the Christians in Syria? There is two bishops of Aleppo who were kidnapped today. Maaloula, an all-Christian city without any strategic interest, has been invaded by Islamist rebels. They killed people and they looted the churches. Do you have a plan, a strategic plan, for the Christians in Syria?

SECRETARY KERRY: The answer is yes, but I don’t agree with your premise that the Christian – what has happened to the Christians is the consequence of what happened by the events in Iraq. And making clear there are lots of problems as a consequence of the war in Iraq and we understand that, and many of them negative, but that is, I do not believe, one of the direct roles.

What we have is with a rise of radical Islam and religious extremism and ideological extremism in many parts of not just that region but elsewhere in the world there is an effort to impose a unity of belief on people – Taliban, Afghanistan, many other places – where there is not room for what we share as a matter of common values is tolerance and acceptance of people of different faiths and different beliefs and many other things. Regrettably, it is not just the Christians who have been impacted. It is the Druze, it is the Ismaili, it is all of the minorities. And the irony is the Alawi themselves are a minority doing this to these other people for control, for Assad’s control.

So the fact is that the vision of Geneva 1 is a transition to a government that will embrace all of these minorities and protect all of these minorities and allow for a new Syria that is diverse and secular and creates a governance process that will protect all of the minorities as well as establish rights by which people will know they can live and participate in the governance of their country. That’s the new Syria. And the opposition has put out a very clear set of declarations and principles – which they did, I believe, in Amman as well as in Ankara, as well as in Istanbul – that make clear their commitment to this embrace of tolerance, diversity, protection of minorities, and full declaration of rights. So that’s the distinction here. And I hate to say it; it’s not just in Syria, but it’s in parts of the Maghreb, in the Sahel, in Mali, elsewhere, that we see this struggle between this extremist religious advance against modernity and pluralism and the values that we hold dear. It’s our hope that we can prove to people in a new Syria, that people could live alongside each other and that there are a different set of principles by which the world can organize itself. And we’ve been fighting on these kinds of things for a long period of time. Doesn’t make them any less valuable today.

QUESTION: (In French.)

FOREIGN MINISTER FABIUS: Merci, (inaudible).

QUESTION: Question for the three of you. It seems that Russian President Putin and Mr. Lavrov, his Secretary of Foreign Affairs, already reluctant to any use of force in case the agreement is not respected by Bashar al-Assad. So aren’t we already going to a kind of veto by the Russians and the Chinese at the UN Security Council?

FOREIGN SECRETARY HAGUE: (Via interpreter) Well, let me answer in French and then in question ask in English. We explained the circumstances in which all of that should be undertaken. There is an agreement that is a very major step, an agreement which – in Geneva, and we shall build, thank, and congratulate John Kerry for the work he has done together with them and Sergey Lavrov.

Now all of that has to be turned into a resolution on the Security Council. We’ve been working on it already and later on today we’ll be getting access to the report by the inspectors of the UN. It will provide some more information regarding the massacre on the 21st of August. Then we’ll again discuss that within the P-3 and with our other colleagues afterwards and we’ll put a resolution – we’ll table a resolution. That resolution will cover, once again, what’s been agreed upon in Geneva so that it is turned into international law – positive law. And obviously, as it was said in Geneva, this resolution will provide what should happen in case the Syrian would not comply with the commitments.

In any resolution, you should have sanctions. You should have a concrete – some concrete measures and this is the spirit in which we’re working.

QUESTION: (Via interpreter) Mr. Minister, Secretary Kerry.

I would mention in this resolution that is not completely written --

(Via interpreter) Will you mention Chapter 7 in the resolution, in the event there will be noncompliance by the Assad regime with their commitments?

Mr. Kerry, Minister Fabius, do you trust Vladimir Putin for complying with this agreement?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, it’s not a matter of confidence. It’s a matter of verifying them. It’s a matter of specificity in what we do in this resolution and in the enforcement of the resolution. As I said in Geneva, there was an old saying from Gorbachev and President Reagan of “Trust but verify.” We’re talking about verify and verify; it’s not a matter of trust. So we’re going to work hard to have a resolution that is as strong and forceful as possible.

Now, Russia did agree in Geneva that Chapter 7 is mentioned specifically as the route for compliance if there is noncompliance or any use of chemical weapons by anyone in Syria. Under both of those circumstances, use of weapons or noncompliance, you’re already automatically at Chapter 7 according to the agreement we came out of Geneva with. So that mention is there.

FOREIGN MINISTER FABIUS: Thank you. Maybe a question from a foreign journalist.

QUESTION: Minister, thank you. Michael Gordon from the New York Times. A question for the French Foreign Minister, the British Foreign Secretary, Mr. Kerry. In articulating a plan to dismantle Syria’s chemical weapons, are you not pursuing your short-term goal at the expense of the ultimate objective of pressing Bashar al-Assad to leave power, especially since eliminating Syria’s chemical weapons on such an ambitious schedule – by the middle of 2014 – depends critically on the cooperation of the Assad government over the ensuing months? And how are you going to guard against the sort of scenario that we saw in Iraq in the ’90s, where there were years of prolonged discussions, allegations of cheating, evasions on the part of the Iraqis, and deliberations over what to do about it? How are you going to prevent this from really dragging on for an extended period of time?

FOREIGN SECRETARY HAGUE: Well, this is a – it’s extremely important of course that there are no evasions and there is no cat and mouse game going on about these weapons. That’s the importance of the agreement that Secretary Kerry has made with Russia, and the importance of the Assad regime saying that it will sign up to international obligations on chemical weapons. We now have to have a resolution which crystallizes a binding commitment and which makes sure that this is dealt with credibly, reliably, and promptly as well. So it’s a very important aspect of what we’re talking about now, that there are specific time frames, and that there will be means of holding the Assad regime to account on this.

I don’t agree, and I suspect my colleagues wouldn’t agree, that there is any incompatibility over this and all of our other goals on Syria. It’s very important to deal with the use of chemical weapons, which we have seen on August 21st and in previous instances, that dealing with that is not incompatible at all – far from it – with also pursuing our goal of a political solution to end the conflict, and indeed our other goal in parallel, which is to alleviate humanitarian suffering, on which our countries are working so hard.

So I don’t think there is any conflict at all between those things, but my colleagues can expand on that.

FOREIGN MINISTER FABIUS: There is no contradiction at all between the two elements. I mean, the military action or the things about dealing with chemical weapons and what you called the strategy perspective. On the contrary, it’s not incompatible, it’s part and parcel of the same process. First, if Bashar has changed his position, it’s because we have been always very firm. And it will be a weakening of his position not to be able to take hold of the chemical weapons, because without chemical weapons, he cannot use them against certain people and against the neighbors, therefore, he will be weakened.

And he must understand that there is no military victory, no possible military victory for him. The regime has to come to the table of negotiation and they have to understand there is no military solution for them and that it is only a political solution. And it’s the reason why it’s not incompatible, but on the contrary, it’s the same process dealing with chemical weapons and dealing with what you call strategic perspective.

SECRETARY KERRY: Michael, in Iraq, in Iraq, inspectors were looking for weapons that they didn’t know existed. Here, we know they exist, we have agreed on the amount – almost, somewhere between 1,000 to 1,200, 1,300 metric tons, we’ve agreed. We’ve agreed on the types of weapons. We’re not looking for something that we don’t know exists. We’re looking for something that’s been used and that the regime itself has admitted it has. So this is entirely different from Iraq, which is why we believe we can contain this in a short period of time.

Secondly, Assad has taken pains to control these weapons so they don’t fall into the hands of the opposition. And we know, because they’re in the areas that he most controls there’s the least fighting. And we will, obviously, work with the opposition, whom we support, because they have an interest in making sure that you get into those areas. So there ought to not be a problem if Assad is indeed going to comply.

Secondly – thirdly, excuse me, we’re taking a weapon away from him that he has been using against his people. How can the opposition be worse off when we know they were preparing an offensive in Damascus and they were afraid of that offensive, which is why they used these weapons in the first place and indiscriminately killed people but stopped the offensive? This deprives Assad of a weapon. They were using the airplanes anyway. They were using the artillery anyway. And yes, that continues to be a problem. And that’s exactly what the three of us and others are going to continue to focus on – pushing for Geneva, pushing for the political settlement, because the opposition and everyone else need to understand the best way to win the victory for the future of Syria is to have the Syrian people choose that future without Assad. And that will happen through a negotiated process, not through the destruction of the entire state and the creation of millions of more refugees and turmoil for the region.

That’s why this is such an important moment. If you can translate this into that kind of negotiated settlement, you can actually win a peace, not a protracted war. And that’s why I agree with my colleagues there is nothing incompatible or contradictory here.

FOREIGN MINISTER FABIUS: (Via interpreter) One final word, if you’ll allow me. What was underlying all of your questions and our answers is the importance of strengthening the moderate opposition. Everything is happening as if indeed Bashar al-Assad on the one side and extremist terrorists were fighting against each other in appearance, but as a matter of fact, would be strengthening each other.

What is supporting Bashar al-Assad is the fact that many communities were mentioned – the Christians, but there are many others – who are saying: Well, he indeed is a dictator, but what will happen if he goes away? And on behalf of – on the terrorists’ side, it is in their interest to say that there is no alternative, there is either Bashar al-Assad or themselves, so that everyone against Bashar al-Assad would be forced to support the terrorists. But this, of course, is absolutely wrong. If you both want to change the Assad regime without falling in the hands of the terrorists, you have to support the moderate opposition, the opposition that indeed acknowledges the rights of the minorities, the principles upon which we want to act.

It will be for the Syrians to decide, but it’s very important to note that it’s not just either Bashar al-Assad or the terrorists, but that the solution, the political solution, goes through an agreement with the representatives of the regime, some of them, and those of the moderate opposition. And I believe that is not sufficiently acknowledged by the public opinion and was worth reminding you of. Thank you.

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PRN: 2013/T14-07