Remarks With Qatari Foreign Minister Khalid al-Atiyah Before Their Meeting
Secretary of State
I especially want to recognize my friend, the Foreign Minister of Qatar, Khalid al-Atiyah. I am very appreciative to him. He’s been a good partner in this effort of keeping the committee moving and of keeping it engaged. And this is the fourth time now in six months that the United States and the Arab League have gathered as part of our regular consultations in order to make sure that the final status negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinians are very much accountable to those who have a great stake in it. And as everybody knows, the Arab Peace Initiative, which I have many times mentioned, was a very significant step forward, is still a very important ingredient of the possibilities of peace.
Excuse me. The breadth and the depth of the participation that we had here today and in all of our meetings is really a clear demonstration of the continued support that President Abbas and the Palestinian Authority continue to receive from the Arab community as a whole, and I think it is significant. The Arab League understands precisely what is at stake here. I might comment that in the middle of our meeting today, His Highness Prince Saud al-Faisal of Saudi Arabia very eloquently stated, “You know, if you’re thinking about what the vision for peace of the Arab world, all you really have to do is look at the Arab Peace Initiative, which offers immediate peace to Israel when settling the Palestinian issue, a peace that will bring normal commerce, embassies, normal relations, connections between people and between countries, not with one or two nations, but with 57 nations all at one time – 35 Muslim nations, 22 Arab nations. That’s a vision, and it’s a vision worth fighting for.
From the very first visit with the Arab Peace Initiative Follow-up Committee in Washington earlier this year, to the key meeting that we had in Amman in July, the Arab League Follow-on Committee has shown a remarkable commitment to this effort, and we’re very grateful to them for that.
Their support for a final status agreement is essential to the agreement of a negotiated, two-state solution for Palestinians and Israelis, and it is critical to creating the momentum and the seriousness of purpose that is essential in order to be able to be successful in these talks.
It’s no secret to anybody that this is and remains a difficult process, there is no shortage of passionate skeptics. But I want to underscore that the goal is clear and it is achievable, and those who are closest to it – the neighbors as well as the parties themselves – understand what is at stake: a just and a lasting peace that’s based on a two-state solution which is the only solution. Two states for a simple reason, because two proud peoples deserve the opportunity to realize their legitimate aspirations, their security, and their freedom, and their future.
The Israeli and the Palestinian people both have leaders who absolutely understand what is at stake, and they have taken risks in order to bring both parties to the table. They showed courage to begin the process and they have shown courage to continue it even in the face of criticism. The two parties have been engaged now in 13 meetings, serious meetings. They had three meetings in the last four days. The pace has intensified. All the core issues are on the table, and they have been meeting with increased intensity.
But for everybody to live up to the challenges of making peace, we have to support them, including living up to our obligations on the economic front. I want to stress that no economic track, no economic package or financial assistance will ever be a substitute for the political track. But with our partnership and with our support and our economic investment, we can all help in order to provide a difference to the lives of people living in the neighborhood. That is why I am especially pleased to announce tonight – and I’m very grateful to the Amir of Qatar, to the Qatari people, and to the Foreign Minister who has really helped bring this about – they have agreed to provide $150 million in urgently needed debt relief to the Palestinian Authority. And I am very grateful to Khalid al-Atiyah for helping to make that happen. I’m confident that other Arab governments are currently evaluating and making their decisions, and there will be others who will join in this initiative as we go forward.
So the support of donors has been critical to helping us get where we are today, and it is important ultimately for the parties themselves to make the key decisions and reasonable compromises necessary for a final status agreement. That includes taking all of the steps that are necessary to create a positive atmosphere for the negotiations, which incidentally was one of the key things agreed upon by both parties as they entered into these negotiations.
So my friends, I might comment that in his – in that vein, I was very pleased to see that Prime Minister Netanyahu made an Eid al-Adha statement, a message earlier this week, and he made it clear that Israel is committed to maintaining the status quo in the holy places, and he made it clear that the hand of Israel is extended to the Palestinian people in the hope of peace.
So my friends, there is an opportunity for peace over the horizon. But to seize that opportunity, we need the continued support of the Arab League, we need the engagement of the Arab League, and we need the rest of the international community also to continue to be supportive. I believe that with our work together, we can provide for the peaceful, prosperous, hopeful outcome that people in the region, and particularly Israelis and Palestinians, have hoped for for a long, long time.
Mr. Foreign Minister, thank you.
FOREIGN MINISTER AL-ATIYAH: Thank you very much, and I’ll do it in Arabic if you’d like to put your headset, please.
(Via interpreter) In the beginning, as my friend John Kerry did, I would like to extend my thanks also to our common friend Laurent for allowing for this meeting to take place in France. Yes, indeed, we did meet today for a fourth time about the peace process. We discussed and confirmed some (inaudible) issues, which is the solution – a two-state solution based on the 1967 borders with Jerusalem as its capital. We also addressed some very important issues.
I would like to be very brief because my friend John here covered most of the issues. But there are some issues that we addressed in this meeting. For example, we talked about the issue of Gaza and the futility of isolating Gaza because that wouldn’t help the peace process, and the closure of crossing points. There are millions of people living in Gaza, and they are in need of supply – food supplies and medicine. Therefore, there must be a way to open crossing points by all parties so that we could enable the people of Gaza to live, because they are an inseparable part of the Palestinian people.
As for the negotiations, we confirmed the need – affirmed the need for American participation, actual participation, in the negotiations. And I would like to thank my friend John for the serious effort that is expended, but we would like him to be fully engaged in this process. We are concerned concerning the environment surrounding the negotiations, and we did address this concern. For example, the most recent measures, we are seeing settlement expansion, not just destruction of homes but destruction of entire communities similar to what’s happening in the Jordan Valley. Also, raising the Israeli flag, we consider this to be a transgression that we cannot possibly accept, not in the Arab world or the Islamic world. Therefore, we urge that the conducive environment for the negotiations be created. Also, some statements made by Israeli officials harm the peace process.
We addressed – we talked about most – several issues – economics and economic openness, and we asserted that the initiative of the sovereignty of the holy places in 2002 was very clear, and it also included all the possibilities that could take place in the event of a comprehensive peace. I would like also to – I wanted to shed light on these issues because my friend John has gone into the specifics of the meeting, and thank you very much.
MODERATOR: The first question will be from Arshad Mohammed of Reuters.
QUESTION: Thank you. Secretary Kerry, when you took office as Secretary of State, you repeatedly said that it was necessary to change President Assad’s calculation. When you and Foreign Minister Lavrov announced your hopes to hold Geneva 2 in May, the circumstances seemed somewhat better for the possibility of a peace conference. The government seemed – the Syrian Government seemed to be losing ground at the time. Now, many months later, the Syrian Government seems to be in a stronger position. President Assad says – is talking about the possibility of running for re-election. And the opposition, as you well know, is fighting on two fronts, something that your – even your own aides say makes it harder to extract concessions from the Syrian Government. What makes you think that the Assad government has any reason, given the way events have moved in the last six months, to actually make concessions and give up power? And what makes you think that the opposition, which seems to grow more fractured and has seen defections even in the last few weeks, is in any position or shape to assume a transitional governing role?
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, Arshad, obviously a central question to all of this, and I’ll give you as complete and direct an answer as I can. You are correct to say that when Sergey Lavrov and I announced this in Moscow, I think back in May, that the situation on the ground was different than the way it is today. But the situation on the ground is irrelevant to the question of the implementation of Geneva 1. And maybe President Assad needs to go back and read Geneva 1 again, or for the first time, but Geneva 1 says you will have a transition government by mutual consent. So it doesn’t matter whether you’re up or whether you’re down on the battlefield; the objective of Geneva 2 remains the same, which is the implementation of Geneva 1, which means a transition government arrived at by mutual consent of the parties.
Now, I don’t know anybody who believes that the opposition will ever consent to Bashar al-Assad being part of that government. And if he thinks he’s going to solve problems by running for re-election, I can say to him, I think with certainty, this war will not end as long as that’s the case or he is there.
Now, the Geneva 2 process is a negotiated resolution of a war that is taking place because Bashar al-Assad decided to meet the demands of young people in his country for a participatory role in the future of Syria – he decided to meet them with bullets and bombs and artillery shells. And he has shelled universities and killed innocent students sitting at their desks. He shelled schools with napalm and burned innocent children who were there trying to learn. He has bombed and gassed people in his country so that more than 115,000 or so are dead. How can that man claim to rule under any legitimacy in the future?
So I believe that it’s very clear what the purpose of this negotiated settlement is. And those who support the implementation of Geneva 1 should come to Geneva and be part of the process of building a new future for the people of Syria. But I do not believe that it is dependent on whether you’re up or down.
Now secondly, there are plenty of qualified people within the opposition in Syria – not necessarily fighters, but people who are opposed to Assad who run a business or a hospital or who have a great distinguished career and have been part of building the fabric of a secular society of Syria. And there are people who are qualified to be able to help manage the future affairs of Syria. There is nothing ordained, nothing is written that suggests that it belongs to one family and one man, particularly after what has happened over the course of these past two and a half years.
Now, there’s a human catastrophe awaiting the world if you can’t have a negotiated solution, because there are more and more refugees, more and more displaced people, more and more destruction, and the potential of the absolute implosion of the state of Syria is what lies in front of everybody if there cannot be a negotiated solution. I would hope that ultimately, Assad himself, certainly his supporters like the Russians, the Iranians, would understand that if you want peace in the region, it’s not going to come by prolonging the war with the presence of Bashar al-Assad.
Now, finally, why has the situation on the ground changed? Not because of the Syrian military, but because of Iran and Hezbollah, and Hezbollah and Iran represent the two only outside organized forces in Syria fighting on behalf of a party, the only two. And they are the ones who have made that difference. So I think it’s time for the United Nations and for others to consider the appropriateness of their activity and the need to try to press towards the negotiated solution that is critical to the people of Syria and to its future.
MODERATOR: The next question will be from Randa Takieddine from Al-Hayat.
QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, I have a question for you and a question for Minister Khalid al-Atiyah. In Arabic, if possible, to Mr. al-Atiyah, and English for you.
Mr. Secretary, the concerns of people came about the American policy change on Syria – they came out of the fact that you are insisting so much on the chemical disarmament of Syria, and that people thought that you want really to do with this regime – with Assad’s regime. So do you need, in fact, this coordination with this regime for the chemical disarmament? And when is Geneva 2, actually? Because we don’t – we still don’t have a date. Some people say 23rd, some others say no. And then, is Iran going to be part of this conference?
(Via interpreter.) Is Qatar – has Qatar changed its policy regarding Syria? Is there a rapprochement or letters with President – being exchanged with President Bashar al-Assad?
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, just very quickly, on the date, I can’t tell you precisely when the date is. That’s up to the United Nations and up to the Special Envoy Lakhdar Brahimi to announce. But I have heard people talking about sometime in later part of November. Foreign Minister Lavrov and I both urged that it be as soon as possible, and we both certainly would be in agreement, along with a lot of other ministers who believe that it ought to happen sooner, not later. So I hope it would be somewhere in that period of time. But it’s up to them to announce it.
With respect to the question of the weapons, is Assad necessary, the answer is no. Assad doesn’t go out into the field and control a particular depot where you have chemical weapons. Assad isn’t driving the trucks that back up to the depot and pick up the weapons and take them somewhere. There are lots of people in Syria within the military structure who have knowledge of where the weapons are and how they can be moved who actually have responsibilities for safeguarding them. So Assad himself is not critical to the containment and the identification and ultimate removal of those weapons, number one.
Number two, those weapons could be gathered and located and brought to a location over the course of these next few months, barring something surprising. I’m not sure this will be settled in that period of time, but he is not absolutely essential to the effort to remove the chemical weapons. They can be removed once identified and secured by the normal process of chemical weapons destruction.
With respect to the first part of your question, which was the policy change, no, there has been no policy change. President Obama made a decision with respect to military force, and I am absolutely 100 percent convinced that had he not made that decision, those weapons would not be being removed now under an agreement that we reached at the United Nations. It happened because of that decision. And you have to ask yourself: Is it better that all of the weapons are being secured and removed, rather than that you had a military strike that tried to deter him from using them again but left them in his possession? That’s the choice. I think it’s clear there’s a benefit.
Now, some were disappointed the strike didn’t take place because they thought it was a sign of other things. But the fact is that the same airplanes that were killing people before the chemical weapons and the same artillery that was killing people before the chemical weapons and the same bombs and Scud missiles are still doing it. And we remain as concerned about that today, if not more so, than we were before the chemical weapons agreement.
And that is why we are focused on assisting the moderate opposition. We are helping them. It’s a known fact. And we will continue, as are others of our friends continuing, to help them, because we believe you need to get to the negotiation because there is no ultimate military solution. But we’re not going to sit by while Assad slaughters his people with impunity and not help those who are struggling against him to have their ability to do so with some of the support from the international community.
QUESTION: On Iran?
SECRETARY KERRY: Oh, Iran. Fourth question, okay.
On Iran, the answer is if Iran accepts – Iran has not accepted the implementation of Geneva 1, so it’s very hard to see how Iran can be constructive in the absence of their willingness to come for the purpose of the negotiation. So if they accept Geneva 1 and want to be constructive in helping to set up a transition government, that’s a different issue. But until that happens, it would be very difficult to see how it could be constructive.
FOREIGN MINISTER AL-ATIYAH: (Via interpreter) The question is: Did the Syrian regime stop its massacres against its people? Did the Syrian people attain its freedom that it deserves? And did it get the justice and freedom? If the answer is no, then the position of Qatar is the same. We are standing by the Syrians until they attain their freedom, and even though we’re pushing for a political solution that would help the Syrian people, but the Qatari decision has not changed. Thank you.
SECRETARY KERRY: Thank you. Is that it?
MS. PSAKI: One more. The final question is from Patricia Allemoniere – I don’t know if I said it the right way – TF-1.
QUESTION: (Via interpreter) Mr. Secretary, I have one question, first question. The French this evening are deeply shocked by the revelations that were made by the newspaper Le Monde regarding the extent of the wiretaps conducted by an allied and friendly country to France. What answer can you give? Can the United States stop and does it want an end to these listenings?
And another question for Qatar. Qatar is oftentimes accused in the West of being at the origin of the rise of radical Islamic groups because Qatar helped them to obtain weapons. What do you have to say with respect to that comment or analysis?
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, thank you very much for the question. Look, France is one of our oldest allies in the world, and I have a very close working relationship with Laurent Fabius since the day I started this job on many issues, ranging from Syria to protecting the security of our citizens. And protecting the security of our citizens in today’s world is a very complicated, very challenging task, and it is an everyday, 24/7, 365 task, unfortunately, because there are lots of people out there seeking to do harm to other people. We see much more suicide bombs taking place in various parts of the world right now.
So Ambassador Rivkin met today with Alexandre Ziegler, the cabinet director to Foreign Minister Fabius, at the request of the Government of France. And our ongoing – we will have ongoing bilateral consultations, including with our French partners, that address this question of any reports by the United States Government gathering information from some of the agencies, and those consultations are going to continue.
Now, I’m not going to comment on the specifics. As a matter of policy, we don’t discuss intelligence matters. And lots of countries are engaged in the activity of trying to protect their citizens and the world. As the President – as President Obama said very clearly in a recent speech that he gave at the United Nations General Assembly just a few weeks ago, he said we in the United States are currently reviewing the way that we gather intelligence. And I think that’s appropriate. And our goal is always to try to find the right balance between protecting the security and the privacy of our citizens. And this work is going to continue, as well as our very consultations with our friends here in France.
FOREIGN MINISTER AL-ATIYAH: (Via interpreter) In the beginning, I would like to say that anyone who doesn’t know what’s happening in Syria would say that Qatar is supporting radical groups. But the truth is when someone is Christian or Jewish or even Muslim and is subjected to a catastrophe similar to what the Syrian people have experienced, then it will be very closer to God. So this is the situation in Syria.
We are working in Syria through the Friends of Syria group, and there’s also a group that all people have agreed to support the Syrian people, whether in terms of helping it defend itself or in terms of humanitarian aid. We are working through this group and the allies to support very known parties. Therefore, talking about us supporting radical groups or extremist groups, this cannot be true in any way when we’re working with allies closely.
SECRETARY KERRY: Thank you very much.