Remarks With Egyptian Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmy

Press Availability
John Kerry
Secretary of State
Cairo, Egypt
November 3, 2013

FOREIGN MINISTER FAHMY: (Via interpreter) Good evening, Mr. Secretary. In the beginning, I would like to extend my thanks and welcome to you here in Egypt, especially at a time when the Middle East is witnessing very sensitive developments and when there is a need for international harmony and communications. With regards to the U.S.-Egyptian relations, we believe that they are very important to Egypt and we would like to further enhance this relationship in the interest of both countries based on the priorities of each country.

This afternoon, Mr. Secretary, you’re due to meet with President Adly Mansour and General Sisi. And for our part here at the Foreign Ministry, we held very constructive, frank, and detailed discussion of various issues, and we also discussed how to move things forward in the interest of both countries. And I affirmed to the Secretary Egypt’s desire to have good and positive relationship with the United States based on our own priorities.

Now I will give you, Mr. Secretary, the chance to speak, and after that we will be taking questions from the press.

SECRETARY KERRY: Thank you. Well, Minister Fahmy, thank you very, very much. Thank you for your welcome back here in Egypt in Cairo. It’s a pleasure for me to be back here. You and I have talked frequently on the telephone and we know each other – and in New York – and we’ve worked hard to try to make sure that the positions of both of our countries and the interests of our countries are clear and that we try to work through what have obviously been some difficult challenges.

I have come here at this moment of challenge on behalf of President Obama really to speak about the future of the Middle East and the future of the relationship between the United States and Egypt, which is a very important relationship. I wanted to first express to the Egyptian people as clearly and as forcefully as I can, in no uncertain terms, the United States is a friend of the people of Egypt, of the country of Egypt, and we are a partner to your country.

The United States wants Egypt to succeed and we want to contribute to your success. Egypt’s political and economic success is important, of course, not only for Egyptians, but it’s important for the region, for the United States, and the international community. As I told Minister Fahmy in our meeting this morning, Egypt is a vital partner to America in this region. As a home – as the home to a quarter of the Arab world, Egypt plays a crucial role in the political, cultural, and the economic leadership of the Middle East and of North Africa.

So let’s be clear: What happens here is profoundly important to the region and it is in the interest of the United States. I’ve been here many times, and we have assisted in some economic issues, and each time I have come here I have said that we support the people of Egypt and we want the people of Egypt and Egypt as a nation, with all of its amazing history, to be able to continue to lead in the region and in the world.

It is no secret that this has been a difficult time and these have been a turbulent couple of years. But the Egyptian people have shown the world how strong they are. They have really demonstrated a significant resolve as they work to see their transition to meet their aspirations as they’ve tried to make that work. We know full well – and President Obama is completely committed to the idea – that the path forward is ultimately in the hands of the Egyptian people, and we are confident that they will overcome the challenges that are facing them.

As President Obama has said, we are committed to work with and we will continue our cooperation with the interim government. We have much to work on, and the Minister and I this morning discussed very candidly the issues and the challenges that we face together, but we think that there is agreement on many of these things even as we need to keep faith with the roadmap and the path ahead to continue the march to democracy. And we look forward to working together, to cooperating to meet those challenges in the road ahead.

One thing I can’t stress strongly enough, and that is the link between Egypt’s progress in its democratic transition and its overall economic success. History has demonstrated again and again that democracy is more stable, more viable, more prosperous than any alternative. And clearly, the future for young people and old people alike in Egypt will be defined by the combination of stability and economic growth that flows quickly in this country and in the region.

One thing is certain, that domestic and foreign investors alike seek the predictability that stability provides, and in a democracy, government institutions play an important role in implementing the reforms that encourage economic growth. With stability comes tourism and investment, and with both come jobs for the Egyptian people. The United States believes that the U.S. and Egypt partnership is going to be strongest when Egypt is represented by an inclusive, democratically elected, civilian government based on the rule of law, fundamental freedoms, and an open and competitive economy.

And in our meeting today, I welcomed Minister Fahmy’s restatement of the interim government’s commitment to the roadmap that will move Egypt forward on an inclusive path to democracy and to economic stability. We also talked about the importance of how it is in everyone’s interest that Egypt see a transition, live a transition, that results in a constitution that protects the rights of all Egyptians, including freedom of expression and assembly, the ability to participate in civil society, as well as in religious freedom.

Nothing will help bring the people of Egypt together more or provide more economic stability or provide more confidence in the future than an Egypt that is participating in a democratically elected government that is brought about through inclusive, free, and fair elections. And we will support the interim government and the Egyptian people in that end.

Minister Fahmy and I agreed on the need to ensure that Egyptians are afforded due process with fair and transparent trials, civilians tried in a civilian court. And we discussed the need for all violence to end. All acts of terror in Egypt must come to an end – all acts – for Egyptians to be able to exercise restraint and the need for accountability for those acts of violence.

I mentioned to the Minister that, obviously, part of the roadmap and part of the process of strengthening Egypt’s linkages to the rest of the world will be measured in the way in which the people of Egypt are sustained in their ability to have the right to assemble, the right to express themselves. But even as they do that, we also agreed no one should be allowed to practice violence with impunity.

And so we – I want to say very, very clearly the United States condemns all acts of violence. We have condemned the acts of violence against churches, against worshipers, and we also condemn the acts of violence on security forces in the Sinai, and we condemn the acts of violence in the streets of any community in Egypt, and particularly attacks on police and on those elements of authority in the state.

Finally, let me say that we also discussed very briefly – I want you to know we did not spend a lot of time on it – and that was the question of the recent decisions regarding U.S. assistance. Both Minister Fahmy and I agreed that the U.S.-Egypt relationship should not be defined by assistance. There are much bigger issues that matter to us, that concern us, that define the relationship.

But I want to make it clear that the United States will continue to provide support that directly benefits the Egyptian people in health, in scholarships, and private-sector development, and we are continuing assistance to help secure Egypt’s borders, to work with the military, to work on counterterrorism and proliferation, and to ensure the security in the Sinai. And I reaffirmed to the Minister that the United States will work very closely with Egypt in the months ahead and with our own Congress on our bilateral assistance.

President Mansour wrote to President Obama some time ago suggesting a strategic dialogue between our countries, and I am pleased on behalf of President Obama to say to you today that we accept that invitation. We believe it is important, and we will enter into that discussion of a strategic dialogue. Egypt has been a leader in this region for longer than the United States has existed, and we believe now it has an opportunity to be an example of how a democracy can evolve out of the wishes of the people and how it can thrive in the Middle East and beyond.

So Mr. Minister, I close by saying to you that we very much look forward to working with you and the interim government. We thank you for your courtesy in helping arrange this visit, and we look forward to helping this transition to an economically vibrant democracy that the Egyptian people want and deserve. And we look forward to being part of that journey with you.

FOREIGN MINISTER FAHMY: (Via interpreter) I would like to thank Mr. Secretary for his statement, which reflects the depth of the dialogue that took place between us and that also included the situation in Syria. It also addressed the bilateral relationship in a very positive manner, and this was a great opportunity for us to state and explain the Egyptian position and vision for the future of the democratic transition, and also the aspirations of the Egyptian people towards democracy. Egypt has witnessed two revolutions in less than two and a half months, but the people and the government are very committed to moving forward.

And now we’ll take two questions from the audience.

Madam Suzy (inaudible).

QUESTION: This is a question from Suzy el Geneidy, Al Ahram Al Arabi magazine, and my question – first question to Minister Kerry: Mr. Kerry, thank you for your words about Egypt and Egyptian people, but a lot of Egyptians see the U.S. position as negative, unfortunately. They say that the U.S. is trying to pressure and punish Egypt going to the path to democracy because of the continued holding the delivery of some aids, continue holding the delivery of some aids to Egypt. Don’t you think this will affect not only the public – the official relations, but also the public relations on the (inaudible)?

And the second point is concerning the peace process. Do you think there will be positive results from the negotiations, especially that Israel is continuing settlement policy?

And my question to our Minister, please: How do you view the Egyptian-American relations now, and what do you expect from this (inaudible)? Thank you.

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, let me just answer it by saying to you that, of course, we understood that the decision with respect to some aid, which has been held back for a period of time, we knew that in some places, obviously, that wouldn’t be well received. But it’s not a punishment. It’s a reflection of a policy in the United States under our law. We have a law passed by the United States Congress regarding how certain events unfold with respect to the change of a government in a country, and we’re bound by that.

President Obama has actually worked very, very hard to be able to make certain that we’re not disrupting the relationship with Egypt. That’s why I just said that the President is continuing any assistance that goes directly to the Egyptian people to help the Egyptian people with education, with healthcare, with building and in certain things that have an impact directly on the people. And we have worked for years to invest in Egypt and to help in Egypt.

I believe the government – the interim government has made very important statements about the roadmap and now is engaged in a constitutional assembly and a very important debate about what shape the constitution of Egypt will take in the future. That debate is important in and of itself. It’s a reflection of the democracy and of the democratic process. And in December, hopefully, as that constitutional assembly reports, the interim government will continue as they have promised us they are going to do – not for us, but for the Egyptian people. They have made this promise that they intend to continue to move down that road. We believe that is the foundation of the continued cooperation between our countries, which, as I said, is a very important relationship for all of us.

So I know there have been some communications and some questions. Let me make it clear here today: President Obama and the American people support the people of Egypt. We believe this is a vital relationship. I am here today at the instructions of President Obama in order to specifically say to the people of Egypt: We support you in this tremendous transformation that you are undergoing. We know it’s difficult. We want to help. We’re prepared to do so. And the way it will unfold is the democracy is rekindled in its strength; and as the people of Egypt make their choices in the future, I am confident the United States of America will be able to stand with you and do even more.

So this aid issue is a very small issue between us, and the Government of Egypt, I think, has handled it very thoughtfully and sensitively. Our hope is that we can make the progress we need on democracy, the rights of people, the protections of people, the ability of the country to have its civil society strengthened and restored, and then we will march together hand in hand into the future with Egypt playing the vital role that it has traditionally played in this region.

With respect to the peace process, I remain hopeful, and we will make every effort in the United States to move the process forward in a fair-mannered way, in a balanced way that reflects the complexity of these issues. There is no doubt – and I have said this to the Prime Minister of Israel – that the settlements have disturbed people’s perceptions of whether or not people are serious and we’re moving in the right direction. And I know there have been tensions at the Haram al-Sharif, and I know that doesn’t sit well in the community.

The Prime Minister, to his credit – the Prime Minister of Israel is working to try to make sure that the rules and the understandings are applied in the appropriate way, and we all need to try to give this negotiation the space that it needs for the leaders to be able to make some very difficult decisions.

What I commit to you is the United States, President Obama are very committed to this effort. I’m going to Israel. I’ll be meeting with the Prime Minister of Israel and the President of the Palestinian Authority. While I am there, I will meet also with King Abdullah of Jordan, and we will try to move the process forward.

And I am hopeful that in the next months we can make progress, and I ask people everywhere to keep their minds open, to speak the language of peace, not hatred, not war, not continued division, but the possibilities of what peace can bring to everybody. And I will be visiting with His Majesty King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia tomorrow. He has made one of the most significant contributions to this effort through the Arab Peace Initiative. The Arab League will be meeting here, I think, tonight. They have made very, very significant statements in the last months. So I believe there is an ability to move forward, but we have to remain calm and dedicated and committed to a quiet process by which difficult decisions can be discussed.

FOREIGN MINISTER FAHMY: (Via interpreter) The response to the question – and I will be very brief – I have mentioned a few days ago that the U.S.-Egyptian relations are witnessing some tension, but today in my close discussion with the Secretary, and also what Secretary Kerry has mentioned here today, I believe that the U.S. support for Egypt and the roadmap are all very positive indications, and we all seek to resume this relationship in a positive manner. And also what you mentioned about a launch of the strategic dialogue with – between the two countries is very, very helpful.

We have a question here from an American journalist.

QUESTION: Kim Ghattas from the BBC. Mr. Kerry, a question for you first.

SECRETARY KERRY: Can you pull up –

QUESTION: In July, in Pakistan –

SECRETARY KERRY: Pull the mike up.

QUESTION: In July, in Pakistan, you said that Egypt’s generals were restoring democracy. Much has happened since then. I understand there is a roadmap at the moment, but are you still of that view? Is it really this clear-cut?

And the second question: You’re embarking on a regional tour starting here in Egypt, which will take you to Saudi Arabia and other countries in the region at a time when your allies – Egypt and Saudi Arabia – are pushing back against your influence. Does the U.S. still have anything to say about what is going on in the region?

And for Minister Fahmy, you have spoken about a roadmap towards democracy indeed, but in the meantime, there seems to be a lot of cheering in Egypt for the army’s actions. Is that something that you, as a civilian leader, believe is the right way forward for Egypt? Are you being inclusive enough of all of Egypt’s different communities?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, with respect to – do you want a translation on that or not?

INTERPRETER: I’ll be very brief.

SECRETARY KERRY: I mean, I don’t know if you’re (inaudible). Okay, we can go ahead.

With respect to Pakistan, the comment that I made in Pakistan was really me describing what the state of mind and the intent of the generals were at that time and what they had said they were intending to do. And thus far, there are indications that that is what they are intending to do. The roadmap is being carried out to the best of our perception. There are questions we have here and there about one thing or another, but Foreign Minister Fahmy has reemphasized to me again and again that they have every intent and they are determined to fulfill that particular decision and that track.

And as I said, the constitutional assembly is up and working, a robust debate is taking place. We will have to wait to see what product comes out. Clearly, they are listening. There was a demonstration law that was floated some few days ago, and when there was a public push-back against it, the government listened and the government responded. And now heading into December, there will be the setting of dates for elections, both parliamentary elections as well as for a presidential election. So all of that is, in fact, moving down the roadmap in the direction that everybody has been hoping for and concerned about. So the answer is: The proof will be in the pudding, as the old saying goes, as we go forward in the next days.

But Minister Fahmy mentioned to me something about good faith in relationships when we were talking, and I think it’s important for all of us, until proven otherwise, to accept that this is the track Egypt is on and to work to help it to be able to achieve that. Now, I happen to have a believe shared, needless to say, with President Obama and others that all of Egypt’s future will be defined not only by the way the roadmap is implemented and the way the constitution is formed, what is in it, but by the economic choices and the economic opportunities that are created over these next weeks and months. Because if the people of Egypt don’t begin to see the economy take hold and improve, it will be hard for any government to provide for the kinds of improvements that people are looking for in the quality of their lives. And I think the government fully understands that, and they’re working very, very hard to implement new programs and policies to move in that direction.

So we will continue to work with the interim government, as I’ve said. As long as they are continuing to move down (inaudible), I have no doubt about our ability to improve this relationship and to continue to work to restore the full measure of the relationship that has existed previously.

Now with respect to the question you asked – does the United States have anything to say, are there some differences – look, we can have a difference on a policy, on the tactics of the policy. For instance, there are some countries in the region that wanted the United States to do one thing with respect to Syria, and we have done something else. Those differences on an individual tactic on a policy do not create a difference on the fundamental goal of the policy. We all share the same goal that we have discussed; that is, the salvation of the state of Syria and a transition government put in place under Geneva 1 that can give the people of Syria the opportunity to choose their future. And we also believe that Assad, by virtue of his loss of moral authority, cannot be part of that because of the difficulties of his ever representing all of the people of Syria. It’s just a – and nobody can answer how you could actually end the war as long as Assad is there.

So there may be some differences on a tactic here and there, but let me be crystal clear. The United States of America is deeply engaged in the Middle East peace process, and we are essential to the ability of that peace process to be able to be resolved for a number of different reasons. The United States is deeply involved in supporting the defensive capacity and – of many countries in the region, and the United States – the President made it clear in his speech at UNGA – will be there for the defense of our friends and our allies. We will be there for Saudi Arabia, for the Emirates, for the Qataris, for the Jordanians, for the Egyptians and others. We will not allow those countries to be attacked from outside. We will stand with them. So we have a major defensive relationship in the region.

In addition, the United States is the principal interlocutor with respect to the efforts to try to hold the group together in terms of the sanctions and the approach to Iran. And the United States is deeply engaged with the P5+1, in the guarantees that Iran will not get a nuclear weapon. That is a promise by the President of the United States.

So almost everywhere where you look in the region, the United States has a critical role to play, is playing a critical role, is helping nations to be able to defend themselves. The United States is deeply involved in helping the Lebanese army, their armed forces be able to have sufficient support, and we are deeply engaged in the humanitarian effort. The United States is the largest single donor to the humanitarian crisis in Syria, and the United States was a leader, obviously, in working with Russia to try to remove chemical weapons from Syria.

So the question, frankly, I think is without any foundation whatsoever in basis of fact with respect to what is actually happening in our relationships in the region and the efforts that we make with all of the countries in the region.

FOREIGN MINISTER FAHMY: In response to the question I was asked – and I will answer in English to save time – the Egyptian military responded twice in two and half years to the call of the people to change their president because they wanted to participate in determining their own future. So it’s quite natural that the people will be cheering for the military for the support they’ve had. And I would add to that that as the security situation goes up and down, needless to say, they look towards the security forces, be that the police or the military, to respond to that.

But let’s not misunderstand this or misinterpret this. The Egyptian people are aspiring for a democratic system with a civilian government, which will be – which will function according to the norms of a global democracy irrespective of the fact that we may have some cultural variations here and there in terms of our traditions. The norms of democracy will be respected, and it will be a civilian government. That’s why we had two revolutions in two and a half years.

Thank you very much. I’m sorry we have to run.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

FOREIGN MINISTER FAHMY: I’m sorry. We have to run. The President is waiting, and I have to – thank you.

PRN: 2013/T17-02