Remarks at Solo Press Availability
Secretary of State
SECRETARY KERRY: Good morning to everybody. This has been a productive couple of days with very, very intensive talks. And though we’re not done yet obviously, I want to catch you up on the most recent negotiations to give you a sense of where we are.
But before we do, I really want to say a brief word about the situation in South Sudan. For the last several weeks, all of us at the upper levels of the Obama Administration have been working together and constantly talking to the leaders in South Sudan, working with our special envoy Ambassador Don Booth, working with our Ambassador Susan Page, and working with all of our colleague countries who are engaged in trying to prevent the violence of South Sudan.
And the United States remains deeply committed to supporting the efforts that will bring this violence to an end. We’ve been involved in this for a long time. We were involved in the birth of this nation, and I personally know the leaders. I’ve been there many – a number of times. And so I think all of us feel a very personal stake in trying to avert tribal warfare and ethnic confrontation on the ground, as well as any kind of resolution of political differences by force.
The beginning of direct talks between the parties, as announced by the Intergovernmental Authority on Development, is a very important step. But make no mistake: it is only a first step and there is a lot more to do.
Both parties need to put the interests of South Sudan above their own, and that has been a message we have consistently delivered to those engaged in this conflict. Negotiations have to be serious. They cannot be a delay gimmick in order to continue the fighting and try to find advantage on the ground at the expense of the people of South Sudan. They have to be credible talks, and both parties need to approach the talks with courage and with resolve, with the clear intent of trying to find a political solution.
So we call on the parties to listen to the region and to the international community in finding a peaceful way forward to resolve this conflict.
As we’ve said before, the United States will support those who seek peace, but we will deny support and we will work to apply international pressure to any elements that attempt to use force to seize power. That is not acceptable. The talks in Addis Ababa, we believe, are absolutely the best way forward, and the world is going to be watching very closely to see that a halt to the fighting on the ground takes place and to test the good faith of leaders of any group, and particularly the two most critical players here, President Kiir and former Vice President Machar. Both of them need to push their people to come to the table here. The fighting must end, and we seek tangible progress towards peace on the ground.
Obviously, it is this effort to try to make peace that has brought back here again to Israel, to Jerusalem. And I want to thank Prime Minister Netanyahu and I want to thank President Abbas for the significant amount of time and for the effort and energy that they have expended in order to engage in very serious conversations about the way forward.
Over the past few days, I’ve had two lengthy rounds with each leader and with their teams, and we have had very positive, but I have to say very serious, very intensive conversations. These issues are not easy. As I’ve said before, if this was easy, this would have been resolved a long time ago. It is not easy. These are complicated issues that involve the survival and the future of peoples. And this is a conflict that has gone on for too long, so positions are hardened. Mistrust obviously exists at a very high level. And so you have to work through that and around that and over that, and every step is a step that is to try to point to the path forward and the ways in which each side can build a relationship and trust over a period of time.
Today, I am leaving Jerusalem in order to go to Jordan and consult with His Majesty King Abdullah and his team, and from there I will leave to go to Saudi Arabia to consult with His Majesty King Abdullah of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, who is, of course, the author of the Arab Peace Initiative and has a very significant interest and stake in this process. I will then return here to Jerusalem tonight.
We will continue discussions at staff level for a period of time, and at some point I do need to go back to Washington, obviously, this week for the work that we have there. But as our teams flesh out some of the concepts that are on the table, as necessary, I will return.
I want to be very clear about something that I have said before, but it bears repeating at this juncture: both Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Abbas have already made important decisions and courageous decisions, difficult decisions. You can see in the press and you see in the public debate that the choices they’re making elicit strong responses from their people. And I understand that very, very well.
We’re at the table today because of the determination to try to resolve this issue, and both of them have made the tough choices to stay at that table. We are now at a point where the choices narrow down and the choices are obviously real and difficult. And so we – the United States, President Obama, myself – will do everything in our power to help the parties be able to see the road ahead in ways that will meet the interests of both of their peoples.
The security of Israel is always paramount – in my mind, in our mind. For 29 years I had the privilege of serving in the United States Senate, and I am proud to say I had a 100 percent voting record with respect to those issues of concern to Israel, and I don’t intend to change that now. Israel’s security is critical, and the United States relationship is ironclad.
But so is our concern for the people of Palestine and for the Palestinians and their future. And I can guarantee all parties that President Obama and I are committed to putting forward ideas that are fair, that are balanced, and that improve the security of all of the people of this region.
Now, obviously, I can’t go into the details. I’m not going to start breaking now the agreements that I made with the parties and that I set forth as the rules here. We are not going to negotiate this in public. We are not going to lay out the substance of these core issues. But I can tell everybody all of the core issues are on the table. The difficult issues of security, of territory, borders, the future of the refugee issue, the status ultimately of the city of Jerusalem, and the end of conflict and of claims. How you arrive at a fair resolution of all of these complicated issues is obviously at the core of what we are talking about.
I want to share something that I shared with both of the leaders in my meetings, and that is now is not the time to get trapped in the sort of up and down of the day-to-day challenges. This does not lend itself to a daily tick-tock. We don’t have the luxury of dwelling on the obstacles that we all know could distract us from our goal. What we need to do is lift our sights and look ahead and keep in mind the vision of what can come if we can move forward.
I want to reiterate – we are not working on an interim agreement. We are working on a framework for negotiations that will guide and create the clear, detailed, accepted roadmap for the guidelines for the permanent status negotiations, and can help those negotiations move faster and more effectively.
The agreed framework will address all of the core issues that we’ve been discussing, and I think that’s the most that I would like to say about that at this point in time.
I do want to be clear: I know there are those out there who on both sides question whether or not peace is possible. I know there is a high level of cynicism, reservation about the possibilities. But it is clear to me that we can work to bride the remaining gaps that do exist and we can achieve a final status agreement that results in two states for two peoples if we stay focused and if we keep in mind the benefits of our doing so.
The benefits for both sides are really enormous, and people don’t talk about it enough or think about it enough. One of the reasons I’m going to Saudi Arabia is that Saudi Arabia’s initiative holds out the prospect that if the parties could arrive at a peaceful resolution, you could instantaneously have peace between the 22 Arab nations and 35 Muslim nations, all of whom have said they will recognize Israel if peace is achieved.
Imagine how that changes the dynamics of travel, of business, of education, of opportunity in this region, of stability. Imagine what peace could mean for trade and tourism, what it could mean for developing technology and talent, for job opportunities for the younger generation, for generations in all of these countries.
Imagine what peace could mean for an Israel where schoolchildren, some of whom I’ve seen in the course of my many visits here, so that they could actually run around a playground without the threat that a rocket might come from Gaza or from Lebanon and have to seek shelter during the course of the day.
Imagine what peace could mean for Palestinian children, who could grow up living in the dignity of their own sovereign country with an understanding that they can do what anybody in the world might be able to aspire to do, free from hatred and free from the fear that accompanies their daily existence, and obviously free to embrace all of the opportunities of young people anywhere else in the world.
The ancient and historic city of Jerusalem where long ago the words were written that have great meaning today: the scripture tells us that “the Lord will give strength to His people; and the Lord will bless His people with peace.” And as men and women of peace I think in this region, we continue to believe in that possibility.
So we stand behind these negotiations that can lead not just to two states for two peoples, but a shared prosperity that benefits the peoples of all of this region. The stakes here are much bigger than just Israel and Palestine. This is a conflict that is felt around the world. It is a conflict that has implications with every leader I have met anywhere in the world as Secretary of State or a senator. They all ask about the conflict of the Middle East and whether or not it can be resolved.
So these are high stakes, high stakes for the leaders and high stakes for everybody else. And President Obama is determined that the United States of America and his Administration will do everything in our power to exhaust the possibilities of finding that peace.
On that note, I’d be happy to open it up to any questions.
QUESTION: There have been 20 rounds of negotiations for the --
SECRETARY KERRY: Who’s counting?
QUESTION: Who’s counting, yes. The negotiations seem to be hung up on some pretty serious roadblocks. I mean, Israel, for example, is balking at the ‘67 lines, and that’s a pretty big hurdle.
SECRETARY KERRY: Israel is doing what?
QUESTION: Balking at the ’67 lines.
SECRETARY KERRY: You’re telling me things that I don’t know that I’m not commenting on. So I mean, I don’t know where you – honestly, I don’t know where you know that from. I’m not going to talk about who’s balking, not balking. But don’t believe what you hear.
SECRETARY KERRY: What we’re doing right now is working through those issues.
QUESTION: Okay. I know you don’t want to talk about specifics, but can you give the American public, the Israelis, the Palestinians even one example of something even generally in terms of progress that you’ve been able to make in your 10 trips here?
And when the framework is agreed upon, if it’s agreed upon, how detailed will it be? Will it include some sort of a deadline or framework – frame – timeframe for finishing a final status agreement?
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, let me share with you as best I can sort of how this is working and why I am not going to go into the details. I have shared with you that we are talking about all of the core issues, and you know that. You all have traveled out here many times. And you know that the core issues involve territory and the core issues involve security, and they involve refugees and they involve the question of recognition for both peoples and involves, obviously, ultimately, questions about Jerusalem and how you resolve all claims and the conflict itself.
Now, this is deeply steeped in history, and each side has a narrative about their rights and their journey and the conflict itself. And in the end, all of these different core issues actually fit together like a mosaic. It’s a puzzle, and you can’t separate out one piece or another. Because what a leader might be willing to do with respect to a compromise on one particular piece is dependent on what the other leader might be willing to do with respect to a different particular piece. And there’s always a tension as to when you put your card on the table as to which piece you’re willing to do, when, and how. So it has to move with its particular pace and its particular privacy, frankly. And that’s why it’s so important not to be laying out any one particular component of it at any given moment of time, because it actually makes it more difficult for those decisions to be made or for those compromises to be arrived at, or for one of the leaders to have the freedom to be able to do what they need to do in order to figure out the political path ahead, which is obviously real for both.
So the answer is I’m not going to lay out one particular example or another, except to say to you that the path is becoming clearer, the puzzle is becoming more defined, and it is becoming much more apparent to everybody what the remaining tough choices are and what the options are with respect to those choices.
But it takes time to work through these things, and that’s why I have refused to ever set a particular timetable. But I feel comfortable that those major choices are now on the table and that the leaders are grappling with these options, otherwise I wouldn’t be going to talk to other stakeholders in this process the way I am today. But I cannot tell you when particularly the last pieces may decide to fall into place or may fall on the floor and leave the puzzle unfinished. That’s exactly what makes this such a challenge, and also so interesting at the same time.
With respect to – I think you had --
QUESTION: What about the – how detailed will the framework be if it’s --
SECRETARY KERRY: I’m not going to go into – again, we’ll let the framework speak for itself when and if it is achieved and --
QUESTION: But are you seeking some sort of deadline? In other words, it does become kind of --
SECRETARY KERRY: Am I thinking of some sort of deadline?
QUESTION: Is --
SECRETARY KERRY: Sure I am.
QUESTION: Is there a discussion about a deadline so that it doesn’t just (inaudible) a long and --
SECRETARY KERRY: Yes. The answer is yes.
SECRETARY KERRY: I have a deadline in mind.
MODERATOR: Michael Gordon.
QUESTION: On another Middle East subject, Mr. Secretary. A significant number of American military personnel died to take Fallujah from al-Qaida in Iraq, and now two years after the American forces were withdrawn from Iraq, much of that city has been taken back by an al-Qaida affiliate.
The 75 Hellfire missiles that the Administration is selling to Iraq and the ScanEagle drones it plans to deliver by March don’t appear to be sufficient to prevent this al-Qaida affiliate from controlling much of Anbar and other parts of Iraq. And yesterday, your State Department issued a statement saying that American officials had been in touch with Iraqi tribal leaders and that the U.S. was working with the Iraqi Government to “support those tribes in every possible way.”
My question is: What specific steps is the Administration prepared to take to help the Iraqi tribes or the Iraqi Government roll back the al-Qaida advance in western and northern Iraq? Nobody is suggesting the U.S. send ground troops, but would the United States be willing to carry out drone strikes from bases outside Iraq? Would you provide arms to the tribes? The leader of this al-Qaida affiliate has been designed a global terrorist by the State Department. What specific steps are you prepared to take?
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, Michael, I’m not going to go into all of the specifics. Let me just say in general terms a couple of things. First of all, we are following the events in Anbar province very, very closely, obviously. We’re very, very concerned by the efforts of al-Qaida and the Islamic State of Iraq in the Levant, which is affiliated with al-Qaida, who are trying to assert their authority not just in Iraq but in Syria.
These are the most dangerous players in that region. Their barbarism against the civilians of Ramadi and Fallujah and against Iraqi security forces is on display for everybody in the world to see. Their brutality is something we have seen before. And we will stand with the Government of Iraq and with others who will push back against their efforts to destabilize and to bring back, to wreak havoc on the region and on the democratic process that is taking hold in Iraq.
Now, we’re going to do everything that is possible to help them, and I will not go into the details except to say that we’re in contact with tribal leaders from Anbar province whom we know who are showing great courage in standing up against this as they reject terrorist groups from their cities. And this is a fight that belongs to the Iraqis. That is exactly what the President and the world decided some time ago when we left Iraq. So we are not, obviously, contemplating returning. We’re not contemplating putting boots on the ground. This is their fight, but we’re going to help them in their fight.
And yes, we have an interest. We have an interest in helping the legitimate and elected government be able to push back against the terrorists. This is a fight that is bigger than just Iraq. This is part of the reason why the Geneva conference is so critical, because the rise of these terrorists in the region and particularly in Syria and through the fighting in Syria is part of what is unleashing this instability in the rest of the region. That’s why everybody has a stake. All of the Gulf states, all of the regional actors, Russia, the United States, and a lot of players elsewhere in the world have a stake in pushing back against violent extremist terrorists who respect no law, who have no goal other than to take over power and disrupt lives by force.
And the United States intends to continue to remain in close contact with all of the Iraq political leaders to see how we can continue to support their efforts in the days ahead. But it is their fight; that is what we determined some time ago, that we can’t want peace and we can’t want democracy and we can’t want an orderly government and stability more than the people in a particular area, in a particular country or a particular region. And so we will help them in their fight; but this fight, in the end they will have to win, and I am confident they can.
MODERATOR: Anne Gearan.
QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, you mentioned the Geneva II conference a moment ago. You’re less than two weeks out from that event now, and the question as to whether Iran will be invited is still open. What is your current position? Do you want to see Iran included? And even if they don’t sign up to all of the principles of Geneva I, isn’t it better to have them working alongside you than potentially (inaudible)?
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, Iran could participate very easily if they would simply accept publicly the Geneva I premise on which Geneva II is based. We are not going to Geneva to just have a discussion. We are going with the purpose of implementing Geneva I. That was the premise originally that Foreign Minister Lavrov and I announced in Moscow. That has been the premise of organizing this. That will be the premise of the invitation that is sent out by the secretary general of the United Nations. We are going to implement Geneva I, which calls for a transition government by mutual consent with full executive authority; and if Iran doesn’t support that, it’s very difficult to see how they’re going to be “a ministerial partner” in the process.
Now, could they contribute from the sidelines? Are there ways for them conceivably to weigh in? Can their mission that is already in Geneva be there in order to help the process? It may be that there are ways that that could happen. But that has to be determined by the secretary general and it has to be determined by Iranian intentions themselves. But in terms of a formal invitation or participation, that is for those who support the Geneva I implementation, and that’s the purpose of the Geneva conference.
QUESTION: Would you like to see Foreign Minister Zarif attend on the sidelines then at the invitation of the secretary general --
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, I think I just spoke to it. I think that we’re happy to have Iran be helpful. Everybody is happy to have Iran be helpful. But we have a huge piece of business on the table with Iran right now to complete the task of the implementation language and get moving with respect to the negotiations on their own nuclear program and the challenge of that particular relationship.
So Iran knows exactly what it has to do with respect to the nuclear program as well as with respect to Geneva II. And it’s very simple: come join the community of nations and do what all of us are committed to doing, which is try to bring about a peaceful resolution in Syria by virtue of the implementation of Geneva I.
MODERATOR: Thanks, everyone.
SECRETARY KERRY: Thank you all. Appreciate it.