Remarks After Meeting of International Support Group on Lebanon
Secretary of State
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, good evening everybody. Thank you very much. I know you’ve all been extremely patient and it’s been a long day.
First of all, I want to thank Foreign Minister Fabius and the French Government for a tremendous job of hosting the International Support Group on Lebanon today. And I really don’t want – none of us want the importance of what we came here to talk about with respect to Lebanon to be lost in all of the obvious discussions that have taken place with respect to the question of Ukraine.
But the countries that came to Paris today for this very important and timely meeting are – all of us – bound together by a very strong commitment to Lebanon. As Syria’s conflict spills over Lebanon’s borders, and as the refugee crisis grows, we are deeply concerned for the security and the sovereignty of the people of Lebanon and for their simple ability to be able to chart their own futures and fulfill the same basic aspirations that they share with everybody else on this planet.
The president, President Suleiman, pulled out and showed me a very dramatic charting that goes for the last few years – four different charts that show you the extraordinary change in Lebanon of the numbers of refugees as every year upwards, the entire country has become a swatch of red. Instead of red dots, the entire border is really red today because there are almost a million refugees in Lebanon. This has an extraordinary impact on the internal dynamics of a country: people who are looking for work, people who work for less; it drives wages down; it changes the nature of that nation. So the United States is very proud to have provided Lebanon just in the last year or so with respect to its development process $340 million the last few years in humanitarian aid. And we will continue to support the Lebanese Armed Forces and other security institutions.
Of course, you can’t talk about the values of sovereignty, security, and determination, and economic opportunity without coming quickly back to the events of the last days in Ukraine. Ukrainians told me yesterday in Kyiv how desperately they want a government that has the consent of the people and an economy that gives them a chance to be able to live just like everybody else. I told the story of a person who had been to Australia who came back and said “We just want to be able to live the way other people live, the way we’ve seen them live.”
Well, today our fellow foreign ministers and I met separately with our Ukrainian counterpart Foreign Minister Deshchytsia and our Russian counterpart Foreign Minister Lavrov. And we met as a group also, a group of concerned countries. We agreed to continue intense discussions in the coming days with Russia, with the Ukrainians, in order to see how we can help normalize the situation, stabilize it, and overcome the crisis. And those intentions are intentions that are shared exactly as I have described them between Russia, the United States, the European countries, and Ukrainians who were here.
All parties agreed today that it is important to try to resolve these issues through dialogue. The United States, with our partners, is focusing intensely on a remedy. And I don’t believe as any of us believe – President Obama doesn’t believe it, I don’t believe, the other countries we’re working with I know they don’t believe – that any of us are served by greater or further confrontation. And also, we met today to discuss these issues because we cannot and will not allow the integrity of the sovereignty of the country of Ukraine to be violated and for those violations to go unanswered.
Russia’s violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity has actually united the world in support of the Ukrainian people. And this morning, Secretary Hagel announced that the Defense Department is taking concrete steps to reassure our NATO allies, steps like expanding our aviation detachment in Poland and our contributions to NATO’s Baltic Air Policing Mission.
This is on top of other steps that the United States has already taken, steps like suspending our bilateral discussions with Russia on trade and investment, suspending U.S.-Russia military engagement, and suspending preparations for the G8 summit in Sochi.
As I said yesterday in Kyiv and as President Obama has said as well, and as I said to Foreign Minister Lavrov today, Russia made a choice, and we have clearly stated that we believe it is the wrong choice, that is, the choice to move troops into Crimea. Russia can now choose to deescalate this situation, and we are committed to working with Russia and together with our friends and allies in an effort to provide a way for this entire situation to find the road to de-escalation. The United States is ready to work with all parties to make that happen and to make it happen as soon as possible.
We renew our call for Russia to speak directly with the Government of Ukraine, to send troops back to their bases, and to welcome international observers and human rights monitors. And we’ve seen today with what happened with Special Envoy Serry just how important it is to ensure the safety of those monitors and of those observers. Ukraine’s territorial integrity must be restored and must be respected.
From Lebanon to Ukraine, the United States stands ready to help our friends in a time of need. And today, those needs obviously are great in different places, different kinds of needs in different places. We especially thank our friends here in France for their partnership as we work to address these challenges and many others. For instance, Iran’s nuclear program – we’re working together. Violence in the Central African Republic – we’re working together. In the pursuit of reconciliation in Mali, we are working together.
All of these efforts require international cooperation, so coming together as a community of nations, as we did today, is the best way to resolve these kinds of problems that concern us. And today, I believe we initiated a process that over the next couple of days we hope can bring us to that de-escalation and to a path for the protection of the integrity of a country and for the building of stronger relationships between other nations.
On that note, I’d be delighted to take any questions.
MS. HARF: Great. Our first question comes from Anne Gearan of The Washington Post (inaudible).
QUESTION: Thank you. Mr. Secretary, you just renewed the U.S. call to Russia to speak directly to the new Ukrainian Government. You were hoping that that would happen today, right, here between Lavrov and the Ukrainian foreign minister who accompanied you here, apparently for that purpose. Why did that effort fail, and what assurance did you get, if any, from the Russians that they might be willing to have that kind of conversation in the future?
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, Anne, let me make it absolutely crystal clear: I had no expectation, zero expectation, that today that kind of a meeting would take place. I did not expect it and we did not ask the foreign minister to come here for that purpose. So the premise of the question is really just not factual in terms of what we were expecting.
We brought him here because we knew that it was inappropriate for us to have discussions with Minister Lavrov, whom I knew I had a meeting with, without being able to consult with our Ukrainian friends. And it would have been inappropriate for us to come here to Paris and for a group of nations to join together and make some kind of an agreement without the appropriate consultation and engagement and involvement and signoff from the people who are concerned. This is a Ukrainian decision, and we respect that.
So we met – all of us – as a group of foreign ministers with the foreign minister from Ukraine. We went through the things that we have discussed today. We solicited opinion. I will be in touch later tonight with the foreign minister as well as with the prime minister of Ukraine. They’re traveling to Brussels for meetings tomorrow with the EU, and we will continue that discussion. I will also continue that discussion.
I will also continue the discussion with Foreign Minister Lavrov in Rome tomorrow. Foreign Minister Lavrov will then return to have discussions with President Putin, which he also did today. He will continue to have that discussion. And I will, obviously, have an opportunity to have a discussion with President Obama and with the team in the White House in order to discuss the road forward.
But we had very thorough discussions today, very extensive, exchanged ideas. We both have thoughts to take back to our capitals and to our respective bosses, and I intend to do that, and with hopes – with hopes – that the ideas that have been put on the table today can lead us to that place of de-escalation that I talked about.
MS. HARF: Great. Thank you. Our next question is from (inaudible) of Le Monde. And wait for the microphone. I think it’s right there. Thank you.
QUESTION: (In French.)
MS. HARF: Hold on one second.
SECRETARY KERRY: (In French.)
QUESTION: (In French.)
SECRETARY KERRY: (In French.)
QUESTION: (In French.)
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, the decisions for the Europeans are decisions for the Europeans, and they’re meeting tomorrow, and I don’t think it’s appropriate for me to weigh in publicly on their deliberations.
With respect to the premise, again, of your question, don’t assume that we did not make – have serious conversations which produced creative and appropriate ideas and possibilities for how we can resolve this. I think that we have a number of ideas on the table. I personally feel as if I have something concrete to take back and talk to President Obama about so that I can get his input and thinking, advice, on what he’s prepared to do. And I believe that Foreign Minister Lavrov is in exactly the same position with respect to President Putin.
I don’t think any of us had an anticipation that we were coming here, at this moment in this atmosphere of heightened tension and confrontation, that we were suddenly going to resolve that here this afternoon. But I believe we are doing what is appropriate and what offers the best chance of finding a way forward that the world would welcome that is without conflict. As we said, we agreed today, both sides, and the Ukrainians also, that we are all better served if this can be resolved through dialogue. That’s important. I think it was a strong indication in the conversations that took place, not just between us but between us and our capitals, that everybody is taking seriously the effort to try to find a way forward, but a way forward that satisfies the needs, that protects the integrity and the sovereignty of the state of Ukraine, and one that obviously charts a path forward that has respect for the people of Ukraine and the direction that they have chosen to move in.
So I look forward to the conversations over the course of the next days, and we’ll see where we are. But I think today was very constructive, without promising something that is not defined yet, without raising hopes that are inappropriate to raise. I want to be realistic. This is hard, tough stuff and a very serious moment, but I’d rather be where we are today than where we were yesterday.
MS. HARF: Great. And the final question comes from Margaret Brennan of CBS.
QUESTION: Thank you. Thank you very much, Mr. Secretary. Was there anything in your direct conversation with Sergey Lavrov today that makes you believe that Russia is no longer creating a pretext for further invasion? And did you hear anything that would assure you – make you re-think the U.S. threat to put sanctions on Russia? That threat seems to have been weakened by European reluctance.
SECRETARY KERRY: I don’t think it’s been weakened at all by what you call European reluctance. The conversations I had today with the foreign minister of Germany, the foreign minister of France, the foreign minister of Great Britain, with the EU representative, and with a number of other foreign ministers, indicated to me that people are very serious about that. There’s been no movement away from the possibility.
And everything I said yesterday and the day before and through the week stands. That is where we are. But we are pursuing, as President Obama indicated he would like to in his comments yesterday and the day before, as I indicated on Sunday in my comments on television shows, we would prefer to find an appropriate, diplomatic solution to this, and I think everybody is better served through that.
But we’ve also made it clear our determination to stand up for the integrity and the sovereignty of this nation, our disagreement with the choice that Russia has made, and our hope that we can find a way forward that respects the rights and aspirations of the people of Ukraine writ large – east, west, south, all of Ukraine. That’s our goal. Nothing has changed with respect to that. And what the Europeans choose to do is obviously their choice. And we’ve made it clear that the decision to go into Crimea is not without cost. And now we need to go forward and see if we can avoid everybody being put in a corner where it’s more and more difficult to find a path that presents you with the solution of dialogue.
I was encouraged today that Russia indicated that they would prefer to see us be able to find that path. That’s the beginning of a negotiation. And as I said, this will belong in this discussion for whatever period of time to come. But our position has not changed one bit.
Thank you all very much. Appreciate it.
QUESTION: Did you all discuss the February 21st initiative, the February 21st agreement? Did you all discuss it with Lavrov?
SECRETARY KERRY: Nothing is agreed – nothing is agreed on that. There is no agreement at all. (Inaudible) discussion about having him in it, but nothing’s been agreed.
QUESTION: So you refute Sergey Lavrov’s comments about --
SECRETARY KERRY: I don’t think there was an agreement. There’s no agreement.
MS. HARF: Thank you, guys.
QUESTION: Thank you.