Remarks With Egyptian Foreign Minister Shoukry After Their Meeting

John Kerry
Secretary of State
Cairo, Egypt
October 12, 2014

FOREIGN MINISTER SHOUKRY: (via translation) Good evening. I met this morning with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry in the framework of our recent series of meetings. This meeting follows the meeting in New York between President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi and the U.S. President Barack Obama, in which both sides confirmed the importance of the strategic bilateral relations and their joint commitment to continue these relations for the best interest of both sides and for what they bring about in terms of stability in the Middle East.

This morning, we had the opportunity to exchange views once again on how to strengthen the Egyptian American relations. In the meeting, we also discussed regional issues of interest for both sides, particular countering the growing terrorist currents that seek to destabilize the region, and also the developments in Iraq, Syria and Libya and other issues of mutual interest. Of course, our discussions also focused on the Palestinian issue, in line with participation of the U.S. Secretary of State in the Gaza Reconstruction Conference. And I take this opportunity to thank him for his presence here and for the significance of such a presence, which represents the interest of the U.S. in continuing the hard work of reaching a final settlement for the Palestinian-Israeli conflict that leads to two states; the State of Palestine and the State of Israel, in accordance with the rules of international legitimacy.

The U.S. participation in this conference was significant in delivering a message of solidarity from the U.S., the international community and all parties to the Palestinian people and their suffering and the need to address the human hardships that resulted from the war in Gaza this summer and to push forward international efforts to make this conference a launching pad for a final resolution of the Palestinian crisis. So I would like to ask the Secretary of State for his participation in the conference and also for continuing to coordinate and consult with us in line of our mutual interest in strengthening the bilateral relationship and working together on regional and international issues that need interaction from both the U.S., which is a significant international power, and the Egypt and its capability to have positive impact on developments in its regional sphere. And I give the floor to Secretary Kerry.

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, thank you very much, Sameh. It’s a great pleasure for me to be back in Cairo, and I want to thank President Sisi and Foreign Minister Shoukry for not just the warm welcome that they've issued today to all of us who took part here, but also the tremendous amount of work that they have put into organizing this conference, and frankly, helping to show leadership with respect to one of the most vexing challenges that we face on a global basis. I think all of us are grateful for the effort to convene everybody here. And I want to thank Foreign Minister Brende of Norway also. Norway, as we all know, has had a long, abiding passion for the subject of peace in the Middle East, and going back two decades to Oslo, Norway has really been very much engaged in this effort.

It’s good to be at an event where the results are positive and so many people have come together to contribute significant amounts of money over the next several years. More than 50 countries and organizations came here from near and far, united in our determination not only to rebuild Gaza, but to chart a different course for the future. This is the third time in less than six years that together with the people of Gaza, we've been forced to confront a reconstruction effort. And this is the third time in less than six years that we've seen war break out and Gaza left in rubble. So now is the time to break this cycle, once and for all, and that means addressing both the immediate concerns on the ground as well as the underlying causes of the discontent and anger, frustration, that has fueled this conflict in the first place.

Israel clearly has a right to be deeply concerned about rockets and tunnels and security of its citizens. And Palestinians also have a right to be concerned about day-to-day life and their rights and their future aspirations to have a state. It is possible, in our judgment – President Obama’s, mine, the American people – to bring these parties ultimately together, but you have to believe in that possibility as a starting point. And we do. I’m proud that the people of the United States have provided already $118 million in the last months for immediate humanitarian assistance, and on top of that, some $84 million to the United Nations efforts for the Gaza operations.

Today, I announced an additional $212 million in assistance to the Palestinian people as part of this effort today to create reconstruction funding. This money will mean relief and reconstruction, and it will provide for the distribution of food and medicine, shelter materials, for hundreds of thousands of people in the coming winter. And it will help reconstruct Gaza’s damaged water and sanitation system so that the Palestinians in access – can have access to water on a daily basis that they can drink, and homes that they can return to or start rebuilding.

Now, obviously, it goes without saying that there’s much more to be done. We all understand that. Today is a beginning, not an end. Maybe, to paraphrase an old saying, it’s the beginning of the end with respect to the conflict components, but that remains yet to be seen. In order for the construction to succeed, there has to be real change on the ground. Even the most durable of ceasefires is not a substitute for real security for Israel or a state and dignity for the Palestinians. There is no way to fully satisfy each party’s demands – the full measure of disarmament or security for Israel, or the full measure of rights for Palestinians in Gaza. There’s no way to fully satisfy that without, in the end, building a long-term prospect for peace that builds confidence about the future.

So this is a time to remember what both sides stand to gain by moving forward, and candidly, what will be lost if we do not. Egypt has long played a pivotal role on this issue, from the peace treaty with Israel to its continuous efforts this summer to broker a ceasefire in Gaza. And Egypt remains a key partner for the United States and a leader in the region, and I look forward to conversations further tomorrow with both President al-Sisi and Foreign Minister Shoukry.

During my recent visits to Cairo, I've had candid conversations with President Sisi about the challenges that both of our countries face, and he has underscored that the central issue to Egypt’s future is economic. You got to put people back to work; you've got to build the dignity of day-to-day life; you have to open up opportunity; you have to attract capital; you have to prove to the world that the country is stable and open for business. And that’s what the current government is working hard to do.

And in our meetings today, I reiterated to Foreign Minister Shoukry our strong support for Egypt as it undertakes significant reforms and works towards economic transformation for all Egyptians. Even today, we talked about the possibility of General Electric bringing emergency and immediate power to Egypt and helping to be able to build out the power grid, which is essential to tourism, it’s essential to business, it’s essential to day-to-day life. And we believe there are ways for us to be able to work together and cooperate in these endeavors. And I talked just yesterday with the CEO of the company, who is prepared to work with this government in order to try to help make this kind of a difference.

The foreign minister and I also discussed, as we almost always have, the essential role of a vibrant civil society, a free press, due process under law. And there’s no question that Egyptian society always has been stronger – and is stronger – when all of its citizens have a say and a stake in its success. And Egypt has long been a country with a strong civil society. We look forward, in the days ahead, to Egypt’s announcement for its parliamentary elections in the near term.

And we also continued our conversations to help define the specific role that Egypt will play in the coalition against ISIL. We’re very grateful for President Sisi’s and the foreign minister’s engagement on that. From the word “go,” they have been in discussions and involved. And as President Obama made clear, the United States is committed to degrading and ultimately defeating ISIL. And I’m very pleased to say that more than 60 partners have now committed to joining us in this effort in a variety of ways. Not everybody will play a military role or a direct kinetic role. Some will help with respect to the delegitimization of Daesh’s claims with respect to religion. Some will work to prevent the flow of foreign fighters. Some will work to prevent the flow of funding. Some will work to train and assist and equip. And others will take part in military activity.

But all told, there is a broad-based coalition throughout this region that understands the evil represented by Daesh and that will stand against it, and stand for something – for the people’s rights to have a future that they can determine, not be dictated to, and certainly without fear of being beheaded or raped, children killed, grown people with their hands tied behind their back and shot en masse. This is a grotesque series of atrocities that have no place in the 21st century, and we are not going to go back to Medieval times.

So the coalition required to eliminate ISIL is not only or even primarily military in nature, and we welcome everybody’s contribution to that effort. Particularly, the effort to counter ISIL’s false claims about Islam, a peaceful religion. There is nothing about ISIL, as the Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia said, or the council that issues fatwas said, nothing whatsoever about ISIL that is related to Islam.

So all of these components have to work together in lockstep. And General John Allen, who is coordinating this – not commanding the military, but coordinating the overall coalition effort – just visited Egypt and other partner countries to make certain that all of the pieces are coming together. As an intellectual and cultural capital of the Muslim world, Egypt has a critical role to continue to play, as it has been, in publicly renouncing the ideology of hatred and violence that ISIL spreads, and we are very appreciative for the work that Egypt is already doing.

This was all a central topic of our discussion in Jeddah just last month, and again today in my conversations with Foreign Minister Shoukry, and it is really important that the religious establishments at al-Azhar and Dar al-Ifta are both fully supportive and understanding of the need to draw these distinctions with respect to religion.

So that’s where we are right now, but we know with absolutely clarity where we need to be in the months ahead, and we are determined to get there. I hope that over the course of the next days and weeks, more partners will come forward and more contributions will be announced, because, as I said a moment ago, ISIL has absolutely no place in the modern world, and it’s up to the world to enforce that truth. So we are committed to working with Egypt and with every nation of conscience and of conviction to degrade and ultimately defeat it wherever it exists.

And Mr. Foreign Minister, I thank you again for the warm hospitality today, for a well-organized conference, for a terrific result. We greatly appreciate your leadership and commitment on so many issues on which we are working together, and I look forward to continuing to work with you. Thank you.


MODERATOR: (via translation) Ms. Sana Mahamoud from Al-Shorouk newspaper.

QUESTION: (via translation) Mr. Secretary John Kerry, Egypt witnessed today international momentum and support to the Palestinian people. But does the U.S. have ideas to overcome the difficulties that the U.S.-sponsored Palestinian-Israeli negotiations have witnessed recently? The other question is for Minister Sameh Shoukry. Do you think that the reconstruction of Gaza is enough or that there is a need for a two-state solution and for ending the conflict according to a timetable? Thank you.

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, first of all, let me say that the United States, President Obama and myself, our whole country, are deeply committed to the possibility, to the need, the urgency, of having two states that live side by side, two peoples living in peace – Palestinian and Israeli. And we are as passionate and committed to achieving that goal today as we were on the day that President Obama began his term six years ago, and when I became Secretary of State and began the talks that reconvened. Regrettably, those talks fell apart, frankly, over more of an issue of process – the delivery of prisoners and timing and methodology – than over the fundamental divisive issues, even though there were still some differences. I haven’t talked a great deal about those talks and I don’t intend to begin now because we do want to get back to them, but I will summarize it by simply saying that progress was made – significant progress in certain areas – and we have a very clear vision of what each party needs in order to achieve two states. But it is up to the leaders; both leaders must make the decision that they’re prepared to come back and negotiate in order to achieve the peace that everybody in this region hopes for.

There wasn't one foreign minister that I met today, whether in the region or outside of the region, that didn't raise the issue of, “When can we get back to negotiations? How do we get back to negotiations? I hope you’re going to continue to push to get back to negotiations.” A continued refrain, because everybody understands – or almost everybody – the benefits that could come from peace for this region. Imagine the possibilities of the Arab Peace Initiative finally being, in one form or another – not exactly as it’s written today, but through the negotiations, using it as a foundation and a basis, then coming together and negotiating – imagine if all of the countries of the region were free to be able to make peace because Israel and the Palestinians have made peace. Imagine what would happen for travel, for education, for development, for business, for the flow of capital, for travel, for tourism. This would be the tourism center of the world. The possibilities are absolutely – fortunately, not beyond imagination, but really rather amazing.

So we are going to continue to push, but we can’t want to make peace, the United States or Egypt or any other country, more than the people in those two places want to make peace. And we certainly can’t want to do it more than the leaders want to make peace. But we’re going to continue. We are not stopping. We are committed to continuing to put ideas on the table, to continue to talk. As President Obama, however, has said, we have a lot of things on the table and we hope the leaders will make it clear quickly that they’re serious and they want to get back to the business of doing this because, if not, we've obviously going to put focus into those places and things where there’s a prospect of making a difference in the near term because of the urgency of other issues.

But this is urgent at this moment. That’s why I’m here. It’s why the President asked me to come here. And we have deep hopes that we can see the leaders of both the Palestinian Authority and of Israel make the decision that there are reasons they can see in the current construct of events in the region, the current leadership of the region – President Sisi, King Abdullah of Jordan, others – all of whom want to move in this direction and are ready to contribute to it. And hopefully, those leaders will see that this is a moment to actually take advantage of, not to run away from.

FOREIGN MINISTER SHOUKRY: (via translation) To answer your question, of course there is urgent physical need for the reconstruction of Gaza and the provision of necessary resources through the support that was translated today in the conference, because the humanitarian needs and the suffering that the Palestinian people have been subjected to have to be addressed and need mechanisms to deal with this suffering and to work on reconstruction and provision of basic needs.

But there is also international consensus that the repetition of violence resulting from three wars in Gaza over the past few years requires a permanent solution for the Palestinian issue in accordance with the rules of international legitimacy and the establishment of two states: a Palestinian state on all Palestinian soil according to the 1967 borders, with east Jerusalem as its capital, and this is the ambition of the Palestinian people and President Abbas expressed that again today. Of course, the Palestinian people are able and have all the qualifications and the right to take up their regional responsibility and to establish and run their independent state. So this conference saw delegations expressing commitment, pledges and calls to resume the negotiations process and reach a clear result that leads to the establishment of the Palestinian state. This is a very positive development.

And we listened to the many speeches, including that of the U.S. Secretary of State who confirmed this meaning. And we are confident that he will take measures in the coming period to support this trend, and if there is a political will on the part of Israel, the Palestinian Authority and the international community, there is no doubt that in the 21st century the occupation will have to end and the Palestinian state will have to be established.

MODERATOR: Our last question comes from Brad Klapper of The Associated Press. I think the microphone’s right behind you. Yes, thank you.

QUESTION: Thank you. Mr. Secretary, I’d like to pick up on your discussions you had today about the effort against the Islamic State. In Iraq, Anbar province could possibly fall, and already hundreds of thousands of Iraqis in Baghdad and its environs are living in fear. In Kobani, on the Syrian-Turkish border, the United Nations and others are warning of a massacre. And in both places, the ground – local ground troops that we’re hoping can turn the tide are clearly not up to the task yet. What is – what will the United States and its allies do to change the dynamic, and urgently, because it looks as if, on the one hand, there’s the threat of a major strategic defeat, and on the other, possible genocidal acts?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, thank you. A very important question. First of all, obviously we are all very concerned about the reports of gains in Kobani, and we’re closely monitoring the situation. In fact, we’re doing much more than just monitoring it; we’ve been deeply engaged with strikes in the last days. Even today, there were more strikes. And there was news today that they are continuing to hold the town. It has not been taken in completion, parts of it have. But we are in discussions with – I talked with President Barzani the other day. I've talked with Prime Minister Davutoglu a couple of times. And we’re in conversations with our partners in this coalition.

But I want to make it clear that as they make decisions about what the options are, Kobani does not define the strategy of the coalition with respect to Daesh. Kobani is one community, and it’s a tragedy what is happening there, and we don’t diminish that, but we have said from day one it is going to take a period of time to bring the coalition thoroughly to the table to rebuild some of the morale and capacity of the Iraqi army and to begin to focus where we ought to be focusing first, which is in Iraq, while we are degrading and eliminating some of the command and control centers and supply centers and fuel centers and training centers for ISIL within Syria.

Now, that’s the current strategy. And we expect, as we have said, there will be ups and there will be downs over the next days, as there are in any kind of conflict. But we are confident about our ability to pull this strategy together, given the fact that every country in the region is opposed to Daesh, without exception. And whether it’s Iran or Lebanon or Syria itself or Turkey or Iraq, Saudi Arabia, the Gulf states, they’re all opposed, and five Arab nations are involved in conducting attacks in Syria. So over time, we believe that the strategy will build, the capacity will build, Daesh will become more isolated. But ultimately, it is Iraqis who will have to take back Iraq. It is Iraqis in Anbar who will have to fight for Anbar. And we’re confident that just as that happened before, that can and will happen again, though it will take some time to build that capacity in order for it to be able to be effective.

So no one should anticipate – as President Obama said from day one, no one has been guilty of any exaggerated expectation here, certainly not from the Administration. The military leaders, the civilian leaders, from day one, have said this will be difficult, this will take time, we have to rebuild, we have to constitute the coalition, responsibilities have to be divided up, people have to get to their place of responsibility, and that is taking place now.

Meanwhile, ISIL has the opportunity to take advantage of that particular build-up, as they are doing. But I’d rather have our hand than theirs for the long run. And I think there are a lot of people in the region who know that.