Remarks at a Solo Press Availability
Secretary of State
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, good evening, everybody. Thanks for your patience. This has been a very productive couple of days, and I’m glad to have an opportunity to be able to catch up on the discussions that we’ve had, both with Foreign Minister Fabius as well as Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.
First, I want to say a special thank you to my friend, Laurent Fabius, not only for hosting us but for the very important partnership that he is providing and France is providing at a very eventful and consequential time for both of our countries. So today, it is clear that France and America are really facing up to and shouldering responsibilities together on challenge after challenge: from the fight against ISIL, to the challenges of Libya, to work on Iran’s nuclear program as partners in the P5+1, to the challenges of Syria, Ebola, and of course, Ukraine.
I also want to make clear that we’re very mindful always of the fundamental mission that we are engaged in, which is to stand by a Europe that is whole and free and in peace. And together with our partners in the European Union, the United States and France are deeply committed to Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. This was obviously a topic of the conversation that I had with Foreign Minister Lavrov tonight. I want to emphasize that Foreign Minister Lavrov and I came together here to discuss a broad array of issues and to try to find a way to recognize that where there are difference we try to manage those differences, but that we have major responsibilities together and that our countries have an ability to be able to cooperate and work together. And it was important, we believe, to find those places and those areas where you can cooperate and where we can make a difference.
We discussed Ukraine and the need for the full implementation of all of the 12 points of the September 5th Minsk Agreement. And the discussions also centered around those things that we need to do to try to continue to make progress on Ukraine. The shooting around Donetsk airport and other parts of eastern Ukraine has to stop. Foreign forces and weapons need to be withdrawn. Hostages – all hostages – need to be released, and that includes the pilot, Nadia Savchenko. And sovereignty has to be restored along the Ukrainian-Russian international border, and that border needs to be closed and held accountable.
I want to congratulate Ukraine’s Rada on passing the passage of anti-corruption legislation and on the judicial reform package that they passed today. These reforms actually speak very directly to the call of the Ukrainian people for real change and for an accountable government. And now, obviously, comes the hard work of implementing that legislation and of also engaging in other critical reforms that will transform Ukraine into a modern European state that will meet the demands of Ukraine’s people as well as the expectations and hopes of the international community.
Today, Ukraine also submitted a concrete proposal for the OSCE to border – to be able to manage and monitor the border. This proposal includes the restoration of the Ukrainian border and customs posts under OSCE monitoring and a pullback of heavy weapons, as outlined in the Minsk agreements that I mentioned a moment ago. So we also talked about the steps that need to be taken to improve the situation with respect to the OSCE being able to implement this plan as soon as possible.
I emphasized to Foreign Minister Lavrov that the only legitimate elections in Ukraine are the Rada elections on October 26th and the December 7th elections of local leaders in the Donbas special status zone, and in our judgment, any efforts to hold independence referenda in Luhansk and Donetsk at this time would be a violation of the Minsk agreements and the results will not be recognized by Ukraine or by the international community.
And finally, we discussed the importance – when I say finally, finally with respect to the issue of Ukraine, we discussed the importance of concluding the EU-Russia-Ukraine gas talks as soon as possible. With winter coming, the people of Ukraine and Europe need to be assured of a reliable supply of fuel.
Now, it is no secret that the United States and Russia have had our differences over Ukraine. But I want to emphasize what I said at the beginning of these comments. We came together today in order to try to focus on those issues where we can find the capacity to be able to make a difference to other countries, to the world in general, and certainly to the relationship between Russia and the United States. And so we talked about many other issues besides Ukraine. In fact, the bulk of the conversation today was on a host of other issues: Ebola, Afghanistan, Iran and the Iran talks, the DPRK and the question of its nuclear program, the Middle East peace process, what is needed with respect to both Syria and development and other challenges of the region such as Yemen and Tunisia.
And in addition, we particularly talked about ISIL. We both recognize the need to destroy and ultimately defeat ISIL, to degrade their efforts and ultimately to defeat them, and also to counter the violent and oppressive approach of ISIL. Minister Lavrov acknowledged, as we acknowledged, both of us have people from our countries who are fighting in ISIL. There may be as many as 500 or more from Russia. We both recognize that ISIL has absolutely no place in the 21st century. No decent country by any definition could support the horrors that are perpetrated by ISIL, and no civilized country should shirk its responsibility to stand up and be part of the effort to stamp out this disease.
In our discussions today, I suggested to Foreign Minister Lavrov that we intensify intelligence cooperation with respect to ISIL and other counterterrorism challenges of the region, and we agreed to do so. And we also agreed to explore whether Russia could do more to support Iraqi Security Forces, and the foreign minister indeed acknowledged their preparedness to help with respect to arms, weapons – they are doing that now and they already have provided some – and also potentially with the training and advising aspects.
The United States and Russia also continue to work closely together on Iran, and this was a major topic of our conversation today. Both of our countries are deeply invested in the P5+1 discussions together with our EU colleagues, and we are deeply committed to the diplomatic effort to try to reach an agreement that assures the international community of the fact that the Iranian nuclear program is exclusively peaceful. As part of that effort, we have built a broad coalition of countries, including Russia and our P5+1 colleagues, in order to ensure that the international community is speaking with one voice on this.
So I would close as I began by reminding all of you that my goal today – our goal today together – was to try to deepen our ability to be able to work together, to work with Russia where we can in the interest of both of our nations and of all those countries affected by the actions that we decide to take. We also agreed we have to tackle head-on those areas where we have a profound difference and find a way to try to work through those differences constructively. We know that when the United States and Russia do succeed in working together, the world can become a safer place, as was evidenced in our historic agreement to remove all of the chemical weapons that were declared under the conventional weapons system from Syria. And we accomplished that and we still remain focused on any potential remaining item that ought to be removed.
We also know that it is far better to sit down and try to work through these issues through the diplomatic channel to examine our differences, to understand our shared interests, and particularly today, on ISIL, on Iran, on Ebola, on issues of counterterrorism, on Afghanistan, we clearly not only had constructive discussions, but laid out a road ahead for us to be able to continue our work, including some of the discussions we need to have on the issues of proliferation and nonproliferation and nuclear weapons.
So with that, I am happy to answer a few questions.
MS. HARF: Great. Our first question is from Michael Gordon of The New York Times.
QUESTION: Sir, what specifically do the Russians still need to do at this point before economic sanctions on Ukraine, due to the Ukraine situation, can be eased and relations improved? And did you make any concrete headway in your talks with Minister Lavrov today on the issues you identified in the Minsk Agreement? For example, did the Russians inform you when all of their troops and equipment will be out of Ukraine and what steps they’re taking to restore Ukrainian sovereignty over the border? And did Minister Lavrov accept your point that independent referendum in eastern Ukraine would be a violation of the Minsk Agreement?
And lastly, if you know anything about the situation in Saudi Arabia, what was behind the shooting there that killed an American citizen? Could you please explain what that was all about, whether it was a disgruntled employee or something more significant? Thank you.
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, with respect to the Saudi Arabian situation today, I have obviously been on the road and been in discussions all day. I’ve been briefed on it, but we don’t have extensive information. We do know that two U.S. citizen employees from Vinnell Arabia, which is a U.S. defense contractor supporting the Saudi National Guard, that they were shot at a local gas station or store which is about a half a mile from the Vinnell Arabia base in Riyadh, and that’s about 20 miles away from the U.S. Embassy itself. One employee was killed and the other was lightly injured. Local police, we are told, responded.
We’re in close contact with the Saudi Government. We’re continuing to gather details about the incident. We cannot – I can’t speak to the motive at this point except to say to you that there are some questions about whether it was or wasn’t a disgruntled employee, and there’s – I can’t comment yet on whether or not – what sort of motive or act it really represented. I can tell you that we’re in the process of evaluating our security posture. We’re going to stay in very close touch with the Saudi authorities and make our judgments accordingly with respect to any other personnel.
With respect to the Minsk Agreement, there are four to five principal requirements with respect to the lifting of sanctions: the release of hostages, the release of all prisoners is one; the withdrawal of the forces, troops and equipment particularly is another; the closing of the border and accountability of the border through the OSCE process is another; and those are really the principal requirements that would result in a move on the sanctions. And at this point, we discussed these things, many of them happening now. The troops are pulling back. The heavy equipment still has to be pulled back. And the border is yet to be properly monitored and secured and put together.
There is an agreement reached in addition to the Minsk Agreement itself through further discussions between President Poroshenko and President Putin where they’ve agreed on some timelines on some of these things. And there will be a further meeting this Thursday in Milan, Italy at which President Poroshenko, President Putin will be present together with President Hollande and Chancellor Merkel and possibly others. And they will then be reviewing these requirements as well as the gas deal and other things. So we’ll wait to hear from that meeting and the results of that meeting sort of where things stand at that point in time.
But Minister Lavrov indicated that they are in the process of implementing Minsk. They believe the Minsk is a good format. We believe that Minsk is an acceptable agreement, but the requirements have to be fully implemented, obviously, and some of them are subject to interpretation. So over the course of the next weeks, people will measure that very carefully. And I suspect the meeting in Milan will flesh out further precisely what those timetables will be and what expectations have been met or haven’t been met. And we will follow up on that, obviously.
I think that – and the foreign minister did not agree with our judgment with respect to the referenda, and so that was a point of disagreement.
MS. HARF: Great. Our final question is from Sangwon Yoon of Bloomberg News.
QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, the national security advisor on Sunday said that Turkey agreed to allow coalition use of its military bases, and yet Turkish officials have denied that such an agreement was reached. And also Turkish military has begun striking PKK targets, which one could argue weakens the joint fight against Daesh. So can you clarify what understanding you have with the Turks regards to their role in the fight against Daesh? And what is their policy on this? And how tangible is it, regarding your understanding of it?
And on Iran, observers are increasingly skeptical that a comprehensive agreement can be reached by the deadline, and some are talking about an extension being needed. Now, is such an extension even possible? What would the terms of that be? And can you make the case for it to skeptical members of Congress? And how – I mean, how effective would a second year of dialogue with Iran be given such a deficit of trust between the two countries? Thank you.
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, I’m going to reduce all of your second part of your question to a fairly short answer. I’m leaving here tomorrow morning to go to Vienna to meet with Foreign Minister of Iran, Foreign Minister Zarif. I’m glad that all the pundits and speculators are doubting whether or not it can be reached. They know more than I do. (Laughter.) I can’t tell you. As I stand here tonight, I don’t have that answer and I’m not about to predict. I don’t believe it’s out of reach. But we have some tough issues to resolve, and I’m not going to prognosticate. We need to continue to have some serious discussions, which we will, and we’ll see where we are. And I just think I’ll let the negotiation process speak for itself at this point in time. I don’t think anything is served by a lot of speculation at this point in time.
With respect to – the first part of your question was on the – Turkey, yeah. There’s – Turkey is a very valued member of the coalition and has joined the coalition, is doing things in the coalition, is committed to things in the coalition. And as far as I know, there is no discrepancy with respect to what is going on. General Allen was there, he had long meetings with them. The meetings, in his judgment, helped to move the ball forward. And so I really think that Turkey obviously has a very important role to play in this process going forward. And I’m confident that that is going to be further defined by Turkey itself on their timetable as we go forward in assigning and undertaking responsibilities within the coalition. I mean, Turkey has agreed to host and train and equip people. It certainly has allowed the use of certain facilities, and we don’t need to get into specifics except to say that I don’t believe there is any discrepancy with respect to what they will or won’t do.
Thank you all. Appreciate it.
MS. HARF: Thank you.