Press Availability in Sharm el-Sheikh

Press Availability
John Kerry
Secretary of State
Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt
March 14, 2015

SECRETARY KERRY: Good morning to all. I want to thank President al-Sisi and Foreign Minister Shoukry for their warm welcome here and for the tremendous work that the Egyptian Government has been doing with respect to the conference itself but equally importantly the larger issue of development and the reforms and initiatives that are necessary to really kick development off in Egypt at this point.

The United States, as I’ve said previously – I said last night – is committed to strengthening the partnership with Egypt. And we’ve been working hard at that over the last years. How Egypt develops in the coming years, how it succeeds, and how it recharges its economy will not only affect, obviously, the near 90 million people who are in Egypt, but it will also have a profound impact on the entire region. It is strategically important to this region and to all of us who are looking for stability and for a better standard of living and greater inclusivity and participation by citizens. It is important to make certain that Egypt can move along the road to development and to the full achievement of its democratic aspirations. And that’s something the United States will remain committed to.

So I came here today – came here over this weekend to this conference to reiterate the support of President Obama and the Obama Administration and the people of the United States for Egypt as it undertakes significant reforms and works toward the economic transformation that all the people of Egypt are hoping for.

Over the past few days, I have met with a range of American business leaders in order to discuss the specific concerns that they have raised with my economic team both in Washington as well as here in their visits. And I had a very candid and constructive conversation with President Sisi and Foreign Minister Shoukry about how to will improve the business climate, specific steps that, in some cases, they’ve already made the decision and need implementation and in other cases will still need further legislation.

But all of these things are key to attracting new investment. Everybody knows that money, capital, behaves in fairly predictable ways. And those who make decisions about investment look for certainty. They look for confidence. They look for the knowledge that, if they invest, what they’re investing in will be a transparent and accountable transaction.

The Egypt Economic Development Conference underscores, I think, in the breadth of the numbers of people who were here – the high-level participation says a lot about the deep well of support for Egypt, the shared hopes for Egypt, which are really reflected in that. And also, it underscores the challenges that Egypt faces as it works to meet the democratic aspirations of its people.

We also discussed the importance of respect for human rights and for Egypt’s security and stability, including a free press, a free speech and assembly, and due process under the law. And there is no question that Egypt is stronger when all of its citizens have a say and a stake in its future, and that includes a strong and active and independent civil society.

President Sisi and Foreign Minister Shoukry and I also continued our conversation about the important role that Egypt is playing in the coalition against ISIL and the challenges of extremism, violent religious extremism that is manifested in many ways in the region. We have all been deeply shocked and saddened by the recent terrorism attacks, including of those in Egypt and the grotesque murder of 21 Egyptian Copts in Libya.

The United States supports Egypt’s efforts to combat the threat of terrorism in the Sinai and throughout the country. And these atrocities that we have all witnessed around the world simply cannot be rationalized, they cannot be excused, they must be opposed, and they must be stopped.

Now I also met, as I think many of you know, with President Abbas and King Abdullah and President Sisi in a side meeting to the conference. And particularly at this week’s conference, which underscores the powerful connection between investments in business and investments in peace, we discussed efforts to develop a healthy, sustainable, and private sector-led Palestinian economy, one that could transform the fortunes of the Palestinian people and all of their neighbors in the region.

Before I take your questions, let me also just say a word quickly about the P5+1 talks with Iran. From the beginning, these talks have been tough and they’ve been intense, and they remain so. And we’ve made some progress, but there are still gaps, important gaps, and important choices that need to be made by Iran in order to be able to move forward.

Now I want to be very clear. Nothing in our deliberations is decided until everything is decided. And the purpose of these negotiations is not just to get any deal; it is to get the right deal. President Obama means it when he says, again and again, that Iran will not be permitted to get a nuclear weapon. As you all know, Iran says it doesn’t want a nuclear weapon, and that is a very welcome statement that the Supreme Leader has, in fact, incorporated into a fatwa. And we have great respect – great respect – for the religious importance of a fatwa. And what we are effectively trying to do is translate that into legal language, into everyday language within the framework of a negotiated agreement that everybody can understand, which requires everybody to have certain obligations and ultimately be able to guarantee that Iran’s program, its nuclear program, will be peaceful now and peaceful forever.

Now sanctions alone can’t achieve that. We need a verifiable set of commitments. And we need an agreed-upon plan that obviously provides the access and the opportunity to be able to know what is happening so that you can have confidence that the program is, indeed, peaceful. That’s what we’re negotiating about. And we need to cover every potential pathway – uranium, plutonium, covert – that there might exist towards a weapon, and only an agreement can do that.

So what’s the alternative? In previous years, when U.S. policy was not to talk to Iran and insist at the same time that they could have no nuclear program whatsoever, the number of centrifuges skyrocketed. Every time negotiations have broken down in the past, Iran’s nuclear program has advanced. Only the joint plan, which Iran agreed to and fully implemented, has actually succeeded in freezing Iran’s program for the first time in nearly 10 years, and even rolled it back in some cases. And they agreed to that, because they have an interest in proving that their plan is peaceful.

The comprehensive plan will lock in, with greater specificity and breadth, if we can arrive at it, the ways in which Iran will live up to its international obligations under the NPT for the long term. So we continue to be focused on reaching the right deal, a deal that would protect the world, including the United States and our closest allies and partners, from the threat that a nuclear-armed Iran could pose. We still don’t know whether or not we will get there, and that’s why I will travel to Lausanne in Switzerland tomorrow in order to meet with Foreign Minister Zarif and once again engage in talks to see if we can find a way to get that right deal.

As I have said previously, it may be that Iran simply can’t say yes to the type of deal that the international community is looking for. But we owe it to the future of everybody in the world to try to find out. If we cannot get to a diplomatic agreement, make no mistake, we obviously do have other options. But those options will mean no transparency, they will mean no verifiable set of commitments, and they don’t close off Iran’s potential pathways to a nuclear weapon for nearly as long as a negotiated agreement can, if it’s the right agreement. And so we will return to these talks, recognizing that time is of the essence, the clock is ticking, and important decisions need to be made.

And with that, I would be very happy to answer a few questions.

MS. HARF: Great. Our first question is from Margaret Brennan of CBS. And I think we have mikes coming to you.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, thank you. With the deadline for a deal so close, do you believe that a deal is within reach? And given the recent comments by the Supreme Leader as well as some of U.S. allies, do you think that the GOP letter has undermined the diplomacy and made reaching of an agreement that much harder?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, the deadline is approaching. As you all know, we have set the end of the month as the deadline. And so we will be going into this understanding that time is critical. I can’t tell you whether or not we can get a deal or whether we’re close. And one reason I can’t tell you is because we have heard some comments from the Supreme Leader regarding the letter that was sent by the 47 senators. And until I engage in those conversations, I cannot gauge on a personal level that reaction – though I can tell you from common sense that when the United States Senate sends a letter such as the 47 senators chose to send the other day it is a direct interference in the negotiations of the executive department. It is completely without precedent, and it is almost inevitable that it will raise questions in the minds of the folks with whom we are negotiating as to whether or not they are negotiating with the executive department and the President, which is what the Constitution says, or whether there are 535 members of Congress.

Let me make clear to Iran, to our P5+1 counterparts who are deeply involved in this negotiation, that, from our point of view, this letter – the letter was, in fact, incorrect in its statements about what power they do have. It was incorrect in its assessments of what type of agreement this is. And as far as we are concerned, the Congress has no ability to change an executive agreement per se. So we will approach these negotiations in the same way that we have approached them to date, not affected externally but looking at as this Administration, according to President Obama’s instructions, to get the right deal that will accomplish what we need to for the security interest of the United States, our friends and allies in the region, and for the long-term security of everybody who cares about nonproliferation.

MS. HARF: Great. Our --

SECRETARY KERRY: And with respect --

MS. HARF: Go ahead. Sorry. Go ahead, sir.

SECRETARY KERRY: No, no. That’s it. Thank you.

MS. HARF: Okay. Our next question is from Ronda Abulazin of Al Arabiya. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, welcome. You came here with – okay, can you hear me now? You came to Egypt with a very strong message in support of its – reform its economy, its security. However the United States is still holding part – a big part of its military aid to Egypt, which is very crucial for its fight – Egypt’s fight against terrorism, whether in Sinai or to protect its border. So when will the United States release the military aid? And does it include F16?

My other part of the question, the war against ISIL in Iraq. The scene there looks very – really bizarre. Did the Iraqi prime minister allow the contribution of Iranian Qods brigade and Hizballah without the U.S. knowledge, especially that the U.S. is providing military counsel on the ground and military operation room? Thank you.

SECRETARY KERRY: Thank you very much. With respect to the aid and assistance, I really expect a decision very soon. We look at this conference as a very important step, mostly because this conference is focused on private sector contributions and private sector engagement in the future of Egypt. We applaud those countries who have put very significant amounts of money on the table in order to help Egypt over the hump, if you will, over these hurdles of the immediate budget crisis. And it’s a very important part of the overall effort to sustain and kick into higher gear Egypt’s economy.

But in the long run, unless Egypt transforms its economy with more private sector investment, creating long-term jobs and opening up new capabilities, you will just keep repeating the cycle of emergency assistance and aid. So we think the most important thing that we can do is help provide access to those companies and help to leverage the relationships that can create jobs for the people of Egypt.

Now we’re already doing that. Last year, before this conference, 160 American businesspeople, representing some 70 companies from the United States, came to Cairo. I think President Sisi spent about two hours with them, and they had long conversations about what Egypt’s needs are. Out of that have come a number of deals, which will create jobs in Egypt. I know General Electric, for instance, signed deals with respect to the Suez and other provision of power – other deals were made.

But in addition to that, we are providing economic assistance in the hundreds of millions of dollars that will be directed to small business enterprises and to new startups, because we want to see a sustainable economy grow in Egypt. Right now, the United States of America is providing over 20 percent of all foreign direct investment in Egypt. It’s a total of about $2.2 billion. And it is the number-two largest foreign direct investor in Egypt. So I hope that will share with the people of Egypt and the government a sense of our commitment to this. And we have top executives who are here, part of this conference, in order to try to grow the private sector entrepreneurial component of job creation in Egypt.

With respect to Iraq and the question of --

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

SECRETARY KERRY: I said the decision – I think we’ll come – that’s what I said, very soon, very soon.

With respect to Iraq, we absolutely have known of Iran’s engagement in the northeastern parts of Iraq and, indeed, we’ve had conversations with Prime Minister Abadi about it. He doesn’t hide it, and we’re not blind to it. We know that Iran has been engaged. We know that General Soleimani has been on the ground. We know that they have an interest. We understand that. And we fully understand some of their engagement with some of the militia. At the same time, they are deeply opposed to Daesh. And while we are not coordinating with Iran – we do not have conversations with Iran about this – we work through the Iraqi Government. We do so with the knowledge that they are also opposed to Daesh and are working for Daesh’s defeat.

Now going forward, I would also note that part of this operation in Tikrit also involves significant participation by Sunni tribes and Sunni participants from the region. And the governor in Salah al-Din province was well aware of what is happening and of this whole-of-government initiative, whole-of-coalition effort, to continue to press the fight against Daesh. And even while the fighting in Tikrit is taking place, there are several other fights taking place nearby which involve significant Sunni participation, U.S. support, and others.

So what we made clear some months ago when we first announced the coalition, lots of countries will make lots of different kinds of contributions, and every country can make some kind of contribution, and all of us are committed to the defeat of Daesh. And the sooner that can happen, the better.

Now the real measure of the Tikrit operation will not be just in the clearing; it will be in how people are treated afterwards. It will be in whether or not there is a inclusivity or whether there is, in fact, a breakdown into a kind of sectarian division. So we’ll watch that carefully. We will work with the Government of Iraq very carefully to do our best to minimize or avoid that. But we are not surprised at all by the participation such as it has been with respect to the Tikrit operation itself.

MS. HARF: Great. Our final question is from Lesley Wroughton, Reuters. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you. Mr. Secretary, do you want to see the Israeli-Palestinian process restarted after next week’s election? With the center left holding a solid lead in the election, does that brighten for you the prospects when it comes to moving forward on the Middle East peace process? When – do you expect that after the politics of the election has passed a new spirit can be brought to this process?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, let me just say that the position of the United States, with respect to the long expressed hopes of Republicans and Democrats alike, of many presidents over the last 50 years or more, has always been for peace. And President Obama remains committed to a two-state solution and remains hopeful that when there – whatever choice the people of Israel make, that there will be an ability to be able to move forward on those efforts.

I’m not going to say anything more whatsoever about any aspect of that because there is an election in, what, three days, three and a half, four days, and I don’t want any comment I make misinterpreted in any way by anybody. And therefore, I will simply reiterate the longstanding commitment of the United States to peace and our hopes that the choice that the people of Israel make will not only meet their needs domestically and their hopes in their country, but obviously meet the hopes for peace, which I think everybody shares.

MS. HARF: Thank you very much.

SECRETARY KERRY: Thank you, all. Thank you very much, everybody. Appreciate it. Thank you.

QUESTION: One question on --

SECRETARY KERRY: Did you have one? One more.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MS. HARF: Okay. Wait, wait. Okay. We can do one more, if Secretary has some time. We’ll do Dalia Ashraf of Al Nahar TV.

SECRETARY KERRY: Dalia? Who’s Dalia?

MS. HARF: Sorry. Dalia.

SECRETARY KERRY: This is Dalia here?

QUESTION: Yes, of course. Egyptians felt yesterday in your speech to the American Chamber of Commerce that you that expressed more U.S. support for Egypt. Can you explain this change?

SECRETARY KERRY: That I did what?

QUESTION: More support, more American support for Egypt. Can you explain this? In your speech yesterday --

SECRETARY KERRY: That I expressed --


SECRETARY KERRY: -- more support for Egypt?


SECRETARY KERRY: Well, we are supportive. I was very clear about our hopes for Egypt to move down the road of the democratic process, to continue to make progress in its internal relationship with the people of Egypt. We’ve always expressed that. But we’ve also expressed the connection of jobs and of economic opportunity to help provide stability and help provide the basis for all the other aspects of civil society to be able to come together. The stronger the economy, the more opportunity there is, the more that young people coming out of university can find a future that they want here, the stronger Egypt will be. And what I expressed yesterday was our commitment to the continued steps to move towards a full democratic process, a respect for rights, a respect for speech, as I mentioned earlier, the full participation of people in the society, at the same time as they are making very serious commitments to the social fabric and the economic opportunities that actually strengthen that social fabric.

So that’s really what I was talking about. It’s the link to those businesses. It’s why what I just said about America being the number-two nation in foreign direct investment in Egypt is so important, because that’s how you build the capacity of the society to embrace all of these other hopes and aspirations that the people have.

MS. HARF: Okay. That really is it, guys. Thank you very much for coming.