Remarks With Djiboutian Foreign Minister Mahamoud Ali Youssouf
Secretary of State
FOREIGN MINISTER YOUSSOUF: (Via interpreter) Ladies and gentlemen, we are happy and proud to welcome in Djibouti Secretary of State John Kerry and his delegation. This is a historical visit which reflects the excellent relationships between Djibouti and the United States. Secretary of State John Kerry met this morning young Djiboutians as part of the YALI program, the Young African Leaders Initiative, which was launched by His Excellency President Obama. This meeting took place at the Salman Mosque. The exchanges between the Secretary of State and the young Djiboutians about the future of the country – these discussions were very fruitful. We talked about tolerance, coexistence.
And the Secretary of State also had a lengthy meeting with President Guelleh. The discussions pertained to bilateral relationships as well as the various crises in the region, notably Yemen and Somalia.
I will switch to English.
Mr. Secretary General, Djibouti is a good and loyal friend and a good partner to the United States, and it will remain so, given the daunting challenges our two nations are faced with in terms of peace and security. We will continue to fight terrorism together and promote tolerance and coexistence. Djibouti values the tremendous job done by the American forces in the Combined Joint Task Force, and I would remiss to my duty if I don’t underscore that the Camp Lemonnier provides lots of job opportunities to the young Djiboutians.
Mr. Secretary, we welcome you again and we are very sorry for the hot weather. (Laughter.) Next time you come, we will ask heaven to be more merciful. You have the floor, sir.
SECRETARY KERRY: (Laughter.) Well, Mr. Minister, don’t – I actually – we had a very tough winter this year, and particularly in Boston, so I don’t mind the weather at all. (Laughter.) I’m very happy to be warm.
Thank you. Excuse me. Thank you so much for a very generous welcome. Je vous remercie beaocoup. You and the president – I appreciate enormously the chance to be able to visit Djibouti. This is my first visit, not just as Secretary of State, but my first time ever. And so I really am appreciative of the opportunity to be here, and I want to thank President Guelleh and you, Foreign Minister Youssouf. Thank you very much for your generous welcome.
A year ago, President Obama and President Guelleh announced the annual U.S.-Djibouti Binational Forum, and we held the initial round of that this year in Washington. We had a very fruitful conversation there laying out a lot of the agenda. We’re following up on that agenda, I must say, speedily and effectively. And I’m pleased to be here now to follow up on the discussions and to be able to talk to the president himself about our relationship.
The United States and Djibouti, plain and simply are friends, and we are working together in common interest on any number of things – obviously security, but well beyond security too. We just talked about a new American school that hopefully will be able to open here shortly. There are other initiatives on the economy and elsewhere. Our discussions today really reflected that we have a lot to talk about, but also things that we can learn about. I will say a word about that in a minute.
Importantly, Djibouti has become a regional base for science, for education, for health, and for the environment. Djibouti is leaning forward on climate change and on new energy sources. In fact, the Government of Djibouti and the Minister of Higher Education and Research Nabil are hosting a conference this week on environmental risk and opportunities. And I was pleased to learn about the partnerships that the local institutions are forging with American universities in order to tackle the threat of climate change.
Earlier this morning, I was privileged, as the minister mentioned, to visit the Salman Mosque and to meet with a number of young students, men and women, who are the future of Djibouti and the future of our relationship. This part of the world has an incredibly rich culture, in part because of its strategic location, and that is a great source of prosperity. But also, it can put it into the center of conflict and turbulence, as we have seen most recently with the events in Yemen. So it matters a great deal that the United States and Djibouti are able to cooperate on the basis of both mutual respect, but also mutual interest, and that’s exactly what we’re doing.
One of the issues that we discussed today very briefly, because so much has happened in the positive – and I want to mention it – is piracy. Since 2007, Djibouti has been an essential partner, vital partner, in the international counter-piracy efforts. And that is important because as many of you remember, just a few years ago it seemed like the pirates were winning. At one point in 2011, pirates were holding some 32 merchant ships captive along with 736 hostages. It was a strange confrontation with history in a way, that at this moment in the 21st century, with all of our capacity and all of our communication, a major sea lane was in jeopardy because of pirates. And obviously, we made a fundamental decision it was unacceptable, it had to change.
With Djibouti’s cooperation, the world community was able to get itself together and strike back. Today, pirates hold no seaworthy ships in this region – zero – and only a small number of hostages, and we hope that before long, that too will be zero. What it proves is that we do have mutual interests where we can find a capacity to be able to cooperate and make a difference. And it goes to show that international teamwork has an ability to successfully meet some of the challenges that we see in the region.
The foreign minister and I also discussed our shared efforts to advance peace and stability in Somalia. And President Guelleh had, through his own connections and his own experience and his own concerns about Somalia and the commitment of Djibouti to be making a difference in Somalia, the president had some, I think, very relevant, important advice and counsel with respect to the road ahead. We agreed that it is critical for government to – the government in Mogadishu to finalize its constitution, hold democratic elections next year, and integrate – particularly important – integrate forces from Somalia’s regions into its national army. And the President importantly pointed out that having a national army which fully represents all of the different interests and people of Somalia will be critical to its ability to be able to have successful elections and move on to the future.
The United States Government recognizes – and I underscore that today both with my presence and what I’m saying – that the Government of Djibouti has made a very important contribution to this effort, and has also committed peacekeeping battalions – two of them – to AMISOM and has hosted the Italian Carabinieri, who train Somalia’s national police. The United States is going to continue to consult with Djibouti as we consider the provisions of broader security assistance to Somalia. And today, I say thank you to Djibouti for its contribution to this important global effort.
We’re also working with Djibouti to assist many thousands of refugees who have fled violence in the region. Djibouti has provided safe haven for many years to Somali refugees, and now, it is providing it to those seeking refuge from Yemen. We – excuse me – we recently provided $2 million to support the UNHCR’s operations in Djibouti alone, along with new support for humanitarian assistance in Yemen itself, where millions of vulnerable people urgently need help. And today, I am pleased to announce that the United States is providing another $68 million in humanitarian aid for Yemen. This contribution will include food, water, shelter and other necessities, and it will support vital work of the World Food Program, the UN High Commission for Refugees, UNICEF, the International Organization for Migration, and other international and nongovernmental organizations that are struggling to deliver aid in Yemen itself, on the ground.
In addition to welcoming Yemeni refugees, Djibouti has also helped to ensure the safe passage of thousands of evacuees from more than 60 nations, including American citizens. Our embassy here, ably led by Ambassador Tom Kelly, has helped hundreds of people to be able to secure medical care, temporary lodging, and the documentation that they need to be able to return home. And I want to thank everybody in our consular division in our embassy for their extraordinary work. The protection of American citizens abroad is a top priority, obviously, always. And we’re going to continue to do everything we can possible to be able to ensure their safety. But we are particularly grateful – we could not be doing what we’re doing today without the help of Djibouti.
We’re working with Djibouti on another challenge, which is helping the people of this country to generate a healthier and more dynamic national economy. That’s why we’re partnering with the government here on a new workforce development project that will help match the training of young people to the needs of today’s job market. During my conversation this morning with the youth leaders, I listened to each of them as they expressed their ambitions for the future, their hopes to learn English, to go to college, to university, to be able to find a job, to help to make a contribution to Djibouti. And what we, above all, want to do is prevent any young person from falling victim to the preying of violent extremists and people who offer a dead end instead of all of the possibilities of education and opportunity and work.
So I thought it was a valuable discussion, as Foreign Minister Youssouf suggested. It wasn’t as long as I would have enjoyed to hear from every single one of them. But I will share with President Obama, who has inaugurated this program called YALI, the Young African Leaders Initiative. And several of the people who were there this morning were either people who attended last year’s session in Washington of YALI or will come this summer. And I know in every case that I have met one of these exciting leaders from all over Africa, they are already fresh out of the university or in university or in early years of working, demonstrating remarkable leadership. They are the future leaders of the continent, and I have said many times, I say it again: I believe the history of this century is going to be defined by the remarkable growth and development of Africa.
I will also be reporting to the President that the friendship between the United States and Djibouti is healthy and it is strong, and we are very thankful to our hosts for their commitment to host our facility at Camp Lemonnier, where we try hard to be good guests. And I’m personally grateful always for the working relationship I have with Foreign Minister Youssouf, and very grateful for the warm welcome and hospitality here in Djibouti today.
With that, we’d be delighted, I’m sure, to take a couple questions.
MS HARF: Great. The first question is from Hidaya of RTV. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Hello, Mr. Secretary of State, Mr. John Kerry. My name is Hidaya Mohammed from RTD Radio and Television Broadcasting News Djibouti. So as you know, the international community deploys efforts --
SECRETARY KERRY: Hold the mike up to you there so I can --
FOREIGN MINISTER YOUSSOUF: (Inaudible.)
SECRETARY KERRY: Maybe it’s not even working.
FOREIGN MINISTER YOUSSOUF: (Inaudible.)
QUESTION: Sorry. As you know, the international community deploys major efforts in order to stop the terrorism, and the result are not (inaudible). So my question is: Is it a strategic problem, and can you explain this failure?
SECRETARY KERRY: This – try to – on which human?
QUESTION: The – this (inaudible) is progressing in Africa, as you know --
FOREIGN MINISTER YOUSSOUF: Terrorism.
SECRETARY KERRY: Terrorism. Counterterrorism.
FOREIGN MINISTER YOUSSOUF: Terrorism, yeah.
QUESTION: Yeah, terrorism.
SECRETARY KERRY: Yeah. Well, the rise of violent extremism is something that has challenged all of us in the world. Extremism and violence and terrorism is not new to this generation, but it really began to burst on the scene as a strategy by some people during probably the 1960s and ’70s, and then has grown but reached an altogether unfathomable, incomprehensible level of depravity and nihilism with the attacks that took place in 2001 in September in New York, and then subsequently in various other parts of the world, or during that period of time, certainly, other parts of the world.
Most recently with the rise of Daesh and al-Shabaab, al-Nusrah, al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula and various other entities, people have regrettably found a way to exploit a great religion and to present it in a completely false manner. And they take advantage of young people particularly, and particularly those who don’t have jobs, don’t have opportunities, people who are poor, and twist their minds, indoctrinate them, and send them on missions of death and terror to literally destroy – not to build, not to provide a future. I don’t hear any terrorist group in the world talking about building schools or introducing people to literature or building a world of tolerance and of opportunity. All you hear them talking about is how other people have to live the way they order them to, and if they don’t, they’ll kill them. And Daesh particularly has proven its readiness to take the lives of other people in the most grotesque public fashion, simply because those people are part of a different religion, part of a different belief, or aren’t them.
So we have to, all of us in positions of responsibility, do everything in our power to reach out to more people, to show them the utter depravity of one road versus the benefits of saying no and taking a difficult road to school, to education, to a job, to building community, to living by rule of law, and by understanding fully what the real nature of a particular religion or philosophy or ideology is.
Djibouti and its leadership understand this, and they are pushing back against this kind of extremist effort, as are all – every country in the region. There isn’t one country here – thank you, sir, very much – there isn’t one country here in the region that I know of as a country that supports Daesh. They’re all opposed to their activities.
And so Djibouti, thankfully, is today at the forefront of our global efforts against terrorism. Ever since September of 2001, Djibouti has fully cooperated with us on this issue, they’ve provided military access to Camp Lemmonier, they have welcomed U.S. counterterrorism training, and because of its strategic location and its proximity to areas of concern, the threat that it faces from al-Shabaab extremists on its own border or people attacking its border, Djibouti is a frontline state in the efforts to stand up against terrorism.
And we will continue to work very closely with the Djiboutian Government on counterterrorism strategies for all of east Africa, for the Arabian Peninsula, as part of our effort to try to offer the kinds of young people I met today at the Salman Mosque the future that they want so much. And we’re grateful to Djibouti for hosting the only military presence in Africa – about 4,500 U.S. military-contracted personnel are on the ground here, and we’re very grateful for this relationship and for what it means, I think, in answer to your question about the pushback against terrorism.
In the end, the victory will not be defined through the military component; it will be defined through the victory of young people over this who embrace a future defined by education, by rule of law, by job opportunities, by inclusivity, by tolerance, and by the real values and principles taught in every major religion and philosophy in the world, which is “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” and “Love your brother as yourself,” and so forth. That’s the golden rule, and that’s exactly what is really at the core of all of our efforts.
FOREIGN MINISTER YOUSSOUF: (Via interpreter) If I can say something to answer that question, to complement Secretary of State John Kerry’s answer, it’s that we must state loud and clear that religions themselves are not the source of terrorism, whichever religion. I’m not talking only about Islam. The source of terrorism, its expansion, its escalation come from the fact that there are states that have weak institutions or there are states that have failed to ensure security on their national territory. In Afghanistan, when the state failed, we saw what happened in terms of terrorist acts in New York – 9/11 – which was mentioned by the Secretary. In Somalia, when you had a failed state, we saw what the Shabaab were capable of doing.
Today, in Libya, we talk about al-Nusrah and other groups because the state no longer exists. Syria is in the same type of situation. These states whose institutions have collapsed and which today are experiencing a situation of security void are a fertile ground and the main source of the escalation and development of terrorist activities and terrorists in general. This is a point that I wish to underscore with respect to this question that you asked.
MS HARF: Great. Our next question’s from Lesley Wroughton of Reuters. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Excuse me. I’m sorry, Mr. Secretary. You’ve just pledged additional aid for Yemen, yet today humanitarian organizations said they were unable to operate in Yemen because they’ve run out of fuel. Is it time for that pause so that humanitarian efforts can be scaled up?
Also, looking at Yemen, the Saudi campaign has dialed back on these bombardments, yet its failed to make massive changes on the ground. The Houthi still are entrenched in areas that they’ve taken up. Is it perhaps time to relook at this campaign and your support for it?
Mr. Foreign Minister, Djibouti has played a significant role in bringing it – in taking in foreigners as they’ve evacuated Yemen. What other assistance have you asked from the United States as you deal with increased refugees from this conflict?
FOREIGN MINISTER YOUSSOUF: If I may start?
SECRETARY KERRY: You go ahead. Yeah, go ahead.
FOREIGN MINISTER YOUSSOUF: Actually, we have been dealing with this influx of refugees from Yemen for the past three months – or two months, to be more exactly – by ourselves. I mean that the Government of Djibouti national solidary, social NGOs, communities have been deploying all kind of efforts to assist these people. Of course, so far we have evacuated 12,000 refugees from Yemen. Most of them were not Yemenis. They were Americans, Chinese, Indians, and many other nationalities. We held them at the port, at the airport. We evacuated them to gathering centers sometimes, sometimes to hotels. And we facilitated their evacuation and repatriation to their homeland.
We still have a few thousands of Yemenis in Djibouti. Some of them and their families in the capital. Around 1,000 are located in a region called Obock. We don’t have the facilities to house them there, but we opened a stadium for them. We opened other facilities belonging to private associations. We created a refugee camp there, but it is so hot and the weather is becoming very, very tough. So they are requesting to be removed or moved from that place to Holhol which is in the southern part of the country where the climate is a little bit more acceptable in a way.
But as we all know, the response of the international community takes time. We have been – we launched the call, the appeal to the international community so that the assistance can flow in, but so far we are still expecting that response. But anyway, the overall conditions of the refugees are quite satisfactory. We have a number of medical teams on the spot, some coming from NGOs. Doctors Without Borders, Arab NGOs, and others are trying to help to cover the medical needs of the refugees. And the Djiboutian Government (inaudible) Djiboutian people provides for the food and all other stuffs.
But the – I mean, the offer or the proposal of increasing the assistance to the refugees by the Secretary of State is a good omen. It is indeed a good omen because these people are in need for everything – everything. And we think that the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques also announced something like $273 million for the refugees and the Yemenis in general, and this money will come also as an omen and they will certainly take advantage of that. But I suppose and I assume that the needs are higher than that, and we hope that there will be, as the United States proposed, a humanitarian pause in the conflict so that corridors could be opened and so that this assistance could reach the most in need in this neighborly country. Thank you.
SECRETARY KERRY: So let me emphasize we are deeply concerned about the humanitarian situation that is unfolding in Yemen – shortages of food, shortages of fuel, shortages of medicine. The situation is getting more dire by the day, and we’re deeply concerned about that. And we have urged all sides, anybody involved, to comply with humanitarian law and to take every precaution to keep civilians out of the line of fire, out of harm’s way, as well as to provide the opportunity for humanitarian assistance to be able to be delivered. And several weeks ago we urged the parties to engage in a pause in order to be able to deliver aid. The Saudis, to their credit, immediately announced that they were shifting out of one phase and into a phase for political resolution as well as humanitarian delivery, but that they would respond if Houthi continued to attack; and regrettably, they did. And so, unfortunately, conflict has continued.
Just a day or so ago, the Saudi foreign minister announced their consideration of the need for this humanitarian pause. I spoke with him yesterday. I will be there in Saudi Arabia tonight. We will be discussing the nature of the pause and how it might be implemented, but I am convinced of their desire to implement a pause. And in my conversation yesterday with another foreign minister from another country, there was an indication that others – the Houthi might be willing to engage in a pause. So I think this would be welcome news for the world if it were able to be effected in a way that doesn’t see people try to take advantage of it and either secure more territory or attack people participating in a legitimate pause.
So we hope that the coalition will join in working with the UN and the rest of the global community in order to find a way to deliver aid through the existing aid organizations that have the ability to make sure this is delivered in a way that it’s not contributing to the conflict or somehow being abused or exploited. And hopefully in the next days this is something that can take place.
The Saudis have also – or not the Saudis. President Hadi has called for a conference that he would like to see take place. And we’re certainly supportive of any efforts to have a dialogue, but we also believe it is very important to move to the UN venue as soon as possible because there is no military solution to this crisis. It’s going to have to be a negotiated political process that rebuilds a government and rebuilds Yemen itself. And I think we need to find a way to get to that. But for the time being, the immediate crisis is the humanitarian one, and I hope that very quickly the structure can be put together which will enable humanitarian assistance to be delivered to the people who desperately need it.
MS HARF: Thank you all very much.
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