Remarks With Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir

John Kerry
Secretary of State
Riyadh Air Base
Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
May 7, 2015

FOREIGN MINISTER AL-JUBEIR: (In progress) (Via interpreter) – and he met with the king, King Salman bin Abdulaziz. And he met His Royal Highness Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, the crown prince, the first deputy premier and minister of interior. He met His Royal Highness Prince Mohammad bin Salman, the deputy crown prince and the minister of defense. We held bilateral talks at the ministry of foreign affairs.

On the topics of mutual interest, including the – we – I briefed the Secretary on the meeting of the GCC, and the talks (inaudible) tomorrow on the Paris with the – in Paris with the GCC foreign ministers. We talked about the Camp David on the 13th and 14th of May. We talked about that – the Iranian interventions in the region, the negative interventions, whether in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, or Yemen, or any other places. With regard to Yemen, I have been – I debriefed him on the keenness of Saudi Arabia to send the humanitarian aids to the Yemeni people and the donation of $274 million, a donation from the (inaudible) aids to Yemen. I debriefed (inaudible) with the king (inaudible) and establishing a center in Riyadh to coordinate the relief work. But unfortunately, the keenness of the king and the Saudi Arabia to send the aids to Yemen was very difficult in view of the continuous – of the war operations there, and the (inaudible) and their allies there.

I debriefed him on the (inaudible) of Saudi Arabia. (Inaudible) five days ceasefire in Yemen for coordination with the international organizations to send the aids, humanitarian aids to their (inaudible) in Yemen. The Houthis and their allies should abide by this ceasefire period and do not interfere into – in the way of these efforts, and no hostility actions against – during this period. This will be defined – this period will be defined soon and the details at the – to conclude. I debriefed the Secretary on the big step done by the king in correcting the status of the Yemenis who are in Saudi Arabia in an illegal status, from 2 million to 3 million Yemenis living on the Saudi land and correcting their immigration status. And this will allow them to have jobs to help their families in Yemen back – back in Yemen. This is different from other countries; they are deporting and extraditing the Yemenis and put them in camps for the refugees. And Saudi Arabia working for the interest and the dignity of our Yemeni brothers, whether in Yemen or in Saudi Arabia. For this reason, Saudi Arabia has taken, by direction of the king – this big step is unprecedented in the history of the world.

And to conclude, I would like to stress the keenness of Saudi Arabia and its commitments that there will be a political process in Yemen that will lead to the solution of this crisis peacefully. We are looking forward to the coming Riyadh conference that will be held on the 17th of May. It’s – our Yemeni brothers are discussing their internal affairs, and based on the initiatives and the results of their dialogue. We welcome any efforts done by the United Nations in holding talks between the concerned Yemeni parties anywhere in the world. We’re looking at this – that it will be a support to the efforts we are making in Riyadh conference, because objective is to come to a peaceful solution in Yemen.

Thank you and thank the Secretary for his visit to Saudi Arabia, and for the constructive talks between us.

You may have the floor, Your Excellency.

SECRETARY KERRY: Thank you very much, Foreign Minister al-Jubeir. Let me begin by congratulating the foreign minister on his appointment. This is today – I think because he’s been so busy, the first day that he’s able to get into the foreign ministry. And I was very privileged to be his first visitor. And I have appreciated through all the years the good representation of Saudi Arabia that the foreign minister has provided as ambassador to Washington and his other roles. And we really look forward to continuing to work with him in the future. He was the first person I met in the foreign ministry when I came here in the 1980s as a United States senator. We’ve known each other since then, and I appreciate our friendship and our relationship.

As the foreign minister mentioned, last night we had a very constructive meeting with His Royal Highness, the Crown Prince, Mohammed bin Nayef, and with His Royal Highness, the Deputy Crown Prince, Mohammed bin Salman. I’m very grateful. We also had the foreign minister, and as the foreign minister said to you all a few minutes ago, a number of other key members of the national security team of Saudi Arabia. We talked at great length about the threat to Saudi Arabia that has emerged in Yemen, about U.S. support for Saudi Arabia’s efforts, and the importance of trying to find a peaceful resolution to this crisis. King Salman has announced a conference in Riyadh which the foreign minister referred to, to which he is inviting all Yemeni parties. And we support that conference. Everyone agreed that that conference can help lead into the subsequent talks under the UN auspices, and that all of this dialogue is beneficial in an effort to try to find a political resolution to the crisis.

We’re very pleased also that Saudi Arabia has agreed to support the UN (inaudible) efforts to find a peaceful resolution to the situation in Yemen. I’m also particularly grateful to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, to King Salman, for the decision he made some time ago to provide $274 million in humanitarian assistance to Yemen, to the people in Yemen. As everybody knows, several weeks ago King Salman announced a transition from the initial phase of the military campaign to a political and humanitarian phase. Unfortunately, however, Houthi did not choose to be part of the process at that time. Therefore, the conflict continued and forces on the ground continued to fight, and Saudi Arabia responded.

Today, we particularly welcome a new Saudi initiative to try to bring about a peaceful resolution through the announcement of their intent to establish a full, five-day renewable ceasefire and humanitarian pause – no bombing, no shooting, no movement or repositioning of troops to achieve military advantage, understanding – an understanding that needs to be reached that neither party is going to exploit the humanitarian pause.

But this ceasefire is conditioned on the Houthis agreeing to live by these same commitments. So we strongly urge the Houthis and those who back them, whom we suggest use all of their influence, not to miss this major opportunity to address the needs of the Yemeni people and find a peaceful way forward in Yemen. A ceasefire has been a longstanding goal of the international community, and we deeply respect the leadership in Saudi Arabia for stepping up, taking on this initiative, and saying to the world they’re prepared to meet the humanitarian needs of the people of Yemen.

Now, work is being done right now as we are here to define the precise details and the date of the commencement of this ceasefire, which will be soon, but the details need to be worked out. Foreign Minister al-Jubeir and I will say more about this in Paris tomorrow. But we do know that we will have several days between today’s announcement and the actual start of the ceasefire in order to allow time for the international community to prepare the food, the medicine, and the other supplies for distribution so that it can be done in an orderly and efficient process once the ceasefire does take effect, if the Houthi accept the conditions. And that will also give us time to do the diplomacy necessary to try to encourage this process to be able to take hold.

The United States remains deeply concerned about the situation on the ground in Yemen, and we fully support efforts to facilitate the unimpeded delivery of humanitarian aid. And the international community and our – and the United States will redouble our efforts to stop arms flows into Yemen, consistent with the UN Security Council resolutions. So bottom line: It’s vital – thanks to the Saudi initiative – that all parties agree to the ceasefire before more lives are lost. And I am pleased that President Hadi today has agreed to fully support this effort.

So in my meeting today with President Hadi, I emphasized the need to also support the UN-brokered all-party negotiations, and I urged everyone – especially the Houthis – to cooperate with the UN’s new Special Envoy Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed. This is a time for effective diplomacy for potential solutions.

In addition to Yemen, we discussed with my Saudi counterparts preparations for our meeting in Paris, as the foreign minister said, our meetings with the GCC, for the upcoming summit at Camp David that President Obama will host. We also discussed the potential Iran nuclear deal and ways in which the United States and Saudi Arabia can cooperate going forward. And throughout the P5+1 negotiating process, we’ve been constantly consulting with Saudi Arabia, and we will continue to do so. And tomorrow in Paris, we will have further discussions about that.

We make clear that we remain concerned about Iran’s destabilizing actions in the region, and it is precisely because of those concerns that we believe it is so important that Iran not be allowed to have a nuclear weapon. And we will continue to work with our friends and allies in the region to define America’s and the GCC’s security relationship going forward.

Finally, the foreign minister and I reviewed the situation in Syria, our progress in our shared fight against Daesh. A lot remains to be done, but I can affirm today that Daesh’s forces are increasingly under strain, its leadership has been degraded, their communications have been interrupted, their manner of operating has been changed, and its hateful ideology is increasingly being discredited. So we are fortunate that Saudi Arabia has been a critical partner in all of these efforts and we’re grateful for their help.

So I thank the foreign minister for his hospitality. I’m very grateful to King Salman, to His Majesty, for the time today and for his commitment to this effort. And I particularly thank the crown prince and the deputy crown prince for their significant amount of time that they contributed to the discussions and the decision making that has brought us to the possibility, if the Houthi agree, of a legitimate, country-wide ceasefire and humanitarian pause which could be renewed if people are able to seize the opportunity and the moment. And we’re grateful to Saudi Arabia for taking this initiative. Thank you.

I think we’ll take one question from each, because unfortunately, that’s all I have time for.

MS HARF: The first question’s from Pam Dockins of Voice of America. The mike’s right (inaudible).

QUESTION: Thank you, I appreciate it. First of all, Mr. Foreign Minister, could you elaborate on the call for the humanitarian pause? In particular, have you had any initial contact with the parties involved – the Houthis, for example – on whether or not they would be open to this? And then secondly, would Iran have a role in this pause?

And Mr. Secretary, Yemen’s UN ambassador has urged the international community to send in ground forces. Did you discuss that possibility in your talks today?

FOREIGN MINISTER AL-JUBEIR: Thank you for the question. With regards to contact with the Houthis, no, we haven’t had contact with the Houthis. They’re attacking us and attacking innocents in Yemen. We – the idea of a humanitarian pause was something that we have long discussed. We have been looking for ways to provide relief assistance to Yemen. We do so, as we speak, by dropping relief supplies from airplanes to various parts of Yemen, but it’s clearly not enough. We need to be able to bring in more substantial (inaudible). We considered a pause in certain areas of Yemen for certain periods of time, and we announced this two days ago. And then we reviewed it more closely and we realized that there are challenges with having certain pockets in Yemen which – where you have a pause and other pockets where you don’t have a pause, so it would complicate the delivery and the logistics of providing humanitarian assistance. So the decision was made that the pause would affect all of Yemen for a period of five days. It will be announced – the actual date will be announced shortly, God willing, and as well as the requirements.

Now this is all based on the Houthis complying with the ceasefire. There will be a ceasefire everywhere or a ceasefire nowhere, and we expect that – and hope that the Houthis will be – will care enough about the Yemeni people to allow the humanitarian assistance to flow into Yemen and to cease their aggressive activities. And so we’ll see if they will abide – if they will go along with something like this or not, because if they don’t then it’s very clear that they – that their only interest is to grab power in Yemen and that their interest is not the well-being of the Yemeni people. And so we’ll see about this.

With regards to the Iran – we have always maintained that Iran should have no role in Yemen. The last time I checked, Iran didn’t have a border with Yemen. And so the Iranian role in Yemen has been a negative one. They have supported the Houthis financially, ideologically, as well as with weapons, and this is not helpful. They have tried to smuggle weapons into Yemen in the midst of this conflict, and we have been able to stop aircraft from landing in Sana’a airport. And the United States has been able to turn back a flotilla of Iranian ships, which we suspect were loaded with weapons that were intended to go to the Houthis. So no, I do not think that Iran’s role in Yemen is a helpful one. I hope they can prevail on their allies, the Houthis, to abide by the ceasefire, but that’s my view on Iran and its role in Yemen.

SECRETARY KERRY: The simple answer is neither the United States nor Saudi Arabia are talking with each other or otherwise about sending ground troops into Yemen.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, are there any standards or guarantees to guarantee that Iran stop its support to terrorism activities in the region, particularly in the Gulf and its sabotaging intervention in Yemen and Syria? Also, Mr. Secretary, the Syrian opposition has come to a clear vision of the future of Syria, and obviously that is without Assad. What is Washington’s position towards this clear vision? Thank you.

SECRETARY KERRY: Thank you very much. The United States is deeply concerned about Iran’s activities in the region. We are planning to – we’re not planning to, we are enforcing the United Nations arms embargo requirements, et cetera. We’ve been raising the level of effort of the maritime initiative with respect to the Gulf and area, most recently with the Theodore Roosevelt being moved in and other activities that we’ve been engaged in. And one of the topics of our conversation, in the context of Paris tomorrow and Camp David, will be the further steps that we will be taking together with our allies to prevent activities that are in contravention of many United Nations resolutions and also the standards and norms of international behavior between countries. So we are very, very concerned about those activities – in Iraq, with Hizballah, in Yemen, and elsewhere.

So we intend to be very clear about our determination going forward to stand up against any country’s illicit intervention in the affairs of another nation in a way that is challenging to regional and global security interests and other kinds of concerns. And that holds true with respect to our activities.

One of the purposes – the reason President Obama invited the GCC to come to Washington and the reason we’re having the preparatory meeting in Paris is really to concentrate all of our minds on those steps necessary to provide greater stability and security on a regional basis to people who want to see the region be peaceful, be undisturbed, not become the battlefield for one ideology or another, but be a place where countries can live in peace and pursue their interests. That’s our goal. And the goal of the GCC effort is to see how we can provide greater assurances to people about the road ahead, as well as build an architecture which allows us to cooperate more effectively together, share information more effectively, and prepare more effectively, as well as deal immediately more effectively with those threats as they arise.

And that’s precisely what we will be doing, and I’m very confident about the kinds of things that have been coming together in these discussions which are going to enhance our cooperation going forward. There’s no question in my mind that as a result of this, the region can be safer, and more secure, and more prosperous, and that’s everybody’s goal.


SECRETARY KERRY: Oh, Syria. With respect to Syria, nothing has changed in the United States position. We are – we see no way, even if one wanted to, but we don’t – that somebody who has engaged in the kinds of activities President Assad has engaged in over the years now – barrel bombing innocent women and children, gassing his people, torturing people, engaging in starvation as a tactic of war where innocent civilians are trapped – there are so many different things that have happened that have torn this country apart, that has seen three quarters of the country now be displaced for a refugee status, that it’s hard to imagine how anybody in that country could follow that person in the future or deem them to be a legitimate leader.

We don’t consider that possible. We believe Assad has lost all legitimacy, and we also know that the only way to make peace ultimately is to take away the reason that people are at war. And the reason they are at war is because of Assad. So we hope that, again, those that have been supportive of him – the Russians, Iranians, others – will recognize that there could be peace in Syria and it could restore itself to a secular and united country if Assad were to come to negotiations and help implement the original Geneva accord, which remains the operative policy of the United States and all of our allies, that there needs to be a transition that restores the peacefulness of Syria. And Assad is not part of that longer-term future.

MS HARF: Thank you. Thank you very much.

FOREIGN MINISTER AL-JUBEIR: Thank you very much.

SECRETARY KERRY: Thank you all very much.