Press Availability with Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir

Press Availability
John Kerry
Secretary of State
Paris, France
May 8, 2015

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, good afternoon, everybody, and thank you very much for your patience. This afternoon we’re going to do this a little bit differently. It’s my pleasure to first introduce my friend and the distinguished Foreign Minister of Saudi Arabia Adel al-Jubeir, and then I will have a few comments, and then we’ll be open to some questions.

So welcome to the Embassy of the United States in Paris, and thank you for your help and cooperation through a very productive day.

FOREIGN MINISTER AL-JUBEIR: Thank you very much, John, for hosting the GCC foreign ministers at this beautiful building in Paris. We had what I thought was a very productive discussion about the status of the P5+1 talks regarding Iran’s nuclear program. We also – we had an extensive briefing about the technical aspects of the talks that lasted over two hours.

We also spent another hour and a half on Camp David and the objectives of Camp David and the issues that will be discussed at Camp David. Don’t ask me to talk about it because I won’t; I can just tell you in general terms that they have to do with the intensifying and strengthening the security-military relationship between the United States of America and the Gulf Cooperation Council countries, as well as dealing with new challenges that we face in the region, foremost of which is the Iranian interference in the affairs of the countries of the region.

We were very pleased with the discussions. I thought they were very – extremely productive, very useful. And we believe that now we have a much clearer sense of the – what we will be discussing at Camp – what our leaders will be discussing at Camp David. And having said so, I will leave that part here. Thanks, John, for hosting that meeting and for having it be such a productive and useful meeting for all of us. We look forward to visiting Washington and Camp David.

I wanted to also pick up on something that I mentioned to you yesterday when we announced that we were looking at a five-day ceasefire in Yemen for humanitarian purposes in order to allow the flow of humanitarian assistance to Yemen. We have made a decision that the ceasefire will begin this Tuesday, May 12th, at 11:00 p.m. and will last for five days and is subject to renewal if it’s – if it works out.

The requirements are first and foremost that there is a commitment by the Houthis and their allies, including Ali Abdullah Saleh and those forces that are loyal to him, to abide by the ceasefire. As I said yesterday at Riyadh, this ceasefire will be throughout Yemen or nowhere in Yemen, and the matter is entirely up to the Houthis and their allies. During the ceasefire there will be a continuation of the air and sea interdiction regarding the flow of weapons to the Houthis and their allies in Yemen.

I’m also happy and pleased to announce that the King Salman Humanitarian and Relief Center in Riyadh will be operational on this Sunday, May 10th. It will be the location in Riyadh where a number of organizations and UN efforts and any other country that wants to participate in the distribution of aid to Yemen to coordinate is free to come and be part of it. We believe that it is critically important that all countries be able to send as much relief supplies as efficiently and as quickly to as many Yemenis as possible.

As you know, that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, King Salman bin Abdulaziz, ordered the contribution of $274 million to the United Nations for emergency relief efforts in Yemen. This is above and beyond the assistance that we are deploying to Yemen every day as well as the assistance that we will be providing to Yemen going forward.

It is our hope and our desire that the Houthis will come to their senses and realize that the interests of Yemen and the Yemeni people are – should be the top priority for everyone. And I want to make sure that I make clear that the ceasefire will end should the Houthis or their allies not live up to the agreement contained in this issue. This is, I believe, a chance for the Houthis to show that they care about their people and that they care about the Yemeni people, and we hope that they take up this offer for the good of Yemen and the people of Yemen.

So thank you very much once again, John. Thank you for hosting the GCC foreign ministers in this wonderful building. It’s always a pleasure to be here and be with you and exchange views and ideas, and I think we did this today in a very positive spirit, so we thank you for this.

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, Adel, thank you very much. It was indeed constructive and positive and very, very productive, and I’m grateful to you and all of our colleagues who came here together in order to help make it that. It was well prepared, and I think in the end has really set the stage for a constructive meeting at Camp David.

I’ll say a word just first, if I may, I want to start by expressing my congratulations to Prime Minister Cameron and to my counterpart Secretary of State Philip Hammond and their party for their defying the polls and winning an outright majority in the elections yesterday. As everybody knows, we have a very special relationship with Great Britain. We have deeply shared interests and values. We work together on almost every issue that there is, and now there will obviously be continuity in the relationships built and in the work that we have invested on a number of different priorities and initiatives. So I look forward to continuing to work with Prime Minister Cameron and with Philip on all of our efforts in order to advance global peace and stability, and particularly in this next month and a half to finish our work together on a number of very pressing security issues.

The Gulf Cooperation Council and our Gulf partners have really been at the very center of America’s national interests for a long period of time. And today we find ourselves cooperating on more and more challenges within the region. It is a region that is facing particular challenge at this time, so obviously, by necessity, we – with common interests and with our mutual security and other interests at stake, we have found that it is critical for us to be able to dig into the relationship deeper in terms of ways we can cooperate to have a greater impact on these challenges that we face. And the United States is grateful for and fortunate to have partners who have been willing to stand up with us in the coalition on Daesh, on any other number of vital interests in the region.

Yesterday in Riyadh, for instance, I was privileged to meet with King Salman, who had both the courage and the vision to embrace a full ceasefire for five days. And we said that here in Paris, we would fill out the details a little bit, and with the announcement that the foreign minister has made on behalf of His Majesty King Salman, we now know that to a certainty, on Tuesday at 11:00 p.m. Yemen time, a ceasefire will take place countrywide, providing – providing that the Houthi agree that there will be no bombing, no shooting, no movement of their troops or maneuvering to reposition for military advantage, no movement of heavy weapons or others – that the ceasefire is conditioned on the Houthis agreeing to live by these commitments. And it is a renewable commitment. In other words, if they live by it and if this holds, it opens the door to the possibility of extension and the possibility of a longer period of time for the political process to help resolve these differences.

So anyone who cares about Yemeni people or asserts that they do should take clear notice of the fact that a humanitarian catastrophe is building, and that they are running out of food, they’re running out of medicine, they’re running out of fuel, and clearly, it is an important moment. His Majesty King Salman has recognized that. And despite the fact that he has had cross-border attacks and other challenges, he has made the decision to try to fight for a peaceful resolution. We applaud that. And we believe that all those who have been supportive of the Houthi need at this time to encourage the leadership, and all the way down through the rank and file, to live by this opportunity that is a very important one and very significant in the potential consequences for Yemen itself.

The United States is working with the international community now to try to organize as much humanitarian assistance as possible to be able to flow once that ceasefire takes effect, working with and through the United Nations. And anybody who hears this who has an idea that they want to get assistance into the people, there are organizations – World Food Organization, International Red Cross, others – who work through the United Nations, whom they should be in contact with so that this is an organized and clearly not military movement of goods in any way whatsoever.

Now, I want to be very clear about another thing. A ceasefire is not peace. Ultimately, the parties are going to have to find a way back to the table. And they’re going to have to make tough choices about more than just a ceasefire, because even the most durable of ceasefires is not a substitute for peace. Even the most durable of ceasefires is not a substitute for an inclusive, Yemeni-led political dialogue that all sides can support. And King Salman of Saudi Arabia has made another initiative in order to try to create that dialogue. He has announced a conference in Riyadh to which he invites all Yemeni parties. Now, it may be that not everybody shows up. We don’t know. But they’re invited.

And we support that conference with the hopes that it might produce some further steps forward to have the political resolution, but knowing that everyone agrees that that will lead into the subsequent talks to be held under the auspices of the United Nations and the UN envoy. And we’re very pleased that Saudi Arabia has agreed to support the UN in efforts to also try to help find a peaceful resolution to the situation in Yemen. Only a political solution by Yemenis for Yemenis, in the end, will actually bring an end to Yemen’s crisis. And we are committed to working toward the rapid, unconditional resumption of all party negotiations that will allow Yemen to be able to resume an inclusive transition process that brings peace and stability.

In addition to Yemen, we discussed with our GCC counterparts today preparations for the summit, as Foreign Minister Jubeir – al-Jubeir just said, and that’s going to address a wide range of security issues, folks. It’s going to discuss the threat of regional terrorism, the metastasizing of various terrorist organizations that has become prevalent. It will discuss, obviously, the challenge of Iranian support in some of those particular conflicts. It will discuss the threat of terrorism broadly. And it will discuss how to resolve more effectively those regional conflicts themselves.

So let me be very clear also. Our effort to find a diplomatic solution to the nuclear issue with respect to Iran does not stem from any lessening of our concerns about all of these other destabilizing events within the region. And it’s obvious to all, I think, that it’s easier to address those events if the potential of a nuclear weapon has been eliminated from the equation with respect to the challenges that we face.

We’re also very focused on a continuing basis with the challenge of Daesh and the other terrorist groups. And together, we believe that we are making real progress. A large part of that was, frankly, because of the nations that are represented in the room there. There’s been a very significant diminution of the capacity of Daesh within Iraq to be able to control the territory it used to control, to be able to communicate the way it used to communicate, to be able to move the way they used to be able to move. And so we believe, steadily, that that stranglehold is appropriately ending, and we are forcing them to change tactics. And that is encouraging progress, but we still need more.

And that’s why we were meeting here today in addition to the other reasons that I’ve described, because we need to, all of us, come together in the most effective way possible to meet these newer challenges of this moment in history. And President Obama completely understands the stakes, and that’s why today and at Camp David, we are fleshing out a series of new commitments that will create, between the United States and the GCC, a new security understanding, a new set of security initiatives, that will take us beyond anything that we have had before in ways that will ask our partners to work with us, and they will contribute and we will contribute. It is not a one-way street. It is a two-way street with mutual interests and mutual needs that need to be addressed.

That is why we are also strengthening, together, the moderate opposition in Syria against Daesh and against a regime that has committed an organized, wholesale effort of torture, used chemical weapons against its own people, dropped barrel bombs indiscriminately on women and children in schools and hospitals, and blocked whole communities from getting food and medical supplies to civilians in need.

So we have a big agenda. That’s why we met. And that agenda is marked by new developments almost every single day. I came here to share our views, and we listened a lot today to other views, and I am confident that with Camp David, those views are going to take shape in a form that will greatly enhance our ability to meet the needs of our people and the needs of all those people who want a future that is free of terrorism, free of coercion, free of violence – a future that is reflected by the opportunities that this incredible world we live in today offers people who have that kind of peace and stability. That’s what we’re working for and that’s what we will continue to work for.

Thank you, and we’d be happy to take a few questions.

MODERATOR: Okay. Is this on? The first question is – can you hear me? Hello? Okay. I’ll just speak loudly. The first question’s from Nicolas Revise of AFP. Go ahead. I hope your microphone works.

QUESTION: Thank you very much, Mr. Secretary and Mr. Foreign Minister. Mr. Secretary, first on Yemen: Do you think that the Houthis will accept the ceasefire, and are you going to talk to your Iranian and Russian counterparts to ask them to use their influence? Secondly, Mr. Secretary, on France: The French president made a landmark visit to Riyadh. What’s your take on this growing strategic relationship between the French and the Saudis? Do you see it affecting the unity of the P5+1 negotiating with Iran? And what are your thoughts on the Corker bill passing the Senate in the United States?

And Mr. Foreign Minister, if I may, the coalition has declared all of Sadah in Yemen a military target. How can you talk about a ceasefire and at the same time expand military operations? Thank you.

SECRETARY KERRY: Do you want to go first?

FOREIGN MINISTER AL-JUBEIR: Very simple. We set the ceasefire at five days, on Tuesday at mid – at 11 p.m. in the evening. The operations in Sadah are in direct response to the Houthis attacking civilians in Saudi Arabia and killing civilians in Saudi Arabia. This is something that we will not tolerate. This was a grave escalation on the part of the Houthis that we had to respond to. We cannot allow people to lob missiles into our territory and murder our people. It’s just not going to happen without there being a very, very severe response. And that’s what we’re doing.

But the ceasefire will begin on Tuesday at 11 p.m. It will last initially for five days. We are in touch with international relief organizations and UN organizations to see how we can facilitate the flow of humanitarian supplies into Yemen. There are a lot of supplies in the region. We want to be able to get them into Yemen, distribute them. Whether or not we succeed in doing so will depend on what the Houthis and their allies do. If they interdict, if they advance, if they commit aggression, there will be no ceasefire. If they abide by the terms of the ceasefire, then there will be an opportunity to help the people of Yemen.

So whether there is a ceasefire or not is entirely in the hands of the Houthis.

SECRETARY KERRY: I would just add to that, if I may quickly, sort of honing in on that issue, but I think it’s an important one for all of us. Really, it is not hard if you pass the word and give strict orders to your people to condition the behavior of people in the context of five days of requirement here. And our hope is that the Houthis will spread the word rapidly. That is the reason that it’s not beginning till Tuesday. The reason is to give time, assuming people accept it, to both accept it, to have their deliberations, not to miss an opportunity, to let the people outside weigh in in order to give good counsel, and ultimately to get the word down to the rank and file what the rules are.

And the rules are very straightforward: Don’t shoot. Don’t move around and start to reposition and take advantage of this. This is a humanitarian pause, and they should treat it accordingly. And if that could happen, that could be the beginning of an opportunity for a genuine transition. So as the foreign minister has said, Saudi Arabia has made the big decision – they were the ones with the aircraft, they control the airspace, they were flying, and they totally said we’re not going to fly. We’re not going to bomb. And they’re not in every community on the ground to be the ones to initiate an action. So if the Houthi will live by this, there is a chance to move forward, and we hope that they will take every advantage to pass the word down the ranks.

Now it is possible in one place or another that somebody misses the word and something doesn’t happen and something – but the Saudis have indicated they’re not going to not break this up over some mistake or some minor thing. They’re going to try to keep this alive, but not for some bold, significant, clear effort to attack people, move people, reposition equipment, and so forth. The rules are pretty clear. And we hope people will understand that.

The – and we encourage the countries that have the greatest influence with them and we will be in touch with those countries in order to try to encourage them to take advantage of this moment.

With respect to whether they will accept, however – or not, obviously – we hope they will. We’ve had some indications that that might take place, but no certainty, and the diplomacy will now take place to try to increase that possibility.

With respect to Saudi Arabia’s visit – the visit that was made by the French president to Saudi Arabia, that’s normal course of business, terrific. We have no issue whatsoever with it. We’ve received a full debrief. We appreciate the relationship of Saudi Arabia with many countries. And I met this morning with Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius; we had a good discussion. I met briefly, obviously, at the Arc de Triomphe with the president. We’re all on the same page, and France and the United States agree completely, as we do with the rest of the P5+1, about what we need to achieve in the agreement with Iran and what the standards are that need to apply to it. We all agree it needs to be robust, it needs to be clear, it needs to be defined, and that’s what we’re working towards. So we think that the visit enhances the relationship between all of us and Saudi Arabia, and that’s important. And we welcome it.

With respect to the bill in Congress, let me just say that we’ve been very, very clear that the bill that was passed out by this Foreign Relations Committee was really the kind of reasonable and acceptable compromise that the President was prepared to support. And that’s why he did support it, because it was changed from the original. And we’re pleased to see that it’s overwhelmingly passed the Senate, staying true to the bipartisan compromise. And we’re very hopeful that the House is going to similarly protect this in the same way that the Senate did and give Congress the opportunity that we think and I, as a 28-year veteran of Congress, believe ought to have to be able to review this deal in a responsible way. I was also very pleased to see that 151 members of the House of Representatives signed a letter supporting the President’s efforts to achieve this deal, to achieve a good deal, and they supported the idea the President ought to be able to continue to negotiate without interference on the terms of that negotiation by the Congress.

So all in all, I think it was very constructive, and we welcome where we are. Now the necessity is to get down to the nitty-gritty of the tough part of the negotiations to get the details pinned down over the course of the next weeks.

FOREIGN MINISTER AL-JUBEIR: If I may, could I follow up on your questions with regards to Yemen? I want to make clear that no country in the world has given more economic assistance to Yemen than the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has over the last 40-plus years. No country in the world will give more to Yemen going forward in the future than Saudi Arabia, I have no doubt about it. We want what’s best for Yemen. We want Yemen to overcome the difficult period it is going through. It was Saudi Arabia and the GCC countries that came up with the GCC initiative which set the stage for the transition in Yemen.

It was, ironically, the GCC initiative that brought the Houthis into the political process from which they were excluded. The transition was then negatively affected by former President Ali Abdullah Saleh and by the Houthis, and they tried to take over the country by force, which we will not allow. They had a militia that operated outside the control of the Yemeni Government, which should not be allowed. The last thing we need on our border is a militia armed with missiles, in control of an air force, that is loyal to Iran and Hizballah. It’s just not going to happen. You cannot have a normal country where one group has arms. And so our advice to the Houthis is: You are part of Yemen. You have a role to play in Yemen. You have a right to be in the Yemeni Government like every other Yemeni group, but you cannot have a privileged position where you have veto power over the country or where you take over the country.

So it was extremely painful for us to take the step of using force in Yemen. It was a last resort. Had we not done this, Yemen would have fallen. And so we responded to the request by the legitimate government in order to protect the Yemeni people and to protect the legitimate government of Yemen. The intention was not to commit aggression against the Houthis – quite the contrary; it was to stop the Houthis from committing aggression against Yemen and its people.

And so I hope that the Houthis will accept the terms of the ceasefire, that they will stop their aggression against the Yemeni people and against Yemen, and that they will allow relief to flow into Yemen so we can help the Yemeni people. And I hope that they will be able to participate in the political process so that we can resolve Yemen’s problems peacefully around the negotiating table rather than on the battlefield.

MODERATOR: Hussein Kneiber of al-Arabiya.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, you said yesterday in Riyadh and you have just repeated it now that the United States is concerned deeply about Iran’s action in the region. Yesterday, also in Riyadh, you said that there are some steps to provide greater stability and security in the region. What are these steps, and are they related with the military cooperation that you intend to widen with Saudi Arabia?

A question for Excellency al-Jubeir – Foreign Minister al-Jubeir. (In Arabic.)

FOREIGN MINISTER AL-JUBEIR: (Via interpreter) -- the assurances are there and the will is there on both sides, by the U.S. and the GCC. And it does not require assurances.

As for the assurances concerning defending the GCC, these have been in place for over six or eight decades. We have witnessed in the ’80s when the Soviet Union entered Afghanistan, the United States worked with Saudi Arabia to support – to defend against the Mujahedeen, and when Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait, also the U.S. worked to establish an international coalition of more than 30 countries to liberate Kuwait and defend the region as a whole.

The United States and Saudi Arabia are working closely also with our partners and allies in the region to face – to confront terrorism, extremism, and Daesh, and also to protect the navigation routes.

And now I expect in the coming period there will be further strengthening and enhancement of these efforts so that the relations or joint action will be more effective and more expansive in all areas, whether it relates to cyber security or defense against ballistic missiles or training – military training or equipping. These are further progress in issues that we are already working on, and it’s natural for them to be enhanced and intensified between friendly countries.

SECRETARY KERRY: So today and yesterday I referenced sort of concerns about one particular country, but I think that you know, everybody knows, that no security arrangement or agreement among a whole group of countries, particularly in that region, is confined to one concern. We have a broad array of concerns, which we will be expressing in the context of Camp David, which relate to destabilizing efforts by anybody in the region, which relate to terrorist organizations that are spreading in the region. You have, obviously, al-Shabaab in Somalia; you’ve had Boko Haram in Mali; you have Daesh in Libya; you have al-Nusrah and al-Qaida and ISIL and others all through. I mean, those are the concerns: the destabilization of the region by a number of different entities, and obviously we all know that Iran has supported Hizballah and has supported Houthis and other efforts.

So – but this is not one-country specific as an initiative. This is a broad understanding that countries that want to have stability and peace and play by the rules and live up to international law and not have UN sanctions against them and begin to live to standards, that’s what we’re seeking and our belief is that the challenges we’re facing in terms of these predatory entities that come into challenged governing spaces or no governing spaces. As we learned in Afghanistan, the absence of governed – ungoverned spaces filled often by the worst – the worst actors, and we saw the results in 2001 and we’ve seen them in other times.

So we are banding together to expand our capacity to deal with the future. And that is not limited only to – it’s not a military arrangement. The last choice for everybody ought to be military. It’s how do you prevent these things from happening, how do you stop them metastasizing, how do you eliminate intrusive activities in your country that aren’t an overt attack externally but are rather a insidious kind of eating away at the innards of a country through various nefarious activities that take place. And so we have to guard against the breadth of that kind of activity in various ways, and we’re going to explore that very, very thoroughly in the context of this arrangement.

But I think that – the other parts of it that we all have agreed we need to work on are making sure that a lot of young people have jobs, making sure that there’s opportunity for the future, making sure that people are included in global aspirations and in global possibilities. And that will come about by working at these things, listening to each other, understanding the differences of culture, the differences of history, the transitional timeframes that are possible and so forth. And there’s no stereotype. There’s no cookie-cutter stamp that can be put on any one of these countries in any way. And I think the more we sit together and the more we talk about these challenges, the more we become aware of the subtleties that have to be taken into account as you try to find a common way forward.

That’s what we’re doing. That’s what I think makes this particularly healthy as a discussion, as an enterprise, and we look forward to trying to see our leaders come out of Camp David with a common understanding of that way forward.

MODERATOR: Great. Thank you all very much.

SECRETARY KERRY: Thank you, all.