Press Availability with Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Hassan Shoukry
Secretary of State
FOREIGN MINISTER SHOUKRY: (In Arabic.)
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, Sameh, thank you very much. Assalamu alaikum. It’s a great privilege for me to be here, and I’m very pleased to be back in Cairo. And I want to thank President al-Sisi and Foreign Minister Shoukry for their very warm welcome and, most importantly, for the quality of the discussion that we had today and also for the tremendous work that the Egyptian Government has done in creating the combined agenda of both security and the economic front as well as all the other issues that were on the table for a very frank, very candid discussion.
We began with the Foreign Minister and I meeting privately, and we will continue some private discussion, and later this afternoon, after we have a working lunch, I will have the opportunity to sit down and have, again, a longer discussion with President al-Sisi.
As I said in my opening comments this morning, which the press were present at, Egypt has historically played a very vital role in the region and in world affairs, and we have no doubt that it will continue to do so. In the course of the meeting today, we covered a vast range of security, political, and economic issues. Let me say at the outset that the United States was deeply saddened by the recent terrorist strikes – including the deplorable murder of the Prosecutor General Hisham Barakat, by the attack on the Italian consulate in Cairo, and also the recent attacks in Sinai.
It doesn’t take courage to conduct a terrorist attack, which has no purpose other than to create chaos and destruction. It does take courage to create a political process with an agenda to improve people’s lives. And there’s no ideological or political or religious excuse for just killing innocent people, particularly in a world that needs constructive ideas and participation by citizens about how to avoid endless cycles of violent extremism. That’s why counterterrorism was so high on our list of priorities today, and I think you heard the foreign minister lay out to you the significant way in which we had a discussion about it.
We are all well aware that Daesh is a ruthless and a cowardly adversary. And so, as Sameh described, in the discussion that we had today we talked in a very honest way about the challenges of fighting back against terrorism, even as you are trying to build a political process that can be inclusive and provide citizens the opportunity to build their own future. We agreed that we must explore opportunities to expand our security relationship in order to work together to expose the utter hypocrisy of terrorist appeals. I expressed my appreciation for Egypt’s help in expediting U.S. overflights and access to the Suez Canal, especially in support of counterterrorism operations. And I welcomed Egypt’s support for the global anti-Daesh coalition in the upcoming Summit on Countering Violent Extremism that’s going to take place in New York this September.
Let me also take this opportunity to again congratulate Egypt on the extraordinary completion and major project that will have profound implications for the world in the increase of commerce and the movement of goods, and we congratulate Egypt on the expansion of the Suez Canal and the event that will take place in a few days to celebrate it. It’s really a considerable accomplishment.
We also emphasized the importance of a comprehensive strategy to combine vigilance with measures that will make it harder for terrorists to attract new recruits and spread their toxic ideology. We are absolutely clear that terrorists who kill civilians and attack Egyptian security forces have to be brought to justice, and we stand with Egypt in that effort. But it is equally important – and I think Sameh talked about this in his own comments – to distinguish between those who use violence to achieve their ends and others who seek peacefully to participate in a political dialogue, even if what they say sometimes may make people uncomfortable.
As President Obama said at the Countering Violent Extremism Summit in February, which I might add was attended by Foreign Minister Shoukry and we were very grateful for his participation in that, President Obama said, “When people are oppressed, and human rights are denied…when dissent is silenced, it feeds violent extremism.” And I want to thank Foreign Minister Shoukry for the very direct conversation that he engaged in today and which he has now reengaged in here at this press conference, about the very real need to balance – a difficult balance to find, but an imperative balance – between people’s rights to participate politically and the need to fight back against what can only be defined as a terrorist activity.
The success of our fight against terrorism depends on building trust between the authorities and the public. This is always true in every country, and it’s never easy. If that possibility doesn’t exist, then, regrettably, more misguided people can sometimes be driven to violence and there will be more attacks.
The foreign minister and I also reviewed the plan of action that we and our P5+1 partners have developed with Iran regarding the future of that country’s nuclear program. And we are grateful for Egypt’s commitment to the Non-Proliferation Treaty and also to the full implementation of this agreement.
The United States and Egypt recognize that Iran is engaged in destabilizing activities in the region, and that is why it is so important to ensure that Iran’s nuclear program remains wholly peaceful. It is also why I will leave this evening to consult with the Gulf Cooperation Council foreign ministers in Doha, where we will discuss ways to ensure the future security of the region. There can be absolutely no question that if the Vienna plan, fully implemented, it will make Egypt and all the countries of this region safer than they otherwise would be or were.
Now, as I underscored during today’s Strategic Dialogue, the relationship between Egypt and the United States is not only a relationship about the threats that we face; it is also about the opportunities that we have to make both countries more successful and prosperous.
During the meetings today, I congratulated our Egyptian colleagues on the conclusion of the Suez Canal project, which will, in fact, add to the opportunities for improving the business climate; it will attract new investment; it will help us spur trade and create jobs, which was the focus of our economic dialogue today. The United States and Egypt will resume consultations under the U.S. Trade and Investment Framework Agreement in the fall. And I’m pleased that Ambassador David Thorne is here to help build on the initiatives that we launched during Egypt’s Economic Development Conference in March. And he is joined by our important economic team, including our Assistant Secretary of State Charlie Rivkin and our Special advisor and Representative Scott Nathan.
On the political side, Sameh and I agreed on the importance of ensuring free and fair and transparent parliamentary elections in Egypt this year, and I understand from him that they are working towards a date sometime in the early fall. We are very excited about that, as it is part of the roadmap towards democracy, and we are assured that it will be open to all peaceful political actors. We discussed the need for comprehensive reform in the police sector, protection for nongovernmental organizations, for press freedom, and for safeguarding the rights and freedoms of all Egyptians.
In every one of the meetings that we had today – economic and security, private and more public – we conveyed the message of friendship and respect for the Egyptian people and of an understanding of the desire of the people of Egypt to live in security, in prosperity, in democracy, and peace. The United States Government supports the people of Egypt in that endeavor, and we will do all we can to try to be helpful on this roadmap that the government described for the transition to the full democracy that Egypt aspires to.
Mr. Foreign Minister, thank you for your friendship. Thank you for your work together. We’re delighted to be here today, and I look forward to taking a few questions.
MODERATOR: (In Arabic.)
FOREIGN MINISTER SHOUKRY: (In Arabic.)
MODERATOR: (In Arabic.)
SECRETARY KERRY: Let me just correct one thing. I think we agreed it would be biannual – biannual, which is every other year – unless we decided we needed to have it more frequently.
FOREIGN MINISTER SHOUKRY: Right.
MODERATOR: (In Arabic.)
QUESTION: (In Arabic.)
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, that question reflects a very different meeting from the meeting that we had. We had a very constructive meeting that was reflective of a lot of things that have moved over the course of the last months, and I think that the combination of economic engagement and security engagement sees the United States and Egypt moving back to a stronger base of relationship, which is the history of the relationship between us.
We have a significant amount of increasing military-to-military cooperation. As you know, our F-16s just arrived; the President has lifted the hold on the other equipment and goods, which are very essential to the fight against terrorism. We have talked today about increased border cooperation with respect to Libya and elsewhere. We’ve talked about additional training – training exercises, which we will engage in. We are moving back to the continuation of our Bright Star cooperation and other training. We have additional education slots that will be available for people to come and study in the United States. There’s a lot of increased engagement here reflected in the conversations we had today, including on the economic side.
The United States is the second – is the – I think we represent about one-fifth of the foreign direct investment into Egypt. Our businesses have come here in a significant effort, part of the meeting held by President al-Sisi last year in Sharm el-Sheikh. I took part in that. We were very, very engaged in increasing America’s direct business involvement. General Electric has been very involved in helping to increase the amount of electricity, which has helped Egypt over the course of this summer to avoid the blackouts that were present over a year ago. This has been part of President al-Sisi’s plan.
So there are many ways in which the cooperation is increasing. Now, obviously, there has been a little bit of tension here and there over certain issues. We discussed those quite frankly and openly today. The United States has expressed concern about some of the challenges of the human rights protection and transformation taking place, even as you fight a very difficult fight against terrorism. But we are absolutely clear in our support for Israel’s fight against terrorism. We are joined in that fight, and there are many ways in which we feel we are able to cooperate together.
So I think what both Egypt and the United States have done over the course of the last year is recognize that we have a very significant interest in working together to help Egypt transition economically, because as it transitions economically, it empowers its people and it helps to provide an alternative to people’s choice to engage in terror. We also have found a need to work together to do a better job of directly fighting against terrorism, whether it’s Libya or the Sinai, Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis, which we have designated a terrorist organization and a foreign terrorist organization, and which has now affiliated with Daesh, against whom we are also jointly fighting as part of a coalition.
So we’re working very, very hard to make it clear that this relationship is a very important one, that we need to get through those areas where there can be some problems, even as we both recognize we share the same goal, which is a peaceful, prosperous, stable, democratic Egypt which will be a strong and important voice and partner in our efforts to create stability in the region and to push back against global terrorism.
FOREIGN MINISTER SHOUKRY: (In Arabic.)
MR KIRBY: Next question, Michael Gordon.
QUESTION: Michael Gordon, New York Times. Mr. Secretary, you mentioned – you mentioned human rights and the upcoming parliamentary elections in your comments, opening comments. I’d like to ask you a follow-up on that. Do you think the Egyptian authorities can be successful in heading off terrorist attacks at home if the Egyptian Government does not show greater respect for human rights at home? And more specifically, sir, does the United States think it is conducive for stability in Egypt to outlaw the political party that received the most votes in Egypt’s free elections in 2011 and 2012 – the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party? Do you consider the Muslim Brotherhood to be a violent and terrorist group, and do you think membership in the Brotherhood should be a jailable offense?
And for the Egyptian – Mr. Shoukry, Egyptian minister, please. You alluded to the challenge in trying to balance human rights and security concerns. Egypt is holding 18 journalists behind bars, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. Some have been held without any charges or history of violence or political activism. Does Egypt have any plans to improve the freedom of the media and permit Egyptians in jail for the crime of demonstrating without a permit, like Yara Sallam, a young lawyer for an internationally respected human rights group? Does the Egyptian Government have any plans to release them? Thank you.
FOREIGN MINISTER SHOUKRY: I’ll go ahead. First of all, none of the journalists you alluded to are in prison or facing a judicial process related to their professional journalism – journalists, but are accused of implication with terrorist activity or contravening stipulated legal norms that has necessitated that these accusations are made. They are all in the state of due process by a judicial competent authority and are afforded all forms of defense to deal with these accusations. So none of these journalists are held on the basis of any expression that they have made or in relations to their profession as journalists.
The other question related to demonstration – again, any country is to regulate the issue of the demonstrations as it deems appropriate to preserving the stability and security of its people, and whoever contravenes these stipulations will be subject to a penal process and judicial process. Again, there is some confusion related to the – whether there has been judgments related to contravening the demonstration law or whether some of those had perpetrated violent activity in the course of demonstration without a permit, and of course, that is an issue which necessitates a more effective deterrent for the violence that has been perpetrated by some of those who have been convicted.
SECRETARY KERRY: We’ve had any number of discussions – not just today but by telephone, in prior visits, in visits where we’ve gotten together in other parts of the world – and Minister Shoukry and I have gone over this challenge of – that I raised in my comments a moment ago about how best to try to push back against terrorism and simultaneously protect people’s human rights and protect the right of assembly, the right of speech, and so forth.
We have been crystal clear about the United States’ beliefs with respect to those issues, and Sameh and I have had very direct conversations about them. He has often pointed out to me evidence in certain cases where it’s a very difficult choice for Egypt because there is evidence of engagement in violence by certain people and certain leaders – obviously not everybody, not a whole group, and they understand that. But the situation in Egypt has been fragile enough and challenging enough, as we have seen recently in bombs that have taken lives and attacks that have violated the tranquility and peace of the city particularly but other areas, that Israel – that Egypt is trying to find that balance that you’ve asked can they successfully find it. I think the proof of that is going to be over the course of the next months and into the election, obviously.
What impresses me is that there is a deep commitment in Egypt to move to that election. They ran into a problem with the districts and the way that they were defined, but they moved quickly to try to rectify that and I believe are aiming towards elections this fall.
So the proof will be over the course of the next months, how effectively that balance is maintained, Michael. I think that Egypt could not be more aware of expressions of concern by the United States, by the Congress of the United States, by visitors who come here and congressional delegations, and certainly by my own comments and my own questions that have been raised. But I am confident that the foreign minister, the president, and others understand this challenge, and I think the proof will be in the days ahead.
There are, obviously, circumstances where we have found reason to have grave concern, and we have expressed it very publicly. I don’t think we’ve shied away from that. But we have multiple issues that we need to work on simultaneously. Egypt remains vital to not just the stability of its own country but obviously engagement and stability in the region as a whole. And as everybody knows, the region is facing enormous challenges right now. So working on these multiple fronts is a big political challenge. It’s one that I think the authorities that I’ve talked to in Egypt are mindful of.
Do I think there are things they could do further? Yes. Have we laid them out? Yes. Will we continue to? Yes. But we need to do so while simultaneously fighting a pernicious entity called Daesh and pushing back against individual acts of terror that steal the opportunity for the full transition that we all hope to take place to do so. And so we’ll continue to work hard at this, staying true to our values while simultaneously also staying true to the day-to-day imperatives of improving life for Egyptians as a whole and fighting a very complicated war against a number of different terrorist entities.
FOREGN MINISTER SHOUKRY: Let me just add as a comment to the Secretary’s remarks that on various occasions it has been a matter of misperception and lack of information related to the judicial system in Egypt and how it applies the rule of law. But it is the government’s adherence to the rule of law and the full implementation of the legal rights of both the accused and of society that is important in this regard. And we have a very clear definition and delimitation between issues related to the progress of this country and the fields of democracy and human rights and the fight against terrorism. There’s no problem in terms of our ability to make that differentiation and to proceed on both counts within a very defined and articulated legal and judicial system that has proven its ability and competence and continues to do so.
There is also recourse to legislative reform that might relieve some of the pressures on the judicial system in how it addresses issues of multiple rulings and the accused’s ability and recourse, especially when in absentia, to the legal system. And this is done in recognition of a constant reform process to advance society’s ability to deal with the various challenges.
SECRETARY KERRY: And Michael, one thing I’d add to that if I may, because Sameh raised the issue of the legal system. One of the things we talked about openly in the session that we just had is the problem of radicalization that can take place through imprisonment, through incarceration, and obviously the need for a judicial system to be able to move rapidly with understandable rule of law and rights that are protected in order to prevent that, because one of the things we don’t want to do is see a sort of revolving cycle of terrorism where young people are not pushed into greater radicalization as a consequence of the fight against it. And so we had an interesting exchange regarding that, and it’s one of the things that we need to be very mindful of as we go forward here.
MODERATOR: Mohamed Mostafa (in Arabic.)
QUESTION: (In Arabic.)
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, the answer is yes, of course, we did. But just asking is not going to produce the result and hasn’t yet, which is why we’re taking steps. Let me be very clear: The United States has labeled Iran the number one state sponsor of terror in the world, and the United States has taken steps over the course of the last years to try to deal with the reality of the destabilizing choices that have been made. But I have one simple fact to put in front of everybody: If Iran is destabilizing, it is far, far better to have an Iran that doesn’t have a nuclear weapon than one that does. And you say, “Why did we sit down?” We sat down because we believe we have arrived at an agreement that will prevent Iran from having a nuclear weapon.
Now, you also have to measure the significance of the fact that Iran agreed to the steps that we are taking and Iran has agreed to live by the NPT. But up until the moment that we began our negotiations, Iran was moving full speed in a direction that would have left Egypt, Israel, the Gulf states, everybody in the world, questioning where Iran was going. With the agreement that we have arrived at, those questions are answered by the steps that have to be taken in the agreement, and every option that has been available to us prior to this remains available to us going forward.
So I am absolutely convinced that Egypt, Israel, the Gulf states, every country in the region, is safer with one-year breakout for 10 years than two months, and safer with inspections, and safer with reductions of the stockpile, and safer with an adopted process under the NPT that Iran has to live by for the lifetime of this agreement. That’s why. And we believe it is better to rid the world of nuclear weapons than to leave the ingredients for them to become not only the possession of one country in the region but perhaps the necessary possession of a number of countries in the region.
No question in our mind this agreement adheres to the NPT, is a step that is significant against proliferation, and it ultimately, if fully implemented and properly adhered to, will make the region safer. And if it is not fully implemented or not adhered to, we have all the same steps available to us that brought this negotiation about still available to us in the future.
FOREIGN MINISTER SHOUKRY: (In Arabic.)
MR KIRBY: Last question, Pam Dockins, Voice of America.
QUESTION: Thank you so much. First of all, Foreign Minister Shoukry, in your – can you hear me?
FOREIGN MINISTER SHOUKRY: Yes.
QUESTION: Okay, thank you. First, Foreign Minister Shoukry, what additional collaborative measures are you considering or would you like to see with the United States when it comes to fighting militant unrest in the Sinai region, especially groups that have claimed allegiance to the Islamic State?
And Secretary Kerry, did you discuss efforts to broaden the U.S.-Egypt collaboration in addressing the threat from groups that have claimed allegiance to the Islamic State in Libya?
FOREIGN MINISTER SHOUKRY: (In Arabic.)
SECRETARY KERRY: With respect to Libya, we had a very – it was a significant part of the conversation that we had, an important part of the conversation. Egypt and the United States agree completely that this is a very critical moment in Libya, and we both are very supportive of UN envoy, Special Envoy Bernardino Leon’s efforts. Egypt has been making a significant contribution to that process over the course of the last months. We’ve got a special envoy who’s been working very closely with him, and it’s our feeling that it’s important for all parties to support that work and to recognize that this is a moment, even though not perfect, where we have the ability to be able to have a recognized government that can begin to build capacity in Libya and begin to push back against individual militias or individual – individuals themselves who are spoilers in that process.
So the United States will work very closely. We agreed that we’re going to review a couple of possibilities and options over the course of the next days of how we might give even greater support to the UN initiative right now, and that it is very, very important for those who have played proxy roles in this conflict to – all of them – pull back from their – some of their individual initiatives in order to be supportive of the larger goal of the UN effort. We cannot allow one or two or three different spoiler groups who have not achieved all of the goals they’d hoped to achieve through the conflict to destroy the entire process as a result. So it’s a very critical moment for Libya, and we intend to work together – Egypt and the United States – in order to try to see a government emerge around which Libyans can finally organize the prospects of a stable economic and peaceful future.
FOREIGN MINISTER SHOUKRY: Shukran jazilan. Thank you, John.
SECRETARY KERRY: Thank you, my friend.