Remarks With British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond After Their Meeting
Secretary of State
FOREIGN SECRETARY HAMMOND: Well, good morning. It’s a great pleasure to welcome Secretary Kerry here for a discussion ahead of the UN General Assembly and to have the opportunity to congratulate him on the success of getting the Iranian deal through the U.S. Congress. This is a good example of how working together and working with our international partners we can address long-standing and long-running problems successfully. And we are convinced that we’ve got a deal with Iran that will bar Iran’s route to a nuclear weapon and allow the sanctions regime gradually to be relaxed and Iran to be able to re-integrate, if it chooses to do so, into the international community.
We have, of course, talked primarily this morning about the situation in Syria and the migration crisis that is affecting Europe, and we’ve talked about how to move forward with our partners in response to recent developments in Syria to tackle the growing threat from ISIL and to ensure that we’re joined up between our actions in Iraq and our actions in Syria.
We’ve also talked about the situation in Yemen, where we urge the parties to return to a political track immediately and to allow humanitarian relief to flow in that country to prevent a humanitarian catastrophe over the coming winter.
We also look forward to success in the negotiations that Bernardino Leon is brokering in Libya and the formation of a government of national unity in that country, which, again, will contribute to curbing migration flows from Africa towards Europe.
Finally, we’ve discussed the situation in the Ukraine and the importance of both sides complying strictly with all their obligations under the Minsk agreement. We want to see a successful outcome via the Normandy process to delivering Minsk and re-establishing Ukrainian sovereignty of the border and peaceful existence in the eastern area of Ukraine.
So a very useful morning’s discussion. There will be lots of follow-up on all of these areas during the United Nations General Assembly, where the world’s leaders, the world’s foreign ministers, will spend lots of time together addressing all of these issues. So thank you again, John, for stopping by this morning. Thank you.
SECRETARY KERRY: Thank you, Philip, very, very much. Let me express my gratitude to the foreign secretary for a number of things, first of all his generous hospitality here in London, but perhaps even more importantly than that the tremendous input from he and his team with respect to the Iran agreement. It was a P5+1 effort. It would never have happened without the multilateral input and engagement and commitment to it, and we’re deeply grateful for the individual contributions of the British team to that process. It was really a great example of multilateral commitment and initiative. People hung in there many, many days in Vienna, and we’re very, very grateful to our partners in that effort.
Let me just say a quick word, if I can, about one other issue of great importance. In the last days, President Obama talked with King Salman of Saudi Arabia regarding the events that have transpired in the Temple Mount, the Haram al-Sharif. And Vice President Biden talked with King Abdullah of Jordan, and I talked directly with Prime Minister Netanyahu of Israel. And all of us join together in urging everybody to keep the calm, to keep the peace, to adhere to the status quo, which is an understanding of the jurisdiction of King Abdullah in Jordan with respect to access to the Temple Mount and the rules by which everybody will engage and respect for the religious observances and rights with respect to that particular place.
And we hope that in the days ahead, and the conversation I had with the prime minister of Israel, he made it very clear that he is completely supportive of the status quo and deeply committed to preventing the – any kind of incident that will incite. And he and I and others join together with President Obama in calling on everybody else – the Palestinians, Arabs, anybody – that all parties need to refrain from incitement and refrain from engaging in activities that put that relationship at risk.
With respect to Syria, obviously, we spent a significant amount of time and we covered a lot of territory today. As the foreign secretary said, we talked about Yemen, where we urged the parties to get to negotiations. We talked about Libya, where hope that the work of Bernardino Leon will bear fruit. But obviously, there are challenges, and we call on the house of representatives to return to that process and to recognize this is a critical moment. And ISIL and other extremist groups take advantage of a vacuum, and a vacuum is what is left if there is not an agreement. So we need for the sake of the 6 million citizens of Libya, where there is great opportunity and significant wealth available to be able to help that country bind its wounds and move forward. We hope that they will make the right choices in the days ahead.
With respect to Syria, the foreign secretary and I agreed completely on the urgency of nations coming together in order to resolve this war that has gone on for much too long. And it is clear that the challenge to continental Europe, but to everybody, of the migrant population of refugees seeking a better life cannot be properly addressed just by addressing the numbers of refugees coming into a country or providing more support to them; it has to be addressed by dealing with the root cause, which is the violence in Syria and the lack of hope and possibility of a future that so many people in that region feel as a consequence of the violence that’s taking place.
So we talked about a number of ideas that we have for how to use this moment where Russia appears to be more committed to doing more against ISIL to find ways to move towards the political settlement. That’s the objective. And this is a moment for, hopefully, diplomacy to take hold and be able to produce the result that I think everybody wants.
Finally, in Ukraine we both agree that it is absolutely essential that all parties continue to fully implement the Minsk agreement and restore the sovereignty of Ukraine itself. And we call on Russia to continue to put its best advice and consent into the mindset of the separatists so that they will give up the ideas of independent elections and adhere to the process that has been put together with respect to the Minsk agreement. But the full implementation of Minsk is the way to resolve the tensions that have existed between Russia and the West and others, and we hope that in the days ahead the working groups that have come together will be able to make more progress as they did last week and in the weeks before. We hope that that will continue.
So there are a number of trouble spots, obviously, that preoccupied our conversation. We really looked at today as a way to lay the groundwork for the meetings that we will have in New York in the next days. And I think it was very constructive, and I’m grateful to my friend for taking time on a Saturday morning to help to have these conversations. Thank you.
FOREIGN SECRETARY HAMMOND: We have time just for a few questions. Lisa Holland.
QUESTION: On the Syrian refugee --
FOREIGN SECRETARY HAMMOND: Lisa Holland.
QUESTION: Lisa for Sky News. Foreign Secretary, if we recognize a new urgency in trying to resolve the Syrian crisis, do you think it’s now inevitable that Britain will have to increase its military role against the Islamic State and indeed also take part in airstrikes in Syria against Islamic State?
And Secretary of State, if I might ask you as well, if you find common ground with Russia in attacking the Islamic State, doesn’t that mean that indirectly you are then propping up the regime of Bashar Assad?
FOREIGN SECRETARY HAMMOND: Well, just on the question of airstrikes, we’ve been clear that if we believed at a point in time that it is militarily necessary for Britain to engage in airstrikes in Syria in support of the campaign we’re already waging in coalition against ISIL in Iraq, then we will come back to parliament and seek authorization to do that. We keep that situation under continuous review, and we’ll continue to talk to our allies about the military situation in the round.
But this, because of the Russian engagement, the situation in Syria is becoming more complicated, and I think we need to discuss this as part of a much bigger problem – the migration pressures, the humanitarian crisis in Syria, as well as the need to defeat ISIL.
SECRETARY KERRY: ISIL is increasingly being understood by every entity, every country in the world, to be a threat to everybody. And ISIL is. ISIL is plotting attacks today against the West. We know this. And there isn’t a nation in the vicinity of Syria that isn’t opposed to ISIL. So to the degree that Russia wants to focus its efforts against ISIL, we welcome that and we’re prepared to try to find the ways to most rapidly and most effectively eliminate ISIL.
To do so is not to change one’s position or attitude about what Assad has done to his own people, about the crimes that have committed in the region. But it is to underscore the need for all of us to find a way to get to that elusive political settlement that we’ve talked about now for a period of time but which has not yet materialized. There is an urgency not just to fighting ISIL; there is an urgency to renewing everybody’s effort to find the compromise that could produce the political settlement necessary to bring peace and stability to a Syria that is kept whole and secular, unified, where all minorities are protected. That is our goal, and it is shared, by the way, by Russia, by every other country, to our knowledge, in the region. Therefore, we ought to be able to find the way forward, and that’s our hope.
MR KIRBY: Carol.
QUESTION: On the question of the Syrian refugees, both Britain and the United States have written large checks for the humanitarian effort, but do you think that as long as you respectively accept only 10,000 and 20,000 Syrian refugees that that in any way undercuts your authority to speak on the issue of Syrian refugees?
And also, Secretary Kerry, yesterday you said that Assad is not part of any long-term solution in Syria. That seems to suggest you envision some compromise in which he perhaps could stay on in the interim, perhaps similar to what the foreign secretary suggested a few weeks ago. Just what exactly do you have in mind? What kind of time limit would the U.S. accept?
SECRETARY KERRY: So with respect to refugees, the United States is the single – we have the largest refugee resettlement program in the world. So we take a second position to nobody with respect to our ongoing refugee resettlement program, where, by the way, we are also the largest donor in the world, $4.1 billion to date, to the refugee crisis of Syria. So no, I don’t think – on the contrary, I think we are well-positioned to help to lead with respect to this issue, and we will continue.
But this inundation that is taking place in the last weeks is obviously an aberration from the normal day-to-day process of refugee resettlement, and so it requires emergency response. The President has made it clear that we are committed to try to do more if we can, and we are looking at exactly what it will take to do more in order to be able to properly vet, because post-9/11 we now have new security standards that are applied to every single refugee. So all of these things require allocation of resource and planning, and that’s what we’re doing.
With respect to Assad and longevity, what I said is consistent with what I’ve always said about Syria that I think the last year and a half we have said that Assad has to go. But how long, what the modality is, that’s a decision that has to be made in the context of the Geneva process and negotiations. We’ve said for some period of time that it doesn’t have to be on day one or month one or whatever. There is a process by which all the parties have to come together and reach an understanding of how this can best be achieved.
And I don’t have the answer as to some specific timeframe. I just know that the people of Syria have already spoken with their feet. They’re leaving Syria. They’ve made it clear through the barrel bombs that have killed innocent children and parents and kids in school, and dropped on hospitals, the pictures of people tortured, starved, with their bodies brutalized and proven 10,000 strong that this is a man who has committed war crimes. He has gassed his own people. Everybody in the world knows that. So what is the legitimacy with respect to the future? Obviously, in the end, it is up to the people of Syria to decide. And we have made our position very clear.
But we need to get to the negotiation. That’s what we’re looking for, and we hope Russia and any – Iran, other countries with influence, will help to bring about that, because that’s what’s preventing this crisis from ending. We’re prepared to negotiate. Is Assad prepared to negotiate, really negotiate? Is Russia prepared to bring him to the table and actually find the solution to this violence? Those are the pregnant questions. And we’ve made it very clear we’ve been open. We’ve made it very clear that we’re not being doctrinaire about the specific date or time. We’re open. But right now, Assad has refused to have a serious discussion and Russia has refused to help bring him to the table in order to do that. So that’s why we’re where we are.
FOREIGN SECRETARY HAMMOND: We’re completely aligned on this issue. Assad has to go. He can’t be part of Syria’s long-term future. But the modality and the timing has to be part of a discussion about a political solution that allows us to move forward and to avert further humanitarian suffering.
On the question of refugees, the U.S. is the largest contributor to supporting refugees in the region, Britain is the second largest. I think we do have the moral authority to speak on this area. We have a very clear view that where it is possible to support people and maintain them in the region, that is the right way to do it. We have a vision for a new Syria in the future, and that new Syria will need its most able, most educated, most capable citizens to build that future. And we want them to be there. We want them to be ready to take part in rebuilding their country. So our preference will always be to sustain them safely with education, with health care, with security, in the region. And Britain’s program of resettlement will be focused on vulnerable refugees who need to be moved out of the camps because of their vulnerability and resettled in the UK.
MODERATOR: Last question, CNN.
QUESTION: Secretary Kerry, you’ve talked about the importance of divining Russia’s intentions here. The indications are that the first Russian fighter aircraft recently arrived in Syria are equipped for air-to-air combat. ISIL doesn’t have aircraft. The United States does have them flying over Syria. Does this worry you? And how do you – what do you believe Russia’s intentions are at this time?
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, I’m not going to get into speculation. But clearly, the presence of aircraft with air-to-air combat capacity as well as air-to-surface – surface-to-air missiles raise serious questions, which is precisely why Secretary Carter talked with the Minister of Defense of Russia Shoygu yesterday, and that is precisely why we are engaged in further conversation about answering those questions and about de-conflicting the Russian activities from ours. We have more than 60 nations involved in a coalition against ISIL. Does it need to be able to do more? The answer is yes. Would we welcome Russian help in going against ISIL? Obviously. We’ve talked about it for some period of time. That’s always been one of the things we’ve talked about as an effective way to help resolve the problems there.
But the other part of the equation is Assad and how you resolve the fact that he is a magnet for foreign fighters who come to the region, which is, in the end, ISIL. So you get – there’s a lack of logic in – if all they’re doing – if they’re bringing in more equipment, shoring up Assad at the same time as they say they’re going after ISIL. That has to be resolved in our conversations over the course of the next days. And that’s precisely what we’re trying to do is, even as we immediately engage in an effort to de-conflict so there’s no potential of a mistake or of an accident of some kind that produces a greater potential of conflict.
FOREIGN SECRETARY HAMMOND: I’m afraid we’re out of time. Thank you, John.
SECRETARY KERRY: Thank you. Thank you all.