Remarks With Spanish Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Garcia-Margallo y Marfil

John Kerry
Secretary of State
Madrid, Spain
October 19, 2015

FOREIGN MINISTER GARCIA-MARGALLO: (Inaudible.) Good morning, and I’m very grateful (inaudible). I’m delighted to meet with you. Last time we had a meeting was in Washington (inaudible) in September (inaudible), just a month ago. Now we meet again (inaudible). Now I will speak (inaudible).

(In Spanish.)

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, thank you very much, Jose. Buenos Dias. (In Spanish.) Thank you for the privilege of being here. And indeed, His Majesty King Felipe VI had a – and Her Majesty had a wonderful visit to the United States. We were very happy to welcome them, and particularly to celebrate the remarkable history between Spain and the United States, and obviously, your visit to St. Augustine and to Florida helped all Americans to reconnect to the special friendship that we share.

I am personally really delighted to be in Madrid. This got delayed, unfortunately, because I know is a popular pastime in Spain – cycling – and I’m an avid cyclist, and I fell off my bike and managed to break my leg. So I appreciate your gentle understanding, and I very much appreciate the chance now to come and visit, to consult with His Majesty King Felipe, with the prime minister, President Rajoy, and the foreign minister – yourself – Jose Garcia-Margallo.

Thirty-three years ago, Spain joined the NATO alliance. And throughout recent decades, our two countries have grown really close as economic partners, as supporters of democracy, and as defenders of rule of law. And it is important to note that there’s a tremendous exchange of investment between the United States and Spain now – Spain, the ninth largest investor in the United States; we are the third largest investor in Spain, and that is increasing.

In addition, our troops have served shoulder to shoulder in Afghanistan, Turkey, and off the coast of Somalia. And earlier this year we signed a protocol on our agreement on defense cooperation, which Jose mentioned, that will make permanent the deployment of a U.S. crisis response force in Moron and authorize additional U.S. personnel and aircraft. And so our security relationship is also strengthening.

After years of sacrifice and reform, Spain is growing again. And the Spanish people should be very proud of the work that all have done to turn your economy around to contribute to the shared prosperity of Europe. The United States is equally proud to be one of Spain’s largest trade and investment partners, and together we are working to spur innovation, to tackle youth unemployment here and – specifically through some initiatives like the IN-cubed. IN-cubed is an idea that our embassy developed in order to promote investment in Spain’s dynamic tech sector and to support the goals of President Obama’s Global Entrepreneurship Summit. We’re also working to create jobs and promote trade and investment opportunities in both of our countries through the proposed Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. And as the foreign minister indicated, our meetings last night and today are very timely.

With the passage of the TPP, it is really important for Europe now to come together around the TTIP because this can help to elevate the rules and regulations by which we do business all across the planet. Let me emphasize: It will not reduce the standards. It does not lower standards. It won’t hurt the environment or the labor standards. It raises the ability of everybody to be able to do better, but it takes away the interferences that prevent our ability to be able to grow jobs faster. So we look forward to talking about this as we go forward.

In addition, among other challenges, Jose listed some of the things that we talked about and they’re all serious for all of us, particularly given the migration challenge of Europe. We discussed the situation in Libya, the threat posed by Daesh, and the fundamental mission of achieving a Europe that is whole and free and at peace.

The United States and Spain, along with many other countries, remain deeply concerned about the crisis in Libya. The continued violence and instability in many parts of the country underscore the urgency of our efforts. We talked last night about the importance of individual leaders in Libya looking not at the small picture but looking at the big picture and trying to put their country and the concept of a national Libya ahead of individual ambitions. This is the moment, and I know how hard Bernardino Leon has worked in an effort to try to pull people together.

So the continued violence and instability actually work in favor of Daesh, not in favor of the people of Libya. So it’s imperative that all of the parties approve the final political text and approve the slate of leaders with a government of national accord. A government of national accord is the best opportunity we will have to build governing capacity and begin to be able to restore Libya.

The foreign minister and I also discussed the fight against Daesh. Spain has contributed, as he said, some 300 military trainers to support the Iraqi military effort. And we’re also moving ahead with actions to disrupt Daesh’s financing, and particularly to repudiate its message of hate. Every single country bears a major responsibility to push back against any entity that tries to undo centuries of history, centuries of culture, all of the things that we have worked for, really, in great concert for the last 70 years since the forming of the United Nations and the end of World War II. And we see that what is happening is, really, non-state actors attacking states and attacking the norm that most decent and civil societies have agreed is the standard by which we should live.

So every citizen of every country, particularly those in Europe, in the United States, and our allies, who share the common vision for how we should live and how we achieve peace – everybody needs to do their part in this effort. I’m very pleased that Spain hosted a special meeting of the UN Counterterrorism Committee in July on stemming the flow of foreign terrorist fighters. We have been able to interrupt many fighters as they have tried to leave countries – including ours – to go to Syria, attracted by the social media, attracted by lies. And it is absolutely vital for us to push back against that, and we’re beginning. We have more work to do, but we’ve made important progress.

The campaign against Daesh will require a multiyear commitment. But as we have learned both in my country and in Spain, defeating terrorists is not an option; it is a necessity. Securing the rights of innocent men, women, and children is not a burden; it’s a duty. And that is why more than 60 nations are actively contributing to the fight against Daesh in both Iraq and in Syria, and it’s why we will continue to improve the combat capabilities of the Iraqi Security Forces. And it’s why the international community must continue to find a political solution to the ongoing civil war in Syria.

Everybody, including the Russians and the Iranians, have all said there is no military solution. So we need to get about the effort of finding a political solution. This is a human catastrophe unfolding before our eyes, and it is a catastrophe that now threatens the integrity of a whole group of countries around the region – not just to the west in Europe but also east – and it’s important for us to respond.

It’s also important for people to understand that propping up Assad will ultimately fail, and it will also, unfortunately, lead to more bloodshed. It will lead to more refugees, to more extremism, to more jihadis. So I will be traveling back to Europe and the Middle East after I go home briefly tonight. I’ll be coming back in a few days and I will meet with leaders from Russia, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, to work through real and tangible options that could perhaps reignite a political process and bring about a political transition in Syria, a transition to a government that responds not to a dictator’s whims but to the desperate needs and wishes of the people of Syria.

Separately during that trip, I am currently working on finalizing arrangements for meetings with Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Abbas to see if we could also find specific steps that can bring calm and stop the horrific violence and the senseless taking of lives.

Now, here in Madrid, Foreign Minister Garcia-Margallo and I also discussed Palomares, where a military accident involving the collision of two U.S. Air Force aircraft took place in 1966. I’m very pleased that a few minutes ago at this table, we were able to sign a memorandum that will form a new path to achieve additional remediation at that site. And we have to build on today’s signing to take further action to resolve, once and for all, this very important issue. Over the past 50 years, we have worked together to secure the area, to remove contaminated soil, and to decontaminate land and to ensure public health and the safety of the people. And that work will continue.

We have also reviewed the situation in Ukraine. It’s essential that all parties implement their Minsk commitments in full, now. That means full withdrawal of heavy weapons, full OSCE access all the way to the border, hostage releases, free and fair elections under Ukrainian law with monitoring by the democratic office – the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights – and full Ukrainian sovereignty over its international border before we consider easing the sanctions.

So together, the United States and Spain have a very big agenda. (In Spanish.) Thank you. (Applause.)

MR KIRBY: First question today will come from Lesley Wroughton, Reuters. We’re taking the microphone to you, Lesley.

QUESTION: Thank you. Good morning. Mr. Secretary, in your meetings this week with the Palestinian and the Israeli leaders, what do you hope to come back – or what do you hope to achieve in that? Are you seeking a statement from Jordan’s king or President Abbas acknowledging that Netanyahu’s pledge not to change the status quo at the al-Aqsa compound? Some Israeli and U.S. officials say this is not the time for diplomacy; it is the time for security. How do you feel about that, and what is your assessment of the violence?

On Syria, you say you’re coming back in the next few days. What are you hoping to – is there any progress in the discussions on the political transition? Have you agreed on some modalities of how those talks could take place? And given that Russia does not want to give up Assad, or in your view doesn’t want to, how do you expect to convince them to do so?

And Mr. Minister, good morning. You have said before that you can’t have this political transition without talking to Assad. Is that still your belief? And how do you see the way forward? Thanks.

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, let me speak first to the issue of the violence that has been occurring in Jerusalem particularly but also elsewhere. Security and diplomacy go hand in hand. There is not a time for one and then the other, really there is an importance to both. We want to see calm restored and we want to see the violence stop. And I think everybody in Israel and in the region would like to see both of those things happen.

We continue to urge everybody to exercise restraint and restrain from any kind of self-help in terms of the violence, and Israel has every right in the world to protect its citizens, as it has been, from random acts of violence. But in my conversations with the prime minister, as well as with King Abdullah and the foreign minister of Jordan, they have expressed the desire to try to see this process be able to find a way of making certain that everybody is clear about what is happening with respect to the Temple Mount.

Israel has made it clear to me that they do not intend to and have not changed the status quo, and I think it’s important for me to meet with the prime minister and talk about the road ahead. We have a longstanding, extremely close, very important relationship with respect to Israel’s security, and security will be front and center in our discussion. And obviously, the United States remains deeply concerned about and engaged in efforts to help Israel with respect to its security. But we also share a global interest in seeing the region find a way forward to avoid this kind of confrontation and senseless loss of life. So it is important to have that kind of discussion at the same time.

I don’t have specific expectations except to try to move things forward. And it would depend on the conversations themselves as to what it is that we’re able to define in the context of steps that might or might not be taken to help people understand that in fact leaders are leading and making a serious effort to try to resolve the current level of conflict.

With respect to Syria, again, our expectations are very much to focus on a discussion, recognizing that things have changed. The level of migration in Europe is dangerous in many regards, not because people are coming; it’s the numbers. It’s the inability of countries to be able to deal with the numbers. Europe has always welcomed people and done its part in helping to deal with refugee crises. But this is a movement of people already at an unprecedented level in modern times. And the threat of many more coming if the violence continues, and if Syria absolutely implodes, is real. And the implications of that for the long-term security of not just Europe but of the region itself are enormous. That many refugees moving in all directions – having an impact on Jordan, having an impact on Lebanon, an impact on Turkey – presents its own challenge to the immediate neighborhood.

So we have a global interest in trying to find a way to stop this unfolding human catastrophe from growing worse. I mean, already three-quarters of Syria is in displaced persons status. Twelve million people wandering around, some of them in refugee camps, some of them seeking refuge in Europe, some of them losing their lives as they take risky methods to try to find a future. And I think if the 70 years since World War II and the United Nations mean anything, it underscores the responsibility we all have to try to prevent this from growing even worse.

Our fear has always been that if Russia is only there or principally there to prop up Assad, that that will simply attract more jihadis to the fight and that will provide more refugees and more violence. If on the other hand Russia is there to help Assad find a way to a political solution, as well as to fight Daesh and extremism, then there’s the possibility of a very different path. And we have to sit down and talk to each other in order to explore those kinds of possibilities. So I don’t enter this discussion with a specific expectation except to try to understand better for all of us what our options are and how we may be able to proceed forward.

And President Obama has made it very clear that he feels the responsibility and assumes responsibility for our country doing our part to be able to try to avoid the complete and total destruction of Syria and all of the negative implications that come with that.

FOREIGN MINISTER GARCIA-MARGALLO: Thank you very much for that. I would like to, if you don’t mind, in Spanish to the question about Syria and the transitional period. I think that was your question to me, no? It was – okay, fine.

(In Spanish.)

QUESTION: (In Spanish.)

SECRETARY KERRY: I’m sorry, what was the – can you give him back the mike, por favor? I just want to ask --

QUESTION: The last question.

SECRETARY KERRY: What did you ask? I heard you about the status quo, but I didn’t hear the preface to it.

QUESTION: Yes. (In Spanish.)

SECRETARY KERRY: (Inaudible.) Yeah, okay.

QUESTION: (In Spanish.)


Thank you.

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, thank you. Let me horn in on the answer of my friend. Just to emphasize that Ambassador Ramon Gil-Casares and Ambassador James Costos have both done terrific work on this, and our countries have worked hard at it, and I think today is a day of accomplishment and celebration because it really does map out the road ahead so that the interests of Spain will be protected and the United States will live up to its responsibilities and do its part. And I think we can all be very proud of what was accomplished here. I’m very grateful on behalf of the United States for the outstanding job our ambassador is doing, not just on that but across the board in strengthening our relationship with Spain.

With respect to your first question on the elections, the United States does not and tries very hard not to make pronouncements that somehow insert itself in the middle of an election. What happens in Spain in terms of your election is a celebration of democracy and we respect the democracy and we will listen to the people of Spain. I will say, however, because President Obama made it very clear in the visit of His Majesty King Felipe to Washington, that we are deeply committed as a country – as a matter of our policy – we are deeply committed to maintaining a relationship with a strong and unified Spain. And we look forward to working with Spain as an integral member of the EU partnership that we have and there are so many security issues that we have discussed here today.

With respect to the status quo and the question you asked, His Majesty King Abdullah of the Hashemite Kingdom has the responsibility under the agreements of history for responsibility for the administration of the Haram al-Sharif. And we don’t contemplate any change, but nor does Israel. Israel understands the importance of that status quo, and I think what is necessary perhaps – which is why diplomacy sometimes enters into this – is to make sure that everybody understands what that means, that there is clarity as to what the expectations are.

So no, we are not seeking some new change. We’re not seeking outsiders or others to come in. I don’t think Israel wants that. I don’t think King Abdullah and Jordan want that, and we’re not proposing it. So let me make clear: What we need is clarity. We need to have all the parties come together with an expression of that clarity. And I feel strongly that it’s in the interests of everybody to be able to do so.