Remarks to the Press With Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh

John Kerry
Secretary of State
Amman Marka Airport
Amman, Jordan
October 24, 2015

SECRETARY KERRY: So let me explain to everybody we apologize for the delay, but we were just ironing out some last details regarding the announcement that I’m going to make and the events as they will unfold over the course of today and tomorrow. And unfortunately, because of time we’re under great constraints on our pilots, who are operating under a crew rest restraint, so we will not be able to take questions. But I’ll have some time to talk with our press subsequently after this, and likewise, the Foreign Minister will have an opportunity to talk to the press here. So we apologize for that restraint, but it’s imposed on us.

Obviously, for me, it’s a pleasure to be back here in Amman, where Foreign Minister Judeh and I have worked very effectively over several years now in dealing with the challenges of the tensions of the region and the conflict that exists. And I particularly want to thank His Majesty King Abdullah and Foreign Minister Judeh for their always very welcome warm welcome and the exhaustive personal efforts that both of them are putting into and do put into trying to resolve some of the region’s most difficult and urgent issues, whether it’s Syria and Iraq, ISIL/Daesh, or the longstanding conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians. And through all of these challenges, one constant has been enormously evident, and that is the constructive role, the very important key role, that Jordan plays in trying to resolve each of these challenges.

On a personal level, I’m very, very grateful to the friendship that I have with both His Majesty King Abdullah as well as with Nasser Judeh, and we in our conversation today made it very clear that in the next days we will continue to remain very closely in touch. The Special Envoy to the Middle East Frank Lowenstein will stay here through today and tomorrow to continue the discussions in order to lay out a path ahead. And as we all know, Prime Minister Netanyahu will be visiting Washington in November, November 9th. So we have a number of meetings and events taking place over the course of the next weeks.

Now, obviously, at this moment we are all deeply concerned about the recent violence in Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza, and especially in Jerusalem. The United States strongly condemns the terrorist attacks against innocent civilians. There is absolutely no justification for these reprehensible attacks. And as I have said before, all the violence and the incitement to violence must stop. Leaders must lead, and it is important to stop the back-and-forth of language that gives anybody an excuse to somehow be misinterpreted or misguided into believing that violence becomes a viable option. It is not a viable option. Diplomacy and negotiation are the viable road ahead.

Now, I have had very constructive meetings over the past few days, beginning with the meeting with Prime Minister Netanyahu in Berlin, with Foreign Minister Judeh briefly yesterday in Vienna and again today, and with President Abbas and King Abdullah this morning. All of them expressed their strong commitment to ending the violence and restoring the calm as soon as possible. I especially want to thank Prime Minister Netanyahu, President Abbas, and our hosts here in Jordan for the seriousness of purpose that they brought to our discussions in furtherance of this effort of calming things down and ending the violence, and equally importantly of finding a specific road forward so that we’re not just ending violence for a moment but we are creating a path to a legitimate future.

Now, I hope that based on these conversations we can finally put to rest some of the false assumptions, perceptions about the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount. Those perceptions are stoking the tensions and fueling the violence, and it is important for us to end the provocative rhetoric and to start to change the public narrative that comes out of those false perceptions.

The Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount is obviously important to the peoples of all three monotheistic faiths – Jews, Muslims, and Christians. And I am pleased that Prime Minister Netanyahu has reaffirmed Israel’s commitment to upholding the unchanged status quo of the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif both in word and in practice.

This is not a comprehensive detailing of the understandings among the parties. I want to make that clear. Prime Minister Netanyahu will speak to this issue later tonight. But I just want to emphasize a few key points that he has stressed.

One, Israel fully respects the special role of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, as reflected in their 1994 peace treaty, and the historic role of His Majesty King Abdullah II.

Second, Israel will continue to enforce its longstanding policy on religious worship, religious worship at the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif, including the fundamental fact that it is Muslims who pray on the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif and non-Muslims who visit.

Israel has no intention – three – of dividing the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif and it rejects completely any attempt to suggest otherwise.

Four, Israel welcomes increased coordination between Israeli authorities and the Jordanian Waqf, including to ensure that visitors and worshipers demonstrate restraint and respect for the sanctity of the area in accordance with their respective responsibilities. In fact, they plan to meet soon to strengthen security arrangements on the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount. That is to say Israeli authorities and Jordanian Waqf and authorities will meet soon in order to strengthen that security relationship.

Now, I am also very pleased to announce today that Prime Minister Netanyahu has agreed to what I think is an excellent suggestion by King Abdullah to provide 24-hour video coverage of all sites on the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif. This will provide comprehensive visibility and transparency, and that could really be a game changer in discouraging anybody from disturbing the sanctity of this holy site. I expect Jordanian and Israeli technical teams will meet soon to discuss the implementation of this idea alongside other measures to maintain and enhance public order and calm.

So today I hope we can begin to turn the page on this very difficult period. We have to join together in calling for an immediate end to violence. We must stress the importance of avoiding provocative actions and rhetoric, and we must work cooperatively. It’s the only way to go forward is to work cooperatively to restore calm. And by restoring calm we can get back to the critical effort of achieving a lasting peace.

Now let me say, having been at this for a while, obviously we understand there are serious additional issues, security and otherwise, between Israelis and Palestinians that must be addressed. But we have agreed that this is a first step to creating some space in order to allow us to resume those steps and that dialogue. We will be consulting immediately and we will meet against soon to announce further efforts to advance peace and stability and to work on those steps necessary to bring lasting calm. Thank you.

FOREIGN MINISTER JUDEH: Thank you very much, Mr. Secretary, my dear and good friend John. Thank you first of all for your commitment, for your leadership, for your tireless efforts, for your dedication, and most of all, as far as we’re concerned here in Jordan, for your friendship.

I think both your – I think our press has just arrived --


FOREIGN MINISTER JUDEH: So may I give them a minute?

SECRETARY KERRY: Give them a minute.

FOREIGN MINISTER JUDEH: All right, so let me start again and just again express a sincere and warm welcome to the Secretary of State and again to salute him for his leadership, for his dedication, for his passion, for his tireless efforts, and again, as far as we’re concerned here in Jordan, for his friendship.

And I think all of you can tell from the Secretary’s voice that he’s on the run, he’s on the go all the time, and he mentioned a little while ago that he’s been at this for a while. And as somebody who’s been at this for a little while longer, let me just say that issues in the Middle East are indeed complex, but I think with our collective will and efforts we can certainly overcome what may be perceived as insurmountable difficulties. Everything is resolvable, let’s say, and the Secretary of State has really been working very, very hard in the general context of peace negotiation between Palestinians and Israelis, as we saw last year and the year before that. But also, every time we face challenges and difficulties in this part of the world, the United States of America is there to assist and to help and to mediate and to broker, because I think it is very, very clear that peace in the Middle East is identifiable with U.S. national security, and we are all agreed on that.

Jordan, Mr. Secretary, is not a mediator or an observer. Jordan is a stakeholder. When it comes to the Palestinian-Israeli peace, all of the final status issues between the Palestinians and the Israelis touch the very heart of Jordan’s national security and national interests. Jordan is the largest host of Palestinian refugees in the world. Jordan has a special role in Jerusalem, and His Majesty King Abdullah II is the Custodian of Christian and Muslim Holy Sites in the Holy City. When it comes to the other final status issues such as borders, security, water, no arrangement can be reached, no final arrangement can be arrived at, without the input and active participation of Jordan. We’ve made that clear from the beginning. So from the perspective of final status negotiations, from the perspective of the complexity of the issues that we see in Jerusalem, Jordan has not just an interest, but a very key and active role.

So as the Secretary of State said – my dear and good friend John – what we’ve seen in the last few weeks is another escalation in the Haram Sharif Al-Aqsa Mosque compound. And let me just explain that when we say Al-Haram al-Sharif it is the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound. People sometimes mistake the Al-Aqsa Mosque for one building. It is the compound. It is the 144,000 square meters that we are talking about, which is one of the holiest shrines of Islam.

The escalations that we have seen in the last few weeks, as we saw last year, resulted in tensions that reverberated not just in the confines of this region but elsewhere. And I always say that when you infuriate the emotions of one of our billion Muslims around the world, things become rather thorny and rather difficult to manage, because people stop thinking with their heads and start thinking with their heart.

And this is what we have seen again this year. The Secretary of State was here last year and when we were trying to contain the escalation and the violence that was taking place in the Haram al-Sharif last year. We managed to put in some measures, some arrangements in place that resulted in quieting things down for a while; but again, as always in this part of the world, things have a tendency to erupt when there’s a political vacuum and when the arrangements are not watertight. So this year we’ve seen the escalations, and unfortunately we’ve seen a violence that spread across the entire spectrum of the occupied Palestinian territories as well as Israel.

Our position in principle, Mr. Secretary – and everybody knows Jordan’s principled position on this – is targeting civilians is not acceptable, totally rejected. We’ve said that throughout the history of Jordan, and we affirm that today.

You can’t look at the Haram al-Sharif today and the escalation that we have seen in the last few weeks without – without the – I understand that your crew is waiting, so we’ll – I will make it as brief as possible – without looking at the overall picture and what we have seen in the occupied Palestinian territories recently.

So let’s deal with the issue that sparked the tensions and the violence that we have seen in the last few weeks, which is the Haram al-Sharif. And as the Secretary of State has said, I want to affirm Jordan’s commitment to working together to ensure that tensions are reduced, that violence is halted. I welcome what I heard from the Secretary of State just now. Due to his active engagement and the very welcome diplomacy of the United States of America, I welcome what we’re expected to hear from the prime minister of Israel tonight on the commitment to maintain the status quo, and I look forward to hearing the prime minister’s remarks this evening and I’ll have a reaction to them once they are made.

So I appreciate very much this affirmation of Israel’s commitment to the unchanged status quo in word and in practice, and again, I want to reiterate that His Majesty’s initiative of the 24-hour cameras to monitor the events on the site itself in the Haram Sharif will indeed make a difference and a very strong difference at that. And I want to say that Jordan not only supports but demands that there’s an immediate restoration of calm and an end to all violence and provocative actions. It is in our interest – Jordan and the United States – to see things quiet down, calm down, and we go back towards yet the larger picture, which is essentially – and thus address the root cause of the entire problem. The root cause is the need to have a Palestinian state that lives side-by-side with a secure Israel and all the people in the nations of this world and in this region in particular living in peace and security.

So again, we work together. I enjoyed seeing the Secretary briefly in Vienna yesterday. I was in New York the day before that while I addressed the Security Council in a special session on the Middle East and the Palestinian question. I made my position very, very clear on behalf of Jordan. We had a chance yesterday briefly and today with His Majesty the King to discuss the overall challenges that we face in this region, our collective and committed fight against terrorism and extremism And in this regard, the United States and Jordan and the coalition that we have remains steadfast and committed to continuing in our efforts in this context. We keep saying this is our fight and we have to see it through until the end. We discussed the latest developments in terms of Syria and, of course, the subject at hand, which is the tensions in Jerusalem in the holy site and in the occupied Palestinian territory.

So I hope that with this, as the Secretary said, we would begin a series of engagement meetings. The Waqf, the Jordanian Waqf in Jerusalem, deals with Israel almost on a daily basis with Israeli authorities, so I hope that there will be substantive, intensive discussions in the next few days to implement the commitments that we will give and hopefully look at the larger picture again in terms of the holy sites and in terms of the occupied Palestinian territory and the Palestinian-Israeli peace.

So thank you again, Mr. Secretary, for your friendship and thank you for your visit, and I hope that we can continue our discussions. And look after your voice.