Press Availability with Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh

Press Availability
John Kerry
Secretary of State
Amman, Jordan
February 21, 2016

FOREIGN MINISTER JUDEH: (Via interpreter) So, allow me to welcome the U.S. Secretary of State, Mr. John Kerry. He is an intimate friend, and I would like to stress that we are jointly keen on to maintain these consultation and communication relationships, especially with respect to the joint challenges that we are facing in this country and across the world. This consultation comes within the historical – solid historical friendship relationship, and it is deep rooted in history between the U.S. and the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan.

This visit today, this meeting today, comes before His Majesty King Abdullah meets with U.S. President Barack Obama on the 24th of this month in Washington. It also comes as a link of a chain of the series of meetings His Majesty the King convenes with official – U.S. officials on all levels. And we were in Washington to meet some of the U.S. officials in the Congress, as well as in think tanks, as well as with the media. We are always keen on having communication relationships, as well as constructive ones between the countries.

Jordan highly appreciates U.S. stances – supporting stances, backing stances for Jordan. And President Obama signed two days ago the military cooperation pact, or agreement, between U.S. and the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, which is military-to-military rules, and it rationalizes the U.S. assistance for Jordan, based on a recommendation by the administration and also a Congress decision that will exceed one-point-something billion dollars – $16 billion. And this is highly appreciated by the U.S. of the burden, economic social burden that Jordan is bearing, and also to appreciate the – Jordan’s political role that the country plays on the world arena.

You are well aware that London conference, the last London conference, was a milestone and Jordan’s – the Syrian treaties – humanitarian and political solution for the Syrian crisis. Jordan always says – especially the statements made by His Majesty and our statements – His Majesty always states that Jordan is assuming this noble task, and shoulders this heavy burden because it believes in its role in the human – in the international community, and it is doing so on behalf of humanity. Therefore, the international community and humanity, as a whole, should stand fast to back Jordan, because Jordan is doing this task on behalf of the international community.

Jordan was a milestone. It was not a donors conference only, but also a conference to have various views, perspective of this problem that recently Europe has started to hear about. It is an international issue, and the U.S. greatly appreciates Jordan’s – by U.S. and Jordan, and combatting extremism and terrorism. And His Majesty the King says that it is our battle, mainly, against the (inaudible) of this age. It is our battle and our – against all of those who want to destroy our religion, Islam. And this equals intensive efforts and a holistic perspective from all aspects, as well as security coordination.

It is a global war, in all the corners of the world, and requires an international effort to eliminate it. Therefore, our consultation and coordination with the U.S. is intensive and very accurate. We jointly have – support the international support groups. We note exactly that the political solution is the one we are after, we are seeking. And the Syrian crisis, we (inaudible) that we experience on a daily basis, killings, destruction, hunger, epidemics, and a very severe humanitarian situation, and a more difficult political situation. This cannot be reached without a political solution.

And there was the Vienna track, which is chaired, co-chaired by the U.S. and Russia in order to involve all the parties, whether they are directly or indirectly involved. We have joined these four meetings that have come up with different junctures, including 2254 U.S. Security Council – UN Security Council decision, and the latest important meeting in Munich, where the agreement to put in humanitarian assistance and aid, and to work in a well-coordinated manner to cessation of atrocities, and eventually a ceasefire, and back to the negotiations.

There have been developments in this front, and I am pretty sure that His Excellency John Kerry will brief you on these, and we hope we will have positive negotiations, developments that will take us back to the negotiations that would achieve security and peace and to stop destruction and killings in Syria.

We have touched on different regional trials – Libya, Yemen, Iraq. However, I cannot ignore by any means our main theme which we discussed, the most prominent, the everlasting that is always (inaudible). It is the Palestinian issue. And Mr. Kerry has intensively worked and put forth efforts in 2015 as – and U.S. Administration’s efforts to achieve peace between Israelis and Palestinians. Unfortunately, these negotiations have been put – or suspended further (inaudible).

However, Mr. John Kerry has not ignored the situation, and has been discussing with us as a key stakeholder. Jordan is not a mediator or an observer; Jordan has a supreme interest in achieving peace between Israelis and Palestinians, because we are mainly concerned with all the final solution issues, and this directly affects the security, the national security of Jordan, and the higher Jordanian interest. And we are always looking forward to any opportunity where we can discuss and deliberate and crystalizing ideas to put impetus on this that would achieve peace and security for all countries and peoples in this region.

Many issues have been discussed, and we will be honored in a short while to meet His Majesty King Abdullah (inaudible) and I do commend this friendship between our two countries, and stress that continued coordination should continue.

(In English) A hearty welcome to you, Mr. Secretary. Always a pleasure to welcome you here in Amman, always a pleasure to see you. And I salute the friendship between our two countries. And I assure you of Jordan’s commitment to this partnership, and Jordan’s appreciation for the support and understanding that we have with our friends in the United States of America across the board. So welcome again, sir.

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, thank you very much, Nasser. You are a good friend personally, and obviously, your country is a great ally and a great friend to the United States of America, and we are very grateful for the special relationship that we have.

It is a pleasure for me to be back in Amman. It is good to see a lot of you again. And I want to thank His Majesty King Abdullah and Foreign Minister Judeh for their always-warm welcome and, very importantly, for their constant help in trying to resolve the most difficult issues of this region. Whether it is Syria or Iraq or even the threat of Daesh or the challenge of the Middle East peace process, Jordan always demonstrates its resolve to support other people’s efforts, as well as take its own efforts individually to try to advance the goal of not just a two-state solution with respect to Israel-Palestine, but also to bring about peace and stability to the region. And Jordan is a regional leader, a regional player.

We are particularly grateful to Jordan for its efforts which came out of the meeting that I held just about a year ago regarding the tensions in Jerusalem at the Haram al-Sharif, the Temple Mount compound. And we talked about that a little bit today, and need to continue to make progress. But that came out of an important meeting between the Prime Minister of Israel, His Majesty, Foreign Minister Judeh, and myself, and a telephone call at the time from President el-Sisi.

As usual, today our conversations were very frank and very productive, also had an opportunity to meet with Foreign Minister Judeh last night. So we spent several hours last night, talking through all of these issues. And I very much look forward to meeting with His Majesty King Abdullah, and with President Abbas here, in Amman, a little bit later. His Majesty, obviously in Aqaba, President Abbas here.

Every one of you knows that we are deeply concerned right now, and seized by the humanitarian catastrophe that is unfolding in Syria. An estimated-now 13.5 million people, Syrians, are in need of aid. And six million of them are children. And hundreds of thousands are still trapped in areas where food deliveries are either non-existent or rare. Jordan has assumed a remarkable burden. And I want to personally thank all the people of Jordan. We know this is difficult. We know that Jordan faces its own challenges as a country, and the United States is deeply committed to helping Jordan with respect to those challenges.

Jordan currently is playing a global international role, a humanitarian role of great importance, by hosting 635,000 registered Syrian refugees. And we want to say thank you to and commend the government and the people of Jordan for their remarkable hospitality under very difficult circumstances. The rapid influx of refugees has obviously put a strain on Jordan’s infrastructure and economy. We understand that. We understand the burden it has also put on schools. And we are working closely with the government in order to alleviate that burden, to lift that burden, and address it directly. And we are working with host communities on the challenges they face: more than 20,000 refugees who are positioned right on the Syrian-Jordanian border.

Earlier this month in London – and Nasser spoke to the leadership of Jordan in helping to bring people together and to articulate this challenge – I announced that the United States will contribute an additional $925 million to provide emergency care, education, and job help for refugees and the displaced, including more than about 300 million directed straight to education in Jordan and Lebanon. And it will also host the benefit – host the – benefit the host communities. Now this is in addition to the $4.5 billion that we have already donated in humanitarian assistance to deal with the problem of Syrian refugees, more than any other donor in the world.

As part of that effort we agreed last week in Munich to accelerate and expand access to humanitarian supplies in Syria. And I can tell you that today that process is starting to work and work with even greater impact. Earlier this week limited humanitarian aid entered the besieged suburbs of Damascus for the first time in quite a while. And 114 trucks in recent days have reached five areas that were under siege. Some people had not received aid, literally, for years.

Through the efforts of the International Syria Support Group, the Humanitarian Task Force, more areas will now receive help in the coming days and weeks. And that process is being regularized. This access is specifically called for in UN Resolution 2254, and we intend to see that this aid continues to flow.

Now, let me underscore. The Syrian regime has a fundamental humanitarian and global responsibility, and so do other parties to the conflict, to facilitate humanitarian access to populations in desperate need now, or at any time that they are in need. This is a fundamental responsibility. And to use food as an instrument or weapon of war is a war crime. And we put the regime on notice today that we will watch closely for the proper and full compliance with this international objective that has been codified within the United Nations Security Council by a unanimous vote.

That vote says all parties must immediately cease attacks against civilians, and this has not happened. So some have argued that the reason humanitarian access has been denied and that indiscriminate bombing continues is because Assad and his allies believe that, by defying the will of the international community and just pursuing this policy, they can win the war.

Let me make it clear. I have been involved in the discussions around this war for three-and-a-half years now, and I have talked to every party in one way or another. And I can tell you that no tactic such as those being employed today will win this war. They will only create more refugees, more victims, more terrorists, and, in the end, more resolve by people who feel aggrieved that they will continue to fight. All that will happen through this kind of activity is to prolong this conflict. It will strengthen Daesh and it will compel tens of thousands of more Syrians to flee for their lives and increase the problem of displaced persons and refugees.

The path to peace, the path to isolating Daesh and degrading and destroying Daesh, and to giving the people of Syria a real choice for their future is actually right in front of us now. Now we have this moment of opportunity. And the United States is doing everything in our power to try to fulfill this moment of opportunity.

To date the coalition has also engaged very directly in the fight against Daesh. And we are determined that we will win this fight. Let me make that absolutely clear. To date the coalition has launched more than 10,000 airstrikes, while providing increased amounts of equipment and training to our local partners in Iraq and in Syria. And Jordan, I might add, is a committed leader in the global coalition to counter Daesh.

Royal Jordanian Air Force pilots regularly fly missions as part of Operation Inherent Resolve, and King Abdullah has called on the international community to disrupt Daesh’s recruiting. And we are doing exactly that. And the coalition is planning further actions, even as we speak.

We are also doing more to help Syria’s neighbors, strengthen the capacity to safeguard their territory and defend against external threats.

This year Congress approved an unprecedented $1.2 billion in assistance to support our partnership with Jordan. Together with additional counter-terrorism support funds, Jordan will receive 1.6 billion in assistance that will enhance border security, create economic growth, and create jobs for Jordanian people. And as part of this assistance, Jordan received $450 million in foreign military financing this year, making it the third largest recipient in the world. And I can tell you that support will continue.

But at the end of the day, we know at the end of the day nothing will do more to make the fight against Daesh effective than to put in place a political transition that finds a government responsive to the desperate needs of the Syrian people. And, my friends, that is a government that cannot possibly have Assad at its head. That is why we have said again and again that with Assad there this war cannot and will not end.

Now, a lot of cynics have criticized our diplomatic efforts. But I want to point out very clearly they have not offered a realistic alternative that actually decreases the bloodshed and ends the conflict. Nobody would like to see our diplomatic efforts move more quickly than I would. But the truth is we are, in fact, making progress, even as I stand here today. There is aid now getting through. The modalities for a cessation of hostilities are now being completed. In fact, we are close to a ceasefire today than we have been.

And I take nothing for granted about this. A cessation of hostilities, a hudna, is possible over the course of these next hours. And I know how much work remains, and I don’t know if everyone is going to meet their commitments. I can’t vouch for that. The United States can’t make certain of that. But what we do know and what we can make certain of is this: peace is better than more war. A political solution is better than the futile attempt to try to find a military one that could result in so many more refugees, so many more jihadis, so much more destruction, and possibly even the complete destruction of Syria, itself.

We believe that a political solution is one that the Syrian people themselves desire, and the full measure of our commitment to their future and to the diplomatic effort now being pursued and now bearing fruit will continue because the Syrian people themselves again and again have emphasized their desire to have a country in which all minorities are protected, in which all rights are protected in a new constitution, and in which they have an opportunity to choose the future, the leadership of their country, and maintain a united and secular Syria.

Now, in Munich last week the ISSG took a very important – the ISSG is the International Syria Support Group, and it took a very important and a tangible step forward. We established a task force for the cessation of hostilities under the auspices of the UN, co-chaired by Russia and the United States. Over the past days our teams in Geneva have been working intensively to develop modalities for the cessation of hostilities. Even as recently as an hour ago this morning, I spoke with Foreign Minister Lavrov by phone, I spoke with him yesterday.

But again today, this morning, I underscored the urgent need to achieve a full cessation of hostilities in the shortest timeframe possible. And I believe that in the conversation that we had, we have reached a provisional agreement in principle on the terms of a cessation of hostilities that could begin in the coming days. It is not yet done, and I anticipate that our presidents – President Obama and President Putin – may well speak somewhere in the next days or so, in order to try to complete this task.

But what we understand is that we will be consulting with other members of the ISSG and the Syrian opposition on the provisional understanding that has been reached. Now, make no mistake. The answer to the Syrian civil war will not be found in any military alliance with Assad, let me make that clear. I am convinced it can be found in a broadly-supported diplomatic initiative aimed at a negotiated political settlement with a transitional governing council, as set out consistent with the Geneva Communique, in which we unite all Syrians who reject dictatorship and terrorism, and want to build a new future for Syria.

That is the purpose of the inclusive diplomatic process that is now underway. That is the urgent wish of the vast majority of the Syrian people who deserve a future that is characterized by peace, by pluralism, and by dignity for all of its people.

So I thank the Foreign Minister for his partnership on this and so many other of the challenges that we face, and together we look forward to your questions.

FOREIGN MINISTER JUDEH: Thank you very much. I am told by our respective staff that we are running way behind schedule here, so I will take one question from the Jordanian side, one question from the U.S. side. So let’s start with (inaudible).

QUESTION: Can you give us more elaboration on the U.S.-Jordan defense law --

SECRETARY KERRY: Could you hold that mike, there?

QUESTION: Can you elaborate more on the Jordan-U.S. defense law that was signed today?

FOREIGN MINISTER JUDEH: The Defense Cooperation Act.

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, the Defense Cooperation is a very full and robust ongoing process of training, of equipment, specific equipment. The Foreign Minister can share with you all the details of it. We have worked this out over a period of time. It was signed in Washington recently by His Majesty, and we are – I mean the most important thing to point out is that on the borders and internally, Jordan is under greater strain as a result of what is happening, a consequence both of Daesh, as well as the civil war in Syria itself.

So, our Defense Cooperation will provide the latest state-of-the-art capacities, training, additional equipment, aircraft, the various modalities of ground force needs, and I think the best thing you can do is actually go to the agreement itself –


SECRETARY KERRY: -- and sort of see what is spelled out in it. You want to add anything?

FOREIGN MINISTER JUDEH: It is a road map of military cooperation that reflects a long history of this kind of cooperation between our two countries.

So, U.S. side? Anybody from the U.S. side? Yes, go ahead.

QUESTION: Yes. Secretary Kerry – thank you. Secretary Kerry, can you give us any further concrete details on the provisional agreement in principle? And does it differ in any way on what you agreed to in Munich? And how concerned are you, if there is not a ceasefire soon, that Syria, the situation on the ground, will spiral out of control?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, I believe that what we are arranging with the ISSG task force that met in Geneva, and was consulting every step of the way as Russia and the United States met, is anxious to see the violence end as soon as possible. And I do not believe that in the next few days, during which time we try to bring this into effect, there is somehow going to be a tipping point with respect to what is happening on the ground. The opposition is tough, the opposition is not about to stop. And the opposition has made clear their determination to continue to fight back. And so this is not something that is going to affect our – does the bombing have an impact? Of course it does. And this morning Foreign Minister Lavrov and I talked about speeding up the process to try to reduce that as soon as possible.

But the difficulty is we have to reach out to various parties. Russia has to talk with Iran and with the Syrian regime, and we have to talk with the opposition and with the ISSG members. Because in order to work, this has to have consent by parties, or at least they have to have the opportunity to say they’re in or they’re out. And they’ll make their own choice, if they’re out, as to what may happen to them.

But the fact is we are determined to proceed forward with a cessation of hostilities. And so, as I said to you, what we have agreed on provisionally – I am not going to go into the details of it, because it needs to be consulted fully with the other parties. And, as I said, our hope is that the two presidents will talk as soon as that is appropriate, and then we proceed forward to the implementation.

Why is it important to do this? Somebody asked me the other day, “Well, why not just have the ceasefire tomorrow morning? Why wait a week?” Because a ceasefire requires an understanding of obligations. You have to be specific about who is doing what, about what is required of each. And if you want to have a ceasefire that fails almost immediately, then just make an announcement and you won’t have achieved anything.

So, what we’re trying to achieve is a process with precision and commitment. And if we get that, that’s the best opportunity for the people of Syria to see the violence reduced. Will every single party agree automatically? Not necessarily. And that’s part of what we have to determine. But we are very clear that if you don’t choose to be part of it, then you are choosing to perhaps make yourself a target. And so, there is a stark choice for everybody here.

And we also need to work out the modalities by which we will be enforcing it, watching and resolving any breaches of a ceasefire that might – or cessation that might take place, what is the process in place to try to resolve that, exactly what are your rights if you are under attack in the context of a cessation of hostilities. These are details that have to be determined if it is going to be effective. And our teams have worked very, very hard at that.

I said “provisional,” because we still may find one recommendation or another that needs to yet be incorporated. But we are giving life to what was promised in Munich. We are filling out the details, and both sides have acted competently and constructively in an effort to do that, even though we have major differences, as we understand, in the fundamentals here. But the commitment to try to get to the table – and that is one of the requirements, I will tell you right up front, is to go back to the table – is paramount here. And we are deeply committed to it.

Thank you very much.