Joint Press Availability With Bahraini Foreign Minister Sheikh Khalid bin Ahmed al-Khalifa

Press Availability
John Kerry
Secretary of State
Four Seasons Hotel
Manama, Bahrain
April 7, 2016


FOREIGN MINISTER AL-KHALIFA: (In progress.) We discussed ways to further our military cooperation through mechanisms agreed at Camp David last year and the subsequent progress made by the U.S. and GCC working groups. We also discussed the importance of the U.S.-Bahrain Free Trade Agreement, which is responsible for a considerable increase in bilateral trade in the past 10 years or so. We explored ways to increase the mutual benefit of the agreement and take our trade relationship forward in the coming years.

Regionally, we discussed the importance of a political solution in Syria that preserves peace and allows the Syrian people to begin the process of rebuilding and alleviating the hardship of the past years. We continue to stress the importance of cooperation between world powers and Syria to reach a solution to the crisis, and we reiterate our support to the UN process led by Staffan de Mistura in their effort to promote dialogue with the aim of achieving a political solution.

We also discussed the importance of a political solution in Yemen and are encouraged by recent developments, including the direct talks between the coalition led by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the Houthi delegation in Riyadh.

We talked about ways to preserve regional peace and confront Daesh and other terrorist organizations in the region. We are encouraged by the terrorist organization’s loss of territory recently, and recognize that the tide has turned against Daesh. It’s important for us to redouble our efforts to ensure that the final defeat of this organization in particular – of the final defeat of this organization. In particular, we talked about the importance of stopping the flow of funds to Daesh. Bahrain has always been at the forefront of the fight against terrorist financing, and we will continue to do our part as part of the global anti-Daesh coalition.

On Iran, we agreed that this is a time for Iran to genuinely seek better relations with its neighbors and to stop its interferences in domestic affairs of regional states for the benefit of regional peace and prosperity. We expect Iran to consider mending ties with regional countries just as important as solving its nuclear dispute with world powers.

Before I give the floor to Secretary Kerry, I would like to reiterate our delight at hosting Secretary Kerry here in Bahrain. This visit highlights the importance of the strong and historic ties between our two nations. We have stood together through numerous regional crises and cooperated to help secure this vital region. We have developed strong trade ties and an even stronger people-to-people connection. The United States has stood by Bahrain through good times and difficult times. We have always appreciated that and we remain, as always, good friends and allies.

Thank you very much. Secretary Kerry.

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, thank you very much and good morning. Assalamu alaikum. Honored to be here and I want to thank Sheikh Khalid for his very generous welcome. I want to thank him for his friendship through the three years-plus now that I’ve been Secretary and we have worked together. And we worked together and knew each other before I became Secretary, so we’ve had an ongoing relationship. And I want to thank Ambassador Roebuck and his entire team for the job that they are doing here in Bahrain representing the United States of America.

Later this afternoon, Sheikh Khalid and I will have an opportunity to convene with a wider group representing representatives of the GCC. But I was very pleased this morning to be able to have a chance to talk at some length about our – the status of our bilateral ties which continue to be very strong. The fact is that given the nature of the world today, the foreign minister and I wind up seeing each other on a very regular basis. If it’s not in the GCC meetings, we see each other in the International Syria Support Group, where Bahrain has been an important contributor; or we see each other as members of the counter-Daesh coalition in which both of our countries participate.

Bahrain is a critical security partner of the United States and whenever Sheikh Khalid and I get together, we have a very full agenda and, frankly, a very cooperative discussion. Today was no exception, and I was able, by the way, to begin the morning with a visit to our base here to talk firsthand with Admiral Donegan and to – with the NAVCENT and to be able to get a firsthand assessment of some of the security challenges which we are engaged in in a cooperative way.

Among the topics that we discussed was the latest developments related to Syria and the prospects for a settlement in Yemen, the destabilizing actions of Iran, which the United States takes very seriously, and we also talked about the ongoing fight against terrorist groups writ large, but also specifically about Daesh.

A couple of weeks ago, the foreign minister responded to the recent eruption of terrorist attacks by saying the following: “We are fighting the same enemy in Riyadh, Lahore, Mumbai, Paris, Brussels, Mali, and everywhere, and together, we stand and fight.” Bahrain has been backing up that statement by providing valuable logistics and operational support to the counter-Daesh coalition. And it also hosted an international workshop aimed at preventing the diversion of charitable contributions into terrorist organizations. Clearly, the fight against Daesh is going to be a centerpiece of our discussions this evening with the GCC, but it’s very encouraging to know that in this critical mission, the United States and Bahrain stand absolutely side by side.

Now, Bahrain also plays a key role in maritime security here in what is obviously a strategic region. The United States is very grateful for the logistical and the operational support that Bahrain provides, particularly for NAVCENT and the Fifth Fleet. This week, Bahrain is participating in and helping to facilitate the International Mine Countermeasures Exercise, the largest naval exercise of its kind which involves no fewer than 42 states, all committed to global energy security and freedom of navigation.

In addition, the foreign minister and I have a chance to discuss the ongoing effort to address and to reduce sectarian divisions here in Bahrain and elsewhere, and I appreciate the seriousness with which he considers this issue. We all welcome steps by all sides to create conditions that will provide for greater political involvement for the citizens of this great country. And here, as in all nations, we believe that respect for human rights and an inclusive political system are essential in order to allow citizens to be able to reach and live out their full potential.

So once again, I want to thank Sheikh Khalid for his hospitality, I look forward to continuing our discussion on these topics with His Majesty King Hamad, and I anticipate the continuation of a very strong and mutually beneficial relationship between the United States and Bahrain for many years to come.

Thank you.

FOREIGN MINISTER AL-KHALIFA: Thank you very much. Thank you very much, Secretary Kerry. As we agreed, we will take one question from each side. So if you allow me, I would invite you to take your question, Secretary Kerry, and then I will take a question. Please.

SECRETARY KERRY: Great. All right, all right. David Sanger.

QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. Secretary, and Mr. Minister. I’d like to ask you both on (inaudible) about Iran and then – and your reference to human rights.

On Iran: Many of your colleagues in the GCC, Mr. Minister, have warned that Iran would remain a destabilizing force after the nuclear deal, and we’re just about a year-plus from the Lausanne framework agreement. So we’ve now seen missile tests; we’ve seen four interdictions of Iranian arms, as the Secretary pointed out. Mr. Secretary, you noted on television yesterday that the supreme leader in Iran said recently that it was all about the missiles, not about future negotiations. So I wanted to ask if each of you would answer the question of whether this is where you wanted to be or envisioned you would be a year after the deal.

And Mr. Minister, specifically, do you regard Iran as dangerous today as they were a year ago, or more or less?

And on human rights, Mr. Secretary, if you could tell us what you know about this report that the Saudis used U.S.-made munitions in that attack that killed 97 civilians in Yemen, including 25 schoolchildren.

Mr. Minister, as you know, there’s been a lot of concern about human rights here in Bahrain. We specifically wanted you to tell us a little bit about the case of Salah al-Khawaja, a human rights defender. She was jailed for up to three years for what appears to have been largely nonviolent protests against the king and the kingdom, including I think tearing up a photograph of the king. Mr. Secretary, is this the kind of reform you had in mind?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, a number of questions. Let me begin with – I think the first question you asked is about Iran and is this where we expected to be. Let me make it very, very clear. The Iran nuclear agreement was an agreement about the potential of Iran securing a nuclear weapon. And we consistently, during those negotiations, made it clear to people that that’s all that it was about, because if we made it about everything else we never would have reached an agreement. We needed to take one step first to deal with the single-biggest threat to security that existed, as Iran was barreling towards a capacity to have a nuclear weapon. And at the time when we began the negotiations, Iran had enough enriched nuclear material that, if it was slightly further enriched, could have produced 10 to 12 bombs.

We also were witnessing no ability to restrain that, so that the potential of conflict in order to deal with it was very high. As everybody knows, there were some countries pushing for military action against Iran at that particular moment, and that was certainly one of the options that was being discussed and was available. President Obama decided and felt very strongly – and I share the belief – that before you start talking about the military option, you owe it to the people of the world and your own citizens before you send young people into conflict to do your utmost to find out whether there is a diplomatic solution to that crisis. The crisis was the potential of a nuclear weapon; the diplomatic solution was achieved, and it is that now there is no path to the nuclear weapon.

So that was eliminated. No one made a pretense that other challenges that we knew existed were suddenly going to be wiped away. We knew that Iran supported Hizballah. We knew that Iran had the IRGC in Syria. We knew that Iran was engaged in supporting activities in the region which could destabilize. We knew that Iran was indeed supporting the Houthi in their struggle in Yemen. So all of those issues we knew now have to be dealt with, and that is one of the principal reasons that President – it is the principal reason that President Obama convened the summit at Camp David with the Gulf states in order to talk about how we are now going to go after a nuclear agreement and continue to try to seek a change in Iran’s behavior with respect to those other activities.

Now, Iran has helped on a few things. Iran helped in terms of getting the consensus for a cessation of hostilities in Syria, and Iran worked in concert with all of the International Syria Support Group, which it joined, in order to support a negotiation on the Geneva process to bring an end to the war in Syria. So Iran supported that effort and helped to cooperate.

But clearly, the challenge of Yemen, the challenge of activities that are disruptive here in Bahrain, the challenge of activities that are disruptive in Syria, remain a challenge. And the missiles remain a challenge, which is why President Obama took steps with sanctions just the other day, and why there is now discussion in New York at the UN about the potential of UN Security Council resolutions dealing with this yet again.

Now, our hope is, David, that the aspirations expressed by some people in Iran to be able to build a better relationship in the region and with the world is in fact the direction that Iran would like to go in. But the test of that is going to be in what Iran itself chooses to do in the days and weeks and months and years ahead. Clearly, there is a difference of opinion within Iran itself, and they’re going to have to decide. I know from our conversation here this morning with Sheikh Khalid that he would welcome, as would other Gulf state members would welcome, an Iran to the table if they want to be part of a genuine security arrangement for the region without these disruptive activities. That if Iran wants to be part of a constructive resolution to Syria, constructive resolution to Yemen, it can be so. But it is not constructive to be sending dhows across the Gulf loaded with weapons that are only going to add fuel to the fire of a war we are busy trying to end. And we would invite Iran to be part of helping to end the war on a constructive basis, not to fuel it into greater conflict.

So we have hopes now that because the nuclear agreement is behind us, that these other issues can now become front and center part of the conversation. But we have made it very, very clear that where there is a continued violation of a UN Security Council resolution or continued activity that disrupts this region or is calculated to provide insecurity or disruption in another country, we are going to stand together in our efforts in order to protect the security and long-term interests of the region as well as to stand with our friends and our allies in their efforts to protect their countries. And that’s where things stand right now.

FOREIGN MINISTER AL-KHALIFA: Thank you very much. David, you mentioned about Iran and where do we see ourselves today compared to last year after Lausanne. You noticed last year our statement coming out either from Bahrain or from the GCC, each country individually and even our joint statements – it was clear in support of the agreement and guarded in our way – how we were predicting and seeing things would evolve and develop. And today, we are not doubting – of course, since then until today, we’re not doubting the intentions of the 5+1 world powers when they came and put all the pressure in order for Iran to come to the table and to terms with their nuclear program. But we are kind of – we are worried that Iran would misinterpret and misunderstand the efforts and the – what’s in the hearts and minds of the 5+1, especially the United States of America, our ally here for security and stability in the region.

So – and today, we are noticing two things that we kind of have expected. The missile program is moving forward with full support from the top of the leadership of the Islamic Republic, and we are seeing the hegemonic interventions through proxies in several parts of our region continuing unabated without even heeding to their responsibilities of rules of good neighborliness.

So yes, we would see them help to trying to reach a political solution, but we also see them send more fighters and from the IRGC and from Hizballah to Syria to continue to keep the situation as it is.

So this is where we are today. But definitely, as the Secretary mentioned, yes, we do want to see Iran change its foreign policy. I think this is a big – the next big step for them to do is to change their foreign policy, especially towards the region. As much as effort they put for the nuclear file, we need to see them also do that with their neighbors and stop the shipments of weapons and explosives, stop training of terrorists, and stop financing and supporting proxies in several places.

This is the Iran that we all want to see. We wanted to have good relationship with them in the future, and we will always try to do so. If they will take a step, we will take two steps.

You mentioned the issue of al-Khawaja, Zainab al-Khawaja. She’s in jail, and she chose to keep her child with her, by her choice, although she was offered that she would keep it with her next of kin and their family. But she wanted – and then they put her in a room that is specially designed for – to help her. But of course, this is a humanitarian issue, and Zainab al-Khawaja will be released pending her case in the court. She will be sent to her home and to be with her family and to be with – held with her child in a better surrounding. But the case will continue because we – in Bahrain, as much effort we do in the fields of human rights and protecting human rights and putting all the mechanisms that will ensure that there – we won’t hit the hurdles that we do – did hit in the past about – in the human rights field, we think we have done more and we’ve done for all the problems we’re facing, we’ve done what we are supposed to do and we will continue to do so. Things always evolve, but we do respect that we have all the obligations to make sure that the human rights situation in Bahrain remain without any problems to face. So she will be going home. We’re looking forward to that.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, could you answer the same question about the reforms?

QUESTION: And also about Yemen – Yemen --

SECRETARY KERRY: I’m sorry, I thought I had answered the question. Which part of the question?

QUESTION: The – in Yemen, the --

SECRETARY KERRY: Yemen, I got it. What’s the other? What’s the third question?

QUESTION: The reform – about – just about the reform efforts in Bahrain, whether there was more that you’d like to see --

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, let me just say that His Majesty King Hamad began a very serious, constructive effort at reform a number of years ago, in which he created a number of different entities with an ombudsman and other efforts in order to try to bring people together. And regrettably, I think a great mistake was made when the opposition obviously chose to boycott the election. And I think that polarizes things rather than helps them.

We discussed the 2018 elections today and the prospect for those elections and some of the work that might be able to be done over the course of the next weeks and months. And the foreign minister assured me that they want nothing more than a full, fair election with full participation by everybody, but obviously without the violence, without threats, without extremism polarizing people and making that election more complicated. So we hope it will be. And we’re going to work with them very closely in an effort to try to ensure that.

Bahrain has made progress in some areas. They’ve created institutions that have oversight of security institutions, but more work obviously remains. And we’ve expressed concerns where we have some of those concerns. And one of those efforts is to work with the opposition in order to try to put some of the reforms in place.

But in the end, our relationship with Bahrain is built on the common interests that we share, and one of those interests in joint efforts to combat violent extremism. And so we believe that broadening the rights and opportunities and bringing people together in the political process is one of the ways to actually counter it, and we’re encouraging that kind of activity.

With respect to Yemen, I don’t have any solid information, any documentation with respect to what weapon might or might not have been used. There are questions being asked. What I will say about Yemen is this: We have been – we, the United States – I personally have been in multiple weekly conversations and meetings over the course of the last weeks in an effort to try to secure a full ceasefire in Yemen. And we will have that conversation even tonight. I talked with the foreign minister of Saudi Arabia yesterday about it, over the weekend. We’re constantly trying to move this towards it.

I cannot avoid saying that I think that President Hadi has complicated some of those efforts significantly in the last few hours. And I hope that decisions will be made that will facilitate our ability to be able to move towards the negotiations that we have all been working towards on the 18th of April. Whatever weapons are being used, our preference is that all shooting stops, that they have a full ceasefire and come to terms on the potential of what the structure of a new government could be. I thought we were making significant progress on that up until this most recent decision. My hope is that at tonight’s meeting we can have some clarification of how we might be able to make some steps to get back on track fully.

We still believe that negotiations ought to take place. We still believe the ceasefire ought to take place. But we’ve got to work on the politics of it. But I’ll try to get some greater details for you, David, about the particular munition used in that particular incident.

MODERATOR: Thank you. (Inaudible.)

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MODERATOR: There’s the mike.

QUESTION: Okay, thanks. (Inaudible) from Al Ayam newspaper. Still the position of the United States is not clear about the security Gulf. Still Iran send weapons to Yemen, still Iran supporting terrorist group here in Bahrain. Is --

SECRETARY KERRY: Can you begin the question again, ma’am?

QUESTION: Okay. Still the position of United State about security Gulf is not clear. Still Iran sending more weapons to Yemen. Still Iran support terrorist group here in Bahrain, still interfere in Gulf state. So – and same time – at the same time, U.S. President asking to sit in – close to – sit one table. How can sit or make relation, good relation with Iran when still Iran threats Gulf state?

I have also one point. For the last three hours, me and my other local journalists, we’ve been treated like we are under arrest from your security, from American security. And we’ve been taken separate from American journalist, and we’ve been treating this way. So it could be accept if we are in the State, but not in our home.

FOREIGN MINISTER AL-KHALIFA: Thank you very much. This is a point that’s about security measures here. And there are certain measures that we have to follow.

Please, Secretary.

SECRETARY KERRY: We – let me just say right up front we don’t – I don’t control – we don’t control security measures here.

QUESTION: From American security, not from --

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, I don’t know how our security – you’d have to – I’d have to find out – I don’t know what our security has as a role here. My – our security here only looks out for me, I’m afraid. So --

QUESTION: No, they (inaudible) only our journalists, not the American journalists.

SECRETARY KERRY: I beg your pardon? I don’t know what the procedure was. I will certainly inquire and I’ll try to find out. And I hope --

QUESTION: Please. Please do.

SECRETARY KERRY: I promise you I will.

QUESTION: Please do.

SECRETARY KERRY: I absolutely will. And I’ll try to find out exactly what the security steps taken were --

QUESTION: Thank you.

SECRETARY KERRY: -- so we can find out appropriately.

President Obama made – as I mentioned a moment ago, my answer to David Sanger – a very clear decision that rather than just stay on a track that they will lead you to a war, you first ought to engage and exhaust the remedies of diplomacy. Try to find out, is there a way to resolve this grievance before you have to make a different decision. Now, sometimes there isn’t time, or sometimes the situation is such that there’s nothing to talk about. There was nothing to talk about after 9/11 when we were attacked. That was not a situation where there was a discussion of negotiation. There was one task. Clearly, you’re going to go after the people who did it and you’re going to make them pay the price. And that’s what we did, and they paid the price.

But in the case of some of Iran’s activities in the regions, we need to try to figure out if there is a way to resolve some of those activities through engagement. The first step, the President believed, was to try to deal with an Iran that does not have a nuclear weapon. I mean, let me ask any of you a simple question: Would it be easier to deal with an Iran that doesn’t have a nuclear weapon if you’re working on one challenge or another than one that does? And how would that affect their outlook conceivably? I have to tell you that the supreme leader of Iran made a fundamental decision that Iran was not going to pursue a nuclear weapon and that they would in fact make the world confident of that by entering into a series of steps that helped to prove it. Now, we’re not taking them at their word. We are verifying it every single day through the measures that they have to take in order to prove that they’re living up to the agreement.

Now, with respect to their behavior, we’re also not taking their word, which is why we have just intercepted dhows – four ships, vessels – carrying weapons, and we have shown the world what these weapons are. And we are going to deal with that in the context of the steps that are available to us.

Now, the reality is President Obama is not sitting at the table in that context. There’s no negotiation per se; there is a clear requirement that they live up to what has been agreed to. And so we are at the United Nations now – the President already designated a number of their entities for their complicity in the act of helping on the missile shoots, and there will be more if that’s what they continue to do.

So as Sheikh Khalid said and as I’ve said, we call on Iran to change that behavior. We call on Iran to prove to the world it wants to be a constructive member of the international community and contribute to peace and stability – and to help us end the war in Yemen, not prolong it; help us end the war in Syria, not intensify it; and help us to be able to change the dynamics of this region, which need the space to begin to breathe so you can engage in full economic activity, put people to work, send people to school, do things other than constantly be caught up in the instability that comes with either sectarian or ideological extremism.

That’s our task – all of us. And President Obama is not – has not renewed relations. We don’t have diplomatic relations. We haven’t renewed our – there’s not some breakthrough with respect to all these other issues. He very simply accomplished a major task for the world, which is to rid us of this challenge of the potential of a nuclear weapon, and now he is prepared to try to engage in ways that hopefully will seek this change of behavior. And our hope is that Iran will make decisions to be a – continue to be a constructive member of the ISSG and continue to help to try to find a peaceful resolution to Yemen and to help us avoid the challenge of Bahrain and others who see weapons and people being sent in to disrupt society.

And I think President Obama has a very realistic understanding of this challenge, which is why I’m here this week for the GCC summit among the foreign ministers in preparation for President Obama himself coming here in order to make this very clear in his summit with the GCC heads of state. And I think all of this points towards a very constructive approach to trying to make diplomacy work in this region for the improvement of life for all of the citizens in this region.

FOREIGN MINISTER AL-KHALIFA: Thank you very much. Thank you very much, everybody. Thanks.