Remarks With Saudi Arabian Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir After Their Meeting

John Kerry
Secretary of State
Secretary of State's Outer Office
Washington, DC
October 20, 2016

SECRETARY KERRY: Hello, everybody. Good afternoon to you.

The Foreign Minister of Saudi Arabia Adel al-Jubeir and I have had a very in-depth, comprehensive conversation about a number of issues that we are working on together. And I want to report to you on a few of the topics, and we both want to make a clarification statement with respect to Yemen.

Let me say, first of all, that we did discuss the very negative impact on the concept of sovereign immunity. And the interests of our country, the United States, particularly, I expressed, are at risk as a result of the law that was passed in Congress in the final days. And we discussed ways to try to fix this in a way that respects and honors the needs and rights of victims of 9/11 but at the same time does not expose American troops and American partners and American individuals who may be involved in another country to the potential of a lawsuit for those activities. Sovereign immunity is a longstanding, well-upheld standard of law, and unfortunately this legislation – unintentionally, I think – puts it at great risk and thereby puts our country at great risk. So we’re talking about ways to try to address that.

Coming to the challenges and issues of a number of crises that we face in the world today, we agreed that it is very important to continue the work we’re doing on Libya, to help reinforce the abilities of the Government of National Accord to be able to deliver services to the people of Libya, how important it is to be able to be unified in the fight against Daesh in Libya. And we have discussed the possibility of a multinational group meeting of the main stakeholders somewhere in the next 10 to 12 days to be able to take certain key steps that could actually strengthen the ability of government to be able to serve the people of Libya.

On Syria, we discussed the talks that are taking place right now in Geneva. Saudi Arabia is part of those talks together with the Turks, the Qataris, the United States, Saudi Arabia, France, and Britain. And those discussions have been focused on Aleppo and the challenge of Aleppo, and we have perhaps had – perhaps, I underscore “perhaps” – had some progress in those discussions today. We are reviewing possibilities with respect to Aleppo, and when and if we have some kind of an agreement, we will certainly let you know. I’m not promising anything at all. As I said yesterday, we’re working off of low and fearful expectations but high hopes – high hopes that the agony of Aleppo can be addressed.

Finally, we talked about Yemen, and we want to emphasize – both of us – that the ceasefire that was entered into at midnight last night remains in place, contrary to some comments or other statements out there. The foreign minister can speak for himself, but he was on the phone to his people back in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. They confirmed to him their willingness to live by the ceasefire, but it is essential that the Houthi, who have said they will support this ceasefire, live by it. And regrettably, there were two civilians – Saudi civilians – killed by a missile that came from the Houthi into Saudi Arabia.

So any such breaches of this put at risk the entire possibility of getting back to talks. And I have talked today with the UN Special Envoy Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, who is in touch directly with all of the players, with our ambassador in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere, to make sure that parties understand the stakes here. I talked with Yusuf bin Alawi, the foreign minister of Oman, and he will be in touch with other players. And I talked also earlier today with Foreign Minister Lavrov, who has – Russia is also supporting the idea of a ceasefire, and they have indicated their willingness to enforce this.

But let me make it clear: Saudi Arabia has a right to be free from missiles being launched from Yemen into Saudi Arabia. And the Houthi – we would call on them to draw their troops back, to draw their missiles back, which ultimately will have to be negotiated within the context of negotiations when they begin. But it is important for this ceasefire to be given time to try to take hold. And so there will be an infraction here or there. We all know that. But by and large today, violence has been significantly reduced, and the parties have indicated their willingness to try to live by this.

There is a center that has been arranged to be created, and the Saudis are already manning that center. We’re waiting for the Houthi to show up, to be part of this process and be there. So hopefully what could be a turning point will become the turning point that it could be, but it’s going to take the parties themselves adhering to what has been arranged. And I know that everybody is pushing hard to try to get to the negotiating table to take up a new proposal that has been put forward that is comprehensive in its breadth and that offers an opportunity for the Yemen humanitarian crisis to finally be addressed.

FOREIGN MINISTER AL-JUBEIR: Thank you, John, for a great conversation as usual. It’s always a pleasure to be here and exchange ideas and viewpoints with you on a number of challenging issues.

I believe the Secretary spoke to you about the issues that we discussed, and so I just want to add my voice to what the Secretary said about the importance of sovereign immunities. Sovereign immunities has been a cardinal principle of the international legal order that was established after the Treaty of Westphalia in the 1600s. The objective is to bring order to the international system. And where sovereign immunities are diluted, the international system becomes chaotic, and no country and no government is able to conduct its official business without having to worry about lawsuits. The United States, as the country with the biggest footprint in the world, of course has the most to lose by this, because you have operations all the way from Japan to South America to the Pacific, and I think that is why the vast majority of countries have come out vehemently and very strongly against this JASTA bill for its dilution of sovereign immunities. And there have been a number of countries that are looking at reciprocal measures, and if this issue takes hold, we will have chaos in the international order, and this is something that no country in the world wants.

With regards to the regional issues, I believe the Secretary delineated them in terms of our cooperation on Syria. We discussed the situation in Mosul. We discussed Libya and how to move forward. And of course, we discussed the situation in Yemen. As of this morning Washington time, there had been more than 150 violations by the Houthi-Saleh side in Taiz alone, which is an escalation in the violence rather than a reduction. After the cessation was announced and accepted by both Yemeni sides, there has been a missile launched into Saudi territory that – with casualties being a man and his daughter.

The de-escalation and coordinating committee that was set up in southern Saudi Arabia in a town called Dhahran South, to be manned by the two Yemeni sides and the United Nations to coordinate the de-escalation and the withdrawals and the disarmament has been manned by the Yemeni Government for weeks now, if not months, and we are still waiting for the Houthis to arrive. The legitimate Government of Yemen made this one of their requirements for a cessation of hostilities, so we hope that the Houthis and Saleh will send representatives there so they can begin the process of coordinating how to de-escalate and how to drop.

We, of course, reserve the right to protect our borders and to defend ourselves. We hope that the two sides in Yemen will continue to – will move towards the negotiating table in order to arrive at a negotiated settlement. But it takes two sides in order to make peace and it takes two sides in order to maintain a cessation of hostilities. And we hope that the two sides will be committed to this. Unfortunately, as of this morning, we have not seen the Houthi-Saleh commit the way we wanted them to to this situation, and I hope that it will change in the coming hours.

Once again, John, thank you for (inaudible).

SECRETARY KERRY: But it’s clear – I would like to just interrupt – it is clear that Saudi Arabia is committed to the ceasefire, and as far as you’re concerned, the ceasefire is still in effect. Is that correct?

FOREIGN MINISTER AL-JUBEIR: We have indicated that we support the call of the Yemeni Government for a cessation of hostilities, so the coalition countries are abiding by this. But again, I want to emphasize that we have a right to defend ourselves. We have a right to protect our borders. We have a right to protect our citizens. And we have to ensure that the other side maintains its commitment to the cessation of hostilities.

SECRETARY KERRY: Thank you all.