Joint Press Availability With Italian Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni
Secretary of State
FOREIGN MINISTER GENTILONI: (Via interpreter) Good evening. Welcome to the Secretary of State and the Minister of Foreign Affair’s meeting. Thank you. Thank you to the Secretary of State John Kerry for having accepted to take part in this MED dialogues. I consider this a gesture of friendship, of consideration towards our country. I also thank him for the strategic type speech he made at the meeting we had.
We’ve updated our ideas on various international issues that we are working on together, and Italy has always been grateful for the U.S. leadership in Yemen. We also spoke of the Syrian crisis; and as I already said at the press conference after the meeting with Minister Lavrov, we cannot build up a path towards peace on the Aleppo remains. We have to – (inaudible) we have to work together seriously on this and then Libya. Since Italy and the USA were the main promoters – or amongst the main promoters – and we live and work within a community that fosters stability and we base ourselves on 2259 at the UN, and we are trying to work to build bridges as well and agreements with other powers – the ones represented by General Haftar. And therefore, on all these fronts we are working together. And I would like to thank once again the Secretary of State, and I give you the floor, sir.
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, Paolo, thank you very much. Let me just express to everybody my deep appreciation to Paolo Gentiloni, to the prime minister, and the Government of Italy for its extremely close and important relationship with the United States. We’re working on so many different issues: Afghanistan, Iraq, countering violent extremism, Libya, the Middle East peace, refugees, migrants. There’s a long list, and we are deeply appreciative for the close relationship that Italy has with the United States. We have enormous trade between us. I think it’s something like $80 billion. We have 30,000 troops here. We have 30,000 students, we have people from Italy and 17 million, I think, Americans who are claiming Italian heritage, and we’re proud of it. And so it’s a pleasure for me always to come back here where we have a genuine friendship and where Paolo and I have a personal relationship that has been extremely productive in my time as Secretary, and I’m grateful to him for that.
As Paolo said to you, we covered a lot of issues fairly quickly, but we’ve been working closely enough now that this is usually just a matter of catching up rather than figuring out what each of us are thinking. Clearly, with respect to the climate change agreement and the challenge of protecting our oceans and the efforts to protect the environment on a global basis, we are in complete sync. We are also very grateful to Italy for its support with respect to the Iran agreement. And we are working together now to liberate Iraq and Syria from Daesh, and we’re making enormous progress.
On a couple of quick issues, we did discuss Libya, as Paolo mentioned to you, and I just want to emphasize that we are both deeply committed to 6 million Libyans who are – 6 million plus who are being held hostage by individual ambitions and resistance to the unity of the country and to the interests of the country. And this ongoing struggle we believe is only empowering extremists, disruption, and costing the people of Libya critical time to be able to rebuild their country and rebuild their lives.
So we are very hopeful that in the days ahead as we work together with our friends, the Emiratis, and with the Egyptians and with the Qataris and with the Saudis and with others that we will be able to succeed in resolving the differences between the GNA and those in Tobruk who continue to resist moving forward and General Haftar. And in the end, the interests of the Libyan people need to be put ahead of all of this, and we’re going to continue to work very, very closely together in the days ahead to see if we can’t quietly, through quiet diplomacy, not necessarily big ministerial meetings, but quietly move the process forward. In the last weeks, I’ve had a visit to the Emirates, an in-depth conversation with Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, with Tahnoon bin Zayed, with Abdullah bin Zayed, all the folks who are focused on this issue, as well as long conversations with the Egyptians and with the Saudis. And my hope is – and today we both met with the Qatari foreign minister, and our hope is that there is a way to try to move forward. So that is vital to everybody.
I also want to emphasize that we remain continued – continue to be determined to stand up for the sovereignty and the integrity of the people of Ukraine and for the importance of the Minsk process going forward. And our efforts are obviously to try to make sure that ultimately the sanctions can be lifted. And I know this is always a difficult issue, but I think there is a strong feeling throughout Europe and certainly elsewhere that we need to make progress on the full implementation of the Minsk process in order to actually see those sanctions lifted.
Finally, let me just say that we talked about how to proceed forward on Syria. We have both met with the special envoy, Staffan de Mistura. We remain absolutely committed to the political process, but we also – and I raised this with Foreign Minister Lavrov – are deeply concerned about the humanitarian disaster that continues to unfold in Aleppo. And it is absolutely vital that the killing be replaced by immediate movement of humanitarian goods. We talked about that today. I think there are some ideas for how to try to find some progress on that. But again, we’re going to continue to work quietly in an effort to try to be able to do that.
And I think that hopefully with the holiday season approaching in so many different places, the world could see its humanity reflected in the actions taken there and not the violence that has consumed Syria for far too long. And Paolo and I are committed to continue to work in an effort to try to see that happen.
Happy to take some questions.
FOREIGN MINISTER GENTILONI: (Via interpreter) Are there any questions?
QUESTION: Yes, Brad Klapper from Associated Press. My first question is for both of you. Today’s conference focused on beyond conflict, but it’s happening at a time that Libya is facing some of its worst violence in months if not years, which I’m sure you both know. What are you willing to do in concrete terms to help Libya’s Government of National Accord? Would you consider targeting Haftar’s forces? Would you send Special Forces, Naval forces, to help stabilize the situation? Because I think you’d both agree that whatever you’re doing now five years after Qadhafi still seems to be failing.
And then just for you, Secretary Kerry, can you tell us where your efforts stand with Russia and the UN special envoy for Syria and what some of these news ideas you mentioned might entail? Is there any hope of ending the violence before Aleppo falls or are you resigned to seeing Assad eliminate the last pockets of resistance in the last major urban center in Syria that is still being contested? Thank you.
FOREIGN MINISTER GENTILONI: (Via interpreter) On Libya – sorry I’m answering in Italian, but I think exactly a year has gone by since the international conference held here in Rome upon the initiative of Secretary of State Kerry and my initiative, and that triggered a process, you remember, a few days later, also thanks to the international support and Skhirat agreements. And then at the end of March, the presidential council set up in Tripoli and started working to stabilize the situation.
So one the one hand, I think we have to take note of the fact that there has been some progress and that there is an international consensus on the 2259 UN resolution. Over these – this full year – and there have been no fundamental, no great internal conflicts, just actions brought forward by President Sarraj with the support – considerable support – of the U.S.A., logistic support from Italy as well, to liberate Sirte from Daesh. This was the main military event that took place this last year.
So on the one hand, I think we can – we must confirm the path we’ve embarked upon this past year and the agreement reached, but on the other hand, we know it’s not sufficient. So as John was just saying, not with great conferences or press communiques, but with relations with those countries that are most involved, we should try to build up an agreement between Sarraj and the forces that don’t support him yet, General Haftar is one – being one of these – Haftar. So far, no results have been achieved here, but even these days in Rome we have been examining and defining new paths we can embark on. So we have begun. We will continue to work maybe not so much in the public eye but quietly.
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, let me build on that if I can, Brad. First of all, I would disagree just slightly with my good friend about whether no progress has been made so far. In a certain component, it’s hard to measure the progress, but we have been steadily building a process where understandings are, I think, growing – I think Paolo would agree with me – between different support parties with respect to Libya. For instance, I think the British, France, United States, Italy, Emirates, Qataris, others – Saudis – agree, and there’s been a significant shift in the last months of effort diplomatically to bring General Haftar to the table, to bring GNA and Sarraj to the table, and to create a series of meetings that can try to resolve the differences. So our tools are diplomacy. We’re not looking at other options that – I don’t think any country is prepared to engage in sort of direct military action at this point in time. But we are using the tools of diplomacy in order to try to resolve the differences that exist in the fears that certain people have and the concerns that they have about what the makeup of the government is, what the representation is, and whether or not adequately the various interests are being represented. So there’s – the Egyptians have a certain set of concerns about the border, about terrorism, about their security. The folks in the western part of Libya have a certain set of concerns about the shape of the government and the format. Other people who have been involved in supporting the country or supporting certain groups in the country also share concerns. And what we’re doing is working diligently to bring those people to the table on a regular basis to try to resolve those differences.
Now, we did so to some effect recently in London, where Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson and I hosted a meeting of the Central Bank of Libya together with the GNA where there were some differences. And I think we bridged those differences, and we succeeded in changing the payment structure and the relationship between the GNA and the bank. So I think that was a step forward and it can have some impact on the ground.
In addition, there has been a – and I think Paolo mentioned this – what the GNA has accomplished with respect to Sirte is not a small thing. Daesh has been significantly put on the defensive, so extremism has been pushed back, and I think it’s made it clear that the government has some ability to be able to deliver things, which is an important message to people in the country. Hopefully with the bank now more supportive of the government, they’ll be in a position to be able to deliver services, which they haven’t been able to do, and possibly payments to certain elements who aren’t participating in improving the process will be curtailed. So all of that has the ability to change the dynamics on the ground. The Emirates have been particularly helpful in the last months in engaging directly with the parties in helping to try to convene quiet meetings to try to make a difference.
So obviously, we’re very, very hopeful that that can be built on over the course of these next weeks and months. And there is a great sense of urgency everywhere about trying to do this.
Now, with respect to the violence in Aleppo and what is going on, we – nobody is resigned to the violence, I think, except perhaps the Assad regime, which seems to want to try to act with impunity according to any international standard and even when there are ceasefires has not upheld those. But we think that we have a number of ideas that have been negotiated back and forth for some weeks now, but with the fluidity of the situation – sometimes change in the demands that have to be articulated.
I think today we discussed a way to try to get to talks, to try to bring the parties to Geneva. And with a great sense of urgency we all agree that that is something that’s been missing in this. And so hopefully if the humanitarian situation could be dealt with in Aleppo more effectively, and if indeed we could create a framework for the passage of people out of Aleppo so that Aleppo itself might be able to be relieved from this agony, that could open up the space to perhaps be able to start some kind of conversation in Geneva. That is Staffan de Mistura’s goal, that’s our goal, it is the apparent Russian goal. We don’t know if it’s Assad’s goal at all, but that is what has to be put to test over the course of the next few days.
MODERATOR: (Via interpreter) We don’t have much time. A last – one last question.
QUESTION: (Via interpretater) Thank you from (inaudible). Question for each of you. Mr. Kerry (inaudible) can you elaborate on that? Is there any talks on – going on with Mr. Lavrov today on a cessation of hostilities or at least some kind of truce with opposition in Aleppo, or at least some groups of the opposition? And do you think the Russians are serious on this, or are they just kicking the ball, as we say, around, waiting for a military victory on the ground or for a new U.S. administration to step in?
(Via interpreter) And a question for Mr. Gentiloni: You spoke about a Mediterranean Helsinki. Now, we’ve heard opinions that are quite – that differ considerably. Do you think this is a proposal that could be taken up, and on the basis of what foundation? Thank you.
FOREIGN MINISTER GENTILONI: (Via interpreter) A Mediterranean Helsinki. Well, the reference is to the method because the context, of course, is – the context is quite different. Cold War in the ’70s – it’s changed. But the method – what was the Helsinki method? It was the idea that during turmoil, conflicts, contrasts, it is possible to start building the foundation for a new order. Of course, it’s easy if there are no conflicts, but you’ve got to try to do this precisely when there are conflicts.
Now, these foundations, this – it may be useful to think of the spirit of Helsinki. We’re not talking only about the diplomatic work that is engaged to solve the crisis in Yemen and Libya or wherever. It is a more fundamental piece of work to create trust between states, the mutual recognition of the religious beliefs, to solve certain common joint problems like environmental problems, to come up with common security packages. Helsinki went on for various years in this manner, tackling and addressing problems from the nucleus, and then it – from their nucleus which then became useful to solve the crux of the problem. So it’s a method, a method to build up trust, mutual recognition amongst states, amongst religious beliefs, to reduce conflicts, and this is what we are going to try to do when we take over the presidency of the G7 and we sit on the Security Council of United Nations.
SECRETARY KERRY: So, I don’t want to disappoint you, but I’m just not going to speculate on intent or motives or what somebody’s thinking about the next weeks or months. The only thing that matters is what, if anything, can be agreed upon that is real that requires people to do certain things. So it’s actions that will speak louder than words. And I’m not going to prognosticate on that, because obviously there have been many disappointments, and I think that speculation doesn’t serve any purpose. We are going to pursue the discussion we had today and we’ll see where it winds up.
FOREIGN MINISTER GENTILONI: Grazie. Thank you.