Secretary's Remarks: Joint Press Availability with Saudi Arabian Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir
FOREIGN MINISTER AL-JUBEIR: (In Arabic.)
SECRETARY KERRY: Assalamualaikum. Let me say how pleased I am to be back in Riyadh, and I’m particularly happy to be here with my friend the foreign minister, Adel al-Jubeir, and I want to thank him for his very warm welcome. We had as solid a discussion on a whole group of issues, as he has just shared with all of you, as we have ever had. And particularly I think the conversations with respect to Yemen were exactly what we wanted them to be and they were very important.
But before I quickly summarize that, let me begin by condemning today’s horrific terrorist attack in Aden, and I want to express our deepest condolences to all the families and the loved ones of those who were killed or injured. President Obama has been absolutely unequivocal that he is going to and has been doing everything necessary in order to defeat Daesh and the threat that it presents to our security and the security of the entire region, and we’re proud that Saudi Arabia is one of the leading countries in the coalition that has been focused on destroying Daesh. We’re moving methodically and decisively to take back territory, and it is absolutely clear to any observer that Daesh is on the path to defeat.
Now, it’s no secret there is a great deal going on right now in the region and in the world, and in turbulent times, it is good to have solid friends. And that’s why the United States partnership with Saudi Arabia is, frankly, so valuable. This is my last visit, probably, to Saudi Arabia – almost certainly – as Secretary of State, and I want to underscore that the relationship between our countries remains strong in every dimension. It is a relationship that’s been a priority for President Obama and myself. We’re partners, but we’re also friends, and I consult with Foreign Minister al-Jubeir, I would say, more than any other or as much as any other foreign minister of any country in the world. Whether at meetings or on the phone, we are constantly in a discussion on a whole range of regional issues, including the Syrian civil war that he just mentioned, the fight against violent extremism, Yemen, trade and investment, science and technology, energy, food security, these and many more. And the interests of our countries frequently coincide one way or the other, so we have every single incentive to coordinate our policies and to see that they succeed.
Now, I want you to know that our shared interests were very much alive and present in our discussions today. This morning I want to thank the foreign minister for his courteous welcome back to the kingdom, but I particularly want to thank His Majesty King Salman. I have met with him many times in Washington, here, Jeddah, elsewhere. I was so grateful for his friendship, for the friendship to our country, and we had a very constructive discussion this morning on a number of different subjects.
Also want to thank the UN Special Envoy Ahmed for – and our counterparts from the United Kingdom, Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed from the UAE, and Yusuf bin Alawi from Oman, because the purpose of our meetings was to talk about the challenge of bringing the war in Yemen to a close and how to move forward with a plan to stop the fighting and to negotiate a political settlement. That was the real urgency of today’s meeting. And you can see from the humanitarian situation, which is dire and deteriorating rapidly, that it is urgent that we try to bring this war to a close. But we also need to bring it to a close in a way that protects the security of Saudi Arabia, that takes these missiles away from a threat to the border, that reduces the capacity for terrorists to come into the country and assault people, kill people in their villages.
Already, we know that some 10,000 people have been killed or injured and some 3 million Yemenis displaced by this war, and food shortages are bringing the country to the brink of famine. More than 70 percent of Yemen’s population is in urgent need of humanitarian assistance, and unfortunately, the humanitarian response plan remains only about 58 percent funded. So the United States will continue to work with our friend Saudi Arabia and with the Emirates and other countries in order to try to meet the security needs, find the path to peace, and we intend to do that with as much energy as possible.
The failure to achieve a lasting cessation of hostilities is disturbing to all of us. Today in our discussions we laid out a way that we think we can proceed to get to, hopefully, a cessation that has been well-planned, well-structured, and we urge the parties today to come back to the table and to negotiate that. We believe that only the UN-proposed plan, properly negotiated over time, is the way to bring this war to a close.
We issued a statement today which underscores what I’ve just said. We articulate some clarifications about what the roadmap is and what it is not. I want to emphasize the roadmap, the plan put forward by the UN, was not and is not – never was intended to be a final agreement. That’s not what it is. It is an outline to frame the issues that can be discussed in a negotiation. And until there is a negotiation, nothing will have life in terms of what the final agreement will be. The parties have to decide that. What the UN proposal does is straightforward. It’s a framework for an outline that will bring the negotiations to a reality, and obviously, we think that’s the only way to resolve this.
Finally, let me just say the Quad reaffirmed today the UN envoy’s proposals of October 23rd. It called for the establishment of a cessation of hostilities which we will all work on in the next several days, with hopes that within two weeks it might be possible to achieve it. And we agreed to full support to the parties in the negotiations until an agreement is reached. Our immediate priority is to end the bloodshed, and that’s why reestablishing the ceasefire is so critical. I know that the decisions that are required to try to bring any war to an end and create peace are very difficult, but the costs of war make delay inexcusable. The parties need to do what they can to make progress, and for our part, the United States will remain diplomatically engaged along with our international partners and particularly with Saudi Arabia and with the UN Special Envoy Ahmed.
So my hope is that today’s meeting – and I think Adel would agree with me – that this was as constructive a meeting as the Quad group has had. We think we’ve found a path that can move forward and we invite the parties – President Hadi, the Houthi and their supporters and – both sides – to take advantage of this moment and try to come to the table to frame an end to what every party says they want, which is an end to the war. Thank you. Thank you.
QUESTION: (Via interpreter) (Inaudible) in the region, whether in Iraq or in Syria or in Bahrain, even in Saudi Arabia (inaudible) and cells (inaudible). Is there a way to stop the Iran, to prevent it from causing (inaudible) troubles, destabilizing the region, while Iran is safe from all of this destabilization that it causes to other countries in the region? And thank you.
SECRETARY KERRY: Thank you very much. Unfortunately, sometimes the procurement process, as it’s known, by which weapons sales are made can be much lengthier than I like or certainly than the buying country likes, and I wish we could find a way to really accelerate it and speed it up more. It has to go through a long evaluation. As the foreign minister knows, you have to calculate a certain period of time before which it happens. Now, I think this got more delayed than it should have. I regret that. As the foreign minister knows, I’ve worked very hard to accelerate it and try to move it forward. I believe in it. I support it. It’s a very important sale. I know a couple of the F-15s or a few F-15s just came in lately. But there’s more to do and there’s more to do faster, and one of my recommendations to the next administration will be that we try to find a way in our laws to accelerate it, because it just moves too slow for some of the challenges that we face in the world today. So – but I think it’s on track now and I think we’re moving in the direction that we wanted to.
With respect to the Iranian influence in Yemen, yes, it’s there. We know this and we object to it as you do and we have pushed back against it. As you know, we have intercepted some shipments in the ocean that – coming from Iran of weapons, and we need to do more. Now, in the conversations that we have had regarding the situation in Yemen, when we have talked to Iran about it in the course of our diplomacy, they have indicated to us that they want to see the war come to an end and they believe that the key is for the Houthi to be able to have some role within the government and they support a diplomatic outcome and they support a ceasefire. So our hope is that with that – if it’s true, which we hope it is – that we could actually take advantage of this moment and move forward.
But I want to emphasize: The United States has no illusions about some of the issues on which we disagree with Iran. We are – that’s why when we made the nuclear agreement, we did not undo – we left in place – the sanctions with respect to arms trafficking, with respect to state sponsorship of terror and human rights. And those sanctions are there, and last time there was a missile shoot, we put additional sanctions in place. So we’ve been very, very clear about not wanting any country to engage in destabilization, and we call on Iran to join with other countries in helping to make peace not just in Yemen but in Syria particularly, where Hizballah received support by them, where we still weapons coming out of Iran and going to Lebanon that are aimed at Israel. So that kind of destabilization needs to stop and we’re very clear about it.
FOREIGN MINISTER AL-JUBEIR: (Via interpreter) (Inaudible) by us because it’s more precise. The objective is to minimize collateral damage. The – so the objective should be to provide facilities that would enable the transformation of – transforming the bombs into smart bombs, which is something that – as I said, what was leaked into the media, it contradicts reality.
With regards Iran’s – with regards the delay in the facilities or the deal as would affect the training, would affect the facilities, would affect the infrastructure, it affects a number of issues. So the delay itself cannot – we cannot say that is a delay, because it contradicts reality, which is the collaboration with – from our perspective, we don’t see this as something serious.
Another issue is that the – no contact has been made with the coalition regarding this aspect. I think the news that has been leaked was exaggerated. I think it’s a time – it’s a matter of time to inform the Congress about this weapons deals to Saudi Arabia, and as his excellency said, the time varies from one system to another.
With regards to Iran’s intervention in the region – the negative intervention, whether in Yemen, in – or Bahrain, or the cells in Saudi Arabia or Syria or Iraq, or supporting – sponsoring terrorism, or triggering sectarianism, the danger Iran’s posed against the maritime in Hormuz Straits, we all call upon the world to take strict measures to prevent Iran from undertaking such actions, and we will continue to demand such.
MODERATOR: Vivian, please. Yes, please.
QUESTION: Vivian Nereim from Bloomberg News. My question is for Mr. Jubeir. The Wall Street Journal reported this weekend that Saudi Arabia is reevaluating its U.S. investments. Is this true?
And you recently spent an extended visit in the United States. What was the purpose of that visit, and did you make any progress in rolling back JASTA?
FOREIGN MINISTER AL-JUBEIR: The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has tremendously large investments in the United States and we review those investments on a regular basis. There are issues that are associated with risk, but our objective is to increase those investments, not to decrease them. There was the issue of the IPO for Aramco that we’re looking at talking – or in touch with markets, whether it’s in Hong Kong, in London, as well as in New York, and I believe that in order to make a decision on where the best market would be to launch the IPO, to do the IPO of Aramco, or if it should be more than one market – so that’s still a work in progress.
With regards to the – my time in the United States, it was to touch base with people, to get to know the policies of – the positions of the new administration, to deal with the Congress and try to persuade them that there needs to be an amendment of the law that was passed, which was JASTA. We believe that the law, which curtails sovereign immunities, represents a grave danger to the international system. The issue of sovereign immunities has been a principle that has governed international relations since the Treaty of Westphalia in the 1600s. No country will suffer most by the erosion of this principle than the United States of America.
I will give you an example. When you launch drone attacks, that is a discretionary function of government, and that does not allow courts in other countries to sit in judgment of that decision. When a country allows the use of its territory to go to war by another country, that is a discretionary function of government and it cannot be judged by other courts. When countries provide support to, let’s say, the moderate Syrian opposition, that is a discretionary function of government. Country – courts in one country cannot sit in judgment of those decisions. And so when I mentioned all of these areas, the country that has the biggest footprint in the world is the United States, and the United States is by eroding this principle opening the door for other countries to take similar steps. And then, before you know it, international order becomes governed by the law of the jungle. Imagine if people can sue in Pakistan, in Yemen, in Iraq, in Turkey, in Europe; if people can sue in South America; if people can sue for all sorts of reasons against policies that were taken by governments and officials that were taken in their discretionary function as government officials or as governments. We would have no international system.
And so that’s why we believe it’s important to amend this law. That’s why we believe President Obama vetoed this law. That’s why we believe the leadership in the Congress has come out and said this has to change because it is a threat to the United States first and foremost. That’s why you have the Secretary of State, the Secretary of Defense, the CIA director, the director of national intelligence, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs all publicly saying this law is a danger to the U.S. and American interests and must be changed. That’s why you have former national security advisors and former military leaders taking the same position, and you have leaders in the Congress who feel the same way.
So the question now becomes, how do you go about amending the law so that it does not undercut the international relations and the international order? We have had – I believe there are more than 90 countries in the world that have taken public positions against this law and urged that it be amended because of the danger it represents. You have the GCC, you have the Arab League, you have the Organization of Islamic Countries – 57 nations. You have the European Union – all of its members have publicly taken a position against this. You have China, you have Russia, you have other countries.
So it’s very clear that this is something that was not thought through. The unintended consequences were not thought through. The dangers it presents to the erosion of international relations and international law have not been thought through. And, frankly, the fact that the country that will bear the highest price of any erosion of sovereign immunities is the United States, and I think – I don’t want to speak for the United States when the Secretary of State is sitting next to me, but this is really the consensus view of everyone.
SECRETARY KERRY: Yeah. You didn’t ask me, and I – one very – we have to leave, but I’ll just make a really quick statement. The Obama Administration has great concern about the victims, and we will continue to find ways to help the victims of 9/11. But we are convinced that JASTA as it was written is a bad law. We were opposed to it. We remain concerned about its impact because we think there were ways to meet the needs of the victims without having a harmful effect on the long-established law and concept of sovereignty, sovereign immunity. So we are very concerned about it. We tried very hard to move on changing it and we will continue to do that. Thank you.
MODERATOR: (In Arabic.) Thank you.
FOREIGN MINISTER AL-JUBEIR: (In Arabic.)