Remarks With Italian Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni

MODERATOR: (Via interpreter) Good afternoon. Welcome to our press conference of the ministerial summit of the small group of the Global Coalition to Counter Daesh. Minister Gentiloni and Secretary of State Kerry will make some brief statements, and then you’ll have a chance to ask some questions.

Minister Gentiloni, you have the floor.

FOREIGN MINISTER GENTILONI: (Via interpreter) Good afternoon, everyone. Today’s meeting is the third ministerial meeting of the group of 23 countries. And I believe we can say that if we consider the second meeting that was held in Paris last June, well, clearly we have made progress on the ground. Many things have changed. I remember at the Paris meeting that the climate, the atmosphere was based on the idea that Daesh was indeed a threat and that threat was gaining momentum. In the following months, we’ve seen the commitment of the over 60 countries that are part of the coalition, and thanks to that effort, it has been possible to reverse that trend, to change it somehow. And in this more recent period of time overall, I would say, in 2015, 40 percent of the Daesh-controlled territory in Iraq has been freed, and 20 percent of the Daesh-controlled territory in Syria was – escaped their control.

Now, in today’s meeting, we all stated repeatedly, starting with the U.S. – they are leading the coalition – we all repeated that we don’t need any triumphalism in Iraq. We need to pursue the military effort on the one hand in order to take away other cities and important territories from the control of Daesh, and on the other hand we have to continue our effort in order to consolidate our position in the freed areas. I say “consolidate” from many different viewpoints – the rule of law, the work of the law enforcement operatives, the economy, and security of course. Now, to try to replicate in Ramadi and in other liberated areas the positive example that we have in Tikrit, in the city of Tikrit, where tens of thousands of displaced persons have been able to return in security.

Now, in Syria, what is our goal? We hope to launch the negotiation that Staffan de Mistura is now working on in Geneva. And hopefully, with that negotiation, we’ll be able to pave the way for a ceasefire and – a number of different ceasefires, and that way we can put an end to this humanitarian tragedy that we have been witnessing for decades.

And lastly, we focused in particular during the lunch with the ministers and in some of the conference this morning – in part of the conference this morning we were focusing on Libya. We know that Daesh can proliferate and multiply its scope of action and extend to Libya and other countries of sub-Saharan Africa. Yet for Italians, it is reassuring to see that when it comes to Libya, there is a convergence, a confluence in the position taken by all the represented countries. We all agree, in other words, that we have to aim at consolidating the negotiation round that has begun.

So we’re expecting – and this is what we’re working on – for the presidential council to come up with a new proposal for a government. This proposal has to be submitted to the parliament, the house of representatives, maybe next Monday or Tuesday. And that possible approval might be a turning point for the international community because the international community wants to meet the requests of the national agreement government in Libya when it comes to security, to the economy, and to overall cooperation. So we’re ready to react to that. And again, it is good when we meet in Rome to have the discussions on Libya, because there is a great deal of unity when it comes to this matter.

And of course, we wish to thank the leadership and the personal commitment made by the U.S. Secretary of State, Mr. John Kerry. And I now give the floor over to you, John. Thank you.

SECRETARY KERRY: (Via interpreter) I wish to thank Paolo Gentiloni wholeheartedly, and also the Italian Government for their wonderful reception and welcome and for the beautiful weather. Thank you so very much indeed.

(In English) I am very, very happy to be here, and I want to thank my friend Paolo Gentiloni and the Italian Government for hosting this very important meeting today as we discuss the responsibilities of the leadership of the anti-Daesh coalition. And our Italian colleagues have really been among the most active in leading the way with substantial contributions for which we are grateful – contributions to support police training, where they’re taking the lead; the humanitarian effort; and other critical areas of assistance.

Now, we came here today, the last meeting having taken place in – very start of June of last year. We came here to assess our progress in this coalition and to recommit ourselves to the goal that we all share, which is to degrade and defeat Daesh. Now, since coming together 16 months ago – that’s when the coalition first started – our advances are clear. They are undeniable. We have launched nearly 10,000 airstrikes. We have interrupted their finance mechanisms. They’ve had to cut the salaries of their fighters. We’ve interrupted their capacity to get revenue by going after the oil sites. We are hammering their heavy weapons, their training camps, their infrastructures. We are closing in on full control of the Syria-Turkey border. We have trained nearly 20,000 regular Iraqi and Peshmerga soldiers, along with over 1,000 Iraqi police officers. And with our air support, Iraqi and Syrian opposition forces, to their credit, have fought very courageously and successfully on the front lines. They have recaptured critical cities like Ramadi, Sinjar, Tikrit, Kobani, Hasakah, and more. And we are now seeing them begin to prepare for the next steps of their campaign.

Unequivocally, together with our allies on the ground, we are pushing Daesh out of more and more territory that it once controlled. Paolo mentioned 40 percent in Iraq a few minutes ago, and it’s upwards of 30 percent or so in Syria. We are intensifying pressure. We are complicating Daesh’s efforts to recruit foreign fighters, to be able to plan attacks, to move personnel, to maintain supply lines between Raqqa and Mosul. And that is one of the reasons why you see some people being shuttled out of or escaping out of and going to Libya or to some other place.

Now, even with these critical steps forward – and we talked about this today – the members of this coalition fully recognize that this fight is a long-term proposition. President Obama said that in the very first days. I’ve said it since day one. And it wasn’t an exaggeration. We knew this was going to take some period of time. Why did we know it? Because we’ve been this – through this fight with respect to the degrading of al-Qaida in Afghanistan and then Pakistan and elsewhere. This is a longer fight for everybody than old, traditional kind of state-on-state warfare. So we will keep the pressure on, squeezing Daesh from every single angle, strangling its attempts to establish networks elsewhere, cutting off financing, exposing their lies – which is a very important part of what’s happening now as Islamic countries in various parts of the world are now reclaiming Islam, rising up and pushing back against the lies of Daesh. And we are committed to using every resource at our disposal in order to remain on the offensive on every front. And we will absolutely continue – President Obama has committed to not just continue what we’re doing but to growing and refining and improving what we’re doing.

Now, as we discussed throughout our meetings today, this means a number of different things. It means financial support to enable Iraqis to stabilize recaptured cities, and we agreed today that we must provide additional financial support. It means partnering with the Government of Iraq to ensure that liberated areas remain liberated, that there are forces coming in underneath those who liberated – police force, people who deliver services in order to guarantee that the electricity goes back on, that the water runs, and that the community can actually come back together.

In addition, we have a major initiative to try to help Iraqis remove the explosives that are unexploded or purposefully left behind as an IED in order to take the lives of Iraqis who are trying to return to their homes.

It also means that we are going to remain united in our commitment to address and end the humanitarian catastrophe that is unfolding in Syria. The crisis in Syria is simply getting worse by the day, not better. And it would help enormously if those who say they are there to fight Daesh fight Daesh. And we will watch in the next days whether or not they join in unison in an effort to achieve a ceasefire. 13.5 million Syrians are in urgent need of humanitarian assistance today – today. Six million are children. Hundreds of thousands are still trapped in areas where the food deliveries are rare or nonexistent. Cities and communities all across Syria are besieged and they are specifically, purposefully prevented by the Assad regime from receiving the supplies and the support that they need in order to survive. That is against the law of war, such as laws of war can be.

And with respect to those areas not receiving food, we’re not talking about areas that are remote, miles out in the desert and inaccessible. The town of Madaya is one hour’s drive from Damascus – one hour. And yet in recent months its people have been reduced to eating grass and leaves or animals of one kind or another. The regime has responded. You know what the regime response is? They plant mines. They erect barbed wire to keep the people who want to deliver relief from being able to get in and do it. Last weekend we heard reports that another 16 people in town had died due to starvation and the bitter winter cold.

Other residents are described by eye witnesses as walking skeletons, people we haven’t seen walking around in that condition since the concentration camps were liberated after World War II – certainly not in the kind of numbers and organized way that we are seeing.

The tragedy in Madaya is that it’s not the only place. Overall, since the beginning of last year, the Syrian regime has received 113 requests from the United Nations to deliver humanitarian aid. And astonishingly, in all of that time over last year, only 13 of those requests were approved.

Meanwhile, people continue to die of starvation. Children are suffering not as a result of an accident of war, but as the consequence of an absolutely intentional tactic. And as I mentioned, that tactic of using starvation as an instrument of war is directly against the law of war.

So in the face of this kind of horror, all of the ministers in attendance today – every single one of them – agreed to stand on the side of international law and basic human rights and decency in demanding that the Syrian regime take immediate steps to halt its indiscriminate laying siege against women and children, its indiscriminate dropping of bombs on civilians, and allow humanitarian access now to the people of Syria, who are in desperate need.

We also reiterated a very basic fact – that nothing would do more to cut the legs out from under Daesh – if you want to beat Daesh, you want to beat Daesh quickly, then have a negotiated end to the Syrian war. Because that is precisely what will happen if you have that end to the war. All of the forces that are opposed to Daesh can then join together, not torn apart by one man – by Assad – but joined together in an effort to eliminate Daesh as a threat to anybody in that region or another region elsewhere.

So we have assembled a 21-member support group. It will meet again next week. It is the ISSG, the International Syria Support Group, that met in Vienna twice, in New York once, where we passed a UN Security Council resolution unanimously calling for an end to the bombing of civilians and calling for humanitarian access and a ceasefire – unanimously called for by the Security Council, now recognized international legal demand. We have developed a list of principles, endorsed by the UN Security Council, pointing the way toward a stable, sovereign, inclusive, nonsectarian Syria, which is what everybody says they want.

Third, we have now got the negotiations underway – a plan for negotiations – aimed at achieving a nationwide ceasefire, a political transition as signed up to by everybody – including Russia and Iran – and finally, international supervised elections after the transitional government has been put in place.

Now, we know there are a lot of differences that have to be resolved, including this fundamental question about Assad. Assad remains a magnet for terrorism. Why are all the fighters there? They’re fighting Assad. Why are they fighting Assad? Because Assad denied his people what they were demanding. He met them – instead of with a program, he met them with thugs and then with guns and with bullets. That’s why we’re here. So the negotiations are an effort to resolve that. And every country in the region opposes Daesh. Even governments that disagree about Syria, they all oppose Daesh.

Now, we leave here today absolutely with a renewed sense of purpose and a sense of unity and confidence. We all know, all of us, that Daesh is, in fact, nothing more than a mixture of killers, of kidnappers, of criminals, of thugs, of adventurers, of smugglers, of thieves. And they are also, above all, apostates – people who have hijacked a great religion and lie about its real meaning and lie about its purpose and deceived people in order to fight for their purposes. And we know this because we know people who have managed to escape without being executed, who have testified to their disillusionment and to the lives people are living as a consequence of Daesh.

These people have no platform other than to wage war against innocent civilians. And they have no interest in constructing schools, promoting better governance, trying to create and define a real future, other than telling people to go backwards in time and live the way they tell people they have to live. Daesh does not have any notion of how to build a future. They want to turn the clock back to a place where there is no religious tolerance, no political freedom, and no human rights. None of us came here to Rome to allow that to succeed.

So our promise and our purpose and our united pledge today comes with confidence that we believe that ultimately this coalition is going to succeed in achieving our goals and restore stability and hopefully the possibilities of the future, the people, the millions of people who have been displaced from their homes as a consequence of the intransigence of Assad and his regime and the rise of extremists who have taken advantage of the vacuum that has come with that. Thank you.

MODERATOR: (Via interpreter.) Thank you very much. We’ll take some questions. Washington Post, Carol Morello.

QUESTION: Thanks. Mr. Secretary, the joint statement that was released today has a lot of reaffirmation of commitments already made and promises to monitor future developments. What concrete steps did you take today to accelerate military effort against ISIS, particularly in Syria? And specifically, with 23 countries in the room, what kind of contributions did you get for the stabilization fund you said is so necessary? Thank you.

SECRETARY KERRY: So as you know, we leave here to go to London. Tomorrow, I leave to go to London, and there will be a major meeting in London at which we will be contributing – all the countries coming – some heads of government to make announcements about their contributions to the ongoing effort to rebuild Syria and to help support Syria going forward. And that basically is the stabilization, and I believe it will be in the very – a very significant amount of money. It’s up to the government tomorrow and the countries to make their announcements. But I can tell you we will be announcing an additional contribution from the United States, and other countries will announce it likewise on Thursday.

But in addition to that, we made additional commitments here today that were important. I asked on behalf of the entire coalition that people consider additional contributions of various kinds depending on what the countries choose to do. Some countries can do strikes and can engage in kinetic effort. Some countries can engage in training, and we asked for some to engage in training today. Several countries have in the last few days, prior to this meeting, already stepped up and agreed that they’re going to engage in additional military activity.

But beyond that, we also had a request for medical supplies, for ammunition, for intelligence. There are logistics that need to be served in this process. And I think a number of – demining is a critical one. Norway made a significant commitment to the increase of demining activities. The unexploded ordnance – we need to have $15 million just for Ramadi alone in order to undo the booby-trapping that’s been done to homes there. So that – I am confident that in the next couple days, that request is going to be filled.

In addition to that, there’s a large sum when you get countrywide, and that request was put on the table, and countries are taking them under consideration. I don’t expect every country today to say what they’re going to do. But I do expect the countries, by the time we meet in Munich on the 11th, when we will re-take up this issue, to have clarity about what kind of additional contributions people are able to make.

But in addition to that, a very important conversation is already taking place and will take place next week in Brussels with the defense secretaries. The ministers of defense will be meeting – those that are able to get there, at least, it’s short notice – in Brussels at a meeting for the first time, believe it or not, of all the defense ministers together. Now, some countries in the region have offered additional troops to be on the ground, and it’s up to the military people at that meeting to flesh out how many, who, what is possible, and see whether or not that can be calculated into the steps going forward.

In addition, today we agreed to take critical steps in the next days – we had some of those meetings actually yesterday, we will have some more tomorrow, and we will have more during the course of the week – in an effort working with Martin Kobler, the UN envoy on Libya, and working very closely with Paolo and with several others, we will be meeting in order to try to advance the prospects of support for the government which Libyans themselves have now chosen, and which is coming together through a Libyan effort. That, we hope, is going to occur in the short term, and I’m not going to go into the details. But a very specific schedule was agreed to with respect to how we can advance the efforts of the Libyan Government to move forward.

Thirdly, we requested additional financial contributions with respect to the effort in Iraq right now, where there are some specific needs. And as the government in Libya begins to take action on the ground, there are a specific set of requests, and as the Government of Iraq continues to take actions, there are a specific set of requests. An example of that is the Mosul Dam. The Mosul Dam is a major challenge. Well, we have been talking with the prime minister, as have the Italians, for some period of time.

Now, in the last hours, the last day or so, as we come here, there is an agreement – I’ll let Paolo maybe talk about it more – to move forward with respect to addressing the concerns. President Obama has been deeply focused on this for almost a year or more, and we’ve been pushing very hard to move. Now we’re moving, so that is a concrete outcome of these efforts to try to accelerate and focus. In addition to that, I already went through the list of items – some of the list of items, and ministers further agreed to try to fill that out when the defense ministers meet next week in Brussels.

And then finally, every single country there agreed that each of us has to do more in order to more rapidly and completely defeat Daesh. And that commitment, I think, was overwhelming. Do you want to speak any more to that, Paolo?

FOREIGN MINISTER GENTILONI: (Via interpreter) I believe that the message conveyed by the Secretary of State is crystal clear. Clearly, the commitment that we are being asked to make is multifaceted. And each and every country is focusing on a special area. Up to now, Italy has been focusing in particular on logistics. We’ve provided aircraft and we’ve also focused on the training of the Peshmerga – the Kurdish Peshmerga and we’ve trained approximately 2,200 troops. And they’ve been highly active in the liberation campaign of portions of the Daesh-occupied territory in Iraq. And we’ve also focused on the training of the Iraqi police forces.

The Carabinieri service is playing a leading role in that effort and we’ve requested and partially received cooperation – promises from a number of different countries. They’ll be working side by side with our Carabinieri services in setting up local police forces and training them. And this is a training effort that we attach a great importance to. We have to involve the Sunnis. This is fundamental in the cities in which the Iraqi police forces are going to have to operate. And we also need to have on board women in these operations. And the work that we are carrying out has to be multiplied more and more, but I feel reassured by the fact that today a number of the coalition countries have confirmed their willingness to assist Italy in the effort – in our effort and in coordination, of course, with the coalition and with the military leadership. Thank you.

QUESTION: (Via interpreter) Paolo Valentino, Corriere della Sera daily.

(In English) Secretary, today the foreign French minister, Mr. Fabius, said something about the behavior of Russia in Syria and he had this quote saying Russia cannot bomb the opposition in Syria and pretend to negotiate with them in Geneva. Now, my question is: What are you telling the Russians about these contradictions? What are you getting back from them?

And a second question, if you allow, is how do you see and value the role of Italy within the anti-Daesh coalition? Thank you.

SECRETARY KERRY: Thank you very much. Well, the – with respect to the question of Russia bombing while they’re sitting at the table, we are all extraordinarily sympathetic to the limits of propriety and common sense in the opposition sitting at a table while somebody continues to bomb you. But the agreement at the United Nations and the agreement in Vienna is that when the political dialogue begins, there will be a ceasefire. So the hope – the expectation, not a hope – the expectation is that it shouldn’t take long and we’re not requiring people to sit at the table or asking them to sit at the table for months. That would be crazy. This is a matter of now beginning the talks, we’re at the table, and we expect a ceasefire. And we expect adherence to the ceasefire. And we expect full humanitarian access. That is in the United Nations Security Council Resolution 2254, and it could not be more clear in terms of the discussions that we had in Vienna about when and how a ceasefire would begin.

So the ceasefire has been embraced and voted for by Russia and they have expressed their support for it. Now, I talked to Foreign Minister Lavrov a couple of days ago and I specifically discussed a ceasefire with him, and he said they are prepared to have a ceasefire. And the Iranians have said they are prepared to have a ceasefire. So my hope is that the work we have done in leading up to this now can quickly come to fruition now that the opposition is at the table and engaged. And I’ll be talking to Staffan de Mistura later today, conveying to him the latest of my conversations with fellow foreign ministers about this necessity.

So my hope is that we will immediately start to implement a genuine ceasefire. And a ceasefire should be doable, folks. I mean, the Russians can control the Russian planes. And the Russians can control, together with the Iranians because they’re supporting Assad, his planes. And the Iranians can control the IRGC and Hizballah. And it’s up to those of us who support the opposition to get the opposition to live by ceasefire. Everybody seems to have a country engaged behind it who has an ability to have an impact. So – and those parties, by the way, are now at the table – Iran at the table in Vienna, Russia at the table in Vienna. And the UN Security Council voted P5 – all the permanent Security Council members helped join together to put the – to fashion this understanding, and the entire Security Council embraced it unanimously.

So if ever the law of the land demanded something, if ever common decency demanded something, if ever the law of war demanded something, if ever common sense about trying to get a settlement in Syria demanded something, now is the time when the demand for a ceasefire and for humanitarian access could not be more clear. And we are going to push for it as hard as we can.

With respect to Italy, Italy has been tremendous. Italy has been, as I said – has one of the largest commitments in terms of people and what it’s doing. Its effort to train the police has been absolutely essential. They’re providing humanitarian assistance both in Iraq and in Syria. And they have helped make a contribution to the military efforts that are going on as well as to the financing countering – countering Daesh’s financing initiatives. And particularly, obviously, its role in Libya, which is essential to continuing to squeeze Daesh, has been perhaps the lead role – or one of the two lead, three lead roles, but I credit them as being the lead role and they’re taking a tremendous amount of initiative in order to help us get a government stood up and move forward.

But we’re very – we couldn’t have a better partner and we’re delighted with – Italy is doing.

MODERATOR: Dave Clark, AFP.

QUESTION: Thank you very much, gentlemen. Mr. Secretary, Mr. Minister, are there any circumstances in which your countries would contemplate leading or taking part in a direct military intervention against Daesh in Libya, and what are those circumstances? And if not, could you describe the broader military strategy against Daesh and specifically in Libya?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, President Obama made it clear in the very beginning of the operations in Libya when the – when the NATO resolution was passed and the operations began that he did not intend to put boots on the ground in terms of a major deployment or somehow in Libya. And he has obviously made it clear that he doesn’t want to do that in Iraq or Syria either. He believes strongly, as do lots of people, that there are sufficient numbers of people if you pull together a coalition adequately and have the correct strategy that can put people on the ground to fight. Now, the President will never eliminate every option forever if common sense dictated that the situation changed or required him to adjust. But that’s not in his horizon at the moment.

The President, as you know, put additional troops on the ground in the context of Special Forces in Syria, and he’s made it clear that he’s prepared to listen closely to his commanders and if they need more Special Forces to achieve certain goals, but he doesn’t intend to open up a broad-based – a broad-based – there’s not going to be an invasion of Syria or something, unless there was some absolute, extraordinary turn of events where weapons of mass destruction wound up in the hands of the wrong people or some dynamic shifted. So I don’t think the President ever shuts off every option forever, but it is very clear he believes this can be done without American forces on the ground; should be done – and he doesn’t intend to do that – in some broad-based way like Iraq or Afghanistan, where there were tens of thousands of people put in the ground.

FOREIGN MINISTER GENTILONI: (In English) To answer to the same question, Italy is ready to respond to the request of a new Libyan Government of National Accord in several fields and also on security. With other countries we are discussing this opportunity, but the key point is that we need a political process going on and the Government of National Accord having the endorsement of the Libyan parliament in the next 10 days or two weeks. It is possible. It is what we are working on. And we are ready and many, many countries are ready to respond to the request of this new government, especially for stabilization, economy, but also on security. We need a political process to answer the requests of the Libyan people.

MODERATOR: (Via interpreter) Thank you. The very last question from the ANSA News Agency now. Very last question from ANSA News Agency.

QUESTION: (Via interpreter) Minister Gentiloni, can you confirm the news that Trevi has won the tender for the Mosul dam, and what is the government doing in terms of sending new Italian military troops to protect those works on the dam?

FOREIGN MINISTER GENTILONI: (Via interpreter) Yes, the contract has been awarded to Trevi, to the Trevi company. I think the contract will be signed in the next few days. And the contacts with the Baghdad authorities are ongoing. They have been for some weeks now. And also thanks to the contribution of the United States, the coalition, and the terms of the presence of Italian military forces will be to defend, to protect the maintenance work to be done on the dam. And those terms and conditions would have to be determined together with the coalition and the Baghdad government. The contacts that we’ve had over the past few weeks in particular with Prime Minister al-Abadi have been very positive indeed, and I think that very soon we’ll be able to determine the terms for the Italian participation.

MODERATOR: (Via interpreter) Thank you very much. The conference is over.

Source: U.S. Department of State