Remarks With Sheikh Sabah Khalid Al-Hamad Al-Sabah
Remarks With Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Sheikh Sabah Khalid Al-Hamad Al-Sabah After Their Meeting
Secretary of State
Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Kuwait City, Kuwait
June 26, 2013
DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER SABAH: (In Arabic.)
SECRETARY KERRY: Thank you very much, Your Excellency. Thank you for your welcome, your generous welcome. And I also want to thank His Highness, the Amir, Sheikh Ahmad al-Sabah, and His Highness, the Prime Minister, Sheikh Jabir al-Mubarak al-Sabah. We’re very grateful for the welcome here.
I want thank the Amir for his very longstanding and steadfast support of the U.S.-Kuwaiti relationship. I think I would have to say – and I said to His Excellency as well as to His Highness, the Amir – that the relationship between the United States and Kuwait is literally as strong as it has ever been. There is an enormous amount of cooperation on many different fronts. And as we look ahead, we are extremely confident of the strength of our friendship and the bonds between our people, which will only grow.
We are tied together, obviously, by a significant amount of history, but none more so than the efforts that the United States made for the liberation of Kuwait, which binds us together in very strong ways. Ours is a partnership though that, frankly, extends well beyond the security relationship. It is rooted not only in our common pursuit of peace and stability in the region, but also in opportunity and in prosperity for our people.
The fact is that here in Kuwait, education, health, economic development, and the trade and the investment relationship have grown stronger, and the accomplishments of the Government of Kuwait with respect to their own people are not insignificant. Truly in many ways, with respect to those issues, our values and our interests have intersected.
The Foreign Minister and I did discuss, as he said, a great range of events, of issues, and it’s fair to say that with the Amir we had a very long, very detailed, in-depth conversation regarding Syria, regarding Iran, Egypt, the Middle East peace process, and relationships in this region. And I found it extremely helpful and instructive with respect to my efforts to survey the thinking of this region as the United States and the President particularly confront our own choices with respect to a number of issues in the region.
The chaotic situation in Syria is troubling to everybody, and the Kuwaiti Government expressed its views very strongly about their hope for a political settlement, their support for Geneva, their recognition of the difficulties, obviously, of getting there at this moment, but nevertheless an absolute fixed belief in Kuwait that a political solution is the best outcome, the only outcome, that there is no military solution.
I particularly want to thank the Government of Kuwait for their leadership with respect to the UN donors conference regarding Syria in January. That meeting, thanks to the leadership of Kuwait, raised $1.6 billion in pledged humanitarian assistance for the Syrian people, including Kuwait’s own generous pledge of 300 million to benefit the international humanitarian agencies. As always, the welfare and the security of the Syrian people and their opportunity to shape their own future in a peaceful, political manner, is our shared chief concern with respect to that crisis.
I want to emphasize, however, that this kind of humanitarian initiative is not something unique or new to Kuwait. It is completely in character for Kuwait to play an important contributing role such as they are with respect to the humanitarian crisis. Kuwait gives throughout the world for humanitarian causes, and also to meet development needs in nations. It has long been a leading lender in foreign assistance both regionally and internationally, and that is a role that the United States and many nations applaud.
So, Sheikh Sabah, thank you for your nation’s generosity, because you help to strengthen the region, you make a significant contribution to the world, and we express our admiration, I express the admiration of President Obama and the American people for the role that you choose to play. Thank you. And we would be happy to answer some questions.
I think we have two questions from each side, one from each side. So David Lerman from Bloomberg is first. David.
QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. Secretary. Mr. Secretary, you’re heading to Jordan to revive the Mideast peace talks. You’ve said these talks are very urgent. What does urgent mean? What kind of deadline are you setting for yourself to make this work? And do you, as a practical matter, have to show real progress on it by September before the UN General Assembly starts? And if I could just ask about – there’s an Israeli press report that you’re already preparing three-way talks this week for U.S., Israeli, and Palestinian officials, maybe at a lower level, under the auspices of the King of Jordan. Can you tell us how likely those talks are to occur this week, and what you would hope to accomplish from them?
And then if I could ask, for the Foreign Minister, a number of wealthy Kuwaitis have been funneling money to groups that – in Syria – that the U.S. and the London 11 nations consider to be extremists. I was wondering if you could tell us if you’re doing anything to try to stop that, and if so, what.
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, with respect to the question of three-way meetings or something in Jordan, frankly, I think that’s a mistaken report that may come from the fact that I intend to, just for logistical purposes, be based out of Jordan, and I will go back and forth to Israel a couple of times. But those aren’t three-way, and I don’t know of any plans to do that. I will be meeting with various officials from both countries during the time that I’m there.
With respect to the question of the talks themselves and progress and September, first of all, I’m not setting any deadlines. We purposefully wanted to avoid deadlines. Deadlines can become self-imposed hurdles, and in fact, impediments to actually making progress. What I have set is a standard of actual substantive progress on certain framework issues that are important in order to be able to satisfy both sides that it’s worthwhile to come to the table. And as I said last time I was here, we had homework to do. That homework is ongoing, and I intend to sit down with the principals and take stock of where we are without setting deadlines because of the danger they’re in.
But obviously, the time is getting near where we need to make some judgments. Last time I was here, I said it’s time for leaders to make some hard decisions. And that stands. It is time. Now, why is it urgent? It is urgent because time is the enemy of a peace process. Time allows situations on the ground to change and/or to harden, or to be misinterpreted. The passage of time allows a vacuum to be filled by people who don’t want things to happen. The passage of time can also see other dangers rise that are unforeseen today that then make moving more difficult and/or impossible. And the passage of time, obviously, has the ability to wear out people’s patience and to feed cynicism and to give people a sense of impossibility where there in fact is possibility.
So I think the parties understand that. I think people know that it’s important to try to get this process going sooner rather than later. But again, I don’t want to trap myself or any of the principals in this with arbitrary and somewhat ad hoc time limits.
It’s obviously important to move, and it’s important to move as soon as we can. And with respect to September, long before September, we need to be showing some kind of progress in some way, because I don’t think we have the luxury of that kind of time. So that’s why I’m here for this visit, and I hope it can be productive.
I think – Your Excellency.
DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER SABAH: (In Arabic.)
QUESTION: (In Arabic.)
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, let me just deal very quickly with the issue of China because it’s way too premature to make any judgments whatsoever. We still don’t even have all the facts. It obviously was disturbing that the Hong Kong component of the relationship, because there’s a Hong Kong extradition treaty which operates under a separate system, that that surrender treaty wasn’t adhered to.
Now, we don’t know all the facts yet. Our legal department, both the Justice Department, the State Department, are working to ascertain precisely what they were. So I’m not going to make any judgments at this point in time. We obviously hope that it doesn’t have a fact pattern that somehow displays that there’s a reason for some concern about the long-term relationship.
With respect to the Gitmo prisoners, we did talk about that. We had a good conversation about it. And we’re very aware of the concerns here in Kuwait. We respect those concerns. President Obama is committed to try to close Gitmo. And he has renewed that effort, and I have appointed a special representative to engage in that activity on a full-time basis in the State Department. So we will be working very hard to see all of the detainees hopefully transferred as appropriate to those places that they should be going to.
With respect to those two nationals, two Kuwaiti nationals that are there, we are taking the Kuwaiti requests very seriously. We are reviewing, because there is a formal review process that takes place. That review process is going to take place appropriately, and it will be done in conjunction with the Justice Department and that appropriate review. But President Obama is committed, obviously, to not only closing it, but to not holding any detainee longer than is required or appropriate.
With respect to Egypt, I think it’s fair to say that everybody is very concerned about Egypt and the situation today. We want Egypt to succeed. We want Egypt to be strong. Egypt, as we talked about today, is historically a critical country to this region. And our hopes are that all parties, everybody, whether it’s the demonstration that takes place on Friday or the demonstration that takes place on Sunday, will all engage in peaceful, free expression of their points of view, but not engage in violence, but help the democracy of Egypt to be able to make the right choices in these next days.
Clearly, there are things that we wish that Egypt would do at this time in terms of its economy, in terms of its politics, the relationships between the government and the opposition, the need to bring people together, the need to attract capital from other countries, the need to restore order so that tourism can return to Egypt. All of these are really urgent priorities for Egypt, and our hope is that all those interested parties who are preparing to demonstrate will do so in a peaceful and responsible way that builds the future of Egypt, doesn’t tear it down.
I think – oh, it’s my turn to call. I’m sorry. I think Deb Riechmann, AP. Oh, I’m sorry, it’s going to be Karen DeYoung. Sorry. What did you guys do, trade here? (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Your Excellency, Arab leaders have invested considerable prestige and support in Secretary Kerry’s efforts to forge a Middle East peace. Are you discouraged over the lack of progress, or have your talks with the Secretary today led you to believe that there’s a good chance of gaining traction in the near future? Are you satisfied that the United States is fully exerting its leverage to bring both sides to the table?
And to the Secretary, both Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Abbas have lost considerable power within their own governments. How does this affect their ability to enter talks and to sell any agreement made to their constituencies? This is your fifth trip to the region, as you said, in recent months. What progress has been made and what gives you the confidence that things will be any different during this trip?
DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER SABAH: (In Arabic.)
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, thank you very much. Thank you very much, Your Excellency. I appreciate that very, very much. And I – yes, the politics of both Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Abbas have both been tested, as they always are in this part of the world, and both of them are very skilled veterans of the politics of their countries, and I am quite confident in their serious commitment of purpose here. I believe that the peace process, and I believe they believe that the peace process, is bigger than any one day or one moment, or certainly more important to their countries than some of their current political challenges may make it seem. And that’s why both of them have indicated a seriousness of purpose. I would not have returned here three times, beyond the first trip and then the trip with the President of the United States – that’s five times – I wouldn’t be here now if I didn’t have a belief that this is possible. But it’s difficult. We all know how difficult. If this were easy, this would have been done a long time ago.
But the fact is that assurances have to be built up, mistrust has to be overcome, and a series of understandings have to be reached so that we avoid the disappointment and the failures of the past. So I’m taking my time because I think it deserves to have time taken, and I think both of the principals – Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Abbas – agree with that. We’ve come at this carefully. We’ve been working towards, hopefully, an understanding that allows everybody to go forward, notwithstanding the difficulties that people face in the politics of their countries.
It’s my sense – why am I confident that something can be done? Because I believe peace is understood by them, both of them, to be urgent. President Abbas has been at this a long time. He has been motivated by the desire to try to create his country, to give the Palestinians their homeland, to define it, and to be able to meet the needs of his people. And Prime Minister Netanyahu is in his second – he’s now the second longest-serving Prime Minister in the history of Israel – seven years – and he understands how volatile the region is, what the complications and threats are to Israel, the downsides of failure, and I think he understands that this is a serious moment.
So the best I can do on behalf of President Obama, who’s committed to this, is to put it to the test. In the end, they will have to make the key decisions about whether or whether not they’re prepared to proceed forward based on the understandings that we hope we would reach. And I’m not going to get into when that has to happen, but obviously, as I’ve said earlier, it needs to be sooner rather than later. And I believe that every conversation I have, with His Excellency, with His Royal Highness the Foreign Minister of Saudi Arabia, with the Emir of Qatar, both the now-ex Emir and the new Emir – all of them ask how can we help move the peace process forward. How can we make peace? People want peace. The Arab Peace Initiative, which was put forward years ago, promises the possibility of normalization of relationship, exchange of ambassadors, the possibility of normal commercial enterprise, and of a security arrangement for the region which includes the Arab countries and Israel. That’s a huge possibility, and I think it’s – I think everybody would agree that that is worth the effort to explore whether or not it is achievable, and particularly at this moment.
QUESTION: Shireen Al Wakeel. Shireen Al Wakeel, Al Watan Television. I have two – I have questions for both ministers. First, your comment about normalization with Israel for the Gulf region, normalization with Israel, Minister Sabah.
And Mr. Kerry, why do you have great expectations on peaceful means of solving the Syrian issue, where the power was used with NATO in Libya? It’s more than two years now. And confirm or deny – are you sending troops to Sinai Peninsula, or is it just a part of the peacekeeping troops to Sinai Peninsula? There were news about sending American troops on Sinai Peninsula.
SECRETARY KERRY: What was the first part of your question? I’m sorry. I just missed the very first sentence.
QUESTION: You have great expectations talking about peaceful means of solving the Syrian conflict, where the power was used in Libya and it was nearly the same situation. And it’s more than two years now in Syria. Why are we insisting on peaceful means?
SECRETARY KERRY: Okay.
QUESTION: And something regarding Putin’s declaration, despite your declaration about Snowden, Putin today said that he’s not going to hand over the spy. What’s your comment about that? Thank you.
SECRETARY KERRY: (Off-mike.) With respect to – I don’t have knowledge of – I’ll have to check on the troop deployment issue. I simply am not aware of anything at this point in time.
With respect to the Syrian situation and why after two years would I be together with others pushing for the idea of a peaceful resolution, the answer is that this is not Libya. It is very different from Libya in many, many different ways – not just the situation on the ground but the options within. In Libya, you didn’t have outside countries or an outside terrorist organization engaged in the way that you have Hezbollah and Iran. And in Libya, you didn’t have the Russians supplying weapons and you didn’t have the same type of army, weapons, or other things. So it’s a very different situation, number one.
But more importantly, why would we be talking about a peaceful resolution? For the very simple reason that the people of Syria are suffering at the hands of this violence. Already about a hundred thousand people in Syria have died. And the prospect of a long and continued war, which is very possible, means not only will many, many more people die, many more homes be destroyed, cities be destroyed, not only will you have more atrocities and more violations of human rights and even some small evidence here and there of some ethnic cleansing – not only will you have all of that, but you may ultimately have the complete destruction of the state of Syria so that the army, the institutions, will fall apart and you will have a complete sectarian breakdown. And that becomes far more dangerous for all of the region because it will empower extremists as well as create an ongoing sectarian strife that this region will feel for a long time to come.
So I think a lot of people are convinced that there is not a military solution here. And if there is not a military solution, those of us in positions of responsibility, particularly those of us who are supposed to be stewards of diplomacy, need to reach out to try to find the diplomatic solution.
The fact is that there is a framework for that solution, that the Russians, who are supplying weapons to the Syrians, have signed onto, and that the Qataris and the Saudis and the Emiratis and the Turks and the Jordanians and the United States and Great Britain and France have all agreed is worth pursuing. And that is the effort to have a Geneva negotiation that seeks to implement Geneva 1 communique. And that requires a transition government in a neutral environment that is given full executive authority and that is chosen by mutual consent.
Now that’s a hard lift; I acknowledge that. That’s a very difficult thing to get at. But if you could get at that, the people of Syria would have the opportunity to be able to choose their future. And no matter what happens here, ultimately there’s going to have to be some kind of political resolution of the sectarian differences, of the international tensions, and of the stakes for the people of Syria.
So I think that the alternative, which is continued war and the potential increase of terrorism, should be unacceptable to all civilized nations. And I call again today on the Iranians to pull their troops out of Syria and for Hezbollah to return to Lebanon and cease to engage in its activities across international boundaries. It seems to me that if we did that, we’d have a much better chance of getting to this negotiation and an opportunity to try to save lives and end the violence.
DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER SABAH: (In Arabic.)