Remarks with Saudi Arabian Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal
Remarks with Saudi Arabian Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal
Secretary of State
Riyadh Air Base
Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
November 4, 2013
FOREIGN MINISTER SAUD: (Via interpreter) In the name of God, Most Gracious, Most Merciful. It’s my pleasure to welcome Secretary John Kerry and his delegation in Saudi Arabia. The Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques received Secretary Kerry this afternoon. In the meeting, they discussed bilateral relations and the developments in the region.
I’d like to take this opportunity to address the recent media reports about Saudi-U.S. relations, which went so far as to describe them as dramatically deteriorating. The fact of the matter is that the historic relationship between the two countries has always been based on independence, mutual respect, common interest, and constructive cooperation on regional and international issues to serve global peace and security.
A true relationship between friends is based on sincerity, candor, and frankness rather than mere courtesy. Within this perspective, it’s only natural that our policies and views might see agreement in some areas and disagreement in others. That’s perfectly normal in any serious relationship that spans a wide range of issues.
I’d also like to point out that the Kingdom’s declination of membership in the Security Council in no way, shape, or form amounts to withdrawing from the United Nations. The Kingdom appreciates the efforts of the UN’s various humanitarian, developmental, economic and health organizations, among others.
The problem, however, lies in the UN’s failure to deal with political issues, crises, especially those in the Middle East. The reason is the Security Council’s apparent inability to handle them. It should be remembered that the Security Council wasn’t established just to manage international crises, but to solve them once and for all, and thus to maintain international peace and security. This failure is obvious in the Palestinian issue, which went nowhere in more than 60 years. Also, reducing the Syrian crisis to merely destroying chemical weapons – which is but a small aspect of it – won’t help put an end to one of the greatest humanitarian disasters in our times. And then there’s the international community’s failure to be decisive in making the Middle East free of weapons of mass destruction and nuclear weapons, which kept the region living in fear of this ticking bomb that could go off at any time. This time bomb cannot be defused by only dealing with its ramifications or maneuvering around it.
These and many other issues and unrest in the region and its various countries are and always have been of utmost concern to the Kingdom and the focus of its efforts. They have always been a point of discussion with the U.S. and all other international players, at both bilateral and multilateral levels. International legitimacy, agreements, treaties, and international law should help put an end to these crises without having to resort to political maneuvers and bargaining, which is exactly the reason why many of these issues left the UN’s realm to seek solutions elsewhere.
The Kingdom fully realizes the importance of negotiations in resolving any given crisis. Yet, negotiations shouldn’t just go on indefinitely, taking into account that we are facing some grave crises for which partial solutions just won’t do. These grave issues desperately need decisive and resolute intervention that should put an end to the human tragedies they produced. Nowhere is this clearer than the international community’s failure to stop the war against the Syrian people, even though the moral choice between war and peace is clear-cut, with no room to second-guess a choice between stopping the bloodshed and looking the other way.
Finally, I’d like to underline the fact that our two friendly countries are extremely busy in dealing with these issues in all seriousness and transparency. There is no room for emotion or anger here, but rather, for policies of common sense and levelheadedness based on mutual trust. That is how we solve any problem.
Again, I welcome Secretary Kerry, and he now has the floor.
SECRETARY KERRY: Your Royal Highness, thank you very much. (Inaudible.) I’m very honored to be here and I’m very grateful to you and to His Majesty particularly for the very generous, very warm welcome, but also importantly, for the very candid and friendly discussion that we have had regarding issues of enormous importance to our countries, to the region, and even to the world. It’s a privilege for me to be here again in Saudi Arabia and particularly to be with my good friend Prince Saud al-Faisal. We have gotten to know each other better and better, and we’ve spent a lot of time talking in these last weeks, and I am always impressed by his judgment and his wisdom about the region and the good counsel that he shares with me and with President Obama.
The relationship between the United States and Saudi Arabia is many things, and I am particularly grateful for the comments that His Royal Highness has just made about some media speculation versus the reality of the friendship that we share. Our relationship is strategic, it is enduring, and it covers a wide range of bilateral and regional issues. I want to remind everyone of President Obama’s statement at the United Nations. The President said that he will use all elements of U.S. power, including force, to secure the core interests of the United States in the Middle East. He said the United States will confront external aggression against our partners, as we did for Kuwait in the Gulf War. We will ensure the free flow of energy from this region to the world. We will dismantle terrorist networks that threaten our people. We will not tolerate the development or use of weapons of mass destruction. These are core U.S. interests, and we share these interests with Saudi Arabia, and we intend to work on these with Saudi Arabia.
We also pursue together – Saudi Arabia and the United States have an incredible deep relationship. It goes way beyond one or two countries and one or two efforts. We do joint work in military planning; in enhancing renewable energy supplies; in energy stability and security; in counterterrorism; in critical infrastructure protection; in trade and investment; in science and technology; in enhancing and dealing with and addressing the medical attention to health pandemics; in agriculture and food security; in education and student exchanges. This is a deep relationship and it has endured now for more than 70 years and it will endure well into the future.
Time and again, Saudi Arabia has proven to be an indispensable partner, but an indispensable partner that obviously has independent and important views of its own, and we respect that. We look forward to continuing this collaboration to advance our shared security and our shared prosperity.
Today, in addition to our bilateral agenda, His Royal Highness and I discussed a number of these regional concerns, and I have just heard the views of His Majesty King Abdullah, who was very clear to me about the importance of many of these issues – Syria, Egypt, Iran, Yemen, Lebanon, and the Middle East peace process.
First, on Syria, the United States appreciates Saudi Arabia’s leadership supporting the Syrian Opposition Coalition and its strong commitment to achieving a political solution to the crisis, which, as we have always said, really has only one solution, and that is a negotiated political solution. This crisis will not end through military force, in our judgment. A negotiated political settlement as laid out in the Geneva communique, we believe is the best way to end the bloodshed, respond to the humanitarian crisis in Syria, to counter the violent extremist groups that we both agree are growing in their threat to all of us and which must be stopped, and also to recognize the full challenge of the humanitarian disaster that we all see. Together, we believe we must avert further instability. That’s why it is imperative that we hold the Geneva 2 conference as soon as possible so the representatives of the people of Syria can work towards a transition to a new Syria.
We also believe very strongly that we must continue to consult with Saudi Arabia as well as with the Syrian coalition leadership and our international partners, including Special Representative Brahimi and the Government of Russia in order to prepare for the Geneva conference. But I will make it clear: We will continue to support the opposition in the meantime and we will not stand idly by while Assad continues to use weapons enormously disproportionate to those in the possession of the opposition in order to kill innocent men, women, and children.
We appreciate the strong Arab League communique that was issued last night, encouraging the Syrian Opposition Coalition to go to Geneva to negotiate. And I want to underscore the importance that we, and all of our regional partners, feel about continuing our very close coordination on our common objectives in Syria. There is no difference about our mutually agreed upon objective in Syria. As I have said many times before, Assad has lost all legitimacy and Assad must go. There must be a new transitional governing body in Syria in order to permit the possibility of peace and an end to the human suffering, and we do not believe that there is a way or see how that war can end or that suffering will be ended as long as Assad is there.
I’ve come to Riyadh from Cairo. Yesterday, I met with Egypt’s interim leaders and importantly with other leaders, too, of the civil society. The United States is committed to supporting Egypt as it moves forward with its democratic transition. We encourage credible progress on Egypt’s political roadmap as set forth and efforts to address the Egyptian people’s political aspirations to establish the conditions for a stronger and more prosperous economy in Egypt. The Egyptian people desperately need economic transformation, and we have agreed, with our friends in Saudi Arabia and with others, to work as hard as we can to help effect this economic transformation so that a difference in the quality of life can quickly, hopefully come to the people of Egypt. We want to see Egypt pursue a transition to a stable, inclusive, and democratic civilian-led government that respects and protects the rights and freedoms of all Egyptians.
Regarding Yemen, we discussed the importance of concluding the national dialogue now, and to moving the constitutional drafting process where regional issues can be addressed. On Lebanon, we also discussed the importance of our strong support for responsible moderates who will still work for government formation without Hezbollah intimidation, and we think it’s important that Hezbollah not be allowed to define that future.
In addition, we talked about Iraq and the increased violence in Iraq, and the absolute imperative with Prime Minister Maliki, whom we just met with in Washington, that he reach out to all people in Iraq and help to end the sectarian violence and provide opportunity for all Iraqis.
Finally, on Iran, let me reiterate the position that President Obama has made clear many times: The United States will not allow Iran to acquire a nuclear weapon. That policy has not changed. President Obama has stated again and again that our preference is to resolve this challenge peacefully, through diplomacy, and we are committed to giving diplomacy a real chance to succeed. And while this window is open, while we are testing whether Iran is willing to take the steps required to satisfy the international community’s concerns, the burden remains squarely on Iran to demonstrate through credible and verifiable action that its nuclear program is indeed, in fact, peaceful and only peaceful.
We state clearly: Words will not satisfy this. It’s only actions that will speak to our concerns. We believe that no deal is better than a bad deal. That won’t change. And I want to emphasize, President Obama will not take any option off the table in this process, but we do seek to put to test the reality of the possibility of a diplomatic solution.
So again, I believe on the issues of most importance to Saudi Arabia and the United States in this region and elsewhere that we are in close agreement. I believe that we have the ability to cooperate together; we have for many, many years. And when we may differ once or twice on a tactic here or there, the bonds of our friends are much stronger than any of those differences at that moment in time.
I want to thank His Majesty King Abdullah for the significant amount of time that he gave to this discussion today, for the strength of the and quality of the conversation that we had. I will relate to President Obama that he can count on the fact that he has a strong and supportive and candid friend in King Abdullah, and that we, as two countries, have the ability to accomplish a lot in the days ahead together and we look forward to continuing to work in a cooperative way.
And finally, my profound gratitude to His Royal Highness Prince Saud al-Faisal for his continued friendship and for his wonderful hospitality. Thank you.
MS. PSAKI: The first question will be from Michael Gordon of The New York Times.
QUESTION: I have a question for the Foreign Minister and for Secretary Kerry. For the Foreign Minister: Yesterday in Cairo, Secretary Kerry acknowledged, as he did today, that there are tactical differences, as he put it, between the Obama Administration and Saudi Arabia on how to end the war in Syria and bring about a transitional government without Bashar al-Assad, and how to negotiate with Iran, and how best to respond to events in Egypt.
Sir, how would you explain – since you think the media has been exaggerating these issues, how would you explain to us the nature of these differences on Syria, Iran, and Egypt? And what progress, if any, have you made in resolving these differences today?
And to Secretary Kerry: In Cairo yesterday, you made the point that the United States is deeply engaged in the Middle East peace process. There have been reports in the Israeli and Palestinian press that the United States has informed both sides that if progress is not made in the next two months, the United States will present its own plan in January on how to deal with the core issues. Is the Obama Administration prepared to present its own plan for advancing the talks if no progress is made? And when would you do that? And since you said that violence in Syria is unacceptable – and clearly, the framework agreement and the chemical weapons initiative hasn’t stopped that – what specific steps are you now proposing to end the violence and reduce it there beyond the peace conference?
FOREIGN MINISTER SAUD: I would answer that these differences have two different kind of differences – differences in objective and differences in tactic. Some of these differences are in objective, very few. Most of the differences are in tactics. On Syria, for instance, we both agree that the Geneva 2 has the sole purpose of implementing Geneva 1. That’s a clear agreement on objective. We both agree that Bashar al-Assad has no role to play. That’s a key decision. We agree that the representative of the Syrian people are the coalition. That’s a clear objective.
Now, the tactic we had differences on, but differences that don’t go beyond what they are – tactical differences. The United States thinks it’s best to do that through the strengthening the coalition and working for their success in Syria. So the differences you mentioned are mostly differences in tactics, I would say. We don’t have any differences in objective.
In Iran, we both want a region free of atomic weapons. In the Middle East, unfortunately, every time a weapon has been introduced to it, it has been used, and that is a threat that it exists under. So we both agree that this region, important as it is to the world economy, if we can have it free of atomic weapons, it would be good. And we accept the assurance of the Secretary that they will not allow the development of weapons – of atomic weapons in Iran.
SECRETARY KERRY: Michael, with respect to the question of whatever rumor or whatever speculation this article has been written off, let me categorically dispel any notion that there is anything other than the track that is formally engaged in between Israel and the Palestinians. And the only plan we have at this point in time is to pursue that discussion and the discussion track that we’ve always talked about, which is the leaders track, which is the discussions between President Obama, myself, Prime Minister Netanyahu, and President Abbas. So it’s just incorrect. There is no other plan at this point in time.
With respect to the violence in Syria, we believe that the sooner we can get to Geneva and engage the international community in the possibilities of peace, the sooner we try to get nations coming together around the common goal of implementing Geneva 1. The Geneva 1 communique sets out a transition government requirement with full executive authority by mutual consent of the parties.
That means both parties actually have a veto, which makes it complicated. It means both parties are going to have to find people respected by all who will protect the rights of Syrians while they transition to an election to choose their future leadership. And that is the way you can most rapidly, most effectively end the violence. Absent a negotiated solution, we don’t see a lot of ways to end the violence, certainly, that are implementable or palatable to us because we don’t have the legal authority or the justification or the desire at this point to get in the middle of a civil war. And I think that’s been made very clear.
So our hope is that we can bring the parties together. It won’t be the first very complicated conflict where very emotional, highly separated entities are brought together by the international community and ultimately find a way forward. Obviously, the Balkans – Kosovo is an example. Serbia, the Dayton Accords. There are other examples through history, and that’s what international multilateral organizations are meant to do. I share Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal’s and Saudi Arabia’s frustration sometimes that the efforts to get an entity like the Security Council of the United Nations that is supposed to be non-ideological and separated from global politics and urge solution to these things has been stymied over the last few years by more – by a kind of polarization that has entered into that entity.
And so our hope is that we can find and summon the will at the international level to try to make peace here. And I think there is among a lot of parties a readiness for it and a willingness for it. And what will happen in Geneva, if we get there, is that will will be put to the test of good faith under the international spotlight for all to see. And it will quickly become evident who is serious about seeking a solution and who isn’t, and that in itself can create its own dynamic that can begin to change the order of things.
So that is our plan, that’s our strategy, that’s what we’re pursuing. We know it’s not easy. We have no illusions about the complications in the road ahead of us, which is why we will continue to support the moderate opposition in the meantime in its efforts to be able to defend the interests of the vast majority of the people of Syria.
MODERATOR: Mr. Talay.
QUESTION: (Via interpreter) Hassan Talay, Al Arabiya. My first question is to Mr. Kerry. During your visit, did you give any reassurances to Saudi Arabia concerning what’s going on between EU and Iran, whether openly or behind closed doors?
The other question is for both sides concerning Iran’s intervention in the region. Does it include the 5+1? Thank you.
SECRETARY KERRY: I don’t understand the question about intervention. Does it include the 5+1? Oh, you’re talking – I understand what you mean. Does the 5+1 refer to or involve any of Iran’s other activities? Is that the question?
SECRETARY KERRY: Thank you. Well, first question – did I give some assurances with respect to Iran? Yes, absolutely. Of course I did. We talked about Iran, and I shared with His Majesty King Abdullah, as well as with Prince Saud al-Faisal on a number of occasions, precisely what the American view is with respect to the P5+1 approach. And it is a shared view.
Nothing that we are doing with respect to this negotiation will alter or upset or get in the way the relationship between the United States and Saudi Arabia and the relationship in this region, which is why President Obama asked me to reaffirm, while I am here, the statement that he made at the United Nations regarding his willingness, and the United States’, to defend our friends in this region from any external attack and to continue to work with Saudi Arabia and others in the way that we have in our military-to-military and intelligence cooperation. So nothing will interfere with that, number one.
Number two: We made it clear that we enter this negotiation in the P5+1 with very open eyes, with a strong understanding – as I said in my opening comments a few minutes ago – that words will not satisfy us. It is only specific actions on which countries will be able to measure an outcome, and the outcome must be one that allows all of us to know that every day that we wake up we know that what is happening in Iran is a peaceful program and not one where they can be secretly moving towards a weapon that could threaten the stability of this region.
Now, Iran has insisted that its program is peaceful, and we will work closely in the process of negotiations to make certain that that can be done, laid out, and proven in a transparent, accountable manner. We have said publicly – and I reassured the – His Majesty and Prince Faisal – that no deal is better than a bad deal. A bad deal could allow you to have hidden efforts go on. A good deal lets you know what’s happening. And so we will continue to cooperate. We made it clear we will consult and we will reach out and engage in ongoing deliberation and discussion. And we will very much brief our friends here on a regular basis so that there are no surprises and there is a clarity to the road ahead. And I think that, hopefully, is a welcome process.
With respect to the question of Iran’s interests in the region, et cetera, the first topic is nuclear. We are well aware of Iran’s activities in the region. Obviously, we Americans have never forgotten what happened with Khobar Towers. We know that there were plots involving the Ambassador from Saudi Arabia to the United States. We are well aware of other activities, and they concern us. It concerns us that Iran has personnel on the ground in Syria. It concerns us that Hezbollah is active in conjunction with Iran’s support. But the first step is the nuclear step, which we hope will open the door to the possibility to be able to deal with those. And that can happen over the next months, because none of this is going to happen, obviously, very quickly. But one of the things we’ve made clear to our friends in the region is we’re not going to do this in a vacuum. We’re going to do this in cooperation with our friends in ways that everybody has an understanding of exactly what is being discussed and so people have confidence that the outcome will not have negative impacts in ways that are unanticipated or are surprising. And we think that’s a very important part of our relationship.
FOREIGN MINISTER SAUD: (Via interpreter) Actually, it’s an important question because it ties into the negotiations, the 5+1 negotiations. It points to intentions, and the 5+1 negotiations are based on good intentions, and they – good will is that – it means that you are doing things that are positive for the negotiations. I believe that it will bolster the proposal of the 5+1 towards Iran. If it includes Iran’s presence in Syria, that’s conclusive proof of the intentions of Iran’s neighboring countries.
I consider Syria an occupied land. Iran’s forces did not come in to protect Syria from an external occupation. They went there to help the regime hurt the Syrian people. How can a neighboring country that’s supposed to uphold good relationships, to go – to get involved into a civil war and help one side over the other? That’s – if there is no law to – it’s necessary to have – to have law against that in the international laws. Iran’s good intentions are being tested right now, and right now the most important step it can take to prove its good intentions is to get out of Syria and get its ally, its Lebanese ally Hezbollah, out of there too.
MS. PSAKI: Lesley Wroughton from Reuters.
QUESTION: Thank you very much. This is a question for His Highness. I was wondering: Saudi – you’ve spoken about your frustration with regard to the Security Council actions on Syria. You’ve heard Secretary Kerry say that the U.S. does not have a desire to get in the middle of the civil war, wants peaceful – unless it’s through peace talks. What is it that you are doing and that you are – or there have been reports that you’re increasing your support for the opposition militarily. Is that true? And how much further are you prepared to go to ensure that the civil war is ended? Also, what is the redline with regard to Iraq’s participation in the peace talks?
And for Secretary Kerry, on Pakistan: Pakistan believes, while recognizing that you won’t discuss the CIA drone strikes, that the killing recently of the Taliban leader Mehsud was an attempt to thwart the peace talks. And again, they’re threatening to close the supply routes into Afghanistan. I was wondering what you can say to Pakistan’s government to convince them that this was not an attempt to get in the middle of those peace talks with the Taliban. And just a follow-up: I was wondering what your take is on women driving in Saudi Arabia.
FOREIGN MINISTER SAUD: Why didn’t you ask me that question? (Laughter.)
SECRETARY KERRY: Go ahead.
FOREIGN MINISTER SAUD: The – what the Iranians can do and cannot do in Syria is a very intriguing question. Syria has now more than 140,000 casualties, more than two million refugees. It is the largest calamity that has befallen the world in the present millennium. If that isn’t reason enough to intervene, to stop the bloodshed, I don’t know what is. If one is choosing a moral choice between – to intervene or not to intervene, what is that choice going to be? Do I let this fighting continue, or do I help if I can? And the people are not dying only of weapons, all kind of weapons – weapons of mass destruction like the chemical weapons and weapons of high destructive capability like the ballistic missiles that have been used against cities of Syria.
Aside from the human loss and the tragedy of the human loss, Syria is part of the cultural history of the world. It has been a city it has (inaudible) the city, Damascus. For longer than any other city in the world, it has been considered a city, and resided by people of culture, by people of education. It is being destroyed by carpet bombing. If that isn’t a disregard of human values, I don’t know what is.
Now the United Nations is supposed to be an organization established after the destructiveness of the Second World War to prevent such destructiveness to happen again. Three years now, almost three years, they have been looking at this tragedy with apparent unconcern. How can this be? Is this the role of the Security Council? It is not that this is happening in Syria, which is an Arab country. If it is happening anywhere in the world, it would be a great tragedy. If we can’t face tragedy of this sort, how can we say that we want to be – to establish a civilization based on social equality and justice? We can’t assume these high moral values if we don’t do something about Syria. We can’t really say that we are taking the high road and establishing our humanity if we let this tragedy continue unabated.
SECRETARY KERRY: You didn’t ask me, but let me just – I want to associate myself with the strong comments of Prince Saud al-Faisal regarding the tragedy and the level of devastation in Syria, and the need for the international community to respond, which is one of the reasons why we are pushing so hard now to get to the table, but also why the United States has brought this issue to the Security Council on several occasions, only to be stymied in deadlock. So we certainly agree that we need to respond to it.
Now with respect to Hakimullah Mehsud in Pakistan, without commenting on what may or may not have happened, obviously he has been reported to have been killed. And I will just say very clearly that this is a man who absolutely is known to have targeted and killed many Americans, many Afghans, and many Pakistanis. A huge number of Pakistanis have died at the hands of Hakimullah Mehsud and his terrorist organization. And the Tehrik-e Taliban has been devastating Pakistan in terms of its stability and opportunities to be able to respond to many needs of its people.
Obviously, the relationship between us and Pakistan is a very important one. We just had Nawaz Sharif in Washington for a period of time. We work very, very closely. We’re closely engaged with the government in Pakistan. We have a strong ongoing dialogue with them regarding all aspects of our bilateral relationship, and we have very important shared interests, and we intend to continue to work together with them through the Strategic Dialogue that we have established, in order to work through these kinds of challenges.
But I think it’s very, very clear that Pakistan has been deeply threatened by this insurgency in Pakistan. I think somewhere upwards of 50,000 troops and civilians have died in the last few years at the hands of the insurgency in Pakistan, and this man is one of those insurgents. So while we will welcome any discussions, we are sensitive to the concerns of the country, and we look forward to working very closely with the Government of Pakistan.
With respect to the issue of women driving here in Saudi Arabia, it’s no secret that in the United States of America we embrace equality for everybody, regardless of gender, race, or any other qualification. But it’s up to Saudi Arabia to make its own decisions about its own social structure choices and timing for whatever events. I know there’s a debate. We actually talked about this at lunch. There’s a healthy debate in Saudi Arabia about this issue, but I think that debate is best left to Saudi Arabia, the people engaged in it, all of whom know exactly where we in the United States of America stand on this issue.
QUESTION: I am Hamad from Herat newspaper. Your Highness, now that we know that there is enthusiasm for having – holding Geneva 2, and yet there’s a refusal by the fighting forces in Syria to hold a Geneva 2, how can you – how can the conference be held when the fighters on the ground refuse to hold it?
FOREIGN MINISTER SAUD: (Via interpreter) It’s not as clear-cut as you said. There is talk and there are people talking about this. One is saying we have to go, the other is saying we shouldn’t go. And yet there – and really, there is a dialogue going on among Syrians over the benefit of attending Geneva 2. The fact of the matter is that the decision at the end is going to be – for these people, the coalition, because they are the ones who represent Syria, and they are the ones who will decide whether or not to attend.
If they don’t attend, it’s not going to go anywhere. But I think they will accurately evaluate the situation because their presence in Geneva 2 will reinforce that they are – the fact that they are the representatives of the Syrian people, and will make the world understand that they are the ones who have given a chance to peace. And they will make the world understand that they did not refuse at any time to hold a hand of peace in negotiations. So in the end, they are the ones who will decide, and their desire is – whether to attend or not – is what will decide. I don’t think the Geneva 2 will happen without their presence.
We thank you for your attendance. The Secretary is going to go to Poland, and I’m going to go home and have dinner. (Laughter.)