FOREIGN SECRETARY HAGUE: Ladies and gentlemen, it's a great honor to welcome the 68th Secretary of State of the United States of America, John Kerry, to London today and to the Foreign Commonwealth Office. Secretary Kerry, we are delighted that you chose the United Kingdom as your first destination overseas. My own first visit as Foreign Secretary was to the United States, and each day and often each hour since then I have witnessed the importance of our indispensable alliance. When the United States and the United Kingdom act together we make a powerful difference in world affairs, and our partnership in diplomacy, intelligence, and defense has no equal in the world.
Secretary Kerry and I have met many times in recent years and indeed in recent months, but this visit is my first opportunity to welcome him here as Secretary of State, of course, and to pay tribute to the immense experience that he brings to his new role. We've had detailed and very thorough talks covering the full range of global affairs. Top of our agenda was the Middle East, including the importance we both attach to ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and I welcome the focus that he has brought to bear on this issue since his appointment. There is no more urgent foreign policy priority in 2013 than restarting negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians. The region and the world can't afford the current dangerous impasse in the peace process; for if we don't make progress very soon, then the two-state solution could become impossible to achieve.
So there's a burning need for the international community to revive the peace process in efforts led by the United States and supported by European, Arab, and other nations. And my promise to Secretary Kerry today was that the United Kingdom will make every effort to mobilize the European Union and Arab states behind decisive moves for peace. And I warmly welcome President Obama's planned visit to the Middle East this spring and indeed Secretary Kerry's own travel to the region shortly.
The Secretary and I will both attend the Rome meeting of the Friends of Syria this week. An appalling injustice is being done to the people of Syria, which the world cannot ignore. So we discussed the vital need for a political transition and our firm support for UN and Arab League Envoy Lakhdar Brahimi. We agreed that for as long as a political solution to the conflict is blocked off, the international community has a responsibility to take steps to help prevent the loss of life in Syria, loss of life including the terrible loss of life that we have just witnessed in Aleppo.
And that's why in the United Kingdom we believe we must significantly increase our support for the Syrian opposition on top of our large contributions to the humanitarian relief effort, and we are preparing to do just that. In the face of such murder and threat of instability, our policy cannot stay static as the weeks go by, and it is an important opportunity in Rome on Thursday to discuss this with our allies and partners.
Our two countries agree that Iran's nuclear program poses a threat to the peace and security of the world. Talks between the E3+3 and Iran will take place in Kazakhstan this week. We approach these talks in good faith, but Iran should not doubt our resolve to ensure that nuclear proliferation in the Middle East is prevented.
2013 will be an important year for Afghanistan, where U.S. and UK troops continue to stand shoulder-to-shoulder. And I briefed Secretary Kerry on the recent meeting between the Pakistani and Afghan leaders hosted at Chequers by the Prime Minister, and we discussed the progress we'll work for in the year ahead.
We agree on the need to continue a robust, intelligent response to the threat from international terrorism, including in North Africa and the Sahel. We reviewed the situation in Mali and indeed in Somalia, where a coordinated effort by the international community with African nations has led to significant progress on the ground. And I updated Secretary Kerry on our second conference on Somalia in London in May, which will support the rebuilding of armed forces, police, coast guard, justice system, and public finances.
We also discussed the British priorities for our presidency of the G-8 in the areas of trade and tax and transparency. I look forward to hosting the foreign ministers to focus not only on immediate foreign policy threats but also longer-term challenges, including the need to shatter the culture of impunity for those who use rape and sexual violence as a weapon of war, which is my personal priority for the G-8 work this year.
And finally and very importantly, we reiterate our commitment to a transatlantic trade agreement which would not only support jobs and growth in Europe and the U.S. but would be a much-needed boost to the world economy. I welcome President Obama's endorsement and proposal of a transatlantic trade and investment partnership, for just as our strategic cooperation on foreign policy is intense, so are our economic links. We have almost $1 trillion invested in each other's economies, supporting over a million jobs in both countries, and the United States is the single largest investor in the United Kingdom.
So these have been excellent and productive discussions which bode extremely well for even closer cooperation between our two countries, and I look forward to working with Secretary Kerry over the coming months and years and now warmly invite him to make his remarks.
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, thank you very, very much, Mr. Foreign Secretary, and good afternoon to everybody. I want to thank the Foreign Secretary for the tremendous hospitality that he has shown me here today, and my team. I also appreciated enormously the opportunity earlier to be able to meet with Prime Minister Cameron over breakfast.
It is always a great pleasure for me to be able to visit London, and it is no accident, sir, that this is the first stop on my trip as Secretary of State. I came here many, many years ago as a young child, managed to get lost in London Zoo. I want to thank somebody for finding me. (Laughter.) And this day, I must say, was made much easier. It was impossible for me to get lost, Mr. Secretary. Thank you.
I am particularly pleased to be able to be here with the remarkable partner that is the United Kingdom. When you think of everything that binds the United States and Great Britain -- our common values, our long shared history, our ties of family, in my case, personal and friendship -- there is a reason why we call this a special relationship, or as President Obama and Prime Minister Cameron wrote, really, a partnership of the heart. It is that.
And in the 20th century, our countries fought for freedom side by side, and fought for survival together in war. And we thrived together in peace and we stood together time and time again in order to meet the world's great challenges. In the 21st century, we may face new and a more complex set of challenges, but I absolutely know, Mr. Foreign Secretary, that we face them together just as we did in the last century. And together, it is absolutely clear that our partnership remains stronger than ever.
As the Foreign Secretary made clear, we discussed a very full agenda today that reflects the many benefits and the relationships that bring both of our peoples and the world together, from countering terrorism to creating jobs to advancing our shared values. And that is no small endeavor or commitment. We discussed our agreement, I think an historic agreement in its beginnings, and hopefully historic when we accomplish it, and that is to start the work on a U.S-EU transatlantic trade and investment partnership to grow prosperity on both sides of the Atlantic.
It is no secret that we both face economic challenges. We all do in this new marketplace, in a global challenged marketplace. The fact is that Europe freestanding alone is the largest economy in the world. And when you join that together with the United States of America, we have a powerful ability to be able to affect the rules of the road and to be able to raise standards and, most importantly, create jobs for all of our people. Europe is already America's largest trading partner, and this agreement will create more jobs, spur additional investment. And as you know, earlier this month, President Obama made it clear this is a top priority for the United States.
We also discussed the responsibility that we share to support fragile democracies across the world, across the Maghreb, from Libya to Tunisia and beyond. I say to our friends here in the United Kingdom it is in our mutual interest to see that these fledgling democracies flourish, and I want to thank William for his personal and important leadership that the UK is showing in marshaling the international community's support for Libya. I think he and the people of the United Kingdom can be proud of their leadership and of those efforts.
We obviously discussed Syria today, and William and I agree that the Syrian people deserve better than the horrific violence that now invades and threatens their everyday lives -- the lives of innocent people, the lives of people who simply want an ability to have their government be accountable and to be able to be part of the governance of their own lives. The Assad regime has rained down rockets on Aleppo in recent days, and that is just the latest example of Assad's brutality. We condemn this indiscriminate killing of innocent civilians, and we condemn it in the strongest terms. And it is just further evidence that Assad has to go.
I thank William for the UK effort to help dial up the pressure on the regime, for their contributions of humanitarian aid, and for hosting the transition conference last month. Now, let me make clear, we will continue to work closely with our British allies to address the growing humanitarian crisis, and to support the Syrian Opposition Council. We are coordinating with the Syrian Opposition Coalition, we're coordinating with the UN, and with others in order to help get relief to the victims who need that help.
William and I also today discussed on a couple of occasions Iran's nuclear program and tomorrow's P-5+1 talks with Iran that take place in Kazakhstan. As we've said again and again, an Iran with a nuclear weapon in that region, and given all that has happened, is simply unacceptable. And we have stated that they will not obtain a nuclear weapon. President Obama has been crystal clear about this. And as we've repeatedly made clear, the window for a diplomatic solution simply cannot by definition remain open forever. But it is open today. It is open now. And there is still time, but there is only time if Iran makes the decision to come to the table and to negotiate in good faith. We are prepared to negotiate in good faith, in mutual respect, in an effort to avoid whatever terrible consequences could follow failure. And so the choice really is in the hands of the Iranians, and we hope they will make the right choice.
We discussed also today our partnership in Afghanistan, and I want to thank all of the people of Great Britain, who I know have been patient and carried this enormous challenge with a certain degree of restraint, and obviously with a great degree of commitment. We're grateful for the sacrifices of your people and the contribution of your remarkable troops. We need to continue to remain in close coordination as we tackle this very important upcoming transition.
And finally, on the Middle East peace process, I appreciate deeply William's and the UK's unwavering support for that goal. We share a vision, as I think people in the world do, of two states living side by side in peace and security. Today, we talked about how we can support the two parties reaching that end, because frankly that is the only way to achieve a lasting peace. So I look forward to continuing to work with William on these and so many other issues, including working together on the agenda for the G-8 summit later this year. And I might comment I know President Obama is looking forward to his visit to the region in an effort to try to begin to make decisions about the path forward.
Mr. Secretary, in the long history of our partnership and our collaboration, the United States and Great Britain have made our countries both stronger, and we've made the world more stable and secure. I think we can be proud of that. But we also understand that we come here today with a special commitment to the effort to do our work to make it yet safer and more stable and a place of greater opportunity and peace for all peoples. So we look forward to strengthening this relationship in the years to come, and I personally thank you for your friendship and look forward to your visiting us in the United States so we can reciprocate. Thank you very, very much.
MODERATOR: Thank you very much. Now we're going to have four questions. Carl, ITN.
QUESTION: It's a question for the Secretary of State. Mr. Secretary, you'll be aware of the interest in U.S. policy towards the Falkland Islands that there has been in this country. Mr. Secretary, do you believe the democratically expressed will of the Falkland Islanders in their forthcoming referendum should be respected?
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, let me be very clear about our position with respect to the Falklands, which I believe is clear. First of all, I'm not going to comment, nor is the President, on a referendum that has yet to take place and hasn't taken place.
Our position on the Falklands has not changed. The United States recognizes de facto UK administration of the islands, but takes no position on the question of the parties' sovereignty claims thereto. And we support cooperation between UK and Argentina on practical matters, and we continue to urge a peaceful resolution of that critical issue. And I think that's exactly what our position has been, that's what it remains, and we look forward to the future.
MODERATOR: Next question.
QUESTION: Thank you so much. Andrea Mitchell, NBC News. Thank you very much. Mr. Secretary, why should the Syrian opposition leaders want to meet in Rome or at other international meetings given the fact that they have not gotten the help they have sought, that Secretary Clinton, your predecessor, and Secretary Panetta, and other military leaders in the U.S. recommended to President Obama arming some of the rebel groups that had been carefully vetted, and that decision was rejected by President Obama last year? Foreign Secretary has just said that a static policy cannot remain. So at this stage, isn't it time to revisit that policy?
And Mr. Foreign Secretary, I wanted to ask: What do you mean by the policy? Would the UK like to see the United States take a more forward-leaning policy toward arming the rebels, giving them some help in arming or training or other kinds of support that they seek? And is there any way that the Assad regime can really be displaced diplomatically given Russia's strong support, military and otherwise, for the regime? Thank you.
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, Andrea, let me -- I'll answer your first question, and I'll let the Secretary answer questions two, three, and four. (Laughter.)
I will -- why should they come and meet? They should come and meet because in fact, countries have been helping them, and because we are precisely meeting to determine how to help President Assad change the calculation on the ground. I said that previously in the United States, that President Assad needs to be able to change his calculation. And President Obama has been engaged in examining exactly in what ways we may be able to contribute to that. That's the purpose of this meeting in Rome.
So I would urge the Syrian opposition to join us as a matter of practicality and of informing us. But I would say to them ahead of time that in our discussions here today, in our discussions in Washington which prompted us to accept this meeting with a new Secretary of State at a beginning moment of the second term of President Obama, when he himself has expressed concerns about it, that this moment is ripe for us to be considering what more we can do.
And we understand that the Syrian people want to see results from this conference. I would say to Moaz Khatib, so do we. And the best way to get those results is to join us, be part of this discussion, inform us. And we will together, working as we did today with our other friends who will join us in Rome -- I am confident, quite confident, be able to come up.
What has happened in Aleppo in the last days is unacceptable. Mr. Muallem was in Moscow, talked about human rights abuses. It seems to me that it's pretty hard to understand how, when you see these SCUDs falling on the innocent people of Aleppo, it's possible to take their notion that they're ready to have a dialogue very seriously.
So that's why we think it's important to get together, in order to hear directly from the opposition, to know precisely what they think would be most useful at this point in time, how we may be able to make a difference. And I think that's an important meeting, an important discussion, and I still remain hopeful that they will make the decision to come and join us.
FOREIGN SECRETARY HAGUE: And just to add that I very much support what Secretary Kerry has said. I think the feelings of great frustration in the Syrian opposition are not surprising. After all, more than 70,000 people probably now have been killed, and there has been no sign of a political or diplomatic breakthrough. Our frustration is intense as well. We have tried for two years to advance matters at the United Nations Security Council, and of course to bring all the humanitarian assistance that we can possibly bring to the people of Syria.
And so it's against that background that I say, as I said in our parliament last month, that our policy can't be static in the face of those events. It will have to change and develop. And as I saw, visiting Lebanon last week, the importance of that meeting, as I did last Thursday, some of the Syrian refugees in Beirut. You see the terrible human cost of this conflict but also the mounting danger of greater instability in neighboring countries. So it's not an issue that the world can ignore.
We agreed last week in the European Union and we're now tying down the details of the amendment to the European Union arms embargo and sanctions regime. And we will then go on from that to put forward a new package of assistance to the Syrian opposition in line with that EU agreement, which I will announce in the coming weeks. That will take a little time to put together in consultation with our partners. And of course it's important that we discuss what we can most effectively do with a national coalition, whether that be in Rome or on other occasions, depending on whether they decide to attend that meeting.
QUESTION: Thank you. Lindsey Hilsum, Channel 4 news. Mr. Secretary of State, you have said that you had some new ideas on Syria, and you've just said that the time is right to consider what more you can do. Tell us concretely what are you going to do? What about these Croatian weapons that are now being seen amongst the opposition? Have you approved those weapons? And if you are seriously thinking of arming the opposition or allowing others to arm the opposition, what about the jihadi threat? How do you stop weapons getting into the hands of jihadists?
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, I haven't -- again, I haven't said anything about what we're specifically planning to do because we really owe it to our friends and allies to discuss those things with them first. I don't think they should be reading about options in the newspaper, with all due respect. There will be a moment for our decision. That moment is after we have a meeting in Rome; it is not today.
Today, we were discussing various options and I'm not going to go into what they may or may not be at this point in time. I think that'd be inappropriate. But I will be going from here to Berlin. In Berlin tomorrow, I'll be meeting with Foreign Minister Lavrov and then subsequently going to Paris, meeting there with the President, the Foreign Minister, and then going to Rome. And so allow us to consult, allow us to have the opportunity to exchange views about what is possible.
But I want our friends in the Syrian Opposition Council to know that we are not coming to Rome simply to talk. We are coming to Rome to make a decision about next steps and perhaps even other options that may or may not be discussed further after that. So I think if you stay tuned and we get through these consultations and then we have a productive meeting, hopefully we'll have something to be able to announce to you.
QUESTION: Hi. Nicole Gaouette at Bloomberg News. Mr. Secretary, with all due respect, for two years we've heard American politicians and cabinet secretaries tell us that the situation in Syria is unacceptable and that Assad must go, and nothing has changed. And little has changed in U.S. policy. We've seen humanitarian aid but not much more than that. Recently, the EU has decided to provide nonlethal aid to fighters inside Syria. I'm wondering if the U.S. is going to start considering this and whether you're concerned that in not engaging with these fighters, you're ceding influence further on.
And secondly -- sorry -- Afghanistan has asked U.S. troops to leave Wardak province, I think within two weeks. Could we just get your comment on that, please?
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, with respect to Afghanistan and Wardak province, I understand the concerns that they have expressed. And appropriately, any complaints that they may have ought to be appropriately evaluated, and they will be, I can assure you. That's a matter for ISAF to examine. I have taken appropriate note of it. I think you know I've had a great deal of involvement with Afghanistan with President Karzai. I think he's had many legitimate evaluations of how sometimes some things have gone or might be changed and be done better. We're working on that.
We're working on a bilateral security arrangement; we're working on this transition process. We've had a very good conversation with the President in the last days. President Obama talked to him before making announcements about the transition. We've listened very carefully to his observations about wanting to speed up the transition with respect to the management of security, and that's happening. So I can assure you we are finely tuned to the needs of the Afghan people and to the most effective ways to make this transition together with our allies who have spent their treasure too in this initiative in a way that's most effective.
So I'm not surprised by the request. It's something that, as I said, ISAF will deal with initially. But we're going to do everything in our power to effect this transition as smoothly and as sensitively as possible to the concerns of the government and the concerns of the Afghan people. If we don't, it won't work properly.
With respect to Syria and the frustration that you just articulated, look, I am very sensitive to that frustration. I was a member of the Senate and I was one of those voices on the outside pushing for one thing or another, and I understand the reason people question another meeting. But I'm a new Secretary of State. I'm here now beginning a fresh term with a President who has just been reelected and a significant mandate in the country, and the President of the United States has sent me here and sent me to this series of meetings and sent me to Rome because he is concerned about the course of events. And he is currently evaluating precisely what steps we will take in order to fulfill our obligation to innocent people, as well as to lead on this important issue.
So again, I'm not going to say to you here today what my reaction is or isn't to one particular proposal, because that's what these consultations are about. So let's have the consultations; I'm listening very closely. We had a very lengthy discussion with the Prime Minister and several hours with William Hague. We have a lot of ideas on the table, and some of them I am confident, confident, will come to maturity by time we meet in Rome. Others may take a little more of a gestation period, but they're no less part of the mix and part of the discussion.
What I can tell you is we are determined that the Syrian opposition is not going to be dangling in the wind wondering where the support is or if it's coming, and we are determined to change the calculation on the ground for President Assad. Now let me say that even as I emphasize it is the policy of the United States, and I believe our allies, to pursue a political solution. That is the best way to save lives, to minimize the disruption of the region, and to maximize the possibilities of all people being represented appropriately in a democratic process in an outcome.
We don't have the ingredients that bring about that dialogue at this point in time. Witness the efforts of first Kofi Annan and now Lakhdar Brahimi. But we're no less committed to it, but at the same time we are not going to let the Syrian opposition not have its ability to have its voice properly heard in this process. And that's what Rome is about, and I look forward to Rome because I think we're going to be able to accomplish something.
FOREIGN SECRETARY HAGUE: All right, we must let you go.
SECRETARY KERRY: Thank you.
FOREIGN SECRETARY HAGUE: Thank you.
SECRETARY KERRY: Thank you all.