Remarks With Qatari Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim Al Thani After Their Meeting

Press Conference

By:  John Kerry
Date: June 22, 2013
Location: Doha, Qatar

PRIME MINISTER HAMAD: There is translation, so I will speak in Arabic in the beginning. So if you want a headset -- (In Arabic)

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, thank you very much. It's my privilege to be here with His Excellency the Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim. And I also want to thank our overall host here, His Highness the Amir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, and look forward to meeting with him, I think, tomorrow morning first thing. And I look forward to meet later today with the Heir Apparent, the Sheikh Tamim.

Qatar has been a very valued partner to the United States of America, and importantly deeply engaged in a number of issues that matter a great deal here in the region. And we seek to -- we work on these issues together very, very closely. And I'm very appreciative of the friendship, fortunately, with Hamad bin Jassim, but also for his willingness to step up and lead when it's necessary. And I'm particularly grateful for his leadership as the chairman of the committee within the Arab League, where he has reached out in a visit to Washington with a number of foreign ministers in order to try to help advance the Middle East peace process. We both share a commitment to two states living side by side in peace for two peoples, and that is something that is going to continue, and we will be meeting again later today to talk about that issue and several others in the region that are of importance.

Obviously, the -- this morning and this afternoon we have focused in the Friends of Syria ministers meeting on the question of Syria itself. That has been the focus of our discussions thus far. And again, I would like to thank the Prime Minister for his leadership with respect to this issue here in the region.

The current situation in Syria is unacceptable by anybody's standard. And it's clear to those who have followed the course of events that there are a group of us who are pushing for a political solution. There are a group of us who meet first in Rome, then in Istanbul, then in Amman, and now here in Doha, who each time have been the people who are putting the peace process on the table. Each time we're trying to advance the notion that you could have a political solution. The framework for that political solution is there. It already exists, and it has been endorsed by the United Nations, by the League of Arab States, by the European community, by the United States -- others have all come together and said the best solution, the only real solution to the problem of Syria, is a political solution. We don't believe there's a military solution, certainly not one that produce the Syrian people as the winner. The Syrian -- a continued conflict could lead to the total disintegration of the state of Syria. A continued conflict could lead to even greater sectarian violence which serves nobody, particularly in this region.

But on the other side of those of us who have been seeking to try to find a way to find a peaceful and political solution, there is the Assad regime that has continually chosen a violent response. And even after Foreign Minister Lavrov and I stood up in Moscow several months ago now and embraced the notion that we were prepared, Russia was prepared to join the United States without a demand that Assad leave first. Before you get to that discussion, we agreed we would come and have the discussion about how to implement Geneva 1, which is a way in which you create a peaceful transition government by mutual consent.

Russia signed that agreement, and just the other day at the G-8, President Putin reaffirmed that by stating in a communiqué shared by all the presidents, that Geneva is the way to resolve the Syrian crisis and that Russia supports it. But the moment that announcement was made, Assad chose to raise the stakes militarily. He chose to attack the Syrian people, but this time using Iranian supporters and using Hezbollah, which is a terrorist organization so designated. And his allies have joined with him across the boundaries of international states in order to come into Syria and to provoke greater bloodshed and greater violence.

So we reaffirm today here in Doha, but there's something different that happened today. Because of the chemical weapons that have been used, and because of this penchant for violence that has been re-expressed through the use of Hezbollah and Iranian trans-boundary support, because of that increase of violence, we have decided that we have no choice in order to try to get to this negotiation but to provide assistance of one kind or another, each nation making its own decision as to what it is comfortable doing, but all committing, all of them committing, to do more to be able to help the Syrian opposition.

In addition to that, we have recommitted to the urgency which we will continue to stay focused on, the urgency of getting to Geneva in order to try to have a negotiation. Next week, the United States will send Under Secretary Wendy Sherman together with Ambassador Robert Ford to Geneva to meet with Russian counterparts and with Mr. Brahimi, and we hope that they can actually set a date and come to terms of agreement on how that can be conducted.

And finally, we have all made additional humanitarian commitments. And everybody has agreed that we need to do more in order to help Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, the refugees themselves, and the displaced persons. There's, needless to say, more that we hope to be done in the long term, but I want to thank our friends in Qatar for hosting this conference today, which I think has coalesced and refocused people's efforts in ways that will be important in the days ahead.

Finally, let me just say I want to thank and express the appreciation of President Obama and all of us working on this issue for Qatar's willingness to host the Taliban office here in Doha in order to facilitate negotiations between the Afghan High Peace Council and the authorized representatives of the Taliban. Now it is obvious from just the early churning around the opening of that office that nothing comes easily in this endeavor, and we understand that. And the road ahead will be difficult, no question about it, if there is a road ahead. Clearly there's been a challenge thus far, but I want to thank our friends in Qatar for having made the effort, having reached out, having gotten far enough to at least have an announcement made that there is an office.

And it is our hope that this could ultimately be an important step in reconciliation if it's possible. We know that that -- it may well not be possible, and it's really up to the Taliban to make that choice. The High Peace Council is ready, the United States is ready, the Qataris are ready; all of them have lived up to their obligations thus far, and it remains to be seen in this very first test whether or not the Taliban are prepared to do their part.

So once again, I thank His Highness the Amir, His Highness Sheikh Tamim, and His Excellency the Prime Minister for hosting us here today and being willing to cooperate in these difficult endeavors. Thank you, sir.

PRIME MINISTER HAMAD: Thank you, John. We're going to take some questions.

QUESTION: (In Arabic)

PRIME MINISTER HAMAD: (In Arabic)

MODERATOR: Michael Gordon, The New York Times.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, you've emphasized the importance of achieving concrete results at this meeting, but many of the things that we've heard here seem similar to the kind of remarks you might have heard at previous Friends of the Syrian People meetings in Amman and in Istanbul and in Rome. What specifically has this group agreed to do to increased its support to the Syrian opposition? And if you don't want to mention specific countries, what sort of weapon systems might be provided? Will this group provide anti-tank weapons, will it provide anti-aircraft weapons? And if you're not prepared to say, how do you hope to change Assad's calculation?

Lastly, at the end of April it was agreed that all military assistance would go through the Supreme Military Council. Can you offer an assurance that that has been the case since that time, that all assistance by this group has gone purely through the Supreme Military Council?

For the Prime Minister, if you could also please -- you said it's important to do everything that can help the opposition. What specifically is being done? And has Qatar committed to providing all of its assistance solely through the Supreme Military Council to General Idris and not to other groups?

SECRETARY KERRY: What was the -- Michael, what was the second part of your question?

QUESTION: What additional support are you going to provide --

SECRETARY KERRY: No, no. You had another part.

QUESTION: Are you providing -- is everybody providing -- (inaudible) committed to provide military assistance exclusively through the Supreme Military --

SECRETARY KERRY: No, you actually had a different part at the end. But that's all right. I forgot.

QUESTION: Oh. If you're not (inaudible) make it public, how are you going to change Assad's --

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, that was part of it, but I think you -- now, look, let me just say this -- (laughter) -- if you don't remember it, I'm not worried about it. (Laughter.)

If you're not willing to talk about it, how are you going to persuade Assad? It's very, very simple. Because it's not in the talking about it, it's in the doing. It's not anything we say today that will make the difference to Assad; it's what happens in the days and weeks and months ahead, and I hope not too many months.

But the reality is what happened here today is different because the situation on the ground is different, and so -- I'll give you a number of things. President Obama made it clear that as a result of the crossing of the redline and the use of chemical weapons, he was going to provide assistance that he hasn't provided before. And he has said that he is going to provide it to the SMC. Now, I'm not at liberty, and I'm not free to talk about any specific systems or any direct programs, et cetera, because that's just not permissible. And I think you completely understand that.

So what is clear is that every country committed today to step up what it is doing in direct response to what has happened on the ground. And also what is different is that this is now in response to what Iran and Hezbollah are doing. You now have outside actors engaged overtly on the ground in Syria. No other country has that. We don't have that, the Qataris don't have that; people are not engaged in that way.

So where there is an internationalization of this on a military level by the Assad regime, that really goes against most international law as well as what is appropriate to trying to seek a political solution. And so we have said today very clearly we are going to step up in order to provide the capacity to the SMC and to the Syrian opposition to be able to directly address the situation on the ground. Now that's as specific as I can be and as I intend to be here today.

In addition to that, we have committed -- we have called for those countries or entities that are coming across trans-boundary to leave, to depart. And we have committed to take those steps that are appropriate and reasonable through the United Nations or other multilateral (inaudible) to call attention to their engagement across national lines and in another country and to try to take measures to address it. And thirdly, we have now announced an additional $300 million of humanitarian assistance and will be involved in helping other countries to try to meet the immediate humanitarian demands.

But I think the most important facet of this that is different is that we sat as ministers in a very specific way discussing today what steps each country might or might not be able to engage in, and that I will report that back to the President and to the appropriate folks within the Administration, and we will build on that what we think is an appropriate plan in order to be able to have an impact on the situation on the ground.

PRIME MINISTER HAMAD: Well, (inaudible), first of all, before I go to the question, we don't have enough people, otherwise we might send people on the ground. We just don't have enough people in Qatar. But yes, Qatar is always committed if we would send anything, or we send anything, it will be sent to the right channel, General Idris.

SECRETARY KERRY: That was the other part of your question. (Laughter.)

PRIME MINISTER HAMAD: So you see? I take care about it. (Laughter.) I keep it for myself. (Laughter.)

SECRETARY KERRY: I need the help.

PRIME MINISTER HAMAD: So we always -- when we do any kind of this support, it has to go through the Coalition, which it is ready, and we have partners on the ground -- not on the ground, actually, which we always discuss with them these issues. And we always make sure if there is anything to be sent, to send to the right people, and the right people is General Idris.

QUESTION: (In Arabic)

PRIME MINISTER HAMAD: (In Arabic)

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, let me delve on that if I can. You asked about the regional component of this and Hezbollah. That is a very, very dangerous development. Hezbollah is a proxy for Iran, almost fully supported by Iran. And obviously, Hezbollah has decided to become involved in this in a very, very significant way. And Hezbollah is, in addition to that, a terrorist organization. It has been labeled a terrorist organization by the United States, by other countries, at least its military wing by others. And it has been proven to have been involved in terrorist activities in other countries, as well as in its activities within Lebanon and against Israel.

It seems to me that when the world sees a terrorist organization overtly crossing international lines to go in and fight as a proxy for another country, and particularly along sectarian lines, we're looking at a very, very dangerous situation. And the fact is that it is Hezbollah and Assad who have taken a situation that was seeking to defuse the sectarian components and try to go to a negotiating table to resolve this in a way that protects everybody in the country -- they have taken that and now transformed it into a much more volatile, potentially explosive situation that could involve the entire region.

Everybody understands the dynamics of that. Sixfty-five percent of the country of Syria is Sunni, and the Alawi are about 11 percent of the country, 12 percent, but they've ruled it for three years plus with an iron fist. In addition, you have Christians, Druze, Ishmaeli, other minorities. The opposition has put out a declaration, and we, all the ministers, met in Istanbul and declared unequivocably that we want all people represented, that every minority should be protected, that by no means should this be allowed to evolve into a sectarian confrontation.

So it is our hope that indeed we will avoid a regional war. Nobody wants that. Nobody is well-served by that. That is dangerous for every objective that we all have in this region when there are already enormous economic pressures, where Egypt is undergoing stress, where we see other countries that have financial and economic challenges. The last thing anybody needs is this kind of sectarian confrontation. And one has to ask whether or not that is in fact what Iran has actually set out to achieve and what it is doing.

So we're going to do our best, obviously, to try to avoid that, number one. Number two, the Russians clearly have an ability to be able to play a very significant role in this, and they have started to by joining with us in the effort to endorse a Geneva meeting which would seek to implement Geneva 1. That is the only purpose for the Geneva 2 meeting; it is to implement Geneva 1. And Geneva 1 is explicit about what it calls on the parties to achieve.

Now, Russia, I will also comment, is arming, already arming Syria, and has been arming Syria for some period of time. So Russia, while nevertheless looking for this -- ostensibly looking for this political solution, has also made it possible for Assad to join forces with the Iranians as well as with Hezbollah and wage this higher-level, higher-intensity war against his own people.

It's our hope -- (inaudible) the Russians will say, "Well, others are arming the opposition." And that is true. But the opposition has made it clear that they're prepared to provide protections to all the people in the state of Syria. Assad, on the other hand, is waging war against most of the people in the state of Syria. So I think there are big distinctions here, and our hope is that we can work with the Russians very closely. I think they have interests in stability. They have interests in not encouraging extremists to grow in their power. The Russians clearly have longer-term interests in the region, and I believe they -- that President Putin at the G-8 expressed his good faith and readiness to try to work towards the Geneva process. He signed the communiqué, he adopted the notion that Geneva 1 has to be implemented through Geneva 2, and I take at face value President Putin's and Foreign Minister Lavrov's willingness to try to work with us in good faith to make this happen.

Neither side is going to back off helping those they've chosen to help. We understand that. The key is for us to use the leverage with the people that we're helping to bring them to the table and achieve an appropriate negotiated solution, and that's what we're working for.

PRIME MINISTER HAMAD: (In Arabic)

(In English) Do you think we have enough, or do you need us to take one question more? It's up to you.

SECRETARY KERRY: They'll say they don't have enough, but I think it's fine.

QUESTION: The Taliban --

PRIME MINISTER HAMAD: One more?

SECRETARY KERRY: One more?

PRIME MINISTER HAMAD: Okay. One more question.

MODERATOR: Deborah Reichmann from AP.

QUESTION: I'll try to be brief, but (inaudible) two part question for you and the Secretary. The Taliban talks seems to be hold, yet Ambassador Dobbins is here. Is he staying? Is there still a possibility that things could get back together in the next few days as we had thought maybe last week? And secondly, has the Administration actually begun any of the necessary paperwork and notification process that would be needed in order to get authorization for the release of any of the Taliban prisoners at Guantanamo Bay?

And to the Prime Minister, do you think it's possible to bring the Taliban to the table at this time?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, let me just say with respect to any paperwork or anything like that, that's way ahead of where we are in any process at this point in time, and I'm not going to comment on anything with respect to potential detainees or otherwise because it's just not where the process is.

With respect to Ambassador Dobbins, yes, he is here, and we are waiting to find out whether or not the Taliban will respond in order to follow the sequence, which has been very painstakingly established. And we have performed our part in good faith. Regrettably, the agreement was not adhered to in the early hours, but thanks to our good friends the Qataris and their efforts, as well as others, the -- it's sort of been stepped back from. Now we need to see if we can get it back on track. I don't know whether that's possible or not. If there is not a decision to move forward by the Taliban in short order, then we may have to consider whether or not the office has to be closed.

PRIME MINISTER HAMAD: Well, about Taliban (inaudible), I think the intention of us as a mediator to when the office being open in Qatar is to bring everybody to the table to talk. The Afghanis, the American, they have to talk because we think the only way to get out of this war in Afghanistan is by talking to each other, to have to try to find comprehensive peace and everybody have to live in Afghanistan without (inaudible) any part of the Afghani people. So we hope that is where -- that we will do our best as mediators, but all depends on all parties. They have to sit and talk and we will be as the facilitators if they need us (inaudible).

Thank you very much. Thank you.

SECRETARY KERRY: Thank you, all. Thanks very much. Thank you.