Remarks With Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh After Their Meeting

Press Conference

By:  John Kerry
Date: July 17, 2013
Location: Amman, Jordan

FOREIGN MINISTER JUDEH: (Via interpreter) (In progress) -- on his fifth or sixth visit to the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan in (inaudible) a while ago we had the honor of meeting (inaudible) with the delegation assigned by the Arab League Committee on the Peace Initiative.
And last April we had a meeting in Washington and we agreed that we will have regular communication with Mr. Kerry, Secretary of State, in order to discuss all the developments and all the personal efforts with regard to reviving the peace negotiations. Actually, it was a very good meeting and (inaudible) commitment of President Barack Obama and all the stakeholders in terms of commitment to the peace process in order to secure stability, prosperity, and peace for the region. So the objective of our meeting today was to review and to listen to the developments, especially in terms of the intensive efforts exerted by Secretary of State Mr. Kerry with the other stakeholders. And we really listened to everybody, commending this great effort, and we will keep you posted with the recent developments on this issue.

And also, we agreed as a delegation -- ministerial delegation assigned by the Arab League -- to communicate and to keep ourselves and each other posted on the developments in the region and the efforts here to seek a political solution. And all of you know our position with regard to stopping violence and destruction and to have a peaceful solution to maintain security in Syria and to achieve its sovereignty and to protect its great people. And in his meetings with the Russian officials some months ago and the interaction which led to the agreement on organizing an international conference in order to find a political solution, all of these meetings were very encouraging.

There were meetings in Amman, Istanbul, and Rome and in Doha for the 11 (inaudible) group, and -- or London group -- and there was an agreement to go forward on this track. Also there is great focus by the Secretary of State in terms of the repercussions of the Syrian situation on Jordan. Jordan is hosting about 550,000 refugees on its territories, from Syria of course. And from this platform I would like to express appreciation of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, to the American administration and to all the relevant agencies for their help to Jordan to host these refugees. We really appreciate this support.

There is other support given to us by other international sources, however, still we are in need for more support in order to deliver the required services for the refugees, especially when it comes to the sensitive sectors that were impacted with this inflow of refugees. And here we are speaking about the sectors of energy, health, education, and environment, and the business sector. Of course, we commend all of the efforts made by our -- by the American administration all over the world in order to help Jordan in this issue.

And we had talks about other files that are of mutual interest for us, especially the bilateral relations between Jordan and the U.S. These are distinct relations and His Majesty, the King, had a meeting recently with President Barack Obama in Washington, and there was a visit by President Obama to Jordan. Actually, there were two meetings in like four to five weeks only. This is but an indicator to the mutual interest and attention given by His Majesty, the King, and President Barack Obama to the distinct relations. We really appreciate the help and the assistance of America in all the sectors. We always say that such support reflects the historical relations between us.

Again, I welcome John Kerry, my friend, and the person who has all the knowledge. Actually, his experience talks for itself, especially when it comes to the sensitive files in our region with his long history and his wise decisions. Actually, we can see a niche of hope, especially when it comes to the file of peace between the Palestinians and Israelis. I give the floor to you (inaudible).

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, Mr. Foreign Minister (inaudible).

QUESTION: We can't hear you. Thank you. (Laughter.) (inaudible).

SECRETARY KERRY: Maybe it's because of Ramadan. (Laughter.)

It's an honor to be here with all of you. Thank you very, very much. And particularly I am pleased to be back here with my friend, Nasser. We really are good friends. Sometimes that word is used in this business and it's thrown around lightly, but he and I have had the pleasure of spending a great deal of time together, well before I became Secretary of State, when I was a senator, and I appreciate his energy, his knowledge, and his commitment to solving difficult problems. He is not a foreign minister who sits bashfully on the sidelines. He's willing to tackle the tough issues.

And the reason I find myself here again is not just the privilege of meeting with the Arab Peace Initiative Follow-Up Committee, which was a very important meeting, as Nasser said, but also because Jordan is so engaged in meeting its own challenges here at home but also helping to deal with challenges around it. And this is a region which, for better or worse, is not particularly quiet these days. There's a lot going on with Syria, Egypt, Iran, the challenges of the Middle East peace process, and all of the normal challenges of economies and of the modern world.

So I'm here to follow up with the Arab Peace Initiative Follow-On Committee. I made a promise when we met in Washington earlier in April. I promised that we would keep up with our efforts on the Middle East and that I would brief them regularly. And since they traveled to Washington last time to come for a very important announcement, I came here this time in order to be able to meet with everybody and make it easier for their travel.

We continued the conversation today that we began in Washington. I think everybody knows that the Arab Peace Committee has -- and the Arab League itself; Secretary General Nabil Elaraby was here today -- has really long played a very important role in the path leading to the Arab Peace Initiative. And the Arab Peace Initiative, which King Abdullah put forward a number of years ago, I have said before, was a very important departure point and one which never received the full attention and focus that it should have.

I'm glad that it is today because it promises to open up significant potential for normalized relations, for the potential for trade and growth in historic and very important ways. And it promises Israel -- Israel needs to look hard at this initiative, which promises Israel peace with 22 Arab nations and 35 Muslim nations, a total of 57 nations that are standing and waiting for the possibility of making peace with Israel.

Their willingness that they brought to Washington in April was very significant, because at that time they not only restated the commitment to a two-state solution, the only solution that is real, but they also included the potential of land swaps, as a mechanism for achieving that solution. And that was another historic moment and historic departure by the Arab community. It underscores what all of us really know, and that is that peace would benefit not only the security and opportunity and legitimate aspirations of both Israelis and Palestinians, but very significantly it would contribute enormously to the stability and the prosperity throughout the entire region. Every country in the region -- and particularly Jordan, the neighbor of Palestine and of Israel, which already cooperates in many ways to help create stability and peace -- would also benefit enormously from progress.

Peace is in the common interest of everybody in this region. And as many ministers said to me today in the meeting that we had -- many of them -- they said that the core issue of instability in this region and in many other parts of the world is the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. The only way to resolve that is through direct negotiations, and the only ones who can make that happen are not President Obama, John Kerry, Nasser Judeh, but it is the parties themselves. They have to make that decision.

I have stayed in very close contact with both Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Abbas. And I know that despite everything else that is happening in the region, despite all of the pressures of neighboring states, of refugees, of conflict, despite the pressures of a volatile neighborhood, the fact is that both sides continue to work up to this point in good faith in a good effort in order to try to find a way to succeed.

Now, when this process started several months ago, there were very wide gaps, very significant gaps between the two sides. And I think Nasser would agree with me that through hard and deliberate, patient work, and most importantly through quiet work, we have been able to narrow those gaps very significantly. And so we continue to get closer, and I continue to remain hopeful that the sides will soon be able to come to sit at the same table.

Now, there are still some elements and some language that needs to be agreed upon and worked out. This is normal, and I'm not going to detail the specifics. But as this important, quiet process continues to unfold, we want to make sure that we keep it quiet, because that's honestly the only way that it works. And everybody has agreed on that.

I would caution everybody to resist the temptation to speculate about where things stand or what is possible. The easiest bet among Middle East prognosticators has always been on predicting impasse. That's always been the easiest bet, and I understand that. But I also know that through the efforts that are being made now, the best hope for a different outcome is to have a quiet process that is working the way the parties are working now, and I congratulate them both for doing that.

It is fair to say that that initiative, peace within the Middle East, and the Arab-Israeli conflict has always been one of the most difficult challenges on the face of the planet. Decades of close calls, of near breakthroughs, and many disappointments make it very clear how tough it is. But while the conflict has indeed persisted for a long time, it is more and more true today than ever before that the time to resolve it is narrowing.

So that's why Nasser and I and King Abdullah, President Obama, all of us join together in encouraging both sides to think very carefully about their words and their actions. That's why we encourage them to promote trust and not to take steps that would undermine that trust. And that's why we urge everybody to remain committed to creating a climate that is conducive to a peace that is worthy of the people that they all represent.

In my meetings yesterday and today, we also talked about our continuing concerns with Syria. Syria is one of the principal reasons that I came out here to talk now. And we had a good conversation with a number of different ministers about that and also with King Abdullah today, and we will continue our conversations both later and tomorrow morning in order to discuss the challenges that lie ahead.

We're very, very grateful -- we, the United States, the global community -- are very grateful to Jordan and to King Abdullah, to all the citizens of the Hashemite Kingdom. We thank you for having the hearts and the willingness to open your arms to so many refugees. We know it is very, very difficult. It's a challenge. And the generosity that you have shown is an example, really, to the world. And we understand that it puts a strain on your society. It has an impact on work, on workers, on wages, on housing, on all of these issues, water. Everything is affected. And so we all have an obligation to try to help and to meet your needs, and we will try to live up to that obligation.

We discussed today the United States' ongoing financial support and other efforts to help Jordan and others to care for the Syrians who have been driven from their homes by the violence. And we also discussed coordination on issues in the days ahead. And all of us -- all the ministers here today -- still agree that a political solution is the only real solution ultimately to the challenge of Syria. Our shared focus remains on how to achieve that, and we all need to work together to strengthen the opposition and to create a dialogue that puts the people of Syria ahead of any sectarian interests, ahead of any party interests, and certainly ahead of any personal interest.

Now, one final thing I will say quickly: We also, needless to say, discussed Egypt. The challenge of Egypt is very real. Egypt is important, and it's important that I came here to discuss it, because Egypt is vital to the security of the region, it is vital to some of the flow of supplies to the region, it is vital to the security of the Sinai, it is vital to the security of Gaza and to the maintenance of the Gaza ceasefire, and in the end, it is also vital to the peace treaty between it and Israel. And I stand in another country that has had the courage to sign a peace treaty and that is working towards peace.

So that's why it was important that we discuss this. We remain broadly committed to an inclusive democratic process in Egypt. And I think all of the -- we all today committed ourselves to embrace the notion that all groups, all parties, all points of view, all religions, all minorities need to be welcomed and accepted into the political solution and the political future of Egypt. And we were very pleased to see the increasing commitment day to day to making sure that Egypt will move rapidly to the constitutional process that will guarantee the democracy for all of its citizens.

So I thank you again for the privilege of being here, Nasser. Thank you for your help on so many different issues, and we look forward to taking a few questions.

FOREIGN MINISTER JUDEH: Thank you very much. Thank you very much, John, and we'll take two questions from the Jordanian side and two questions from the U.S. side. So (inaudible) will start, and we'll take a U.S. and then we'll come back.

QUESTION: (Via interpreter) What are the proposals that Kerry spoke about which Abbas wants to discuss with the Palestinian Authority tonight?

FOREIGN MINISTER JUDEH: (Via interpreter) I think that Kerry has stressed that the effectiveness of this track is -- (in English) -- quiet, to use the English word -- (continuing via interpreter) and that the efforts that are being exerted and the communications need and all the proposals that he has suggested and discussed with both sides are still away from lights. And I think that we have already witnessed in decisive milestones in the Arab-Israeli conflict that some negotiations came to a failure just because of disclosing everything internationally. And I think that the effectiveness of this effort and exercise by John Kerry is that it is away from light, and I think it will result in reviving the negotiations between the two sides and handling all the political solution issues. Again, I confirm Jordan is a stakeholder here. It has an interest. It is not political mediator agency. It is our interest to have an independent Palestinian state on its territory with Eastern Jerusalem as its capital and to solve all the pending problems. This is our real interest here in Jordan. That's why we commend the efforts by Minister Kerry and we want to have the two-state solution. And we reiterate what he has already said that these negotiations must be kept away from lights. Thank you.

SECRETARY KERRY: Matt Lee, AP.

QUESTION: Ah, yes. Will I need a mike?

SECRETARY KERRY: I think they'll get you a mike. Yeah.

QUESTION: All right. So Mr. Secretary, recognizing that you want to keep all of this quiet and not give any details, the Arab League statement that did come out after your meeting does mention that they support your efforts and especially, quote, "the new and important political, economic, and security elements." I'm assuming you're not going to get into what these -- specifically what these new important elements are, but could you at least say if there are, then? And if you could or would just try to describe them in a way that you think would not jeopardize the --

SECRETARY KERRY: Sure.

QUESTION: -- resumption of talks. Thank you.

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, I think -- Matt, thank you. It's a good question, and I'm happy to talk about a couple of them, specifically the economic and the security. Generically, I'll talk about the security.

I've talked about the economic previously, but I'm going to repeat this. What we have designed together with major business leaders and particularly the leadership of a number of consultants of major international consultant firms who have now compiled about eight years of man-hours through two months of work, and they have done an analysis of the economic challenges of the Palestinian territories, looking at the sectors of the economy -- tourism, manufacturing, infrastructure, energy, water, and so forth. And the analysis has been made with a view to trying to figure out: How do we have a transformative initiative that actually impacts the lives of Palestinians in a way that they will feel quickly, not rhetorical, but real, on-the-ground steps?

They have now laid out a set of projects, and we are working with Israel and with the Palestinians together in order to identify projects that could rapidly be invested in, rapidly be approved, that will have a direct impact on unemployment. Our hope is that, over the span of about three years, you could actually reduce the unemployment rate from 21 percent to 8 percent, that you could double the GDP of all of the Palestinian territory. And this initiative is not just for the West Bank; it's also for Gaza. And our hope is -- in the days ahead, our hope is to be able to have specific announcements about those projects and about these initiatives in order for people to see concrete, tangible ways in which their lives could change and in which a peace process could, in fact, attract investment and have a way of having an impact on life in Jordan and Israel as well.

Now, I'm not going to go into the details of it right now. That's an outline. But I am excited about it, as are most of the people who've seen it. Many of the countries in the region have been briefed on this, the leaders of these countries, and they have committed themselves to be supportive of it providing we have the right framework within which to try to move forward. So that is basically the economic track that they are referring to.

On the security track, everybody knows that one of the greatest challenges to peace has always been the perception in Israel of the threat to Israel, and Israel's security is paramount. It's paramount to Israelis, obviously. It's existential to any leader of Israel and to the Israeli people. But it's also important to America, which supports Israel, and important to the allies and friends of Israel. And it is important, in fact, to the region -- important to Jordan, important to the Palestinians -- that there be security for the region.

One of the things that is mentioned prominently in the Arab Peace Initiative is a regional security concept. The Arab community is prepared to commit to a regional security framework, which has yet to be defined. So security is a very important component of any peace process. You must provide for the security of the Palestinians, the security of the Jordanians, the security of the region, and particularly, obviously, Israel will not sign a peace agreement if it does not feel that it will be secure.

We are addressing that through the efforts of General Allen, who has -- is serving as a Special Advisor to the Secretary of Defense, and working with our team and with the Defense Department and with the Israeli forces, and will very soon be in the West Bank meeting with the Palestinians to make evaluations on a professional military basis about the nature of threats so that that evaluation can be factored in to any kind of negotiation in the future. Now, that's a general concept of those two items.

On the political front, I'm going to leave that and not talk about that right now. It is obviously the most complicated. It has always been the most complicated. It is also the most important. The economic and the security are not substitutes. I want to repeat, emphasize, exclamation point -- they are not substitutes for the political track. The political track is the centerpiece of any kind of peace effort, and I think it is best to leave those thoughts where they are, which is with the parties and out of the public discourse at this point in time.

FOREIGN MINISTER JUDEH: Without presuming to jump in and add to what the Secretary said, I just want to say that he was astute enough, as is expected of John Kerry, to mention the importance of the political track right at the end so that it can stay very, very present in our minds and in the minds of the skeptics out there who may think that the economic and the security are substitutes, as the Secretary said, to the political, which is of paramount importance. Because at the end of the day, it is the political solution that will pave the way for the economic and the security tracks to succeed. So thank you for mentioning that, sir.

MODERATOR: (Off mike.)

QUESTION: Taylor Luck, The Jordan Times newspaper. My question is to Mr. Secretary. You mentioned earlier about the importance of strengthening the Syrian opposition. Obviously, we saw in the Doha summit and the Friends of Syria group pledging or reiterating the pledge to provide support for the armed the opposition, and President Barack Obama also mentioned the U.S. ongoing support for the Syrian opposition.

My question is: Recently, there was a meeting of the Higher Syrian Revolutionary Council and there was a lot of discussion over the lack of arms and the lack of supply of arms that was pledged in Doha and by President Barack Obama. My question is: What is the reason behind the delay of this pledged military support? When might we see this military support reach the opposition, the -- let's say the moderate opposition within Syria, the Free Syrian Army? And how can the U.S. keep the trust of Syrian opposition forces if these delays continue?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, the United States, I'm proud to say, has provided very significant assistance over the course of the last year or more, huge humanitarian assistance, very significant assistance directly to the Syrian Opposition Coalition, and serious support to General Idris and to the Syrian military coalition.

Now, he has -- there was a period of time where he felt that they needed more weaponry and they needed more ammunition and things like that. There are partners, support members of the so-called Friends of Syria who have been providing a lot of that. And there's a great deal of weaponry that I know has been reaching the Syrian opposition in the course of the last weeks of a very different kind. And they're also getting other kinds of assistance at this point in time.

So I believe that they are getting very significant assistance, but unfortunately, sometimes it takes longer than you would like because you need to get approvals, things have to go through Congress, things have to be approved, and so forth and so on. And it just takes longer than you'd like. But the fact is I am confident about the support that the Syrian opposition is receiving today and will continue to receive in the days ahead, not just from the United States but from lots of different players who are supportive of the opposition and believe that the combination of the Iranian Qods Force on the ground in Syria, and Hezbollah -- a terrorist organization on the ground in Syria -- and Russian support coming in has been the difference that's tilted some of these initiatives to President Assad, but not for the long term.

And I think that's why we continue to say the political solution is the ultimate solution. And so while we are supporting the opposition, and we've made that clear, we still believe very, very strongly that there's an urgency to coming to the negotiating table and ending the violence and beginning to move towards a transition government that promises the people of Syria a future without violence and a future with a government of their choosing, not a government that has been imposed on them by killing huge numbers of innocent people and driving many others out of the country.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

SECRETARY KERRY: Oh, I'm sorry. All right. (Laughter.) Do you want to add anything to that, Minister? Are you happy to do that?

Anne Gearan.

FOREIGN MINISTER JUDEH: (Inaudible.)

QUESTION: Thank you. For both of you, first, do you believe Mohamed Morsy's ouster in Egypt constitutes a military coup?

And to Secretary Kerry, do you support continuation of U.S. aid to Egypt? If so, how will you get around the U.S. legal restrictions on not providing aid to countries that have gone through a military coup?

And just very quickly on Syria. Now that there's a new opposition leadership in place, do you -- what gives you any confidence that that slate will be able to do any better of a job than the previous one in presenting a united and competent alternative to Assad? Thank you.

SECRETARY KERRY: Okay. Thank you, Anne. Well, on the issue of a coup, this is obviously an extremely complex and difficult situation. And President Obama has made clear our very deep concern about the decision of the Egyptian armed forces to remove the President from power and suspend the constitution. But the fact is, we need to take the time necessary, because of the complexity of this situation, to evaluate what has taken place, to review all of our requirements under the law, and to make it consistent with our policy objectives as is appropriate with that appropriate interpretation under the law. So that's exactly what we're doing right now, and I'm not going to rush to judgment on it. I'm going to wait till our lawyers have done their homework, till I have the appropriate facts and information in front of us.

I will say this: That what complicates it, obviously, is that you had an extraordinary situation in Egypt of life and death, of the potential of civil war and enormous violence, and you now have a constitutional process proceeding forward very rapidly. So we have to measure all of those facts against the law, and that's exactly what we will do.

That said, what makes me confident about the opposition? I can't tell you that I know with certainty where they will take Egypt. At first blush, I will tell you that I've looked at the lineup of the people, I know a number of them personally, and I know they are extremely competent people. I also know that Egypt has been in need of making critical decisions, like the IMF decision, for some period of time because of this fiscal crisis, and I understand this group, this new government, is determined to make an IMF agreement and to begin to restore the finances of the country.

Obviously, some people have enormous confidence in them because something like $13 billion has flowed into the country in terms of new central bank funds and cash, which gives them some leeway to be able to make some of these decisions.

So the proof will be in the pudding. I'm not going to stand here and predict what they're going to do. Very clearly, order needs to be restored to the streets. Stability needs to be restored. Violence needs to be ended. Rights need to be protected. Jobs need to be created. And the country needs to be able to return to normal business. My hope is, and President Obama's hope -- President Obama has been very clear about this -- we want everybody to participate. And we are concerned about political arrests. And we're concerned about the freedom of people to be able to participate, because we think that's an important part of the restoration of the heart and soul of Egypt.

So our hope is that in the days ahead, this situation will become much clearer. And it's much too early to make pronouncements or judge where it's going to go. What we want, what President Obama is committed to, is a country that has a democratic constitutional process that everybody can participate in without fear of retribution, without arrest, and that the country will move forward on a democratic path. And we'll cope with the rest of these issues as they come along.

FOREIGN MINISTER JUDEH: Well, I just came back from a very quick visit to Egypt a couple of days ago. His Majesty the King dispatched me there to talk to the Egyptian leadership. I saw the interim president. I had a good conversation with him, was extremely reassured of the political -- of the implementation of the political roadmap that they've set out for themselves, which includes constitutional amendments, a national meeting that will include all the different elements of the political spectrum in Egypt, followed possibly by a referendum and then parliamentary elections and the opening of a candidature for presidency and then presidential elections.

So they are very, very comfortable that they are heading, as the Secretary of State described it, as a constitutional process that is taking them in the right direction, which is forward, and in a timelined, benchmarked fashion.

Now to answer your question directly, without venturing into the legal or political interpretations of coup, my understanding, as is the understanding of many, is that a military coup results in the military taking over. And in this particular case, we saw the military, yes, intervening. This is not the first time that the military intervenes in the political life of Egypt. We've all accepted it in the past. But the military as an institution, I think, saw the potential for real danger and violence and fragmentation and the possibility of civil war with 20 million people out on the streets in different parts of Egypt. And they intervened to put the political constitutional process back on track.

And the biggest proof of the fact that they are not planning to run things in Egypt is that the head of the military, the Minister of Defense, the Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces, is the First Deputy Prime Minister in the new government which was appointed yesterday. He's not the prime minister, he's not the president, he's not the ruler of Egypt. He is someone who came out saying, "I am trying to implement a political roadmap that will lead to a constitutional process that will lead to a democratically-elected parliament and president." And I think that we've got to give them the benefit of the doubt. They know best. And the military in Egypt has been the guarantor of peace and stability in many twists and turns in Egypt's contemporary history.

Again, my visit a couple of days ago was extremely reassuring that the political process, the constitutional process, is very much on track.

SECRETARY KERRY: Just a footnote: I asked Nasser if he wants to come and be our counsel to the State Department in a few days. (Laughter.)