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Minister Ayrault and Secretary Kerry discuss Middle-East issues

Minister Ayrault and Secretary Kerry discuss Middle-East issues

Published on March 14, 2016
Officials met in Paris on March 13 to discuss international efforts to temper ongoing conflicts in Libya, Yemen and Syria, as well as the peace process.


This was the first official meeting between newly-appointed Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Development Jean-Marc Ayrault and his American counterpart, Secretary of State John Kerry. Secretary Kerry expressed his pleasure at the opportunity to work with Minister Ayrault "during this historical period," and discussed progress made in Syria since a cessation of hostilities was implemented two weeks ago. Regarding French-U.S. cooperation on the peace process, the secretary said that the United States was listening carefully to the French proposal for a two-state solution, and Minister Ayrault expressed interest in carrying on these exchanges with the U.S.

Secretary Kerry’s Remarks (transcript)

Joint Press Availability with French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond, EU High Representative Federica Mogherini, and Italian Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni / Paris - March 13, 2016
Courtesy of U.S. Department of State


FOREIGN MINISTER AYRAULT: (Via interpreter) (In progress) This is a conflict that next Tuesday will be completing its fifth year of existence. Now the intra-Syrian negotiations should resume tomorrow and they will be very difficult. But together we would like to restate the support we want to give to the moderate opposition. The moderate opposition has decided to attend the Geneva talks and to sit around the table for the negotiations.

We have agreed that in order to guarantee the credibility of said negotiations that the truce must be fully complied with and that humanitarian aid should be delivered freely and unencumbered. We have noticed that progress has been made in the field, but it still needs to be increased. And as for the monitoring mechanisms that are absolutely necessary to check on it, they need to be reinforced as well.

We have reminded ourselves of the emergency there is to get the political transition in the framework of the calendar set by Resolution 2254 of the UN, and this is what will be at the heart of the negotiations in Geneva. We will make sure it is, because it is the only viable solution for Syria, for the Syrian people, and for peace in the Middle East.

We also talked about the situation in Libya, which an important step has been made this week. The political meeting held on March the 10th in Tunis confirmed the approval given to the government led by Mr. Sarraj by majority of MPs in Libya. It also called for a setting up of the government in Tripoli and the taking control of the economic and financial institutions.

France and all of its partners trust the team of Mr. Sarraj to face the many political and humanitarian change—challenges, security challenges that Libya has to face. So we would like to give our full support to them. We would also like to say that we’ll carry on supporting the support mission, UN support mission in Libya. And we’re already working on this—we, the European Union and with the United States to—in order to adopt sanctions as soon as possible if necessary against whoever in either camp prevents the government from taking office.

Now, it is not acceptable that a few individuals take all of the Libyan people as hostage when the security situation is disintegrating and the terrorist threat is getting worse, as we sadly noticed last week with the attack on Ben Guerdane—on Ben Guerdane in Tunisia. A return to peace and to rule of law is not only a need but an emergency for the Libyan people, but also for the neighboring countries and for Europe, so we must do whatever we can to fight for a stable state of Libya but also for Libya to deal with its own problems and helps us to fight Daesh.

We have adopted in a draft declaration today on Libya that will be communicated after this meeting. We also talked about Yemen. We are struck by the severity of the humanitarian situation in Yemen and think that only in resuming the talks vis-a-vis the political parties and the different parties at stake in Yemen will put an end to the hostilities and the humanitarian crisis. And I think this solution will have to be backed by the implementation of Resolution 2216 of the Security Council and the initiative—the peace initiative by the Gulf countries, and the results of the Conference of National Dialogue. We would like to restate the full support we will give to the special envoy of the UN in this respect.

We also talked about the situation in Ukraine. Frank-Walter and myself attended a meeting on March the 3rd last Normandy format, and we must say that the situation in the field is very bad with repeated violations of the ceasefire. Now there is an existing framework, which is that of the Minsk agreements, and the momentum that should have resulted from this is not what it should. So that is why we encourage all parties to live up to their responsibilities. Russia should be able to—should be putting pressure on separatists for a ceasefire, an effective ceasefire, but also the Kyiv government should be implementing the political part of the agreements and with the adoption of the electoral law, allowing the country to hold elections as soon as possible in the Donbas region.

And lastly, I gave to my colleagues a draft initiative in order to relaunch the peace process in the Middle East. The conflict between Israel and Palestine is not only still there, but it’s worse. And the status quo situation cannot carry on. I talked with my counterparts about the discussions I had with our—my Arab counterparts when I met them in Cairo. I met with the representatives of the Arab League, and they actually supported the peace initiative. And I will do the same tomorrow under your presidency, Mrs. Federica Mogherini, at the Council of Ministers of Foreign Affairs in Brussels. My special envoy, Ambassador Pierre Vimont, is in the Middle East today and he’s carrying on with the consultations with the stakeholders. He is explaining what we are doing, the methodology we are following, and he will also be in Washington next week.

What we all believe is that we have to get out of this quagmire and try and set the necessary conditions for resuming the peace talks. That is why it is necessary to add—to relaunch some kind of momentum for hope in a region that badly needs it.

Thank you very much. John, you have the floor.

SECRETARY KERRY: Merci beaucoup (inaudible) Jean-Marc. Good afternoon, everybody. C’est toujours un plaisir d’être à Paris.

Tout d’abord, j’aimerais remercier le ministre des affaires étrangères, Jean-Marc Ayrault, pour son accueil chaleureux. J’ai eu le plaisir de connaître Jean-Marc lorsqu’il était premier ministre et je suis heureux d’avoir l’occasion de travailler étroitement avec lui dans un tel moment historique.

(Via interpreter) Good afternoon, everybody. It is always a pleasure to be in Paris. First of all, I would like to thank the foreign affairs minister, Jean-Marc Ayrault, for his warm welcome. It was my pleasure to know Jean-Marc when he was prime minister, and I am very happy to have this opportunity now to work with him closely during this historical period.

(In English) I want to thank all of our colleagues who have come here to Paris today: Philip Hammond, the foreign secretary; Frank-Walter Steinmeier, the foreign minister of Germany; Paolo Gentiloni of Italy; and of course, the high representative of the EU, Federica Mogherini.

It’s unusual to come together to meet on a Sunday morning, but everybody made the effort to do so today because we all are mindful of the crises that we confront simultaneously. And you have just heard Jean-Marc lay out a series of locations and names of countries that also represent enormous challenges to all of us in the world today: Libya, Yemen, Syria, the Middle East Peace Process.

Daesh’s campaign of evil has extended now well beyond Iraq and Syria, and all of us have come here united in our deep belief that the Syrian civil war must end. Against all odds, against most predictions, we have been able to sustain for two weeks now a cessation of hostilities—which we all acknowledge has tensions here and there, but which has nevertheless been able to produce 80 to a 90 percent reduction in the level of violence—and we are all well aware of the record numbers of migrants who are seeking refuge not just in the Middle East, but now pushing into a Europe that is already facing challenges.

We believe that the transatlantic community is strong not because it has somehow been exempt from tragedy and strife, and history tells us that. But we are strong because we are resilient, and because we do share common values, a common vision of what we would like to see. We are strong because there are core beliefs that hold us together.

And it’s in that spirit that we met this morning to consult, to share our thoughts—all of us together—about how we see each of these challenges and what we think we can do to step up our own efforts to deliver results over the course of the next months.

And we reviewed the situation in Ukraine, as Jean-Marc said, our commitment across the board to that country’s sovereignty and its territorial integrity. And we welcomed Germany’s chairmanship of the OSCE as we seek to implement a true and enduring ceasefire. We also are grateful for the leadership that both France and Germany have offered in working through the Minsk process, and all of us stand ready to be supportive of that, of its full implementation.

But today, Russia faces a choice between continuing economically damaging sanctions and fully meeting its obligations under Minsk. And I think Moscow is very well aware of what it needs to do, and our message today is one that we are united in our determination to continue to be supportive of Ukraine, to protect its sovereignty and its integrity, at the same time as we proffer to Russia the opportunity to work with us to fully implement Minsk and move to stabilize that region.

As Jean-Marc also said, we had a good discussion about Syria. We all strongly support the UN efforts and we look forward to the resumption of talks in Geneva on Monday. And there isn’t a person standing here who doesn’t understand how difficult that is. Witness the comments made just yesterday by the foreign minister of Syria, clearly trying to disrupt the process, clearly trying to send a message of deterrence to others.

But the fact is that his strongest sponsors, Iran and Russia, have both adopted at the United Nations in support of the—at the United Nations and in the Vienna communiques and the Munich meetings an approach which dictates that there must be a political transition and that we must move towards a presidential election at some point in time.

Now, the diplomatic process that has been launched by the International Syria Support Group has enabled us to move forward in two critical areas. I mentioned one, the reduction of violence. But it has made possible the delivery of emergency supplies to communities inside Syria—excuse me—some of which had not seen assistance in years. More than 300 trucks have now provided aid to at least 150,000 people—about one third of the almost half of a million people who are living in absolutely besieged or hard-to-reach areas. And despite this progress, we—all of us here—remain deeply concerned about the Assad regime’s practice of removing badly needed medical supplies from those supplies, and particularly the surgical kits which literally make a decision of life and death for people.

We will continue to work closely with the United Nations to see that the future requests for access are honored and that the humanitarian assistance is available specifically in East Ghouta, in Daraya, in Deir ez-Zor, and throughout the country.

Second, we established a process for the cessation of hostilities two weeks ago. We all take seriously—all the people here are members of the task force working in Geneva in order to try to implement this, and on a daily basis we are working on examining any allegation of a violation and working trying to undo whatever it might be that is happening that could threaten this process.

But what’s important is the overall violence is hugely reduced. People have actually gone out and demonstrated again. People are sitting in cafes in a way that that they never would have dared to two weeks ago. The Support Group’s Task Force is going to continue to meet regularly in order to push for full compliance. And everyone knows what needs to happen. Aerial bombardments by the regime and shelling against the participants, the people who signed up to be part of the cessation of hostilities, those bombings must stop. And all parties need to abide by the cessation of hostilities. They need to all cooperate in the delivery of the humanitarian assistance. And they need to all support real negotiations aimed at a Syrian-led political transition in accordance with the 2012 Geneva Communique and the UN Security Council Resolution 2254.

Now, over time, the incremental violations obviously run the risk of undermining what has been the first sustained period of reduced violence in Syria in many years. And we ask all of you in the press, in the media, and people in the world, to look hard at who is committing these violations. If the regime and its backers think that they can test the boundaries, diminish compliance in certain areas, or act in ways that call into question their commitment to the cessation—without serious consequences for the progress that we have made—they are deeply mistaken.

The Syrian people strongly support the cessation of hostilities because it has made their lives better. And to date, the single biggest violator of that, by allegation, is the Assad regime. So we believe that if we don’t want to be back here next year or even the year after, facing a Middle East with even more refugees, even greater numbers of dead and displaced, even more suffering and erosion of hope, it is vital that people exert leadership and deliver on the cessation of hostilities.

In the long run, the only way to actually end this challenge of refugees is to end the Syrian Civil War. And that is also to cut the—to engage in the best method to destroy Daesh. Recent events here in Paris have obviously reinforced our universal determination to defeat this barbaric organization. And the global counter-Daesh Coalition now includes every single EU state. And together, we have pushed the terrorists out of about 40 percent of the territory that they once controlled in Iraq and 20 percent of the territory that they controlled in Syria. We have liberated Tikrit, Sinjar, Ramadi, Shadadi, and Kobani. And in Syria, over the last three weeks alone, Daesh has lost 3,000 square kilometers and 600 fighters. And this pressure is going to intensify.

We also discussed the situation in Libya, as Jean-Marc said, and I want to express for the part of the United States and the rest of us the strong support for Prime Minister al-Sarraj and the new Government of National Accord. We urge members of the Libyan Political Dialogue who reaffirmed their support for the new prime minister and the Presidency Council to move rapidly to Tripoli. And we call on all Libyan public institutions to facilitate a peaceful and orderly handover of power so that Libya’s new leaders can begin to govern from Libya’s capital.

And we all know that achieving reconciliation in Libya is not going to be any easier than achieving it in other places, but we also know that after decades of dictatorship and years of upheaval that is the best option for the 6 million plus people of Libya.

Daesh has grown in its presence in Libya, and we have made a clear determination that that will not be allowed to go unaddressed. In my discussions today and over the weekend in Hafr al Batin in Saudi Arabia, we talked about the need also to resolve the situation in Yemen in a way that respects the sovereignty of that country, ends the violence, and ensures the delivery of humanitarian aid. And we welcome the recent cessation of hostilities along the Saudi-Yemen border, and we have agreed to work with the Saudis and the Emiratis and others in the region and all of us here together in order to try to help bring greater stability and even peace ultimately to Yemen.

So again, I thank our colleagues for being here today, and I thank Jean-Marc for the generous hospitality of the French Government to all us to come here at an important moment as we hope to see the talks begin in Geneva, as we reaffirm and redouble our own efforts against Daesh, and as we continue to try to push back against the violent extremism that has disrupted the lives not just of people in the region but too many people in the world itself. Thank you, Jean-Marc.

MODERATOR: Any questions?

QUESTION: Hi. Sorry, (inaudible) Reuters. A question for Mr. Kerry and Mr. Ayrault on the Middle East Peace Process. Of course, you said you spoke today about the process. How does the French initiative align with U.S. ideas to relaunch the peace process? And also for Ms. Mogherini, how does this fit into the Quartet?

And just on a separate issue, (via interpreter) firing ballistic missiles now are these ballistic missiles—can they carry nuclear warheads? Are they against Resolution 2231? And if so, are you ready at a European level to adopt sanctions as the U.S. did in the beginning of January?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, with respect to the peace process, we welcome anybody’s efforts to try to find a way forward. Obviously, the United States and I personally have been deeply involved in trying to do that over the last few years. And we remain deeply, deeply committed to a two-state solution. It is absolutely essential as the only way forward to find peace between the Palestinians and Israelis.

This moment is a difficult one because of the violence that has been taking place, and there are not many people in Israel, in the region itself right now, who have a belief in the possibilities of a process because of those levels of violence. I’ve been in constant contact with Prime Minister Netanyahu. I was in the region just recently, met with President Abbas. And we are talking about any number of different ways to try to change the situation on the ground in an effort to try to establish some confidence and begin to be able to move forward.

So we will—we are listening carefully to the French proposal. We welcome Pierre Vimont when he comes to Washington next week to meet with our special envoy. And we will continue as always to work together. There’s no way any one entity or one country or one person is going to resolve this. This is going to require the global community. It’s going to require tremendous support. Federica Mogherini and I met together with Lavrov, Foreign Minister Lavrov and the UN as part of the Quartet, and we are continuing to work.

So we will all join together in what is a common enterprise, finding peace that has been elusive for too many years. And I hear from too many people—just the other day I was in Saudi Arabia. I met with King Salman and the crown princes, the crown prince and deputy crown prince. Every one of them affirmed the fact that resolving Israel-Palestine would take an enormous point of contention out of the recruitment and ether and debate and struggle and anger and passion that drives so much of what is happening in the region.

QUESTION: There have been more ballistic missile tests (inaudible). Do these tests—I mean, this is more a question for Europe because —

SECRETARY KERRY: Oh, the missiles.

QUESTION: Yeah, on the missiles.

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, the missiles are a violation of the United Nations Security Council—the missile tests—because they are longer than the distance that is allowed for legitimate testing. And because of that they represent a potential threat to countries in the region as well as elsewhere beyond because of the potential distance and testing that goes along with it.

So we have made it very clear that the missile concerns remain part of sanctionable activities with respect to Iran. And if Iran chooses to violate that, they will invite those additional sanctions, as we put them in place just a month ago as a result of the prior tests.

FOREIGN MINISTER AYRAULT: (Via interpreter) And I share John Kerry’s approach. I mean, ballistic missiles are (inaudible) and sanctions will be taken. As to the nuclear program in Iran, we take a close look at it, so if needs to be sanctioned it will.

Regarding the French initiative, John Kerry has just answered regarding the Middle East. France wants all of the efforts that have already been deployed can be succeeded to the work done by the Quartet in particular. I mean, quite obviously, we want to carry on working in that direction, and that is why Pierre Vimont will be visiting Washington. We want to carry on exchanges with the U.S. so that our objective, which is to give new momentum to the peace process, be met. I mean, that’s what we want. There is no competition here. It’s not about a hierarchy between one country or another. What we want is the process to be effective and we want to give hope to the population.

HIGH REPRESENTATIVE MOGHERINI: On the initiative on the Middle East Peace Process, to confirm that, first of all, this will be an issue that we will discuss with the—all the 28 foreign ministers of the European Union tomorrow in Brussels at the Foreign Affairs Council, as well as we will discuss other points that we have discussed today, namely Libya. And the French proposals in these last weeks and months are being coordinated with the European Union in the logic of joining efforts with the Quartet in particular to try and create the conditions for the two-states solution to happen at a certain moment and not to disappear from the screen of what is possible in the near future, and to revitalize the peace process at the moment as told.

We have worked in these weeks also with Pierre Vimont that we know well given his past in the European Union services. And as you know, as a Quartet we have started to work on a report that is going in the same direction. We will obviously coordinate actions and steps so that the objective we share, which is the two states, will be possibly achieved in the future.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, as you both noted, the Syrian foreign minister appeared to attempt to disrupt preparations for the peace talks tomorrow. What leverage do the allies present here have over Syria if they decide either to abandon these talks or use the truce as an attempt to consolidate their position or advance their position on the ground?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, we made an agreement in Vienna twice and in New York and again in Munich, and particularly when we announced the effort to create the cessation of hostilities, it was agreed that we, the members of the International Syria Support Group who support the opposition, would assume the responsibility for making sure that the opposition lived up to its obligations. And we delivered a list of all of the groups of the opposition, which is almost all of them that had joined up to the cessation of hostilities.

Russia and Iran accepted responsibility for the forces they control or influence, and that includes Hizballah, the IRGC, and most importantly, the Assad regime. So President Putin, who is invested in supporting Assad with enormous commitment—and it has made a difference, obviously, in the battlefield; everybody has seen that—should be somewhat concerned about the fact that President Assad is seemingly singing from a completely different song sheet, and that he sent his foreign minister out yesterday to try to act as a spoiler, to take off of the table what President Putin and the Iranians have specifically agreed to.

So it is our sense that this is a moment of truth, a moment where all of us have to be responsible to make certain. Now, we’re constantly working. I’ve been on the phone talking to Dr. Riyad Hijab. I just went to Saudi Arabia to meet with King Salman and the Saudi team, and the Emirati foreign minister came over so we all talked and shared thoughts about how do we keep the opposition adhering to this. And I talked to the emir of Qatar yesterday about the same thing.

So we’re doing our share of work. Everybody here is encouraging people, working to keep a cessation together. But we know for a fact that—I’m not going to go into them. We agreed not to litigate the specifics of a violation publicly. But it is important now for those who support President Assad to make sure that he is living up to this agreement, and therefore as a result that they are living up to this agreement too.

FOREIGN MINISTER AYRAULT: (Via interpreter) France has a very clear sense in this respect. There is no solution to this war which is entering its fifth year—or six years without a political or any other solution. But a political solution would be—would not be going back to the previous situation. Things need to change. And it is obvious that there will be no political process that will be possible if the opposition is not associated to finding it an effective ceasefire is a condition.

I mean, we carry on fighting Daesh and al-Nusrah, but there won’t be any bombing or attacks carried out against the moderate opposition represented by the coalition under Mr. Riyad Hijab, who came here last week. And he is very brave. He managed to bring together representatives of 104 different groups in the opposition, and they wish to maintain the ceasefire. And we formed a—an invitation. I mean, there were different heads of either the Syrian forces, and all of us, all of our partners—Russia, the U.S., the European Union and the countries in the region—we all need to use the necessary pressure so that the peace process is maintained, is abided by and carries on. And we mustn’t forget that the regime has its responsibility in the death of 270,000 national Syrians, the destruction of cities, and all of the refugees that have had to have fled their country. So we need a political solution. We have to find it as soon as possible.

We have a ceasefire. It needs to be complied with. But the humanitarian aid needs to be delivered. Some cities are cut off and don’t receive the humanitarian aid because the regime prevents the convoys from reaching the cities. And so let us be clear: France wants a political solution, but also what we need is signs of confidence-building trends, and we’ll maintain the pressure that is required.

QUESTION: I have a question to put to Mrs. Mogherini on Libya. I have a question for two Mr. Gentlemen. Is Italy going to maintain the pressure and sanctions, and if possible, is this something that might speed up the process for creating a GNA?

FOREIGN MINISTER AYRAULT: (Via interpreter) Yes, this is going to be discussed tomorrow in Brussels. Italy is one of the countries that is suggesting to implement (inaudible). Of course, this is one element among many others that are part of a general strategy. I think we have made good decisions today by acknowledging what had already been decided by the Libyan dialogue or the political dialogue in Libya, and we wish the support given to the government of Mr. Sarajj translates very fast in initial steps to allow the government to come back to Tripoli. This is going to be one of the fantastic keys that will lead to the stabilization of Libya, and this is absolutely necessary to fight Daesh and fight against human trafficking and to have a stable country only three or four hundred kilometers away from Europe. I think that the sanctions, the process of implementing sanctions, is going to develop in the next few days in the framework of what will have been decided in Europe.

Thank you.

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