Press Availability | John Kerry, Secretary of State | Royal Terminal | Jeddah, Saudi Arabia | August 25, 2016
On August 25, at a press conference with Foreign Minister Adel Jubeir, Secretary Kerry discussed a proposal for a negotiated end to the war in Yemen endorsed by the Quad (U.S., Saudi Arabia, the U.K. and the United Arab Emirates), the Gulf Cooperation Council and the United Nations.
The initiative addresses the concerns of both sides: the political agreement on a national unity government and the withdrawal and handover of heavy weapons by the Houthi-Saleh forces would take effect at the same time.
Excerpts of Remarks by Secretary John Kerry:
Together with UN Special Envoy Ismail, we agreed on a renewed approach to negotiations, with both a security and political track simultaneously,working in order to provide a comprehensive settlement.
The political and security track would be unified into one sequential implementation process.
This afternoon, the entire GCC weighed in and agreed unanimously with this new initiative, a comprehensive approach that gives both sides confidence that the other is following through.
The final agreement, however, in broad outline would include, in the first phase, the swift formation of a new national unity government, with power shared among the parties; the withdrawal of forces from Sana’a and other key areas; the transfer of all heavy weapons, including ballistic missiles and launchers, from the Houthis and forces allied with them, to a third party.
FOREIGN MINISTER AL-JUBEIR: (In progress) (via interpreter) received this morning. U.S. Secretary of State Kerry and his royal highness the crown prince and deputy crown prince held negotiations – extensive negotiations yesterday with (inaudible) to resume the negotiations between the Yemeni parties to arrive at a peaceful solution.
Today we held a discussion, the Quad discussion – that includes Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, and the United States – that are held every once in a while to discuss the situations in Yemen. Afterwards the – that session was attended by UN Special Envoy to Yemen Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed. He briefed the committee of the updates, the latest updates in Yemen. We discussed also some of ideas and proposals to push forward the peace process in Yemen, and afterwards we held a meeting for the GCC foreign ministers with the U.S. Secretary of State and the foreign – British foreign minister and UN special envoy to Yemen to discuss a number of issues that – but focused mainly on Yemen and ways to pushing – moving forward with the peaceful process. Within this framework, we focused on the importance of arriving at a peaceful – a solution that is based on the GCC initiative, the outcomes of the National Dialogue Conference, and UN Resolution 2216.
We also – we rejected the unilateral steps adopted by Ali Saleh and the Houthis. That was rejected by the international – the key international players and the G18 – rejected by the G18. That includes 18 ambassadors from 18 countries working together collaboratively to coordinate for Yemen.
We were able to come out with a vision regarding the roadmap to Yemen that was – we discussed – we discussed it with the UN special envoy with regards to Yemen so that we have clear vision with regards to our relation to the final solution that was be – that’s going to be discussed by the UN special envoy with the Yemeni parties. We have all offered our full support to these efforts and we expressed our hope that the Yemeni parties can resume negotiations and talks and arrive at a peaceful solution that would lead to – that would end the war and transform Yemen from the war and destruction to restruction and stability.
We also discussed the deterioration in these several – the institutions in Yemen as – particularly civil – civil institutions. We discussed it last week with specialists in this area to look at ways that we can protect and safeguard these institutions and prevent the deterioration that has – that had – that took place because of the behavior of Saleh.
United – the United States and the United Kingdom have expressed their interest and concern to – for delivering humanitarian aid to Yemen. As you know, Saudi Arabia is the first country that provides humanitarian aid to Yemen through King Salman Humanitarian Aid Center and through direct support. We are very keen to deliver and provide all possible humanitarian aid to our brothers in Yemen. We are – we are very keen that we have all the roads open to – for these institutions to deliver the humanitarian aid. We demand and we call upon the Yemeni parties to remove the siege on Yemeni cities and allow for the humanitarian aids to be delivered. We hope that we can – we hope that there is a response to the international community which to – to resolve the crisis in Yemen in a peaceful manner. We call upon all the Yemeni parties to respond to the U.S. special envoy to Yemen to take Yemen out of the current situation and focus on the reconstructions.
Again, thank you, your excellency, for your visit to the kingdom, and I thank you for the meetings and consultations we have – fruitful and productive meeting that we held bilaterally or with the GCC countries and yourself. Thank you again and welcome to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, thank you very much. Good afternoon to everybody and a special thank you to my good friend Adel al-Jubeir, the foreign minister of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. I’m delighted with his partnership and I’m very grateful to him for hosting a series of discussions here in Jeddah. And as he has just finished relating to all of you, we had a very, very constructive series of discussions. I also want to thank UN Special Envoy Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed – very grateful to him for his work over these last months, but also for his joining us here today and helping to shape the discussions that we had.
I landed less than 24 hours ago, and I have to tell you, it has been busy. It has, however, most importantly, been very productive. Last night, I joined the foreign minister for a working dinner with His Royal Highness Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef and His Royal Highness Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. And this morning I met with His Majesty King Salman. And during these meetings, we had an opportunity to discuss a broad array of the issues that face the region and the issues which are so central to the partnership between the United States and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
We underscored again and again, frankly, because again and again we found ourselves in agreement on certain approaches – we underscored the close partnership that we are currently engaged in on any number of fronts. This afternoon Adel and I met with our counterparts from the Gulf Cooperation Council – UAE, Oman, Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain, and the United Kingdom joined us, as well as UN Special Envoy Ismail Ahmed. The purpose of our meetings was, quite simply, to see if together we could find a way to end the violence of Yemen, to end the war, and to address the deeply troubling situation there, which has now not only killed more than 6,500 people to date, but become a humanitarian crisis of enormous magnitude and a growing security threat, and one that everybody agreed – there was no debate about this – if we cannot find a solution to the war that meets the appropriate needs of respecting the sovereignty and the security of Saudi Arabia, while at the same time providing the Houthi, a minority, an opportunity to be part of a government in the future, then things can only go in one direction, and that is worse, in Yemen.
The restoration of stability to Yemen is vital in order to ease the suffering and to prevent groups like al-Qaida and Daesh from taking further advantage of the political and security vacuum and the instability that has been created. It is essential for Yemen, for countries in the region, and for the world community in general to agree on a plan to end the fighting and achieve a lasting peace.
The bloodshed, I think most would agree, has simply gone on for too long. It has to stop. And everyone that we met with today, all of the ministers who came here, were in full agreement: there is no military solution.
As I made clear in our meetings today – and I want to emphasize this – the United States is committed to the security of Saudi Arabia. We were deeply troubled by the attacks on Saudi territory. We were deeply troubled by the photographs which were shown to me early on by His Royal Highness Mohammed bin Nayef showing missiles that had come from Iran that were being positioned on the Saudi border. And we are deeply concerned about missile attacks that have taken place on border towns.
It is basic international law: Every country has a right to a safe and sovereign border, and any violation of that is unacceptable and a violation of international law; and a country has a right to defend itself. The threat additionally posed by the shipment of missiles and other sophisticated weapons into Yemen from Iran extends well beyond Yemen. It is not a threat just to Saudi Arabia; it is a threat to the region, it is a threat to the United States, and it cannot continue.
As we have stated previously, we’re also extremely concerned by reports of civilian casualties and the destruction of vital infrastructure no matter who causes it. Strikes that damage or destroy homes, businesses, and hospitals not only exacerbate the suffering of the Yemeni people, but they also undermine attempts to try to resolve peacefully the challenges that the country faces.
I did raise this in a number of our meetings, but let me share with you, I know it is a concern fully shared by Foreign Minister al-Jubeir and by the Government of Saudi Arabia. And he has committed and the government have committed to investigating troubling reports that we’ve all seen in order to prevent similar tragedies in the future.
Now, we all know that the humanitarian situation in Yemen has deteriorated rapidly. And frankly, that just underscores the reasons that we came here today, and it underscores the work that we have to do. The numbers don’t begin to capture the true depth of the tragedy, but they are nevertheless staggering. More than 2 million Yemenis are now displaced from their homes. Food shortages have driven prices up 60 percent since last March, and they have brought the country to the brink of famine. More than 14 million people are facing severe hunger and malnutrition, including one in three children under the age of five. Overall, 80 percent of Yemenis are in need of humanitarian assistance.
I have to say that, to date, the international response to this crisis has fallen short of filling the gap between the supplies that are available and those that are required. The United States has been the largest donor – by far – and today I can announce we will contribute another $189 million dollars in urgently needed aid. We strongly urge other countries in and outside the region to expand their contributions as well. And every party has an obligation to allow the unfettered flow of humanitarian assistance to Yemenis in all parts of the country. That is necessary to save lives, and it is also mandated under international law, and it is the right thing to do.
But the surest way to relieve the hardships and the hunger is to stop the fighting, end the war. And we need to return, as quickly as possible, to a ceasefire that can lead to a permanent end to the conflict.
I want to thank the Saudis, who actually contributed very significantly to the efforts in Kuwait, and I thank the Kuwaitis, who pushed very hard for a peaceful political solution to this crisis. And most of us thought that an agreement had been reached with the Houthi. But unfortunately, at the last minute the Houthi decided otherwise, and so we find ourselves where we are today. We all agreed today – and Saudi Arabia is front and center in wanting to find a real solution, a political solution to this conflict. The United States believes that the UN-led process affords the very best chance for an agreement that will end the violence and address the political disputes that caused this violence. And the United States strongly supports, together with the GCC, that overwhelmingly today backed efforts to support UN Special Envoy Ahmed to get the negotiations back on track and to move forward as rapidly as possible.
This morning, four of us – the United Kingdom, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and the United States – met to discuss ways to break the impasse in Yemen. And I thank all of the participants in that for their extremely constructive dialogue. Together with UN Special Envoy Ismail, we agreed on a renewed approach to negotiations, with both a security and political track simultaneously, working in order to provide a comprehensive settlement. The political and security track would be unified into one sequential implementation process.
This afternoon, the entire GCC weighed in and agreed unanimously with this new initiative, a comprehensive approach that gives both sides confidence that the other is following through. It prioritizes the rights and sovereignty of the people of Yemen. And the details will be finalized by the parties themselves in negotiations. That is as it ought to be. The final agreement, however, in broad outline would include, in the first phase, the swift formation of a new national unity government, with power shared among the parties; the withdrawal of forces from Sana’a and other key areas; the transfer of all heavy weapons, including ballistic missiles and launchers, from the Houthis and forces allied with them, to a third party.
The agreement would require the new unity government to respect the security, the integrity, and the sanctity of international borders, and it would prohibit the deployment of weapons from Yemeni territory that threatened international waterways or the security of Yemen’s neighbors. We believe that this is a fair and sensible approach, and we are grateful to Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and the others who joined here today in fashioning what can only be deemed to be a reasonable approach. And we encourage the Houthi and their allies and any other country involved in this to be supportive of that.
Ultimately, it is the parties that will have to finalize the text. And it is the parties that will have to finalize the steps necessary for the Yemeni people to adopt a new constitution, hold free and fair elections, and resume their daily lives under new, democratically elected government.
In addition, my counterparts and I also committed to providing future support – economic support, stabilization support – to help meet the urgent humanitarian needs, to stabilize the economy, and to assist in the development and reconstruction.
From here, from today, Special Envoy Ahmed will immediately begin a series of consultations with the parties to work out the final details of this approach. And if the parties engage in those details, and if they engage in a legitimate process, that will provide the opportunity for the resumption of the full measure of the ceasefire agreement that was reached on April 10th of the year.
Now, today in Jeddah, I think we have re-emphasized, and we are re-emphasizing here now publicly, that this war needs to end, and it needs to end as quickly as possible. But it also needs to end in a way that protects the rights and the sovereignty of Saudi Arabia and of the region and does not require a compromise on any country’s security. For many reasons, we have to do this, but also because we need to focus on the fight against al-Qaida and also against Daesh.
The agreement that we have endorsed today addresses all the parties’ concerns. Now, it’s never easy; we understand that. But the United States will remain heavily engaged diplomatically, along with our international partners, in order to help ensure that the needs of the region’s security are met and to ensure that the Yemeni people get the humanitarian assistance and ultimately the peace and the security that they need and deserve.
So I again thank Foreign Minister al-Jubeir, Special Envoy Ahmed, and my counterparts from the United Kingdom and the GCC nations for their partnership and for their commitment to ending this conflict as soon as possible, and I particularly thank my friend Adel for his partnership and his open-minded efforts to try to find a way forward in this endeavor.
MR KIRBY: The first question today comes from Lesley Wroughton from Reuters.
QUESTION: Thank you. Thank you for outlining that plan. Mr. Secretary, what do you – how do you believe that this plan could make a difference this time over what has occurred over the last few months? Also, after 18 months of airstrikes and lots of advice from the United States on avoiding civilian casualties, why is the Saudi-led coalition still continuing to (inaudible) those facilities, and have you got any guarantee that that’s going to stop?
Mr. Minister, if I might move to you, do you support the decision by the Hadi government to cut ties to the central bank, which is actually dramatically worsening the humanitarian situation for a lot of Yemenis? And what has your air campaign achieved in a year, and what is your end game now?
SECRETARY KERRY: Well – do you want me to go first? Okay. Why is this going to make a difference? It depends on the Houthis whether or not this will make a difference, and it depends on their supporters, their proxies. This is a very reasonable approach, and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the Gulf states, have, I think, put together a proposal that fairly meets the needs of the parties. This is a proposal that offers the Houthis an opportunity to have confidence in the governing structure that will be put in place for Yemen. It offers them participation in that process.
The Houthi people need to remember they’re not a majority of the country. They’re a minority, and a very small minority. And it is important to recognize that the people of Yemen elected a government, and the president of that government was sent out of the country by violence. The international community has supported and the United Nations has supported through Resolution 2216 a set of principles about what needs to be respected here. And the truth is that this is a very fair-minded effort by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and others to put on the table a proposal that offers participation in governance in exchange for the end of violence and the laying down of weapons.
It provides a capacity for confidence-building in the withdrawal from communities that are inappropriately taken and for a political process to cut in to play as that withdrawal takes place. So our sense is the difference here is that this leaves nothing for future speculation. This has a clarity to it about how confidence can be built, what the end game looks like, and how the parties can get there.
But it also requires, fairly, that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia not be subject to missiles from another country being pointed at its cities and lying on its border or to have troops from another country across its border, in its communities, wreaking havoc and spreading violence. So it is a very fair approach. And if the Houthi do not see the wisdom of this approach, then it seems clear to me that the international community will understand exactly what the resistance is and where it comes from and what the problem is in achieving a fair political solution in Yemen.
With respect to the civilian casualties, we talked about that. We’ve had open discussions about it, actually, for several months. It’s not a secret. And the Saudis have taken seriously everybody’s concerns about this. I think every Yemeni that is killed, any innocent person is killed, it affects all of us. And there are many steps that are being taken and have been taken to try to minimize that. I think that it is clear that some progress has been made, but there’s more work to do.
What is important is the Saudis are not denying that there’s work to do. They accept that we need to work together in order to prove that. We need to work to make sure that operations are conducted and carried out in a way that is as precise as possible with as minimal collateral impact as possible under the circumstances of war. And we’ve been very clear about our concern about civilian casualties, about the destruction of infrastructure, and we’ve talked about those concerns. We talked about them last night; we talked about them again today. And I’m very pleased that the foreign minister has agreed and his country has agreed to investigate exactly where things may have gone awry, why they might have, and what can be done about it to make sure that it doesn’t happen again.
At the same time, we understand that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is responding to very real threats on its border, to people who have crossed the border and killed people in Saudi Arabia, to missiles that have been fired from another country that have come from even another country and that have been fired into Saudi communities. Obviously, no country can sit there and allow that to happen indiscriminately. So we take our commitments to Saudi security seriously. We also take our global commitments under humanitarian law seriously, and we’re working with Saudi Arabia as well as possible to address those concerns.
FOREIGN MINISTER AL-JUBEIR: Thank you for the question. I would like to go back and address the issue of how this started. The Yemeni people rose up against President Saleh and demanded change. And the GCC countries, including Saudi Arabia, worked in order to come up with a compromise that would spare Yemen harm and minimize bloodshed. That was the GCC Initiative. The GCC Initiative set the stage for the change in government from Saleh to Hadi as the interim government. It – the National Dialogue was established in Yemen among Yemenis in order to conceive and build a better future for all Yemenis. And the National Dialogue did tremendous work in terms of the governance of Yemen, in terms of the rights of Yemeni citizens, in terms of the government structure, in terms of what kind of constitution they want, and they began to write the constitution.
Then what happened? The Houthis moved from Saada to Amran, then they moved from Amran and occupied Sana’a by force. Not by the ballot box, by force, by shooting people, by killing people, by taking people hostage. Then the government had to flee to Taiz and to Aden. They proceeded to occupy the rest of the country. They surrounded the presidential palace in Aden and they were very close to capturing and possibly killing the legitimate president of Yemen. He asked for assistance under Article 51 of the UN Charter, and we responded along with a coalition of 10 other countries in order to protect Yemen from being taken over by a radical militia allied to Iran.
What were we facing? We were facing a radical militia, a virtual (inaudible) that was now in possession of the government, the central bank – which they proceeded to loot, incidentally, to the tune of $100 million a month – with ballistic missiles and with an air force. This became, represented a clear and present danger to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. We saw ballistic missiles being deployed along our border. We responded. We have no interest in Yemen. We have no claims on Yemen. We want a stable, prosperous, secure, peaceful Yemen. We have a large community of Yemenis in Saudi Arabia. We’ve had them for a very long time. We have been by far the single-most largest provider of foreign assistance to Yemen since 1970. No country has given more to Yemen than Saudi Arabia has, and we are committed to helping our Yemeni brethren. But we have responded out of necessity. We responded to remove a threat. We responded to protect the legitimate government. We responded under authority of UN resolution. That’s what we did in order to protect Yemen and in order to protect ourselves and our borders.
What have we achieved? We have liberated territory from the Houthis. We have protected the legitimate government. We have substantially reduced the threat to our border and our people. It’s not gone, but it is substantially less than it has been. And we have ensured that Yemen does not fall under the grasp of Hizballah and Iran. That’s what we’ve achieved.
There’s more to achieve, and we hope that it can be done through the political process. Keep in mind that the Houthis, in a country of 26 million people, are less than 50,000. That’s their number, 10 percent of the population of Sana’a. That’s who we have. And they want to take over a country and they want to have the right to have veto power over that country. Would that be acceptable in any system? I doubt it.
So we’re saying that the Houthis have every right to be part of the political process in Yemen like every other citizen, but they cannot have a privileged position where they have veto rights over a country of 26 million in which they represent less than 50,000. That’s what we’ve done.
Civilian casualties – we have been extremely careful and cautious in trying to minimize and hopefully avoid the civilian casualties. And where there have been reports of such casualties, we have a mechanism to investigate. We review our operations; we review our procedures in order to ensure that civilian casualties are minimized. That’s what the international community and law requires, and that’s what we go by. We have no interest in creating animosity with the Yemeni people.
What I don’t see is – I don’t see much criticism of the Houthis deploying child soldiers – nine, ten, eleven, twelve-year-olds. I don’t see criticism of the Houthis laying siege to towns and villages and starving people by preventing the supply of humanitarian assistance. I don’t see the outrage that should be there when the Houthis literally steal humanitarian assistance and use it to barter for political advantage. I don’t see much outrage when the Houthis loot the central bank to the tune of $100 million a month, to the point where the bank is becoming insolvent. And I don’t see people being outraged at the Houthis lobbing ballistic missiles into Saudi Arabia and killing our people. And I don’t see outrage at the indiscriminate artillery shelling by the Houthis against Yemeni villages and towns.
So yes, we do our best to minimize civilian casualties. We do our best to investigate when we have reports of these, and we have investigated them. And we review our measures and procedures to ensure that we minimize them. What have the Houthis done on their side? Nothing.
With regards to the issue of the central government, I believe I’ve – I addressed it in the sense of the financial institutions in Yemen have been affected negatively, to the point where they need to – we need to find ways to protect them. We are working with a number of our allies, including the United States and Great Britain, in order to look for mechanisms that could be effective ways to ensure that the Yemeni Government can operate financially but that would prohibit or prevent the Houthis from taking that money.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: (Via interpreter) (Inaudible) on behalf of (inaudible) Saudi Press Agency. My question to His Excellency the U.S. Secretary – I welcome him to Saudi Arabia, and my question is: How committed is the United States towards Yemen, especially after withdrawing the consultants – the American consultants?
And regards to the meeting, is there an agreement regarding the international formula to force the Houthis to commit to the UN resolutions with regards to the Yemen crisis? Thank you.
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, just very quickly, I think – my entire comments, I believe, have made it crystal clear how deep the commitment is of the United States to Saudi Arabia’s defense and security interests and to helping to resolve the Yemen crisis. That’s why I’m here, and I wouldn’t be here if we weren’t committed. So we are deeply committed to this and our work still continues. Despite the consultants not being in the activity, we still share intelligence; we’re still sharing information. And we will continue to work on the joint cooperation efforts in order to be successful.
With respect to the enforcement here, there are measures that – various options available. I’m not going to go through all of them right now. I’d rather put the positive side on this and say that today we have put on the table something that really does afford a resolution, and I look forward to Ismail working to now consult with all the parties. And hopefully, we can shape something, because a lot of work has been done. And I give great credit to the Kuwaitis for all the work that was done in Kuwait and for the groundwork that’s been laid.
So I think there’s an opportunity here, and I prefer to focus on that. If it does fail, we have any number of options that we can consider, and we’ll consider them at the appropriate time.
FOREIGN MINISTER AL-JUBEIR: (Via interpreter) With regards to the understanding that took place today, there is – there was a confirmation and emphasis on resorting to or referring to the three sources, which is the outcome of the National Dialogue Conference, the UN Resolution 2216, and the GCC initiative. There was also an emphasis on the importance of providing all the support to the efforts by the UN special envoy to Yemen and encouraging the Yemeni parties to go – to resume talks to arrive at a solution that would secure peaceful stability to Yemen. Saudi Arabia is committed to arriving at a peaceful solution. We are also committed to – with regards to the reconstruction of Yemen, after arriving at an understanding and an agreement and after the stability of Yemen.
Today, we talked about a number of proposals with the UN special envoy, who might – which might explain or clarify the keenness and interest of the coalition to – the coalition countries to arrive at a peaceful solution. Houthi and Saleh people are the ones or the party that refused to arrive at that or to sign the agreement in Kuwait, stating that there are some points that need to be clarified. Now we have some ideas to clarify the matter more, and I think now that they have no excuse to say that the agreement – the proposed agreement or the – and the way that was proposed is not comprehensive or not complete. We hope that Houthis and Saleh seize this opportunity to arrive at – to resume talks and arrive at a peaceful solution that would prevent more destruction to Yemen.