Remarks by Secretary of State John Kerry
At a Joint Press Availability with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov
After Their Meeting
October 6, 2013
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, good morning, everybody. I want to thank Foreign Minister Lavrov for joining me here today to sign this important agreement. Amending the NRRC agreement is another important step towards reducing risks associated with nuclear weapons, and I think both of us are cognizant of the fact that 26 years ago our predecessors from the United States and the former Soviet Union, Secretary of State George Schultz and Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze signed the original NRRC agreement which established centers in Moscow and in Washington through which our nations were able to communicate with each other the details of our compliance with arms control treaties.
The Cold War is now long over, but thousands of nuclear weapons remain, and we both recognize a responsibility to do everything possible to keep each other appraised of important developments in order to avoid misunderstandings and potentially catastrophic consequences. I might remark that, for instance, after 2001, September 11th, we were quickly in touch with each other through this center as we took our armed forces to the highest level of alert in order to communicate immediately and directly so there could be no misunderstanding about what was taking place. In addition, on at least 13 different conventional and other kinds of treaties between us since then, this center has now become a critical component in helping us to apply the rules, live by the rules, and understand what we’re both doing.
This amended agreement better enables us to do those things. By upgrading the centers, it provides vital support for our strategic and our conventional arms treaties and agreements, like the New START Treaty, which I was privileged to help take through ratification in the Senate just a couple of years ago.
Regarding our meeting today, I would characterize the meeting as really one of the most productive that we have had since our meetings in Geneva, which were obviously productive. And I think Sergey and I talked at great length about Syria. Since the binding resolution was passed in New York, which will eliminate the weapons – the chemical weapons in Syria, we have continued to take very important steps. And I want to thank Sergey for the cooperation Russia has provided in this. It’s been very important. I think it’s an important part of our relationship. And it’s not insignificant that within days of the passing of this resolution in New York inspectors are in Syria, they are on the ground, and now they are already proceeding to the destruction of chemical weapons. That actually began yesterday. There are missile warheads and other instruments that were destroyed yesterday, so the process has become – begun in record time, and we are appreciative for the Russian cooperation, as well as obviously for the Syrian compliance to this date.
We also strongly supported the recent United Nations Security Council statement urging unhindered access to enable humanitarian aid providers to immediately reach parts of the country where the need is most urgent. We talked about that a little bit, and our Russian friends are engaged in almost daily interventions in an effort to move the Syrian regime to comply. And obviously we want to get that aid to the places where the need is much urgent and we want to get there are rapidly as possible. As the world’s largest provider of humanitarian assistance of aid to Syria, the United States applauds the Council for rapidly taking this up and for shining a light on this appalling situation.
Finally, Foreign Minister Lavrov and I discussed our mutual goal, which we are extraordinarily focused on, of ending the war in Syria through a political transition to a more broadly acceptable democratic government, under the terms of the Geneva communique. We agreed, again, that there is no military solution here. We share an interest in not having radical extremists on either side of any kind assuming a greater status or position in Syria. And that is why we recommitted today with very specific efforts to move the Geneva process as rapidly as possible. We are going to both engage with Special Envoy Lakhdar Brahimi and lay the groundwork for a round of talks. It is our mutual hope that that can happen in November. And we are both intent and determined in consultation with our friends in these efforts to try to make certain that this can happen in November. A final date and the terms of participation will have to be determined by the United Nations, but we had a very constructive discussion about the path to getting there and we are both committed to leave here with a determination to begin that process, because we both believe – both countries believe, our leaders believe, President Putin and President Obama – that nothing is served by the prolongation of the violence in Syria. The humanitarian catastrophe is overwhelming the region, and we have a significant responsibility to try to address it. Thank you.
FOREIGN MINISTER LAVROV: Thank you, John. And gentlemen for the benefit of the Russian journalists I will speak in Russian, with your permission.
(Via interpreter) Dear ladies and gentlemen, since John Kerry entered into office as Secretary of State this February, we met 11 times. And our meetings in Geneva and New York are counting, but we have met quite a lot of time also.
Today, we have signed an agreement about the National Nuclear Risk Reduction Centers. These centers are functioning since 1987, but it’s high time to adapt them to new realities with our joint effort. And, of course, these centers are very important to ensure all directions of our joint work to ensure the confidence and such agreements as START agreements, the Vienna agreements, as well as the agreements on Open Skies. And I would like also to say that three weeks ago, there was signs and another important agreement about a scientific cooperation in nuclear energy field.
So this agreement was prepared specially for the Russian-American summit in Moscow that was planned for the 4th of September and which unfortunately didn’t take place. But anyway, this intense cooperation of signing agreements shows that there is no pause in our bilateral relations and there can’t be any one.
In the landlines of our attention was Syria today. Ten days ago, by our joint efforts and with the help of the Security Council of the United Nations, we could work out important decisions. There was also a resolution adopted on the document of – in the framework of the OPCW about the liquidation and elimination of chemical weapons. This is already taking place. The decisions are being fulfilled, and the elimination has started. And during all these weeks up to joining – after Syria joined the document on the elimination of chemical weapons, Damascus is working jointly with – to work on these decisions. And we hope that it will take effect soon. I hope that it will be happening in the future as that. And of course, this bears all the attention and all the necessary responsibility on – not only for this responsibility on the Syrian Government, but also on the opposition and all the states in this sphere should, of course, not let these weapons to fall into the hands of non-state subjects.
And looking into – while the concerns of chemical weapons, we haven’t forgotten other important goals. Of course, the humanitarian situation is very important for us, as well as the situation with the refugees in this country. And of course, we welcomed the Security Council announcement about the goals before the international community to help with the humanitarian situation in this country. Of course, this situation is quite complicated also because the opposition is – of course, important for the opposition to take a part in this process. And I’m convinced that with due cooperation with the United Nations, with the Red Cross, there will be a possibility to get to the places, the necessary places, the humanitarian help such needed in this country.
Of course, we looked into the political settlement, which is much needed in Syria. We also would like to say that we are very concerned and we would like it to take place, the conference on political settlement, in mid-November, as well as the Syrian Government said about its readiness for that. And we also agreed that the government would come with – completely prepared to fulfill all the commitments taken to join this international conference. And I would like to reiterate the government and the opposition to be ready for such a conference. And, of course, the composition which is completely for such an event with the participation of the Special Envoy Brahimi for such an event is very important also. And of course, the main important – the most important thing is for the long-term settlement is for the Syrians themselves to agree on it and all the other participants to fully help in such result.
We also have exchanged opinion on the settlement of the Iranian nuclear program. And we consider that such a positive situation, such a positive signal with the President and the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Iran, which also have met on the General – on the sidelines of General Assembly will materialize in concrete affairs for the course of these actions.
We have also expressed our – of course, our help, our support for achieving for Israelis and the Palestinians to settle their affairs. And of course, thanks to the efforts of John Kerry and the international mediators help, we consider that that could bear fruit.
We have also agreed on many issues of bilateral agenda, and we consider with – that with due efforts we could eliminate all the irritators that are in the bilateral – in the general of our bilateral relations. And I’m sure that if we are guided by the principles of equality, of non-interference in our internal affairs, and consideration of interests of each others, our countries would progress in the field of cooperation for the benefit of Russia and the United States and the whole world.
SECRETARY KERRY: We’re happy to take a few questions.
MS. PSAKI: The first question will be from Lesley Wroughton of Reuters.
QUESTION: Thank you very much. You’ve spoken today of a positive meeting on Syria. Do you believe that the elimination of the chemical weapons is going well? Do you expect it to be completed within a certain time? And how close to you – are you on actually setting a date for the peace talks for Geneva 2? Is there ever – is that ever going to happen? We’ve heard about this a long time?
And to the Minister, what have you done to convince Assad to come to the peace talks? Have you actually convinced him to do that – and the – of moving into a transitional government?
And for Secretary Kerry, there has been a complaint from Libya regarding the operation by U.S. military forces, which has provoked a complaint that Mr. al-Libi was kidnapped. Did you give them advance notice of what – of the operation? And number two, what perception do you think this leaves the world when people are snatched off the street of foreign countries by the U.S. military?
SECRETARY KERRY: So let me be crystal clear. The – we’re very pleased with the pace of what has happened with respect to chemical weapons. In a record amount of time, the United Nations Security Council has embraced a unique approach in a joint effort with the OPCW, the Office for the Prevention of Chemical Weapons. That’s never happened before. They agreed within a record period of time to follow the framework that Minister Lavrov and I negotiated in Geneva, and they put it into place both in The Hague as well as at the United Nations. I think that was a terrific example of global cooperation, of multilateral efforts, to accomplish an accepted goal.
And they have moved with equal speed to get on the ground in Syria and begin the operations. I think it is extremely significant that yesterday, Sunday, within a week of the resolution being passed, some chemical weapons were already being destroyed. I think it’s also credit to the Assad regime for complying rapidly, as they are supposed to. Now, we hope that will continue. I’m not going to vouch today for what happens months down the road, but it’s a good beginning, and we should welcome a good beginning.
I don’t know if you’re planning to do the translation? Are we? All right. Please.
And in a world that needs to see government working effectively and that needs to see multilateral institutions serving their purposes, I think this a very important beginning.
With respect to setting a date, neither Minister Lavrov nor I are supposed to set a date. That date has to be set by the United Nations and by Special Envoy Brahimi and the Secretary General. We both agreed that we have some homework to do in preparation, but we are also agreed that we will meet with Lakhdar Brahimi, and we will urge that a specific date be set within the framework that the Envoy has already set, which is somewhere in the second week of November or so. And we will urge a date to be set as soon as possible.
With respect to Abu Anas al-Libi, he is a key al-Qaida figure and he is a legal and an appropriate target for the U.S. military under the Authorization of the Use of Military Force passed in September of 2001. And of course, we regularly consult with our friends in the region; we consult regularly with the Libyan Government on a range of security and counterterrorism issues. But we don’t get into the specifics of our communications with a foreign government or in any kind of operation of this kind.
Finally, I’d just say that with respect to the perception, I hope the perception is in the world that people who commit acts of terror and who have been appropriately indicted by courts of law, by the legal process, will know that the United States of America is going to do everything in its power that is legal and appropriate in order to enforce the law and protect our security. Abu Anas al-Libi was indicted in the southern district of New York in connection with his role in al-Qaida’s conspiracy to kill U.S. nationals, to conduct attacks against interests worldwide, which included al-Qaida plots to attack forces in Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Somalia, as well as attacking the U.S. Embassy in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania and Nairobi, Kenya.
So an indictment is an accusation. In our legal system, a defendant is presumed innocent until proven guilty. But he will now have an opportunity to defend himself and to be appropriately brought to justice in a court of law. And I think it’s important for people in the world not to sympathize with alleged terrorists but to underscore the importance of rule of law. And that is the perception that we believe is the important one for people to understand.
FOREIGN MINISTER LAVROV: (Via interpreter) Concerning our stance about the process of chemical weapons eliminations, we’re satisfied with such a process. We have no grounds to consider that the cooperation that is doing the Syrian Government to fulfill, perfectly, this – that these concerns is – will change anyhow. And the Russian part will do everything so that Damascus will follow the cooperation without any changes.
But there is another thing that concerns us, and we have grounds to suspect that the extremist groups are trying to undermine such a process. And we hope that the resolution of the Security Council, which was adopted 10 days ago, will be fulfilled by all the parties, as well as the countries which are neighbors of Syria, and so to fulfill the requirements of the Security Council not to fall the chemical weapons and the chemical elements into the hands of non-state subjects, as well as the territories for the work of – the territories of this country for the work of terrorists.
And in general, we would like to reiterate – and today we’ve talked about – that we are going to do everything so to completely find the terrorists and extremists element in this country. And it’s our own task and the task of everybody who want this country to be multiconfessional, secular, and to be in peace.
About the terms and the dates of the conference, John already said that we are not to establish this date. And we know the position of Damascus, and from the point of view of the government of Damascus that conference could already be established many months ago.
And we shouldn’t do anything so the delegation from Syrian Government would go there. They already said about their efforts and about their intentions to go there. Already although some of them, they went in Geneva, were adopted of the joint – the joint resolutions of American and Russians.
And we shouldn’t do anything, and we’d like – we have to do everything so that the opposition will also come and agree to come without any preliminary conditions. The important steps that they should do is to fulfill the Geneva communique, which was adopted on the 30 of May last year.
And we also talked about it with John Kerry. We would like to support all the efforts to form the delegation of the oppositions, will be a representative in all its sense. And we also would like so the National Coalition would speak with one voice, because some days ago the leaders said that – they announced that they are ready to go there, but then their partners say that they are really not ready.
And I would like to reiterate that we have a common understanding with our American colleagues that there should be synchronized and coordinated efforts to convene a conference, which would be represented by all parties with the help of important international players.
MODERATOR: (In Russian.)
QUESTION: (Via interpreter) Oleg Velano from Interfax Agency. The last question – that recently the Chief of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Iran said that the decisions of the Group of Six is already on the table. How could you comment that in – take into account the planned new round of the Group of Six meeting?
And another question is to John Kerry, that there – Iran and the United States are getting quite close each time. And there are some – will there be any changes in relation to the missile defense in Europe? Because the threat of Iran – of a nuclear threat from Iran was the main reason of the deployment of that missile defense.
SECRETARY KERRY: Was the question on the Group of Six to Sergey or to me?
FOREIGN MINISTER LAVROV: If I understood the question right, the question was about yesterday’s statement of Minister Zarif that Iran expects new proposals from the 3+3, not that the old proposal is on the table. And my understanding of this statement of Minister Zarif is that we discussed in New York – six ministers of the 3+3 group, plus Minister of Foreign Affairs of Iran, Mr. Zarif – and we discussed the need to have a roadmap which would, at the end of the day, satisfy the international community that the Iranian nuclear program is entirely peaceful and that this program is pulled under total and strict control of the International Atomic Energy Agency. And when this is achieved, Iran wants all sanctions to be lifted.
I don’t think that this is contradictory to what the 3+3 has been doing all these years. Iran probably wants more clarity, more specific steps to be spelled out on the road to the result which we all want to achieve. And I think this would be discussed next week in Geneva, a meeting to which Iran agreed, and to which Iran and 3+3 are getting ready in a very constructive mood, as our contacts in New York showed.
SECRETARY KERRY: No translation?
INTERPRETER: No translation, Mr. Kerry.
SECRETARY KERRY: Another (inaudible) please. Does she understand English?
FOREIGN MINISTER LAVROV: Yeah, she does.
SECRETARY KERRY: Okay. Gotcha.
FOREIGN MINISTER LAVROV: And French. (Laughter.)
SECRETARY KERRY: What else can you tell us, Sergey? (Laughter.)
On Iran, the Group of Six put a proposal on the table in Almaty, and I don’t believe that, as of yet, Iran has fully responded to that particular proposal. So I think we’re waiting for the fullness of the Iranian difference in their approach now. But we’re encouraged by the statements that were made in New York, and we’re encouraged by the outreach.
But as the President – as President Obama has said, and I think other the members of the P-5+1 agree, it’s not words that will make the difference. It’s actions that will make the difference. So what we need are a set of proposals from Iran that fully disclose how they will show the world that their program is peaceful. And we have made it clear that if there are those indicators, the United States and our allies are absolutely prepared to move in appropriate ways to meet their actions. So we still have to wait and see where that comes out.
With respect to the part of your question about Iran and the U.S. getting close, I would just say to you that the talk of these first days and the exchanges of a couple of meetings and a phone call do not indicate a closeness. They indicate an opportunity. They indicate the opening of a door or a window to some discussion. We’re very anxious to have that discussion, but it’s way too premature to make any determinations about where we would wind up with respect to the deployment of the missile defense, which you’re right, was predicated on that threat. But as long as that threat is there, we still have to deal with that issue.
Now, that said, the Foreign Minister and I did discuss Iran and we discussed also the discussion that is underway between the United States and Russia on the subject of missile defense. And I think we’re in a place now where the next step in that discussion can take place, regardless of what happens with respect to Iran. And we look forward to having a good, continued discussion with Russia regarding mutual defense. We obviously would like to see something – we’d like to reach an understanding with Russia, and I think the Russians would like to reach an understanding with us. So that discussion will continue in the appropriate channels where it is currently located.
FOREIGN MINISTER LAVROV: And I would just like to add that, indeed, we have this appropriate channels activated, they never actually were frozen, and missile defense is one of the important items on our agenda. We should like to resolve in the way which would not create any suspicions regarding the strategic stability sustainability. And indeed, I (inaudible) of what John said now, that as long as the Iranian threat quote/unquote exists, the American plans remain. So I assume that if we manage to make sure that everyone agrees that the threat is not any longer there, then those plans might be reconsidered.
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, that’s not exactly what I said, Sergey, but obviously we will respond to threats. And I think you know that we’re trying to work out a way for the missile defense system to meet your needs and our needs, and no matter what happens, we’ll pursue that discussion, and I think that’s a very important discussion.
Now obviously if the overall situation in the entire region changes, we’re open to a much more significant discussion.
MS. PSAKI: Thank you. Thanks, everyone.
SECRETARY KERRY: Thank you all.