Remarks by Secretary Kerry to the Press in Vienna, Austria

Remarks

John Kerry

Secretary of State

Imperial Hotel

Vienna, Austria

October 23, 2015

SECRETARY KERRY: So let me start by saying that I am convinced, having been part of this process since the day I became Secretary, that today’s meeting was constructive and productive and succeeded in surfacing some ideas which I’m not going to share today but which I hope have a possibility of ultimately changing the dynamic.

I’m very grateful to my counterparts and friends from Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Russia for their time and for their commitment to moving the process itself to arrive at a political solution forward. And we all know that arriving at a solution to the crisis in Syria is difficult. If it were easy, it would have happened somewhere in the prior years now.

I also want to express my thanks to the Government of Austria yet again for its hospitality and the people of Austria on the occasion of their National Day, which is coming up on Monday.

Today we came here aware of all of the pitfalls, aware of all of the hurdles. Every foreign minister here has been wrestling with this issue for a period of time. But we came here with a commitment to try to find new ideas for how to break the impasse and end the conflict. I want to emphasize that these new ideas are built on all of the previous conferences and the communiques, on recent discussions, including at the UN General Assembly last month. And they are ideas that are in keeping with all of the principles that have been laid down and with sensitivities of the nations and the parties, the opposition, those involved in this effort.

What we agreed to do today is to consult with all parties and aim to reconvene, hopefully as early as next Friday, with a broader meeting in order to explore whether there is sufficient common ground to advance a meaningful political process.

Now, all of us who met today reaffirmed the basic principles of a political transition in Syria as expressed in the Geneva communique. And we agreed again – not new, but we agreed again, important in the context of recent developments, that there is no military solution to the larger conflict. We agreed also that the only path forward remains a genuine political transition – one that will stop the killing and lay the groundwork for a government that the Syrian people deserve and support and can arrive at with their input. This is about the Syrian people choosing – not the four countries that were here today, nor even a broader group that comes together. It is ultimately about how we get to the table where the Syrians themselves are deciding the future of Syria.

So one thing also is clear, and that is that Syria’s future is not a choice between Assad and extremists like Daesh. That’s not the choice. Syria’s future requires a transition, and all of the parties here today agreed on that fundamental principle of the Geneva process and that has already been agreed upon in various conferences and meetings to date. That transition must produce an inclusive, accountable government overseeing a unified, secular, pluralistic, sovereign, and independent nation that contributes to the stability of the region. And all parties agreed that now is the time to end the fighting and advance this political transition.

So obviously, the question is: Okay, so how do you get there? And the answer is in the discussions and consultations that we are going to have, and hopefully in the coming together of various interested parties, at this next meeting in an effort after we do some homework over the course of the next few days. And that homework involves different things, but of course, primarily the consultations with everybody, because there are many people who have an interest in this.

The United States, I want to emphasize, welcomes support in the fight against Daesh. And if Russia intends to join in that fight, we welcome a constructive role. But targeting moderate fighters doesn’t hurt Daesh. It makes it easier for Assad to continue brutalizing the Syrian people, it threatens to exacerbate the sectarian tensions that feed extremism, and it encourages more fighters – particularly foreign fighters – to flock to Daesh. So a genuine transition, on the other hand, will contribute to the defeat of Daesh. It would lead to a responsible government in Syria that not only meets the needs of the Syrian people but also takes away the breathing space for Daesh that it currently enjoys.

And that is why our discussions to day were so important. The hard work of shaping that transition requires an international approach and a consistent approach. Everybody knows that there are countries supporting Assad and there are countries supporting the opposition. And there are individual entities, in some cases, supporting foreign fighters. So there remain differences of – there remain differences among us about exactly what the final approach looks like. But we all agree, including Russia, on the basic principles laid out in the Geneva communique, and we all agree on the political outcome that is sought with the obvious question of the resolution of Assad’s choice for the future.

Now, I repeat again: We all agree on the outcomes we are seeking for the type of government that should exist, for the type of Syria that should exist, and for what should be done with Daesh. While we can agree to disagree on what and when might occur with respect to the resolution of the Assad problem, we clearly can agree on a process that helps to bring about a resolution of that question. And that is a very important starting place.

So all concerned governments have a responsibility to contribute to ending the Syrian conflict through a transition that will unite the country and enable it to live in peace. That is the goal that is sought by the United States of America. That is the goal of the anti-Daesh coalition that we have mobilized. And that is the purpose of the inclusive diplomatic process that we are pursuing, and that is the urgent wish of the vast majority of the Syrian people.

And that’s why we came here today. This conversation will continue. I will meet tomorrow with King Abdullah, and I will subsequently travel to Saudi Arabia to meet with King Salman, and from there back to Washington to consult with the President and our team, and then back to pursue this larger group as soon as we have done our homework and brought the parties together.

We are absolutely determined to stay at it, because as I have said many times, this is a terrible human toll unfolding before our eyes. The images every evening of tens of thousands of refugees marching across open land or trying to get across the sea, the bombings of innocent people and mistargeting and the violence in Syria itself, the strains of the countries surrounding it, require a global effort by all people of conscience and nations with positions of leadership and impact to do everything possible to try to bring this to a close. And I thought today was a solid, serious discussion in a genuine effort to try to find a way to thread the difficult needle that needs to be thread here.

And with that, I’d be happy to take some questions.

MR KIRBY: We’ll go to Jay.

QUESTION: Thank you. Mr. Secretary, on this conference that you’re talking about, is this more seen to be like a joint Russian-American conference? And do you see the Iranians as taking part in this conference next week? And also, do you feel that you can really trust the Iranians with this diplomacy? The perception is that this military operation in Syria was essentially plotted out even as the talks on the nuclear issue were going on here in Vienna and sort of went behind the U.S.’s back. So if you could talk to those points? Thank you.

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, let me talk to the second point and then first. Just as in the Iran negotiations, nothing was built on trust. So this is not a question of whether we trust somebody or don’t trust somebody. What we seek are steps that are verifiable, that are measurable, that people need to take, actions people need to take in order to effect an outcome. And if some country with whom we have differences were to participate in any kind of a meeting, then it would be very quick and easy to determine whether that country is there as an obstruction or as a bona fide participant seeking a solution. Now, for the moment, Iran is not at the table, and there will come a time perhaps where we will talk to Iran, but we’re not at that moment at this point in time.

And let me be very careful to describe this. I don’t want to describe this next meeting as a conference – though it will have some aspects of that – but it’s a meeting, and I see a difference between the two. It’s an effort to come together and have a meeting of people who have been deeply involved in this for a long period of time. You all know there’s groups of countries, we have a lot of friends who have been invested in this – France and England and Germany, Italy, others, others in the region – Qatar, Jordan, and so forth.

So we will be reaching out to a group, and no, it is not a, quote – no, this is a multilateral – a multilateral collegiate effort, and there are no self-appointed leaders or anything. We’re just trying to explore ideas, and everybody is a participant and a co-equal and a co-equal participant in this process. So we look forward to expanding it with countries that have a great concern about this, have contributed a great deal to its resolution, and that meeting we hope might be able to produce a way forward that would be effective in really getting back to a manageable political process that can actually produce results.

MR KIRBY: Okay. Next we have Arshad.

SECRETARY KERRY: And I think there was one other part of that on the – yeah, I did both, I think.

MR KIRBY: Yeah. Arshad’s next, sir.

QUESTION: Yeah. Secretary Kerry, first, am I correct in understanding that there is still no fundamental agreement between the United States and Russia on whether Assad can play any long-term role in Syria’s future?

Second, what do you know about this Russian-Jordanian agreement on military cooperation through some mechanism in Amman? Is this de-confliction, is it something else? Does it unease you that one of your very closest Middle East allies is going to work with the Russians in this manner?

And finally, who else do you think might be included in the next meeting, if you have one, as early as next Friday? And is it conceivable to you that Friday’s meeting could include the Iranians, or are you still a long way from that?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, I’m not going to get into speculating about when or if or what might happen with respect to Iranian participation. I’ll just say this: I named a number of countries that are particularly engaged in this issue, and we want to be inclusive and err on the side of inclusivity rather than exclusivity. Multilateral diplomacy requires maximizing people who can have a positive impact, and we obviously want to see this have a positive impact.

So I think we need to wait and have the consultations we’re having. You will know soon enough who will take part and when the conference will take place. But as I said, going to aim for next Friday. We’ll see what happens time-wise. We have some homework to do in between time. If we don’t get it all done then it might push a day or two or three, but we’ll see what happens.

But urgency – we feel a sense of urgency. Every day that goes by there are more innocent people who are killed, more refugees, more dislocation. And so I think everybody would agree that we have a fundamental responsibility to try to work at this as fast as we can, and that is our intent.

With respect to Amman and Jordan, no, we – first of all, Jordan has 1.5 million refugees from Syria. Jordan has a long border with Syria. Jordan has been deeply involved in what is happening Syria, and just as Turkey has been directly engaged and talking with the Russians about what they’re doing on the northern border, it is perfectly natural for Jordan to talk with them about what’s happening on their border, on the south. And in fact, it may well be – and I had a conversation with Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh about this. I am meeting with him tomorrow in Amman, and with King Abdullah, and I’m quite confident that this could even become a competent vehicle for further articulation of who is being hit where and how, and it might even prove to be quite beneficial to everybody.

So in my judgment, Jordan is a great friend of ours; a strong, strong ally, critical to the security of Israel and the region; obviously has every right in the world to make a choice regarding its own defense and its own security needs, and we respect that completely. So we have no problem whatsoever with this effort and it may even help make certain that the targets are the targets that they ought to be, and that’s exactly in our interest.

So thank you all. Appreciate your patience.

QUESTION: Still nothing on Assad? The fundamental disagreement is there.

SECRETARY KERRY: Oh, on the fundamental disagreement. Let me – look, here’s – diplomacy has a way of working through very difficult issues that seem to be absolutely contradictory and on their face begin at odds. And this is one of those issues where the statements clearly and current positions are at odds. It is clear that Russia and Iran are supportive of Assad, and certainly publicly have argued that it is important for Assad to be there for the stability of the country. A whole bunch of countries, including the United States, Saudi Arabia, the Emirates, Turkey, Qatar, Jordan, Egypt, Great Britain, Germany, France, Italy, most of Europe, dozens of countries if not hundreds, understand that Assad creates an impossible dynamic for peace – that you can’t make peace, even if you wanted to, with Assad there. So that has to be resolved, clearly, in any political process.

But if we can get into a political process, sometimes these things have a way of resolving themselves. And so I’m not disturbed by positions at this point in time where countries all agree on the larger goals, which sometimes is a year’s in the making – on their own. In other words, it could take years sometimes just to reach agreement on what we already agree on. So we are starting at a very advanced place where we all agree, and Russia reiterated this just the other day. President Putin said, no, he doesn’t want to break up Syria. He wants a unified Syria. And he believes it would be much more dangerous to break it up. We share that exact point of view. Russia wants to see that Daesh and other extremists are eliminated from the scene. So do we. Russia wants a country that has the Syrians choose their future leadership. That’s a message in and of itself. That is a possibility of transition.

And so if you run through the things that I told you earlier that we all agree on, there is a basis here to getting to a more serious conversation, one that eluded us two years ago and three years ago, but one now which I believe many people in the world would say may be more ripe and ready for the discussion. That’s what we’re trying to put to the test here and we will continue to try to put that to the test.

Thank you all very much. Appreciate it.