Secretary of State
February 9, 2016
SECRETARY KERRY: Good morning, everybody. My distinct pleasure to welcome the foreign minister of Egypt, Sameh Shoukry, to Washington, but I would comment at the beginning by saying that Sameh and I have been seeing each other on a regular basis over the last few weeks in Rome and London for the Syria conference, for the meetings with respect to Libya. And there’s a very big agenda right now, plus there are very important bilateral challenges and issues that Egypt and the United States are working on together.
Egypt, as everybody knows, is facing a huge economic challenge. It’s going through a political transition. We very much respect the important role that Egypt plays traditionally within the region – a leader of the Arab world in no uncertain terms. And so the success of the transformation that is currently being worked on is critical for the United States and obviously for the region and for Egypt.
In terms of the immediate security challenges of the region with the fight against Daesh as well as the instability in Libya and the need to stand up a government in Libya, Egypt has been playing a key role, and we’re very appreciative for their leadership and participation within the International Syria Support Group. We will be meeting this Thursday in Munich on the outskirt – on the outside of the Munich Security Conference in order to try to see if we can advance urgently the humanitarian assistance that is necessary for Syria as well as try to advance the prospects for a ceasefire. Nothing could be more critical, and Egypt is very much committed as a partner in trying to achieve both of those goals as we come into this meeting on Thursday.
So I’m really delighted, Sameh, that you’re here. Thank you for our many efforts together in the last weeks and months, and look forward to working with you going forward.
FOREIGN MINISTER SHOUKRY: Great.
SECRETARY KERRY: Thank you.
FOREIGN MINISTER SHOUKRY: Well, thank you very much, Secretary Kerry. I’m delighted to be once again in Washington and to have this opportunity to exchange views with you. And primarily, I am here to reiterate and emphasize the importance that Egypt attaches to the strategic relationship that exists with the United States. This is a foundation, a cornerstone of our foreign policy for the last decades, and continues to be one that has been beneficial to Egypt, and I hope beneficial to the United States. And we are committed to continue to strengthen our relationship in the various fields – whether political, economic – and to address the various challenges that we both face and meet, and that I believe can only be confronted if we continue to work closely in coordination with each other. The United States as a global power and Egypt as an important regional presence, I think, can address these challenges in the most appropriate and fundamental manner so as to regain the security and the stability of our region.
On the multilateral front as well, we are coordinating in terms of the Security Council and our membership for the coming two years in the council, and we have been consulting consistently, whether in the meetings we have both participated in or by telephone, to coordinate and to exchange views on the situation in Libya, in Syria, in Iraq, and generally in the fight against terrorism. Egypt has been, from the outset, a member of the coalition against ISIS or Daesh once it was established, and continues to play a positive and a productive role in the various efforts, international efforts, underway to eradicate this terrorist threat.
Again, our perspective has always been a comprehensive approach dealing with all of the terrorist organizations and to the political and economic and social conditions that have provided this status of expansion of the terrorist threat. But we are confident that the activity that has been taken in the past has resulted in positive reduction of that threat in Iraq, and hopefully the political process that has been initiated in Syria will provide us all with more ability to control the spread of terrorism in Syria and for that country to regain its stability.
I am hopeful that we will continue to address issues of – in our bilateral relations with the same degree of constructive approach and communications that will be beneficial in Egypt’s democratization and development in the future. We are going through a transitional period, one that this government has a very defined vision in advancing the aspirations of the Egyptian people. And we can only do so with the assistance of our friends and partners, and of course, primary among them is the United States of America.
Thank you so much, John. Thank you so much.
SECRETARY KERRY: Thank you, Sameh. Thank you very much. Thank you, my friend.
FOREIGN MINISTER SHOUKRY: My pleasure.
SECRETARY KERRY: I forgot to mention – one thing I didn’t mention, which is very, very important, is Egypt’s coordination with Jordan, with Israel, with the United States with respect to the Sinai, and particularly Gaza and the issue of Palestine-Israel. Egypt plays a huge role with respect to that, obviously, and we’re very – and then that will be one of the topics that we will also discuss today.
QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, you said last week you would know in the coming days who was serious about a political transition in Syria. As the siege of Aleppo continues, led by Russian airstrikes, is Russia serious about that political transition? And how can you convince the Syrian opposition that that’s the case?
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, there’s no question – and I’ve said this before publicly – that Russia’s activities in Aleppo and in the region right now are making it much more difficult to be able to come to the table and to be able to have a serious conversation. And we have called on Russia, and we call on Russia again to join in the effort to bring about an immediate ceasefire and to bring about full humanitarian access. That is what this meeting will be about, and this meeting will tell a lot about the road ahead.
We are not blind to what is happening. We are all very, very aware of how critical this moment is, and Russia needs to contribute in significant ways to sustaining the ability of the opposition and others to come to the table and create an atmosphere within which you can actually have a negotiation. But they’ve made that very, very difficult over the course of the last days.
So we will approach this meeting in Munich with great hopes that this will be a telling moment. And it is urgent – the crisis of humanitarian catastrophe unfolding before the eyes of the world; the pressures on the region of displaced people, of refugees; the dumb bombs, cluster bombs that are being used that are killing innocent women and children; the stacking up of people seeking an outlet who are starving, who need food. Russia needs to join with all of us in understanding that this cannot go on, and that they have a major responsibility as a co-convener of the International Syria Support Group to create the framework within which that group can be successful and their word will be good.