Full transcript of Saudi FM’s briefing on deputy crown prince visit

Saudi Foreign Minister Adel Al Jubeir holds a press conference at the Saudi Embassy in Washington June 17, 2016. (Reuters)

Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir said on Friday Saudi Arabia will have strong ties with the future US president at a news briefing during a Washington visit by Saudi Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

During the conference -- which followed a meeting betweem Prince Mohammed bin Salman and US President Barack Obama-- Jubeir said the relationship with Washington will “grow stronger and deeper in all areas, irrespective of who is in the White House.”

Full transcript of the press conference below:
 

Saudi FM Jubeir: In the name of God, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful,
Hello everybody, sorry about the delay. Our meeting at the White House went longer than expected. I wanted to brief you a little bit about the visit of the Deputy Crown Prince to the United States. This is His Royal Highness’ first visit as Deputy Crown Prince and [Second] Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Defense to the United States. It’s been a very busy week and a very productive week. His Royal Highness began his visit with a two-hour meeting with Secretary Kerry at the Secretary’s residence, which was then followed by an Iftar dinner. The next day, His Royal Highness met with the Director of National Intelligence, Jim Clapper, and also visited the CIA, met with Director John Brennan. He also met with congressional leaders, including the Speaker of the House, the Chairman and Ranking Members of the key committees—Foreign Affairs, Armed Services, Intelligence—again, very, very productive meetings on Capitol Hill, and then he met with the Economic Council that also included the Secretaries of Commerce, Treasury, and Energy, as well as the US Trade Representative.

There were meetings also with executives, meetings with Saudi students. In fact, the meeting with Saudi students is taking place as we speak. There were meetings with the Chamber of Commerce. His Royal Highness is accompanied by a large delegation that includes the Minister of Finance, the Minister of Energy, the Minister of Trade and Investment, the Minister of Culture and Information, the Foreign Minister, as well as officials--advisors in the Royal Court, who in turn have been meeting with their counterparts in the US. The objective of this visit is as all visits of this nature – it is to reinforce the historic and strategic relationship between our two countries; it is to exchange views and ideas on issues of the day, on challenges that our two countries face in the region and in the world.

It was an also an opportunity for His Royal Highness to brief people about the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 and where we see the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia moving over the next fifteen years or so, which is a very bold vision and a very comprehensive vision. I think people in the US were very pleased with it and very supportive of it--the scope of it, the breadth of it--and look forward to working with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia on its implementation. So that was it. In terms of regional issues, you can probably guess what they were. They were Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Libya, Iran, terrorism, the bilateral relationship. I would describe the meetings as very, very positive. I believe there was a commonality in terms of positions and views and emphasis on the strategic relationship between the two countries and ways of further broadening, deepening, and strengthening it. So with that I want to stop here and see if you have any questions that you would like me to answer.

Question: (in Arabic): The visit seems intense and full of updates. I have two questions: With regard to Iran and the Kingdom’s position, will Saudi, today, coexist with Iranian behavior in the region or will it confront Iranian behavior in the region [inaudible]? With regard to Yemen, UAE said that the issue has been resolved and the war is over. What does Saudi have to say about this? Thank you.

Saudi FM Jubeir (in Arabic): First, regarding the Kingdom’s position towards Iran, there has been no change. The Kingdom looks at Iran as a country trying to export its revolution, a country that interferes in the affairs of countries of the region, a country that supports terrorism, and a country that is trying to undermine security and stability in the region, and this is unacceptable to Saudi Arabia. If Iran wants to have normal relations with the countries of the region, it must: first, abandon the principle of exporting its revolution, which exists in the Iranian constitution; second, it must respect the principles of good neighborliness and non-interference in the affairs of others; and third, it must not look at the citizens of countries in the region from a sectarian perspective., Those citizens belong to their countries, and their loyalty is for their countries, and Iran had no relationship with them. If Iran adheres to these principles and stops supporting terrorism, interfering in the affairs of countries of the region, and smuggling arms and drugs, there is no reason not to build good neighborly and friendly relations between Iran and the countries of the region. But this is up to Iran. It [Iran] is the country that has been behaving aggressively towards countries of the region for the past 35 years, since the revolution of Khomeini; it is igniting sectarianism in the region; it is supporting terrorism; it is assassinating diplomats; it is exporting arms; and it is supporting militias and letting these militias destabilize the region. If Iran wants to have normal relations with the countries of the region, it must change the approach that it adopted over 35 years.

Question: (in Arabic): And Yemen?

Saudi FM Jubeir: Regarding Yemen, as you know, there is a scaling back of military operations by virtue of agreements related to the truce, and this is a positive thing. There are talks in Kuwait today between the Yemeni parties, which we hope will lead to positive results, with God’s will. And we are working with all sides in Yemen, our allies in the coalition, and our friends in the international community for the success of these operations so we can move Yemen from war and destruction to security, stability, and reconstruction.

Question: (in Arabic): The UAE’s position?

Saudi FM Jubeir (in Arabic): I think that the UAE's position is very clear to us, because the UAE is a key country in this alliance, and the UAE participated strongly in this coalition, whether [it is] to support legitimacy or to fight terrorism. We do not notice any change in the UAE's position. I think that some of the published reports in the press may not be very accurate. The UAE is committed to this alliance, and we have no doubt that the UAE is keen on supporting the alliance until Yemen gets to a safe place.

Question: (in Arabic): With regard to the Syrian crisis and the Saudi Deputy Crown Prince’s meeting with President Barack Obama this morning, there seems to be, perhaps, a misunderstanding or differences between the Saudi vision to resolve the crisis and the US’s vision, how was this issue discussed and how [unintelligible]? With regard to agreements, whether military or economic, and the Kingdom's vision 2030, what is the size of the agreements signed during the visit of the Defense Minister, the Deputy Crown Prince?

Saudi FM Jubeir (in Arabic): I think, with regard to the Syrian crisis, the difference between the Kingdom and the United States’ position is not great. We all support a political solution based on the Geneva 1 Declaration and Security Council Resolution 2254. We all support the moderate Syrian opposition by cooperating with our allies. (By “we” I mean the Kingdom and the United States.) We both do not see any role for al-Assad in Syria's future. And we all strive to preserve the institutions of Syria in order to avoid chaos, preserve the unity of Syrian lands, and build a new Syria in which all sects and factions of the Syrian people live equally. This is what we seek. There are some ideas with respect to imposing pressure on al-Assad to respond to the demands of the international community about ceasefire, the introduction of humanitarian aid, and starting the transitional political process, which he [al-Assad] is stalling. Thus, I do not believe that this is a disagreement. We all agree on the issue. There was an exchange of views with respect to what are the best ways to impose pressure on Bashar al-Assad and his allies to respond to the will of the international community. And I would like to repeat, as I have said many times, that everyone knows how the Syrian crisis will end. It will end without Bashar al-Assad. He has no place; this is settled. And as I repeatedly have stated, Bashar al-Assad must leave either politically--and that is everyone’s preference--or the Syrian people will remove him by force. But his issue is settled; it is a matter of time.

Question: (in Arabic): About the agreements?

Saudi FM Jubeir (in Arabic): The visit was to consult, coordinate, and exchange views regarding the challenges facing the region, whether in Yemen, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, or Libya; bilateral relations; and countering terrorism. It was also an opportunity to inform our friends in the United States about Vision 2030.It was more than just signing agreements. An agreement was signed with Dow [Dow Chemical] in the Kingdom. It is now able to market its products in the Kingdom, and this is related to Vision 2030 and the economic reforms that will be adopted by the Kingdom. The Deputy Crown Prince will go to Silicon Valley to meet with tech companies to discuss how the Kingdom can benefit from these technologies to develop economy and innovation in Saudi Arabia. Later, he will visit New York City for a meeting with investment funds and major banks to consult on how we can cooperate in the near future with financial markets, banks and insurance companies, and about offering shares of Saudi Aramco, etc. The visit has not ended yet.

Saudi FM Jubeir: Could I have one in English?

Question: Sir, thank you very much for doing this today. A group of State Department employees who work on the Middle East [unintelligible] expressing frustration with administration policy in Syria, asking for a more active policy and one that includes airstrikes on the Assad regime. I’m just wondering if this is something that Saudi Arabia would support and how you feel about current administration policy.

Saudi FM Jubeir: Yes.

Question: Yes, you would support a more active—

Saudi FM Jubeir: Yes. Yes. We have been arguing from the beginning of the Syrian crisis that there should be more robust intervention in Syria, including airstrikes, a no-fly zone, a no-drive zone, a safe haven, more robust arming of the Syrian opposition, including surface-to-air missiles. We have been arguing for that from the beginning of the crisis, and we continue to believe that unless we change the balance of power on the ground in a dramatic way, that once we do that it will open the way for a political settlement. But if the Bashar regime feels that it can continue in a stalemate, much less prevail, there will be no incentive for them to take the necessary steps to bring about a transition in Syria. So yes, we have always supported a more aggressive approach and a more robust approach, including a military approach, to Syria, and we have said that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia would be prepared to provide special forces to any international coalition that would operate in Syria.

Question: Thank you, Mr. Minister, and welcome back to Washington [unintelligible]. This is [unintelligible] from Al Sharq Al Awsat newspaper. I would like to ask you what’s your views about the possible bill in the House and the Senate to stopping air-to-ground missiles until Saudi Arabia promise to take precaution to limit civilian casualties in Yemen. What’s your views about this bill and was there any discussion regarding this bill between His Highness and the [unintelligible]?

Saudi FM Jubeir: I believe the bill was drafted based on wrong assumptions. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is very, very keen on protecting civilian lives and minimizing civilian damage. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is very, very keen on upholding international humanitarian law. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has been very careful--as well as the coalition—have been very, very careful about going after military targets. The air sorties that the Kingdom and the coalition fly are recorded, both video and voice.

We conduct battle damage assessments afterwards, and we are confident that we have taken all necessary measures to prevent or to minimize collateral damage or damage to civilians. And so in that sense, this is, the argument in the bill, or in the draft of the bill, that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia will not be provided with surface to air-to-surface weapons unless they comply with international humanitarian law, unless they avoid casualties to civilians, unless they—we’re doing all of this. So the premise of this, of, I think, upon which the amendment was based, was incorrect. We have discussions with Congress on a continuing basis through our embassy about these issues, and we point out to them where we think there may be something that is based on incorrect information, and we clarify it, and generally, we work things out. So that would be my position on this.

Question: Any discussion about the possibility of arms sales between His Highness and Secretary Carter yesterday?

Saudi FM Jubeir: His Royal Highness met with the Secretary of Defense for more than two hours, including briefings about a number of issues that we are working on, whether it involves building the capabilities of our special forces, whether it involves maritime security, whether it involves cyber security, and other issues of mutual concern. Of course, when two secretaries of defense or two ministers of defense of two allied countries get together, of course they will talk about the defense requirements and how best to meet those defense requirements and so that is inevitably part of any conversation that they have, including the one they had yesterday, but I will leave it at that and not get into the details.

Question: Mr. Minister, Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said this week that [unintelligible] she believes that further action must be taken to prevent the flow of funds from individuals in Saudi Arabia to terrorist groups, and also some of what she said with the building of mosques spreading a religious doctrine that also contributes to terrorism. Could you comment on that and talk about whether it came up at all in the discussions, and is it something that concerns you for future relations between Saudi Arabia and the United States in the event of that election. And secondarily, could you say if in His Royal Highness’ conversation with Clapper if there was any discussion of when these so-called 28 pages will be released?

Saudi FM Jubeir: Let me start with the 28 pages. I think this is an internal US matter and not a Saudi matter. We asked that the 28 pages be released in 2002, when they were first classified. His Royal Highness Prince Saud Al Faisal, then-Foreign Minister, came to Washington with a message from then-Crown Prince Abdullah bin Abdulaziz to President Bush in the White House. We said we would like the 28 pages released so that we can respond to any allegations against us and so that we can punish any Saudis that may have been involved in this plot. But we cannot because we don’t think it’s fair or just respond to blank pages.

Saudi FM Jubeir on the '28 pages'

So that has been our position. Now, when they get released and how they get released is really up to the —this is a decision for the US government to make. Our position on this is very clear. We also understand that there was an investigations conducted into the allegations that are in the 28 pages, and those investigations have revealed that these allegations are not correct, and they don’t hold, and essentially, there is no “there” there. And I believe that if people looked at the 28 pages and looked at the results of the investigations, they will come to the conclusion that these allegations are unsubstantiated, unproven, and nobody should make a big deal out of them. So, anyway, on the 28 pages this is really an internal American matter, and the US will have to decide when and how to release it. This is not something that really concerns the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

With regards to funding and what more can be done to stop the flow of funding from individuals to extremist groups—absolutely. All of us can do more, including the United States. The importance is to have credible information so that you can take actions against them. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia—we have one of the strictest laws when it comes to financing of extremism or terrorism in the world. Our charities cannot operate abroad except through the King Salman Center or the Saudi Red Crescent, which is a semi-government entity. Our charities cannot withdraw cash from their banks; any money raised in Saudi Arabia has to be spent in Saudi Arabia, and these are fairly strict procedures that I don’t believe other countries in the world--including the United States--have taken.

We have designated entities that we believe supported terrorism, including the Al Haramain Foundation more than about ten to twelve years ago, including their branch in the United States. We have designated individuals. We have laws in Saudi Arabia that prohibit the raising of funds or the distribution of funds to extremist or terrorist groups. We have people in jail are put on trial for doing so and then sentenced. So nobody can question the Kingdom’s commitment to fighting terrorism or fighting the financing of terrorism. At the end of the day, we are the main targets of Al-Qaeda and Daesh because Saudi Arabia is the birthplace of Islam and it’s home of the Two Holy Mosques. We have—we suffer terrorist attacks by these terrorist groups and have for the past twelve years. We have a large number of our citizens who were killed; a large number of our security forces were killed in fighting the terrorists, and we continue to battle them, so we are under no illusion about what needs to be done.

I think this idea of building mosques and spreading intolerance has become exaggerated. You cannot build a mosque unless you have the permission of the local government. And if a mosque is preaching intolerance, then take the preachers to task. That’s what we do in Saudi Arabia. But to build a mosque because a community requested it and to provide the brick and mortar, and then if later on if it is taken over by extremists, that really should be the responsibility of the local government.

Not the donor who made the donation 30 or 40 years ago. And so, we work with people in this area, we have de-radicalization programs, we have campaigns to promote tolerance and to combat extremism and we work with other countries to do so. And I think the charges that are leveled at Saudi Arabia are one, not correct. I think they are exaggerated, and I think frankly they’re not fair. We have done as much, if not more than any other country in the world to fight terrorism, terror financing, and those that promote extremism and violence. And our record is very clear.

Question: And in terms of future relations?

Saudi FM Jubeir: The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s relationship with the US is bipartisan. It started, the first meeting was between Democratic President and King Abdulaziz in 1945 at the Great Bitter Lake in Egypt. It has continued through Republican and Democratic administrations, and the one constant in this relationship is that with every decade, it grows stronger, broader and deeper, irrespective of whether it’s a Democrat in the White House or a Republican in the White House.

We look at our relationship with the US as a relationship with a very important ally, a relationship that is historic, a relationship that has provided great benefit to both countries, and a relationship that allows both of us to deal with the challenges of the region and of the world. So, we don’t take any issues in terms of who’s president and who is not president. And Secretary Clinton has a tremendous experience, she knows the region, she’s been to the region many times. She was Secretary of State; she was First Lady. So I expect that with any president in the White House we will continue to enjoy very strong and very solid ties between the two countries.

Saudi FM Jubeir on the next US president

Question: A few months ago, you had discussions with lawmakers about a bill that was going through Congress that would strip Saudi sovereign immunity in 9/11 lawsuits, and you said that if the bill passed and was signed into law, that the Kingdom might be forced to sell American—it’s US assets. That bill’s now since passed the Senate and is going to be considered in the House. In your meetings this week or the Deputy Crown Prince’s meeting’s this week did you discuss with the members of the House the bill and did you reiterate your warning about the assets?

Saudi FM Jubeir: Yeah, I think that that warning was exaggerated in the way it was reported. We don’t threaten our allies, and we don’t threaten our friends. I think the way it was – not I think, I know because I said it, the way it was put, is that if you erode the principal of sovereign immunities, you reduce investor confidence in your economy, and you also open up yourself to lawsuits. And if you reduce investor confidence, it’s not just Saudi Arabia, everybody will begin to think twice before they invest in a place where their assets could be seized. Now, we see this legislation, the JASTA legislation, as an American issue. Not a Saudi issue. If the principal of sovereign immunities is eroded, the international system will revert to being governed by the law of the jungle. The country that has the most of to lose, if the principal of sovereign immunities is eroded, is the United States. Because you’re the largest player in the world. You have forces all over the world. And if the principal is eroded in the US, courts in other countries could do the same thing, and they can file lawsuits against your officials, against your military, and you will not be able to assert sovereign immunity as a defense. I think a lot of countries in the world are worried about the erosion of the principal of sovereign immunities.

So this is not a Saudi issue. This is really primarily an American issue. And also, a global issue and I believe and I hope that the Congress-- that wisdom will prevail in the Congress, as it always does, and Congress will do what it did in past years on this matter, for the sake of America primarily, and for the sake of the rest of the world. And we know what is driving this. We know who’s pushing this, and we know the motive. And I think the harm that can happen to the international system is very grave. And that’s why we look at it this way. I believe that most people who look at this know that this issue is one that can bring tremendous damage to the conduct of international relations and as a consequence I expect that Congress will take—will be wise in how it deals with this matter.

Question: Can you just elaborate a little on who is driving you think and their motive, you said we know--?

Saudi FM Jubeir: I think you can figure it out yourself.

Yes?

Question: Did the President discuss with the Crown Prince the possibility of Saudi Arabia taking in Syrian refugees, and the second part to that question is did the President and the Crown Prince have any discussion about Donald Trump’s proposal to ban Muslims from entering the United States?

Saudi FM Jubeir: I don’t recall that either of those two issues were discussed. With regards to Syrian refugees, Saudi Arabia, since the beginning of the crisis, has taken in almost 2.4 million Syrians, of whom somewhere between 6 and 7 hundred thousand still remain in Saudi Arabia. Over the past year and a half, Saudi Arabia has taken in almost a million Yemenis, of whom probably about 7 or 8 hundred thousand still remain. None of them is in a refugee camp. None of them lives in a tent. The Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman, decreed last summer that any Syrian who comes to Saudi Arabia, or any Yemeni who comes to Saudi Arabia, be immediately provided with a work permit, so they can have legal status.

They can get jobs. They have access to healthcare, and their children can go to schools. Because we don’t have one person in a tent, and as a consequence, we have not registered them with UN organizations as refugees. We want them to lead an honorable life, and we want them to lead a decent life, not live in tents or refugee camps. So we have taken in a lot of Syrian refugees and a lot of Yemeni refugees as guests. Not as refugees. And they are free to stay in Saudi Arabia until the crisis is over and their homes are rebuilt and they can go back. We haven’t announced this or made a big deal out of it because we’re not doing it to get credit, we’re doing it to help our brethren in both Syria and in Yemen. And this is in addition to the substantial financial assistance that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has provided to Syrian refugees in Yemen—sorry, in Lebanon and in Jordan.

Question: Can you speak to the second part of that question about Donald Trump? They didn’t—did they discuss Donald’s Trump proposal to—

Saudi FM Jubeir: No. No, there was no discussion of it. Yeah, go ahead.

Question: Back to the 28 pages for a second. Did the timing of when it was possibly going to be released come up at all? I couldn’t tell from your answer.

Saudi FM Jubeir: No—no, no, no. It didn’t come up because we didn’t raise it. This is an internal American issue. It’s up to the US to decide whether to release the 28 pages or not, or to declassify them, and it’s up to the US to decide when to declassify them. This is not really a Saudi issue. Our position on the declassification has been clear and consistent for the past 13 or 14 years.

Question: And then in Yemen, the Emiratis said they were almost-- they were wrapping up their campaign there. Were any of your discussions in Washington, with the President—did wrapping up the campaign come up?

Saudi FM Jubeir: Yes.

Question: What’s the status?

Saudi FM Jubeir: Sorry, I think I got the same question in Arabic; I should have translated at the time. I believe that the reports about what Emiratis said or didn’t say were not very accurate. The United Arab Emirates has been an integral member of the coalition to support legitimacy in Yemen. They have been very, very effective in terms of conducting operations with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. They have been very supportive of this effort and continue to be. They continue to play a hugely important role, and we see them as our, as our partners in this like we do all of the other coalition members. What we have seen in Yemen in the last two months is a substantial reduction in military operations by the coalition because we want to move towards a political settlement.

Where you see military operations is where there is a direct threat, or the threat involves ballistic missiles. But other than that the military operations of the coalition have substantially subsided and we are working to reach a political agreement between the Yemeni parties that will then launch a transition period, that will then take Yemen to a new future. And we can then shift from military operations to reconstruction and economic development in Yemen. So that’s where we are, and I have no doubt in, that the United Arab Emirates and the other coalition members are completely committed to this. There is no daylight in how the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia sees the situation in Yemen or any of our other allies, and in particular the United Arab Emirates.

Yes?

Question: Yesterday, in a speech given in Orlando, President Obama said, “We have to end discrimination and violence against our brothers and sisters who are in the LGBT community here at home and around the world, especially in countries where they are routinely persecuted.” Was this a topic of conversation in any of the meetings this week?

Saudi FM Jubeir: No. Yes, sir?

Question: Thank you for answering our questions today.

Saudi FM Jubeir: You’re welcome.

Question:
What does the Saudi government know about Omar Mateen’s visits to Saudi Arabia in 2011 and 2012, and when the FBI investigated him in 2013 and 2014, what did the Saudi Arabian government provide the FBI about those visits? And has the Saudi Arabian government gone back since the shooting to look at those visits again?

Saudi FM Jubeir: Okay, he performed Umrah in 2011 and in 2012. We have 6 million people a year who perform Umrah. There was nothing I understand that was derogatory in terms of how he performed Umrah. I think that-- that’s as the story kept on developing as we hear, that his motivations may have been different than what people initially thought they would be, and I would refer you to the FBI or others in terms of what they have on this issue. But what I personally have is that he performed Umrah twice. Once in 2011, once in 2012, I believe he was there for 5—I don’t know the days, I don’t remember, maybe a week or so, like along with 6 other million Muslims who perform Umrah every year, and that he came back to the US and that was it. I don’t know that he was on any radar screen, but then I want to caution you that I have not—we have to check with our security people to find out if there’s any more. And we have a channel, a security channel, between the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the US where all of these issues go back and forth.

Question: Have Saudi Arabia’s security services –

Saudi FM Jubeir: I don’t know; I can’t tell you. But I would caution you about jumping to conclusions because I think the motivation for the attack seems to be different from what people thought it was in the beginning.

Yes, sir?

Question:
(in Arabic): Is Saudi Arabia worried about the American presidential campaign, especially that some of them are using the Kingdom’s name, especially after the Orlando incident, and they [inaudible], is there a worry of what comes after the elections?

Saudi FM Jubeir (in Arabic): In every campaign, some things are said without one really meaning them, or said to attract votes. As for Saudi-US relations, when we look at them for the past 80 years, every decade, these relations grow, get stronger, and expand in all fields, whether the president is a Democrat or a Republican, and whether the Congress is dominated by Republicans or Democrats. I expect that, God willing, whatever has happened in the past will happen in the future, and with every decade we will see more growth in these strategic relations in all fields.

Saudi FM Jubeir: Yes, please?

Question: Thank you for taking our questions today. Last night the Pentagon informed us that Russian airplanes have been striking opposition groups in the south of Syria. Obviously, Russia is co-chair of the International Syria Support Group, the group that Saudi Arabia is a founding member of. Do you think it’s still a useful mechanism, the ISSG, do you think the cessation of hostilities as it stands is useful, or has it become fallen by the wayside?

Saudi FM Jubeir on Syria

Saudi FM Jubeir: What’s the alternative?

Question: Well, you suggested earlier, sir, that it was airstrikes against the regime.

Saudi FM Jubeir: Yes, so you have that. I think the International Syria Support Group has been very useful in terms of bringing people around the table with different opinions. There’s a core group within that group that are very strong supporters of the Syrian—of the moderate Syrian opposition--including by providing them with weapons. And then the ISSG, we have different opinions. And I think it’s been, it was helpful to have these meetings and to have discussions and to have understandings where people can reach an agreement. I think the Syria Support Group effort led to the UN Security Council Resolution 2254. I believe the efforts of the ISSG led to the adoption of a cessation of hostilities and the introduction or provision of humanitarian assistance.

The cessation of hostilities was not perfect because the Assad regime and their allies violated it. The provision of humanitarian assistance has not been perfect because the Assad regime is dragging its feet when it comes to providing assistance to certain areas. And we have now a means, through this ISSG, to try to exert pressure on Assad’s supporters in order to do more to pressure the Assad regime into complying with the will of the international community. So I think it is a useful process. Could it have been more effective? I think yes, if there was a will to deploy force in Syria, yes. I think if there had been a will to provide more substantial military assistance to the Syrian opposition five years ago, yes this could have been resolved. We believe. Others disagree with this assessment. And I think both are, you have two valid opinions. But at the end of the day, we have a process that, through which the international community is trying to put pressure to bear on Bashar al-Assad to comply with the will of the international community. And we also have a parallel track where support for the moderate opposition, including military support, is continuing. Maybe this will be my last one?

Question: I actually have two short ones. You mentioned that legislation coming out of Congress that suggests removing weapons transfers to the Kingdom for the campaign in Yemen is misguided, but this isn’t just coming out of Congress—

Saudi FM Jubeir: I didn’t say misguided.

Question: I think you said it was based on –

Saudi FM Jubeir: I said based on information that is not correct. The motivation for it.

Question: Anyhow, there’s been similar suggestions coming out of the White House, including an effort to stop cluster munitions transfers, I believe last month. Were there any conversations from the White House saying that they wanted to see more safeguards in terms of preventing civilian casualties in Yemen? And also, you said that the relationship between the US and Saudi Arabia tends to grow deeper and stronger each year with each administration. Are you confident that that would be the case under Donald Trump, even though he has said derogatory things about Muslims and threatened to ban them from entering the country?

Saudi FM Jubeir: On the first issue, we have the discussions with regards to Yemen. The US commended Saudi Arabia and the coalition countries for the reduction in the military operations and for the support for the peace talks in Kuwait. So that’s in terms of the bilateral discussions. I think that the-- not “I think,” I know, that the United States and our other allies have been very supportive of the coalition in the war on Yemen, whether it’s by providing intelligence or logistical support, or resupply of defensive equipment. As I mentioned earlier, we do not target civilians. We are very careful about what targets we take out. We are dealing with an opponent who uses artillery to indiscriminately shell towns and villages. We are dealing with an opponent who mobilizes children and uses them in warfare. We are dealing with an opponent who lays siege on towns and villages and starves the inhabitants of those towns and villages. We are dealing with an opponent who has no problem stealing humanitarian assistance and using it for political purposes. That’s what we’re up against. So we are doing everything we can to support the legitimate government, which is now prevailing in Yemen, and we’re doing everything we can to minimize civilian casualties. And we’re doing everything we can to comply with international humanitarian law. So—and I think our friends and allies know this.

With regard to the relationship between our two countries. Yes, I believe they will grow stronger and they will grow deeper in all areas, irrespective of who is in the White House. Our relationships are not based on personal relations. Our relationship is based on interests. And the interests between our two countries run very, very deep. Whether it has to do with security and stability in the Middle East, whether it has to do with international energy markets, whether it has to do with international financial markets, whether it has to do with countering terrorism and extremism, whether it has to do with working together on the environment, whether it has to do with putting together coalitions in the world in order for specific causes, whether it has to do with trade and investment. This relationship is very, very solid, and I believe anyone who looks at it objectively can only come to the conclusion that it doesn’t matter who’s in the White House. This relationship will go on, and continue to flourish, as it has over the past 8 decades.

Thank you everybody, I really appreciate you coming here, and once again, my apologies for running ten minutes late, but our meeting at the White House ran half an hour over, so it affected my schedule. Thanks again, everyone. Thank you.

 

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