Secretary Kerry Remarks on Anti-Islamic State Coalition Meeting

Published: December 4, 2014

Editor’s Note:

Secretary of State John Kerry hosted the first ministerial meeting of the coalition crafted to counter the Islamic State (a.k.a.: Daesh, IS, ISIL) yesterday. The gathering in Brussels built upon the ad hoc multilateral group’s efforts following organizing meetings in September at the Wales NATO Summit and the Jeddah meeting of GCC members plus Egypt, Iraq, Lebanon, Jordan and the United States and served to reaffirm their commitment to “degrade and defeat ISIL.”

We present for your consideration several items to provide background and context on the U.S., Saudi and coalition efforts to combat Daesh.  These include the joint statement with a roster of coalition partnersSecretary Kerry’s remarks following the anti-Daesh ministerial meeting (text and video)a report on Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud Al Faisal’s remarks from Brussels and the latest edition of the SUSRIS Special Section: “The Islamic State.”

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Press Availability
John Kerry
Secretary of State
NATO Headquarters
Brussels, Belgium
December 3, 2014

SECRETARY KERRY: Good afternoon and thanks, everybody, for being here. And thanks for your patience.

In less than three months, the international community has come together to form a coalition that is already taking important steps to degrade and defeat ISIL, or Daesh. And today was an opportunity for representatives from about 60 members of the anti-ISIL coalition to come together, share their views, receive updates on coalition efforts, make suggestions about the roadmap ahead, and discuss as carefully as possible the pluses and minuses of the strategy engaged and what needs to be done to accomplish our goals going forward.

It was absolutely clear in the comments of everybody, particularly the prime minister of Iraq and his team, that we have made already significant progress in two and a half months. But we also acknowledge there is a lot more work yet to be done. Daesh is still perpetrating terrible crimes, but there was a consensus that the momentum which it had exhibited two and a half months ago has been halted, that it has been forced to modify its tactics – and some of those modifications severely hampering their ability to operate in the way that they were, certainly – that their hold on territory has been challenged already, and their finances have been strained, and in almost every media market that exists, and certainly within the region, their message is being denounced. Their message of hate is being challenged in public meeting places, in mosques across the globe. This clearly represents a multifaceted effort, which is precisely what we defined in the earliest days of suggesting that we would build a coalition and the coalition would take on Daesh.

Now, while airstrikes may capture the headlines – and there have been more than 1,000 of them thus far – this is far more than simply a military coalition. And it will not be successful, we all agree, if it were to rely on military alone, which it does not. Destroying Daesh is going to require defeating the ideology – the funding, the recruitment, and the devastation that they’ve been able to inflict on people in the region. And these are the areas that were really the primary focus of today’s discussion.

During this morning’s meeting, we reviewed the progress in each of our five lines of effort and came together in issuing a joint statement, all countries signing on, that underscores our unity and our firm support for our partners and our absolute determination to succeed. Participants noted the gains that we have made across all of the lines of effort – defeating ISIL on the battlefield, restricting its finances, enacting laws to restrict the flow of foreign fighters, and countering its toxic ideology.

The long-term success of the effort in Iraq is key to the success of the coalition. And today we heard directly from Iraqi Prime Minister Abadi, whose government yesterday revealed and reached a long-sought agreement, a landmark oil deal with the Kurdistan Regional Government. The prime minister also provided an update on the fight against Daesh in Iraq and on his broader reform agenda, including an executive order that he just issued to begin important changes in the criminal justice system of Iraq. Nothing will do more to defeat Daesh than an Iraq that is united and has more representative and effective security forces.

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Secretary of State John Kerry Remarks Concerning Coalition Meeting
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Now, obviously there’s a lot more work ahead. But the prime minister has taken steps to unite the country, including outreach to Sunni tribes. He has taken steps to root out corruption and to reform the Iraqi Security Forces and to take on the threat that Daesh represents. I think it’s fair to say that all of the foreign ministers, ambassadors, representatives who were there today came away impressed by Prime Minister Abadi and by what he has accomplished today, which is the down payment on the roadmap that he laid out for the future.

Earlier today, I participated in a meeting on the complex situation in Libya. And later we – I had a bilateral wide-ranging discussion at lunch with EU High Representative Federica Mogherini. And we talked about all of the key issues in the transatlantic agenda – trade, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership; the energy security challenges; the opportunities presented by these energy challenges, which really represent game-changing set of possibilities with respect to the movement of liquefied natural gas, also alternative and renewable energy possibilities. We also talked about support for Ukraine, the Middle East, Libya, Syria, Iraq, and the challenge of Ebola.

And I ended the day just now by attending a meeting of the EU-U.S. Energy Council, where we talked about the major possibilities for realignment with respect to energy security, environment issues, climate change, all of the possibilities that the energy agenda provide us in terms of a new marketplace with new job opportunities, new technologies, an enormous kick to the economy, as well as increases in security – environment security, energy security, health security, and the economy itself.

We reviewed progress in facilitating the reverse gas flows and the EU effort to reach an accord on natural gas supplies with Ukraine and Russia, which was a very important step which we congratulate the EU on taking. And second, we talked about the overall challenge of European energy security, which requires regulatory cooperation, investments in infrastructure, and an intensive commitment to sustainable technology.

And finally, we talked about the urgency of further breakthroughs on climate change itself. The EU took the important step earlier in the fall of putting out publicly its targets for 2015 at the Paris conference. We recently came back, President Obama and myself and our team, from a bilateral series of meetings in China where we were able to agree with China on setting certain kinds of goals. We’re continuing that work not only with China, but with other countries with the hopes of having an impact on the meeting in Peru, which I will attend later next week, and which will be the lead-in to a year of important focus on climate change and high hopes for success in Paris next December.

With the ongoing meetings in Peru and what will follow over the course of the next year and the U.S. President, President Obama’s, pledge of a contribution of $3 billion to the Green Climate Fund and the EU’s early commitments, we believe that we are making clear that the Obama Administration and the United States are all in on this issue and committed to try to take steps that are long overdue. We intend to continue to try to build momentum moving into next year, and we believe that not only is there obviously the practical advantage of responding to the events, to the transformation taking place in the climate that is contributing to very severe weather events, to major flooding, major fires, major drought, to shifts in agriculture and other impacts that have huge cost, but we believe it is becoming more and more evident that it is cheaper to invest in the new technologies and move to the clean energy economy. And we are going to continue to work for that.

So with that, I’d be pleased to respond to your questions with respect to any of the topics that I touched on.

MS. PSAKI: The first question will be from Lara Jakes of the Associated Press.

QUESTION: Actually, I’m not asking a question today.

MS. PSAKI: Oh, I’m sorry. Oh, I’m sorry. Michael Gordon of The New York Times. All right.

QUESTION: On behalf of Lara Jakes. (Laughter.)

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: He’s prettier than I am.

QUESTION: If – sir, if Iraqi forces are successful with U.S. and allied air support in retaking Mosul, Fallujah, and other populated areas in what could be block-to-block fighting, Iraq will likely confront the need for a major reconstruction effort, and Iraq may also face pressing humanitarian needs as civilians will need to get through the winter in newly reclaimed areas.

What assistance did Prime Minister Abadi seek during his meetings with you and other partners in terms of help with reconstruction, humanitarian assistance, and also additional military training and equipment? What is this likely to cost? Hundreds of millions of dollars, billions? And is the United States and the international community prepared to meet those needs? Will there be another donor conference or another international meeting? How do you plan to proceed?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, Michael, it’s a really good question, and very important to the road ahead. The subject absolutely came up. Prime Minister Abadi himself put the topic of reconstruction on the table. And I’m happy to say that a number of Gulf states which have capacity on their own have engaged in this discussion with Prime Minister Abadi and the Iraqis. I think it’s up to them to identify themselves, but we are particularly excited about the prospect of having the region engage in a significant way across sectarian lines, I might add, in order to be able to address this reconstruction notion.

So I don’t think this is something where Americans or Europeans or others have to recoil and say, “Oh my God, we’re going to be facing this monumental task of rebuilding yet another place when we have our own challenges.” Might we have to contribute to it? Sure, we ought to. It’s part of our foreign policy and it’s part of our engagement. But I’m excited by the prospect that already, for instance, Saudi Arabia has made half a billion dollars available before we even fully engaged in this effort as a sign of good faith in an effort to try to say to the people of Iraq that they could cross the sectarian divide and offer humanitarian assistance.

Now there were a number of countries in the region that are talking about a further reconstruction fund that would specifically help to rebuild as the country is taken back from the clasp – the unwanted clasp of the terrorists who are controlling a significant portion of Anbar and other parts of Iraq at this moment. So I’m very, very hopeful that that will take place and it will be a natural outgrowth of this coalition as it meets in the days ahead, and as we plan for the roadmap.

It won’t do any good, obviously, if you simply reclaim a town and the folks in that town have worse or less opportunities than they may have had before and life is even harder. So part of winning this back – and this is what we’ve been saying from day one – is not just the task of the military campaign; it’s the campaign that goes on every day thereafter in providing a government that is responsive, that is inclusive, that is pluralistic, that is freeing itself from any clutches of corruption that may or may not exist. That’s what we want to see, and that effort is very much part of the planning stage at this early moment.

MS. PSAKI: The next question will be from Sangwon Yoon of Bloomberg News.

QUESTION: U.S. – the Pentagon said that it believes that Iran carried out several airstrikes in Iraq’s Diyala province in the past couple of days. Are you aware of these strikes? Do you welcome such Iranian air missions in Iraq? Do you think they’re helpful to the fight against ISIL or do you think that it’d be better if Iran avoids these actions?

And also, in your opening remarks today in the meeting, you talked about the importance of having a dialogue to share best thoughts, about ways to do things better and plan carefully. Now, notwithstanding these Iranian airstrikes in Diyala, Iran’s role in fighting ISIS in Iraq has been growing. Has the time come now for the U.S. and the coalition to start directly coordinating efforts in order to maximize the global campaign to defeat and degrade ISIL?

SECRETARY KERRY: Let me answer that – both parts of that question. First of all, I’m not going to make any announcements or confirm or deny the reported military action of another country in Iraq. It’s up to them or up to the Iraqis to do that, if it indeed took place. We are obviously flying our missions over Iraq and we coordinate those missions with the Iraqi Government. And we rely on the Iraqi Government to deconflict whatever control of their airspace may in fact need that deconfliction.

So nothing has changed in our fundamental policy of not coordinating our military activity or other activities at this moment with Iranians. We’re not doing that. And we are not – not only not coordinating militarily right now, but there are no plans at this time to coordinate militarily. I think it’s self-evident that if Iran is taking on ISIL in some particular place and it’s confined to taking on ISIL and it has an impact, it’s going to be – the net effect is positive. But that’s not something that we’re coordinating. The Iraqis have the overall responsibility for their own ground and air operations, and what they choose to do is up to them.

MS. PSAKI: The next question will be from Noureddine Fridhi of Al-Arabiya.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, I have a couple of questions, if you don’t mind. In these meetings, there – are they new commitments regarding the moderate opposition, Syrian moderate opposition, in terms of supporting them by equipment, training, on political level?

And my second question is about the issue of there is no-fly zone until now, as the Turkish are asking. But do you see yourself alternatives for the Turkish side to protect its border of the country from these borders, thousand foreign fighters entered into Syria, sir?

SECRETARY KERRY: Yeah. Well, regarding the issue of new commitments with respect to the Syrian opposition, the answer is simply that this meeting was about ISIL/ISIS/Daesh. This meeting was not about the Syrian opposition and the other parts of that struggle. Did it come up? Was it discussed? Yes. Did some countries talk about their concerns about the regime? Absolutely, but it was not with any sense of division. This was a united group here to deal with the challenge of Daesh. And while people expressed an opinion regarding the regime, as you saw, there was a completely unified communique, which understood clearly what the mission was that brought people here today.

Now in the course of – even the communique mentions the opposition and talks about the continued support for the opposition – moderate opposition, that is – and that will continue, and everybody understands who’s committed to that and who’s engaged in that direct effort. But there was no specific plus-up with respect to that.

On the issue of no-fly zone and so forth, the United States remains extremely engaged in its discussions with Turkey. Turkey, as everybody knows, is a NATO ally. It is a very important coalition partner. It is an absolute – it has a border with Syria, it has critical impacts because of what is happening in Syria, and a deep stake in the outcome of what is going on there. And therefore, we are having a very serious discussion with Turkey.

Vice President Biden was just there. He had a long discussion with President Erdogan; long discussion with Prime Minister Davutoglu. Prime Minister Davutoglu just visited Iraq. There’s a lot of discussion going on about the way we will go forward. But it is premature to suggest at this moment of time that we are close to making a decision or moving forward with any form of a safe zone or a buffer zone at this moment in time. But we are continuing our discussions with our Turkish allies in order to have conversations about how we best bolster security in the region and deal with the problem of Syria.

And it is no secret that the United States continues to believe that President Assad has lost all legitimacy, that the regime will not be able to find peace in Iraq as long as – in Syria as long as Assad remains in power. There needs to be some kind of transition. We know it’s not going to happen through a military, direct process, so there has to be a political solution. And we’re looking still for the way to engage all of the countries in the region in an effort to achieve what was originally laid out in Geneva. That remains the operative objective.

MS. PSAKI: Thank you, everyone.

SECRETARY KERRY: That’s it. Thank you all. Appreciate it. Thank you.

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