MODERATOR: (In progress) On background from a Senior State Department Official.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Are we ready to go? Hello? Can everybody hear reasonably well at least? Okay, I’m just going to give a bit of an update on today’s meetings, and then one phone call that the Secretary did on the plane.
So the Secretary’s first meeting in Jeddah was with the President of the Syrian Opposition Coalition, Mr. Jarba. Jarba thanked the Secretary for the announcements today of $500 million in U.S. support for a train and equip program for the Syrian opposition. The Secretary and Jarba discussed the ongoing situation in Iraq, and particularly the threat posed by ISIL. Jarba reiterated, as he has on many previous instances, the strong opposition that the legitimate moderate opposition has to ISIL and discussed the fact they’re fighting ISIL inside Syria. He also said that in their conversations with Iraqi Sunnis, because some of their tribes spread across the border, they’re urging their Iraqi counterparts not to see common cause with ISIL.
The Secretary then saw King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia. They discussed a lot of topics. It was a three-and-a-half hour meeting, a very, very positive, very warm, very substantive meeting that I’m not going to go into full details about, but I will give you some broad strokes. King Abdullah was joined by the two conferences – Salman and then the sort of Crown Prince, Muqrin. He was also joined by Foreign Minister Saud.
QUESTION: Spell those names?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Can we do it after?
He was – the translating for the – King Abdullah was Adil al-Ahmad al-Jubayr, the Saudi Ambassador to – in Washington.
They spent a large portion of the meeting discussing Iraq, and here there was a lot of common ground. The Secretary laid out our two near-term priorities in Iraq: One, working with Iraqi political leaders to bring about a transition to an inclusive government that takes into account the rights and needs of all of Iraq’s communities, as well as the major security challenge that the Iraqi Government is facing right now with the threat posed by ISIL.
I think – one of the things I’m going to be a bit reluctant to do during this readout is to characterize much of King Abdullah’s side of the conversation, but I will say that it was clear that the two shared a view that all of Iraq’s community should be participating on an urgent basis in the political process to allow it to move forward, and that each – both the Secretary and King Abdullah in their conversations with Iraqi leaders would convey that message directly to them.
The Secretary also noted for King Abdullah and also for Jarba in their discussion about Iraq that there was another statement today from Grand Ayatollah Sistani, the most prominent Shiite cleric in Iraq, calling on all Iraqi political leader on an urgent basis to attempt to complete the formation of Iraq’s new government or at least the main – designated named – in the main positions as soon as July 1st, which again is wholly consistent with what we are urging Iraqi leaders to do.
Secretary and King Abdullah also talked about ISIL. They agreed and shared a deep concern about the threat that ISIL is posing inside Iraq and inside Syria but also to the region. And I want to be a little careful with this – King Abdullah and – I realize this is going to beg questions, but I’m probably not going to answer them – did share with the Secretary some steps the kingdom is taking to address its concerns about the ISIL threat. But because of the nature of the sorts of security operations, that’s probably all I’m going to say about that.
The king preemptively, with the Secretary raising it, rejected a notion that he had said he had seen a media reports that the kingdom was in any way supporting funding ISIL. And the Secretary said that our assessment was that we had no information that suggested that they were, but we appreciated the affirmative statement of that.
Other topics that were discussed included Yemen and the shared concern about CT effort in Yemen and the need to support that effort as well as to provide support for President Hadi.
They discussed Lebanon. The Secretary described his meeting in Paris with former Prime Minister Hariri, and they discussed – the Secretary and King Abdullah discussed their shared concern about the vacant Lebanese presidency and the need to fill that vacancy as quickly as possible.
They discussed Libya, and on Libya they noted that the recent election, which I believe was yesterday, and the hope that it can start to set Libya on a path toward greater stability. That was not a lengthy part of the conversation.
They also discussed Egypt, and I would note that it was King Abdullah that raised Egypt and asked the Secretary about his visit and the aftermath of the visit. And the Secretary reiterated our concerns that we made public about the sentences handed down to the Al-Jazeera journalists in the aftermath of the Secretary’s visit and our view that this is not consistent with due process, support for free press. And I will say – without, again, characterizing much of King Abdullah’s side of the conversation – that there was no disagreement from King Abdullah about the concerns that the Secretary raised.
Other topics that came up included sort of a general discussion of counterterrorism issues. King Abdullah shared one step that the Saudi Government is taking – the creation of a series, I think, of 11 large-scale sports facilities around the country to provide a positive outlet for youth. And the Secretary praised that effort.
There was a very brief discussion of oil and energy. The Secretary noted positively a recent statement from an oil official in the kingdom reflecting the kingdom’s desire to do what would be required in the event of any turbulence in the oil markets, resulting from events in Iraq and Syria. And I will show you the quote that he was referring to afterwards if you want, but that was the total discussion on that.
They talked briefly about the World Cup, and that was about it. About the World – soccer World Cup, the king congratulated the United States on advancing to the round of 16.
Finally, on the flight just after we left Jeddah, the Secretary called President Barzani of the Kurdistan Regional Government. He gave a readout of his meetings in Brussels and Paris, and particularly the discussion that related to Iraq. And he reiterated a message that, again, you’ve heard me describe him giving to many Iraqi leaders and leaders in the region in recent days, which is the – our strong belief that urgent participation in the political process, full participation in the political process, including the decisions by each of Iraq’s main communities about what candidates they will put forward for top jobs, should happen as quickly as possible and pointed to Grand Ayatollah Sistani’s statement in this regard as a positive development. So --
MODERATOR: Okay, guys, our official doesn’t have too long, but we can take just a few questions. So, James.
QUESTION: Hi. Thanks for doing the briefing. I had two quick questions. One you can answer pretty quickly and then I’ll ask you the second one.
The first is: Do you understand it to be the case that the Saudi Government just in the last 24 or 48 hours issued some kind of heightened alert for terrorism that included a call-up of Saudi military?
And then the second question is: What do you understand to be – without going into too many details from the king’s side of the discussion – the position of the Saudis with respect to whether it is a precondition for them that Maliki has to go in order for them to be helpful. Have they backed off of that?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: So I’ll tell you what I can tell you on both of these. On reported steps related to security, I guess I would just say that I know that if our side were talking about steps that we were taking related to the security of the United States and another government read those out to the press, I don’t think we’d be thrilled about it. So I’m not going to provide any details. But I will say they discussed this issue. They discussed steps that the Saudis were taking, and I’d just refer to you – refer you to what they’ve said publicly because I wouldn’t go beyond any of that.
Right. Any I have no reason to dispute any of those reports, but I’m also not going to provide any further detail.
On preconditions, I guess all I would say is there were no preconditions placed on anything that was discussed with regard to the Iraqi political situation or the situation with the fight against ISIL. But again, I’m not going to go into any details about what specifically they were discussing.
QUESTION: Did that mark a change in their posture?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Well, so this is the first time the Secretary has discussed this with the king. I think that the conversation was largely consistent with the conversation the Secretary had with Foreign Minister Saud and his counterparts yesterday.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Again, I’m not going to speak this stuff that they had been telling other people or said publicly, but the conversations we’ve been having in the last couple days have been consistent on that point.
QUESTION: Just to follow up on that and then a quick one. Is it fair to say that while the Saudis may have no preconditions, they have an expectation that the political process in Iraq is such that it’s unlikely that Maliki will gain a third term as prime minister, and therefore, if Sunnis participate in the process, that’s likely to facilitate the choice of a successor? So they don’t have preconditions, but they think the situation is moving in a way that Maliki will be replaced and the participation of the Sunnis can help bring that about.
And my second question is: Can you just please clarify the oil energy issue? What is the statement that they reaffirmed, and how do you understand it?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: What I’m going to do on your second question is we will print off the statement, and I’ll show it to you, and literally all the Secretary did was refer the statement, say that we thought it was constructive, and the king said thanks, and moved on. That was the entirety of that piece of the conversation, but we’ll print out – I have it.
And your first question -- oh, on – look, I would say that I’m certainly not going to speculate about the likelihood of any particular candidate merging as Iraq’s next prime minister. What I will say is both the Secretary and the king believe that the security challenges that Iraq faces require a new government. And when I say a new government, I’m not referring to who is at the top of that government; I’m just saying right now they have a government, and they’re going to need to form a new one in order to complete the government formation process. And it’s important that they have that, because it’s important that the country be brought together to face this fight.
And we’ve said what that government should look like in order to give Iraq the best chance to succeed in this effort. It should be inclusive; it should include broad participation of all of Iraq’s main communities. The Secretary’s view is that to give Iraq the best chance, again, to form that government, to set itself up for the fight against ISIL, which is not going to be the kind of thing that – it’s going to be over a long period of time. Each of the communities needs to come to the table and put forward candidates for the main positions, and I would say King Abdullah fully agreed with everything I just said.
QUESTION: Could I ask about the Jarba meeting? In that, the comments that Secretary Kerry made, he suggested that the Syrian opposition, the moderate Syrian opposition could have a role to play in – against ISIL in Iraq? I just wondered if you could expand a little bit on what he was talking about, what he meant.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I haven’t had a chance to discuss that with the Secretary. What I think he meant is that ISIL is effectively one entity. So weakening ISIL on one side of the border inherently is going to weaken ISIL overall, therefore, on both sides of the border. What I’m confident he was not suggesting is that the Syrian opposition would have any role in any fighting inside Iraq. So if that was the impression, I’d like to clear that up.
QUESTION: Thanks. Could you talk a little bit more about Ayatollah Sistani’s statement today? I’m a little bit confused. Did he say that he wanted, by July 1st, all three leaders decided for – the speaker, the president, and the prime minister? And I thought we talked about this yesterday that that was not something that the U.S. had demanded or raised with Iraqi officials in Baghdad on Monday and Tuesday – in Erbil on Monday and Tuesday. So how is that consistent with the previous U.S. conditions?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: A fragment of the Sistani statement that I saw was focused on the prime minister, which makes sense because Sistani’s pronouncements are generally perceived to be directed at Iraqi Shia. But the way the constitution is laid out, the sequence is supposed to go speaker, president, prime minister. So in order to get to a prime minister name by Tuesday, you would – it would seem natural you’d have the other two named in advance of that as well. But I don’t think that Sistani specifically spoke to the other two positions. And in terms of why it’s consistent, we did not put a particular deadline on our message to Iraqi leaders, but what we did say is that this has to happen as soon as possible, and the first opportunity they’ll have to actually act on these things would be July 1st. So would we love it if there were names for all three main positions by July 1st? Sure. We just didn’t set a specific date.
QUESTION: I was wondering once this government is formed or once there is progress that you’ve seen, is it your belief that ISIL – or that you can negotiate with ISIL on pulling back? How is that new government going to change the advances? Or is it at all going to change those advances by ISIL?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I’ve never heard anyone suggest that it is either desirable or possible to negotiate with ISIL.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Well, because first of all, ISIL – because of its size is going to be a much more successful entity if it has any degree of support among the local population. So I would say any political reconciliation or negotiation would be focused on that population and not focused on ISIL. There are no indications I’ve ever seen in anything I’ve read or heard about ISIL that would suggest that they are – that negotiations would be a productive course.
MODERATOR: Okay, last one.
QUESTION: I’m just going to try here a little bit on the part about Saudi involvement in Iraq. Can you give us some sense if not any specifics how active you expect the kingdom’s role is going to be and what kind of real-time impact that might have.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: You said he’s going to be.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yeah, so I guess the only thing I would say about that is King Abdullah projected the notion of Saudi interference inside Iraq that is sometimes put forward by Iraqi political leaders. He said that preemptively, proactively, not because we raised it, but wanted to make clear that Saudi Arabia was not in any way interfering inside Iraq’s politics. That doesn’t mean they don’t have conversations with – and relationships with Iraqi political leaders, and the conversation was focused on our view of it to the extent they have those conversations which we know they do. The best message was to urge them to engage in the process, and again, I said it before, but King Abdullah, by all appearances, seemed to share that view.
QUESTION: Would you take one more?
QUESTION: Would you take one more? (Inaudible) Are any representatives of the United States Government in talks or have they been holding talks with any Shiite politicians in Iraq who have put themselves forward publicly or privately as aspiring successors to Maliki?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I don’t believe that anyone has come forward and publicly declared themselves to be a candidate for that office. As for conversations that go on during the negotiating process, I don’t think it would be productive for me to detail those. I know that’s not satisfying, but it’s the truth.
QUESTION: Just wrapping up the week after a week of talks in Iraq, here, Paris, Jeddah, could you – and you just said now – just now you’d like to see a prime minister appointed on Tuesday, if possible. Can I ask: After your negotiations here and talks, how hopeful are you that we could see a new prime minister of Iraq come forward and named on Tuesday?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: So I just want to add one thing to what I said in response to James’s question just a second ago. Part of the reason why I wouldn’t go into a question like that is because I think we’ve made clear from the very beginning that it’s not our role to pick winners, it’s not our role to focus on individuals. As names emerge through the kind of organic Iraqi political process, we’re going to be talking to those people. But those are probably people we’d be talking to anyway, because you’d imagine these names are going to be among some prominent political leaders with whom we have relations.
But as for specific names, we’ve avoided that for a very particular reason. In terms of how optimistic I am, I guess I would just say that it would be an extremely positive development if we got there. I don’t think it’s impossible, but it’s also Iraq. Those of us who have worked on Iraq over a number of years could point to a large number of deadlines for various steps and various political processes, and only a small number that were actually met. So I don’t want to give the sense that we’re expecting this to work out the way it would in an ideal world.
MODERATOR: Thanks, guys.