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FOREIGN MINISTER BONINO: Good morning. (Inaudible) I met in person, but it’s not the first time Secretary of State (inaudible) in his capacity. So you are muchly welcome and it’s really a pleasure to have you in Rome today and next times.
(Via interpreter) I’ve said to the Secretary of State Mr. Kerry how pleased I am and how pleased our government is to see that Rome is becoming a diplomatic crossroads for a new, very important round of talks, the aim of which is to get the peace process going once again. And clearly, it’s become very intense over the past few hours.
When I say peace, I mean, of course, in the interest of the two peoples concerned, the Israelis and the Palestinians, and for the overall Middle East. I must say that I am indeed impressed by the very dynamic momentum of the U.S. Administration in this regard and Mr. Kerry’s tenacity in trying to open up many different avenues for these talks.
I’ve also had the opportunity to meet with Israeli negotiators and the Jordanian Foreign Minister. And I believe that they are very, very serious and there is a great deal of resolve on both sides, and I’ve been able to witness that this is the very last chance for these kinds of negotiations to lead to the outcome that we all hope to see. And I hope that the meeting that Mr. John Kerry will have in a couple of weeks with Prime Minister Netanyahu and with President Abbas will be useful. Hopefully, those talks will be useful in trying to quickly complete this dossier, because it is not an open-ended negotiation, and I think everybody realizes that. As far as we’re concerned, we’ll do our very best in order to support this effort.
We also discussed other countries that are experiencing difficulties. Libya is among these. We are concerned about the developments on the ground, and of course, we share the same idea, and that is that we are hoping to be able to avoid a worsening of the situation on the ground in Libya.
And the other main concern has to do with Syria. We hope that the meetings that Mr. John Kerry has had in Russia will lead to a resumption of the negotiations, and hopefully we’ll be able to go back to the outcome of Geneva I and overcome the deadlock that we see on the ground. We know that the humanitarian consequences would be intolerable, unbearable, and there would also be political consequences and spillovers in neighboring countries. We think that this would make many countries very fragile. And we think that also in terms of the cost in human lives, it would become a humanitarian emergency.
Now, we are committed, and of course, all of Europe will be backing this dossier and these efforts, and we can confirm our financial commitment as well. And we are going to try also to increase our aid. There are millions of refugees in Jordan and in Lebanon, so we have to increase our aid to them. And hopefully, it will also be possible to renew our cooperation between our two countries. I don’t think there is any need for me to underscore the ties between our two nations; they are very well known. But we are not only concerned with this tragedy in Syria, we are also concerned, in fact, with the spillovers throughout the entire region.
John, the floor is yours.
SECRETARY KERRY: Thank you very much. Grazie. Thank you, Foreign Minister. Buon giorno a tutti.
(In Italian.) Good morning, everyone. I am very happy to be able to return to Italy, especially to be able to meet with the new Minister for Foreign Affairs. I wish to say that from the United States and on behalf of President Obama, we wish to express our warmest congratulations.
(In English.) Obviously, on all of our minds this morning – this afternoon now – is the loss of life in the tragedy that took place yesterday in an accident at Genoa. And all of our sympathies are with the families and victims and with the Italian people.
It is always a pleasure to be in Rome, and I appreciate the comments of the Foreign Minister with respect to a crossroads and place where we can have the kind of diplomatic discussions that I’ve been able to have in the last 24 hours. And I’m especially pleased to meet with all of you at a time when Italy is looking to a new government to help to lead the country into the future, a time of change and transition. And over the past two years, as we all know, Italy has undertaken an unprecedented economic reform agenda. Needless to say, reform takes time. But we believe Italy is on the right path and we encourage our cooperation in these endeavors.
We believe that we can work this journey together and farther into the future and perhaps more effectively with the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, which promises jobs and growth and opportunity for both of our countries and particularly for young people. We know how many young people all across Europe are looking for that future, and we want to work with Italy and with other countries in an effort to move forward. We are excited to develop our partnership with Europe and particularly with our good friend and ally, as the Minister referred to, with Italy.
We look to the future with the knowledge that we are really linked in so many ways through our past endeavors. Italy has been right there standing with us and supporting some 30,000 U.S. servicemen and men and women who live here in Italy, and your continued leadership in peacekeeping, your efforts with respect to Afghanistan and other places, have been very important to helping to bring peace and opportunity to parts of the world.
We’re very grateful for the way that Italy has stepped up as the fourth largest supplier of troops and contributor to Afghanistan, the leader in the Regional Command West in Herat, and a very effective NATO partner and a huge force for progress in Libya. We talked about Libya this afternoon; there are still enormous challenges in Libya, and Italy obviously has a special relationship, a special ability to help lead. And we look to work with Italy in the critical role of trying to bring stability to that troubled part of the world.
In addition, Italy’s voice has been particularly important with respect to the challenge of Syria. It was on my very first trip as Secretary, only 12 weeks ago, that I came here to Rome and I worked with your government in order to support the Syrian opposition that needs to emerge from the war in an inclusive, pluralistic, democratic government that is protective of minorities and of the rights of all Syrians. I appreciate Italy’s materiel support for the opposition coalition, as well as its very, very generous response to the humanitarian crisis.
So on this current trip, I’m back in Rome focused again on not just the progress in Syria, but the possibilities of progress in the Middle East itself. We all know that the current path in Syria is simply unsustainable, and it will only lead – absent leadership that brings countries together to try to find a political solution, the current path will only lead to greater bloodshed, greater destruction, greater instability, a greater humanitarian crisis, a greater challenge to the stability of neighboring states, to the potential of extremists becoming stronger, and the potential of chemical weapons falling into the hands of dangerous people. Those are all strategic interests that should motivate all of us to try to come to a negotiating table to find that political solution.
Two days ago I was in Russia meeting with President Putin and Foreign Minister Lavrov, and I’m grateful for their willingness to try to move to a new paradigm and to try to bring people together for a Geneva II. And I look forward to collaborating with them in the days ahead to try to bring the parties to that table.
Tuesday, we announced that as soon as practical, and I talked today with Secretary General of the United Nations, and I leave it to the United Nations to make its own announcements about the future, but we talked about the way ahead with respect to this negotiation, and the effort to follow on on last year’s Geneva conference. Let me just make this clear: Geneva I, which was adopted by all the parties, including Russia, said that we must have a transition government arrived at by mutual consent, a transition government that has full executive authority. If you are going to arrive at something by mutual consent, by definition the parties at issue must consent. And to consent, you must be willing to take part in some discussion. So it is our hope, both Russia and the United States, that we will have an ability to create a new dynamic to try to find this transitional government.
And today I can announce, on behalf of the United States, another step forward to address the humanitarian crisis, an additional $100 million in humanitarian assistance to support those affected by the violence in Syria and the more than 1.4 million refugees already outside of Syria and the several million displaced within Syria. This funding will support the activities of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the United Nations Children’s Fund, and the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, both within Syria as well as part of the regional refugee response in Jordan, Turkey, and Lebanon.
In the end, my friends, the solution to this crisis is not more humanitarian assistance. In the end, it is a political solution that reduces the humanitarian crisis itself. And it is an effort to try to end the bloodshed.
During my meeting with Foreign Minister Judeh of Jordan this morning here in Rome, I heard the latest from him about the nearly 2,000 refugees pouring across Jordan’s borders every single night, not to mention the staggering numbers in Lebanon, Egypt, and Turkey. And what the United States wants, what Jordan wants, what Italy wants, is an end to the slaughter.
Foreign Minister Judeh and I also had a follow-up conversation to the announcement last week by the representatives of the Arab League that they would affirm their support for the Arab Peace Initiative. And I spoke with Abu Mazen this morning, President Abbas, and yesterday at the Villa Taverna I had a productive meeting again with Justice Minister Livni. I plan to continue this discussion in the weeks to come, and I will be traveling back to Israel and the West Bank in two weeks in order to meet with both Prime Minister Netanyahu as well as President Abbas.
So I thank Foreign Minister Bonino for her warm welcome here today. I congratulate her on her new duties and the new government as it takes on its responsibilities. I promise you that President Obama and the United States of America stand ready to work with this government in all aspects – economic, security, and in ways that strengthen the relationship between Italy and the United States. We very much look forward to working with you in the future. Thank you.
FOREIGN MINISTER BONINO: Thank you very much.
MODERATOR: (Via interpreter) We have time for a couple of questions. We’ll begin with Margherita Ghinassi from Channel One News.
QUESTION: (Via interpreter) Good evening. Undoubtedly, over the past few days, this past week, there’s been an intense diplomatic activity in order to try to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian crisis and also for the crisis in Syria. So this is my question now. It seems that the key word is to hurry up, to do something quickly. Why quickly? And what are the priorities for the United States and what are the priorities for Italy? Minister Bonino, of course, you’re going to have to refer to Europe’s priorities too, because your dream is to have a federated Europe, a confederation of states.
FOREIGN MINISTER BONINO: You want to go first? Why do you want to make – which --
SECRETARY KERRY: Please.
FOREIGN MINISTER BONINO: Maybe John can go into that more than I. To be quick, well, we’ve talked about the personal situations, the human tragedies, and we think that this has been going on long enough. I think we all agree with that. And we also have to be quick in order to avoid any spillovers in neighboring countries, because this is going to lead to political destabilization and to a broadening of the conflict, and it would then be very difficult to try to get that under control again.
So when we say that we have to be quick, this is a must. And it seems that unless we do that, the situation will deteriorate, and as I said, this will lead to very dire consequences. So the priorities now, well, clearly we have to support the diplomatic effort, first of all, and we hope that all of Europe will be backing this diplomatic effort. Now, there are other theaters in which we are involved – Lebanon, for example, and we were talking earlier about Libya as well, and even Afghanistan. I believe, however, that now in this point in time, Europe is going to have to provide that backing.
Now, we are in a position whereby we can have relations with the Arab world that might be very helpful in this phase, in this period of time, to act as a bridging element to bring together the different dialogues and negotiations. So these are the priorities, and we’ve got other scenarios, of course, that we are involved in and with their own priorities. And let me just say to clarify something that Mr. Kerry said, in Italy, in Europe, of course, we see the opening up of the Free Trade – Transatlantic Free Trade dialogue as being very positive. Of course, we realize that there will be some difficulties there; however, we believe that this is going to be one of the driving forces of the growth that we’re always speaking about.
SECRETARY KERRY: Thank you, Minister. Why quickly? Why move quickly? The answer is very simple. Because for 30 years or more there has been a pent-up demand to try to resolve the issues of the Middle East, and it is clear that when left to a vacuum or when left to delay, bad things happen. Things happen that work against the possibilities of peace. It is my belief, and I think shared by many people, most importantly President Obama’s belief, because he is the one who went to Israel and opened up this window of possibility in the speech that he gave and stressed the importance of it, because people who are denied peace can ultimately find other means of trying to satisfy their aspirations.
I think that the security interests of the region, the economic interests of the region, the political interests of the region, the demographic interests of the region, the counterterrorism interests of the region, and other interests all compel the notion that we need to be serious about this. We have seen presidents and prime ministers and secretaries of states and foreign ministers struggle with this for a long time, from Wye Plantation, Annapolis, Taba, Oslo, Madrid (inaudible). There have been many, many efforts. The truth is, most people understand what the contours of the two-state solution are. Most people understand what it will take to satisfy the parties in this case. They are legitimate interests. Israel needs guarantees for security, the Palestinians need guarantees for a state that they can be proud of, that is a contiguous state.
And I think the urgency is that the longer you do not move towards peace, the more you have the possibility of conflict and even war. So President Obama has made it clear to all the parties, he wants to know if people are serious. And I think there are ways to prove whether or not people are serious. That’s what I’m seeking on his behalf over the course of these next days, and my hope is that parties will come together in a serious way.
I believe – I will say this to you now – I believe that the parties are serious. I believe that a process is going on right now to examine these possibilities legitimately with the Palestinians and with the Israelis. And we intend to keep this quiet and private as much as one can so that people can make tough judgments in their own appropriate space. And that’s what we’re doing. But that’s why it’s urgent, because this has gone on for a long time and the impatience level is building up in many places with all of the respective dangers that are attached to that.
MODERATOR: (Via interpreter) We have time for one last question. Brad Klapper from the Associated Press.
QUESTION: Hi. Excuse me for not standing; I’m weighted down by electronics. Yesterday, serious allegations were made about the State Department’s handling of the Benghazi attack and its aftermath, including senior officials who say they’ve been pressured or even demoted for not toeing the line. Do you still think that --
SECRETARY KERRY: Including what? I couldn’t hear that.
SECRETARY KERRY: Including what?
QUESTION: Including officials, senior officials, who say they’ve been pressured or demoted for not toeing the line. Do you still think the Department has handled things well, and will you investigate these new allegations, or do you dismiss them as rehash?
And on Syria, very simply: What is more important, the U.S. aid to Syrians, including the 100 million in humanitarian assistance you announced today, or the continued military support for the Assad regime by Russia which, we learned today could now include state-of-the-art surface-to-air missiles? Whose contribution is really having a bigger effect on Syria’s civil war? Thank you.
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, (inaudible) look. It’s not that simple with respect to Syria, so I’m not going to make comparisons between one country and the United States humanitarian aid because as you know, other countries are providing lethal assistance, and the opposition is obviously capable of fighting on the ground and has been.
That’s not where this discussion needs to go now. It needs to go where Foreign Minister Lavrov and I tried to move it to in Moscow, which is to the importance of the negotiations where all of these things will be appropriately measured at the table. I’m not going to try to pre-cook it; that would be an enormous mistake. What we need to do is get to that negotiating table. All of these kinds of asymmetrical and counterarguments will be made by all the parties, and hopefully we will negotiate our way through that thicket in a reasonable way with a view to doing what Sergey Lavrov and I agreed to in Moscow.
I thought what Prime[i] Minister Lavrov said and did in Moscow was very important. He stood up and said that Russia is not tied to any one person. He said that he believes we need to implement Geneva I, and that requires a transition government by mutual consent. There is no way that anybody here believes that the opposition is ever going to give consent to President Assad to be running that government. So the fact that Russia and Foreign Minister Lavrov embraced this path I think is very, very significant.
With respect to – you asked a second --
QUESTION: About Benghazi.
SECRETARY KERRY: With respect to Benghazi, I have been literally in 24-hour meetings, flying from Moscow. I’ve seen the most cursory headlines of the testimony that took place yesterday, so I’m really not in a position to start making judgments about it, and I’m certainly not going to make those judgments in Rome, Italy rather than in Washington, D.C.
But I will tell you this: The State Department will leave no stone unturned. I’ve already made it crystal clear to the chairmen of the relevant committees that I have assigned my chief of staff, David Wade, to be responsible for liaisoning with them to answer any questions that they have. And I am absolutely determined that this issue will be answered, will be put to bed, and if there’s any culpability in any area that is appropriate to be handled in some way with some discipline, it will be appropriately handled. But that judgment awaits me in a report that will be forthcoming, and I’m confident that any recent evidence will be a component of that consideration. So let’s wait until we get back to the United States and I’ve had a chance to catch up to the full measure of what took place.
QUESTION: Do you have nothing to say about the Russian – the reports of Russian surface-to-air missiles, pretty state-of-the-art, going to Syria now?
SECRETARY KERRY: I had my say with President Putin and I had my say with Sergey Lavrov, and we made an agreement to go to a negotiation in the next days. And I’m not going to get into here, now, at this moment, as I said, distinguishing features between one country’s aid and another country’s aid and who’s doing what. That would be counterproductive to what we’re trying to accomplish. I think we’ve made it crystal clear we would prefer that Russia was not supplying assistance. That is on record; that hasn’t changed. But I’m not going to get into the qualitative differences at this moment.
FOREIGN MINISTER BONINO: Maybe – I would like to add a comment. What has been happening in the Syrian region dossier up to now, it’s quite clear, and who was standing and who was supporting whom. But if we want to support the efforts of negotiation, I don’t think we have to look so much backward; we have to look forward. And that means that, as Secretary of State Kerry said, the question is now to see how we move from Geneva I to implementing Geneva I.
And I think it’s not useful for the moment to restate who is doing what. We are providing humanitarian support, but let me be clear: The only possible solution is a political one. I don’t believe that there is a military solution at hand. The humanitarian assistance is not a solution. It’s just a help. And I’m proud that we can contribute to help also. Meeting the Foreign Minister of Jordan, you can really sense the difficulties that the country is facing. So if we can help, we are proud to do it. But again, never, never humanitarian assistance has been the solution. The only one is really to push forward a possible negotiation.
SECRETARY KERRY: Can I just add, so that you can go back to the record on this, because I want you to have it – we have previously stated that the missiles, particularly the (inaudible) A-300[ii], is potentially destabilizing with respect to the state of Israel. And so we’ve made it very clear historically that that is a concern of the United States. But again, I think drawing the “which is more important” relative balance, which is clearly going to be part of the negotiation in Geneva, at this point is – doesn’t take us where we need to go, notwithstanding that we believe, as I said, that it is destabilizing.
FOREIGN MINISTER BONINO: Okay, thank you.
SECRETARY KERRY: Thank you.
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