US Secretary of State Kerry (May 5): "The United States, the EU, and our allies have made our choice very, very clear: We are going to stand together united not just in support of Ukraine, but united in support of de-escalating; united in support of a peaceful, diplomatic solution." //
Remarks With EU High Representative Lady Catherine Ashton After Their Meeting
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, good afternoon, everybody. I am very pleased, as always, to welcome my very good friend and colleague in these endeavors, the EU High Representative Cathy Ashton back here to Washington. I’m also personally happy to be back in Washington – (laughter) – after a trip through Africa that has left us with a very long to-do list, which we’re already working on.
Lady Ashton and I just covered a lot of ground, but since we’re in agreement on so much of it, we were able to cover it quite quickly. We discussed, most importantly, our shared strategy of using the tools of diplomacy in order to reduce the conflicts that are threatening Europe, Africa, the Middle East, and other parts of the world, but particularly there.
Let me begin with Ukraine. In the weeks since Lady Ashton and I met in Geneva, along with the Ukrainian foreign minister and the Russian foreign minister, we have been, it is fair to say, nothing less than disappointed to see Russia to fail to live up to the very plain and simple, easy-to-interpret commitments that were made in Geneva. And I’ll reiterate: The agreement that we made in Geneva, it really isn’t vague and it’s not open to some loose interpretation. It was simple, it was specific, and it outlined concrete steps that all of the parties had to take. Ukraine’s government, literally before the ink was dry, started to implement on that agreement. And they have held up their end of the bargain.
Ukraine has shown remarkable restraint. Almost immediately coming out of that meeting in Geneva, they ordered a cessation of any kind of counterterrorism activity, any effort to remove people from buildings based on the notion that both sides were going to work to bring people out of those buildings. And the fact is that they have been committed in Kyiv to trying to move their country forward through nonviolence, through constitutional reform, through dialogue, and by reaching out to the disaffected parts of Ukraine.
We also are very concerned about efforts of pro-Russian separatists in Donetsk, in Luhansk to organize, frankly, a contrived, bogus independence referendum on May 11th. We flatly reject this illegal effort to further divide Ukraine, and its pursuit will create even more problems in the effort to try to de-escalate the situation. This is really the Crimea playbook all over again, and no civilized nation is going to recognize the results of such a bogus effort.
As President Obama has made clear, if Russian elements continue to sabotage the democratic process and prevent Ukraine from holding a free and fair election 19 days from now on the 25th, then we stand ready to implement additional sanctions. And the “we” is Europe and the United States together. I know the European Union is strong in its commitment to do this, and I think the high representative will address meetings that are shortly going to be held next week in furtherance of our common goals here.
We are not going to sit idly by while Russian elements fan the flames of instability, instead of fulfilling the commitments that we made. Look, we came together, and we came together in a real spirit of trying to de-escalate. And we weren’t playing a game. We laid down some very specific steps that could be taken, and immediately, the Government of Ukraine, in good faith, undertook to implement those steps, including removing barricades from the Maidan in Kyiv, removing people from buildings, as well as reaching out to make clear to the people of Ukraine how decentralization could take place to give more power to those people in places that were disaffected. Regrettably, that was not met with reciprocity, and reciprocity is one of the things that we discussed very clearly in Geneva.
I must add also that it’s very hard to reconcile that Russia is now making the argument that Ukraine ought to reduce – not have an election or postpone an election because of the violence that’s taking place, but Russia is full, whole-hog behind having an election in Syria where there is far worse violence. Reconcile that one for us, please.
So the choice is really Russia’s. The United States, the EU, and our allies have made our choice very, very clear: We are going to stand together united not just in support of Ukraine, but united in support of de-escalating; united in support of a peaceful, diplomatic solution; united in recognition that, yes, there are historic and cultural and other ties between Russia and Ukraine, but the way to assert them is at the diplomatic negotiating table, not at the end of a gun. And we believe that we will also stand together in the effort to try to de-escalate this situation.
Next week, I will meet in London with our European counterparts in order to discuss what the appropriate next steps will be.
I also want to underscore that Lady Ashton and I applaud the commitment and the courage of the monitors of the OSCE. We’re deeply appreciative of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, who have put themselves in harm’s way, not on one side or the other, but on the side of a peaceful resolution, on the side of de-escalation. And they have tried to enforce compliance of the Russian-backed forces to ensure that there is a fair and reasonable approach to defining the future for all of the people of Ukraine.
We believe that the OSCE can now play an enhanced role, and right now there are efforts taking place. I talked yesterday with the OSCE chairman, President Burkhalter of Switzerland, and he is tomorrow going to be traveling to meet with President Putin. Today there were meetings. I talked yesterday also with the foreign minister of Germany, Frank Steinmeier. He today met with Foreign Minister Lavrov in Vienna, and there are further discussions taking place. I will talk with him in an hour or two from now. So there’s a lot of energy being expended to try to see if we can find a reasonable way forward here. And we support the efforts very much of this kind of diplomacy to help the Ukrainians restore law and order and improve the environment for free and fair elections on May 25th.
And before I invite our honored guest to offer her thoughts here, I just want to briefly mention a couple of other topics that we discussed very quickly this afternoon: South Sudan, Nigeria, and Iran.
First on South Sudan, the cessation of hostilities agreement that was signed in January by the South Sudanese Government and the opposition has obviously not been upheld. And the recent attacks by the South Sudanese Government and the anti-government forces, both of them, are absolutely unacceptable, and the United States condemns them in the strongest terms.
I talked this morning with Prime Minister Hailemariam of Ethiopia, and he has been directly in touch with Riek Machar, who tells him that he will come to a meeting though they’re working on the precise date and hope to have something to announce shortly. He has also talked to President Kiir, and President Kiir has, in fact, committed absolutely to be there and to come. And we’re very hopeful that that can be the beginning of a dialogue, and we will have participants there to assist in that process.
As President Obama has made clear, however, we will hold accountable those who have stood in the way of a peace plan. And I’ve said as much directly to President Kiir and to former Vice President Riek Machar when I was there this past weekend. So today, the United States will announce sanctions on two individuals responsible for violating the cessation of hostilities agreement, individuals responsible for perpetrating unthinkable violence against civilians. The first is the commander of the South Sudanese Government’s Presidential Guard Forces Marial Chanuong, and he has led violent attacks against civilians in Juba. And that will – further details will be announced later regarding that. The second, Peter Gadet, who led anti-government forces in the April 17th attack on Bentiu that left more than 200 civilians dead.
And we will do our utmost to prevent South Sudan from plunging back into the violence and despair that tore that country apart for so long. We will continue to stand with the people of South Sudan who call for peace and who recognize that the only way to resolve this conflict is through a political dialogue.
Secondly, on Nigeria: Today I spoke with President Goodluck Jonathan on behalf of President Obama and offered – on behalf of President Obama offered America’s support for Nigeria in their response to this crisis. Our embassy in Abuja is prepared to form a coordination cell that could provide expertise on intelligence, investigations, and hostage negotiations, and to help facilitate information-sharing and victim assistance. And President – the President was – President Goodluck Jonathan was very happy to receive this offer and ready to move on it immediately, and we are immediately engaging in order to implement this. We remain deeply concerned about the welfare of these young girls, and we want to provide whatever assistance is possible in order to help for their safe return to their families.
And finally, Lady Ashton and I discussed – I think you see the breadth of the things that we’re talking about. You get a sense of the tremendous cooperation between the EU and the United States, and particularly between Cathy Ashton and myself, for which we are very, very grateful. And we are extremely grateful for her stewardship of the important negotiations that are taking place with Iran on the nuclear program, on a comprehensive – on the search for a comprehensive solution to the challenge of that program.
We – Lady Ashton and our political directors will meet again in Vienna next week. And as we try to seize this diplomatic moment and make our allies and ourselves safer, Iran obviously has to make some very tough decisions. We remain firm in our goals. They don’t vary. Iran must not obtain a nuclear weapon, and it must ensure it has a peaceful nuclear program. And as I’ve said many times, we continue to believe that no deal is better than a bad deal.
Let me close by extending to Lady Ashton early greetings for Europe Day, which falls this Friday. It’s a holiday that recalls and renews the EU’s vision for a united, peaceful, stable, and democratic Europe, and the United States will stand side by side with Europe as it strives to live up to that vision and to those high ideals. Lady Ashton, thanks for being with us.
HIGH REPRESENTATIVE ASHTON: Thank you. Thank you very much, Secretary Kerry, or John, as I would prefer. Thank you for your good wishes for Europe Day. I held a reception in New York last night, and it was my great pleasure to be able to see the Empire State Building lit up in the colors of the European Union of blue and yellow. It is a recognition of this incredibly important transatlantic partnership that every nation of the European Union values so highly, and for which I thank you, your predecessors, and all of your colleagues for the work that has gone on to develop it to the point where I think we are very much joined up in our thinking.
As you’ve said, we’ve talked about a range of issues. We talk a lot in between these meetings, so we cover a huge number of current concerns. And I will just pick up on the back of some of this news. You’ve said two or three of them, of which Ukraine is inevitably the highest on our agenda, and the latest news of the great concern that we have from the illegal actions by armed separatist groups is, of course, at the foremost of our attention. We want to see Russia join in in the call to see an immediate end to these actions, and that is very much, as you’ve said, in line with the discussions we had in Geneva, where we talked practically for seven hours. We talked about what this meant. There was no vagueness. There was absolute clarity in what we were trying to do – to try and find ways to begin the de-escalation. And we will continue, as the European Union, to engage fully in seeking a political solution and to stay fully behind what we said in Geneva and to find ways that we can see the implementation done by everyone.
We know, too, that Ukraine has the right to defend its territorial integrity. We understand the international obligations that it has, and we work closely with them. And as you have indicated, they have done a lot from the beginning of leaving Geneva at the end of that day to try and implement what was agreed.
I pay tribute, like you, to the OSCE, and I join the chief monitor of the special mission, who’s called upon all sides to exercise maximum restraint, to avoid bloodshed, and to solve differences peacefully. You all know that on the 28th of April we took the decision to extend the number of people subject to targeted sanctions for actions that undermine Ukraine’s territorial integrity, sovereignty, and independence. Any further steps that destabilize the situation in Ukraine would lead to additional and far-reaching consequences for our relations in a broad range of areas.
Like you, too, we are focused on the elections and the importance of free and fair presidential elections. This is a really important step in the stabilization of Ukraine. It’s about democracy. It’s an opportunity, too, for there to be a legitimate and broad debate on the future of Ukraine and to engage with people who do want to talk about how that future should be – peacefully working together, and to take this opportunity to be able to do that. We, of course, will continue as well with our assistance package, which, as you know, will bring in overall support of about 11 billion euros over time.
I want, as well, to mention the terrible escalation of violence in South Sudan and to pay tribute to your visit. I already know from our special representatives in the region and from people from the countries concerned that your visit was extremely timely and your efforts were very well recognized. So may I pay tribute to you for that, as well as many, many other things.
I’m worried that this country is on the brink of what could be a civil war, ethnically motivated. And the prospects of famine and the humanitarian disaster – they’re really looming large now, so we need to work together. We need to work to ensure that the leaders in South Sudan really do take the action that you’ve identified they need to. And when the meeting takes place on Friday, they really have got to now try and put aside personal differences and try and change the atmosphere and to try and prevent any further offenses and to respect the cessation of hostilities.
We’re actively considering the targeted sanctions that you’ve described. As you know, the Foreign Affairs Council, we’re meeting on Monday, and that’s the forum where I am president to try and look at all of these issues and see how we go forward. So we need to work very closely in good cooperation with you and with others and to make sure that we put as much energy as possible into trying to prevent what, as I said, could be a disaster.
Like you, our thoughts are with the parents of the Nigerian girls and with the girls themselves. These are the future of the country. They are teachers, dancers, politicians. They are scientists; they are mothers. They are women in the making, who have a right to play their full part in their society. And what has happened to them is devastating for all of us, and we must do, like you, everything possible to try and reunite them with their families and to prevent this ever, ever happening again.
But I want to end, if I might, by also reiterating my full support for everything that you have done in the Middle East. Your efforts are not, by any means, over yet. I know that. And I know that this has been a difficult time. But I do think that you have made tremendous progress and the European Union stands absolutely beside you as you continue your efforts and remains committed to supporting you in every way possible.
My final thought is on Iran. We will, of course, next week try and take this process forward. And we’re all interested in making sure that if we can get an agreement it’s the best agreement.