WASHINGTON, December 18, 2014/African Press Organization (APO)/ — Remarks
Secretary of State
December 17, 2014
SECRETARY KERRY: Good afternoon, everybody. It’s a great pleasure for me to welcome Foreign Minister Chikoti of Angola to here in Washington, and very much appreciate the opportunity to reciprocate the foreign minister’s generous welcome to me when I was privileged to be in Angola last summer. We agreed that we would engage in a good dialogue on an ongoing basis, which has been absent from our relationship, frankly, for too long. And so it was really good to be able to welcome him here today to continue the dialogue that we began when I was in Luanda.
Before we begin, though, it is important for me today to say a few words about the release of Alan Gross and the decision the President of the United States made today. Particularly, I am happy to be able to talk about Alan after the unspeakable tragedies of this past week in Peshawar and in Sydney, and every single one of us are really grateful to see Alan home on American soil, to see him free, to see him reunited with his family, to feel and witness the joy that this family is sharing today and that all the people in our country are sharing on their behalf. It couldn’t be a better gift for the holiday season, and I had the privilege of meeting earlier today with Alan and his wife, Judy, at Andrews Air Force Base shortly after he came back and shortly after I was able to return from my trip abroad.
I want to say that Judy, who we have gotten to know here in the State Department over the course of these months, years, has been absolutely indefatigable. She’s been extraordinary. And she has kept hope alive that today could be a reality. We’re all overwhelmingly happy that Alan is now free and reunited with his family and on American soil.
I was a 17 year old kid when I first heard an American President talk about Cuba as an “imprisoned island.” And for five and a half decades since, our policy towards Cuba has remained virtually frozen, and done little to promote a prosperous, democratic, and stable Cuba. There is no other country in the world to which we have closed our lives for as long as we have closed them to Cuba. The Berlin Wall fell 25 years ago, and the wall separating Americans and Cubans has yet to come down. Not only has this policy failed to advance America’s goals, it has actually isolated the United States instead of isolating Cuba.
And the truth is that we have reached out to countries where our wounds were far deeper than they are with Cuba and actually far more recent than they are with Cuba. Beginning more than 20 years ago, I saw firsthand how three presidents, one Republican and two Democrats, undertook a similar effort to change the United States’ relationship with Vietnam. And it wasn’t easy and it still isn’t complete today. But it had to start somewhere, and make no mistake: It has worked. We made peace; we normalized relations; we even signed a trade deal with Vietnam, and anybody who has traveled there today will tell you how much that country has changed and is continuing to change. Are there things yet to achieve? Of course. But we are dealing with a country in which thousands of Americans died during the course of our lifetime. That is not the situation with Cuba.
So today, we have a choice. We can ignore change and resist it, or we can mold it and channel it into a new set of policies.
Since 2009, when he first became President, President Obama has taken steps forward to change our relationship and to improve the lives of the people of Cuba by easing restrictions on remittances and on family travel. And with this new opening, the President has committed the United States to begin to chart an even more ambitious course forward.
In January, as part of the President’s directive to discuss moving toward re-establishing diplomatic relations, Assistant Secretary for Western Hemisphere Roberta Jacobson will travel to Cuba to lead the U.S. Delegation to the next round of the U.S.-Cuba Migration Talks. And I look forward, at the right time, to being the first Secretary of State in 60 years to visit Cuba. At President Obama’s request, I have also asked my team to initiate a review of Cuba’s designation as a state sponsor of terrorism.
In the months ahead, a critical focus of our increased engagement will continue to be improving the Cuban Government’s respect for human rights and advocating for democratic reforms within Cuba. The change that President Obama announced today will empower the Cuban people to shape their own future, and we all share in ensuring that the people of Cuba enjoy the political, economic, and social freedoms that have spread throughout our hemisphere. Promoting freedom of speech and entrepreneurship and an active civil society will only help reintegrate Cuba into the international community. And after more than 50 years of trying to isolate Cuba, a policy that has obviously not worked and has isolated us more than them, it is time to try working with the Cuban people to build a better and different future.
And building a new future is exactly what brings us here today for the U.S.-Angola Strategic Dialogue.
Over the past months, I have spoken often about African leadership and this moment of promise and decision for all Africans. We had the Africa Summit here this summer in Washington, the first ever with leaders from more than 40 countries, all here at the same time to help shape the vision for the future. Angola is committed to making the most of this moment through its very important role as a leader in the region, particularly on security issues. And I was very encouraged today by the depth and breadth of our discussion. I will tell you, the foreign minister did not come here today asking me for one specific program or another about Angola. Today, this foreign minister talked to me about Syria, about Israel, Palestine, about Ukraine, and about the challenges that Angola will face as a new member next January of the Security Council of the United Nations.
So we have a different relationship now, and we need to build on it. Angola is playing an integral role in bringing African nations together to forge an enduring peace in the Great Lakes region. And the crisis in the Great Lakes continues to trouble us all. The eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo has been the scene of some of the most horrific crimes of violence against women and girls that are imaginable. And it’s a powerful reminder of the obligations that we all share not only to end the killing and the fear, but to work for the birth of a new generation of stability and hope.
I want to thank President dos Santos for his personal commitment to that effort, particularly for Angola’s chairmanship of the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region. President dos Santos and Foreign Minister Chikoti – their engagement with regional leaders has been and remains critical for ending the threat of armed groups in eastern DRC. And no group poses a more immediate threat to the stability in the region than the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda, or FDLR, as they are known in the region.
The United States continues to support a two-track approach to ending the threat of the FDLR, which includes demobilization and robust military efforts. And we all know that the six-month grace period for the peaceful surrender expires on January 2nd, just around the corner. The choice is clear: If the FDLR chooses the path of demobilization, the international community – all of us – will welcome it. If the FDLR does not make that choice, the DRC military and UN peacekeeping mission must act to ensure that the region delivers on its commitment to end the threat of the FDLR once and for all.
I want to emphasize that the great dividends of our partnership with Angola extend beyond the DRC. On issue after issue, our interests are aligning like never before. We’re working together on maritime security. We’re combating piracy. We’re working against illegal fishing. We also discussed important issues like human trafficking, which has been a concern. And yesterday, a senior delegation of Angolan diplomats came to Washington for discussions with our team here in Washington. We are looking forward in the days ahead to working very, very closely with Angola in their responsibilities as a member of the Security Council, and we actually began that discussion in a very serious way today.
We’re particularly pleased that Angola has recently taken steps to join the Chemical Weapons Convention. This is a treaty of conscience, and for nearly 100 years, the world has stood up for the international norm against the use of chemical weapons and, of course, of war. And the reason is simple: All nations are safer when these weapons cease to exist. I want you just to think: Before Russia and the United States came to an agreement to take chemical weapons out of Syria, they were spread around the country. Imagine what would happen now if we had not succeeded in removing those chemical weapons, when Daesh has taken over control of a large percentage of the country. It might have had access to those weapons. That turns out to have been a providential choice and decision and accomplishment. And during our conversation today, I emphasized to Foreign Minister Chikoti that the United States stands ready to assist Angola in meeting the treaty’s obligations. The danger of these weapons falling into the wrong hands should compel all of us to build consensus for action.
Now Foreign Minister Chikoti and I also discussed the importance of bilateral trade and continuing to grow the economic relationship between us. Angola is one of our most important trading partners in Africa and globally, and Angola’s economy has experienced remarkable growth in recent years. In our discussions, we have begun consideration, and we will continue over the next months and years to talk about the ways that the United States and Angola can grow our trade and investment relationship. In particular, we want to deepen our cooperation in agriculture, technology, energy diversity, and infrastructure. And when I was in Luanda, we talked at some length about those possibilities. These are the building blocks of a modern, dynamic economy.
Last May, when I visited the port of Luanda, I met with energy company executives, and I learned about the numbers of Angolans that are being hired and that are being trained in that industry. I also saw firsthand how our investments are improving the business climate and increasing Angola’s economic integration into the region – actually leveraging Angola’s leadership in many ways. So we need to make sure that this progress continues. And it is clear that when we stand together, and when we stand with nations that are trying to make the kind of progress that Angola is today, we all share in the success.
This is a moment of great opportunity for the U.S.-Angola partnership. It’s also a moment of decision. We would like to be Angola’s partner of choice. And so we’re making the right choices now, I think, on regional and global security, and the UN, and in our economic partnership.
So, Minister Chikoti, Georges, thank you again for your visit. These are important days. As I’ve said, we need to work together, rely on each other – I know you do and we do – and we very much look forward to building the strength of the partnership that you defined when we were in Luanda, and I’m very happy to have you back here in Washington.
FOREIGN MINISTER CHIKOTI: Thank you.
SECRETARY KERRY: Thank you, my friend.
FOREIGN MINISTER CHIKOTI: (Via interpreter) I would like first to thank Secretary Kerry for the invitation for us to come visit the United States of America at this particular time. I would also like to thank Secretary Kerry for his visit to Luanda last May. And after his visit, many things have been happening between our two countries. Of course, after that we had the summit of African heads of state here in the U.S., and during that meeting Angola and the U.S. signed the Ex-Im Bank agreement which will allow us to finance transportation projects, as well as energy projects.
And also – and with Ambassador La Lime in Angola, we’ve been accelerating our cooperation which have opened the way to meetings of the technical groups, preparing for the summit about security and energy at the Gulf of Guinea, which will take place at the beginning of next year – probably during the first quarter. And we observed that the level of the agreements – AGOA as well, and the TIFA – and the TIFA – are witness of a cooperation between Angola and the U.S.
Our conversation today was especially important because we didn’t just talk about bilateral issues, as the Secretary Kerry mentioned. We talked about human rights, we talked about our agreements on human trafficking and the cooperation that we have among our institutions and both governments.
Also the U.S. were happy with Angola about the chemical weapons convention, which is being reviewed by our parliament. Of course, all countries in the world should work towards a world freer from such weapons. Therefore, our meeting with the U.S. was extremely important, taking into account all the aspects of our bilateral cooperation.
Of course, we talked about the Great Lakes region. The U.S. congratulated what Angola has been doing along those lines, so that the – our contribution of – towards peace in that area grows. That is a region that should already be in peace, but there are some rebel groups there. The collective efforts of the region have allowed the end of the M23 and then the ADF-NALU, but the FDLR is still a concern for us, and it is a pertinent item on our agenda. And the international conference on the Great Lakes – the UN, local organizations are all working very hard to see an end to this. We need a peaceful solution and FDLR have to abide by their promises. Up to the 2nd of January, such forces will have to demilitarize, and that is their compromise.
FIB, under the UN, will be watchful and will have to make them do their part. The recent meeting between SADC, the International Conference of Great Lakes, the African Union and the EU in Addis Ababa discussed the importance of this issue, and we all have a duty to make it so that those forces do their part and we are ready to act if they don’t.
We also talked about important issue that the Secretary of State mentioned, especially global security, the Middle East, the situation in Israel, in Syria, Ukraine. And therefore we talked about many issues and our conversations show that we share our opinion on all of them. And as far as the UN is concerned, we will continue to cooperate. We will continue conversing. And Africa and Angola, of course, representing the African continent with the other three countries will work in a coordinated way with the security and peace council of the African Union.
Therefore I would be remiss if I did not congratulate the U.S. for the decision that President Obama made today about sanctions against Cuba to start diplomatic relations with that country, because this is a battle in which we were on opposite sides.
Therefore for many, many years, there was this oppression of the Cuban people for not being able to have a relationship with the U.S., therefore we congratulate President Obama, Secretary Kerry, because it was not comfortable to see the U.S. condemn Cuba at the General Assembly of the UN due to its policies. And the U.S. was also looking at Cuba as a sponsor of international terrorism, and this is all changing. So this is a better and bigger dialogue space that’s being opened not only with Cuba but with all the countries that supported Cuba. Therefore our congratulations to the U.S. for that.
Once more, I would like to thank you for inviting me, Mr. Secretary, so that Angola and the U.S. can meet under the auspices of the Strategic Partnership Dialogue and I think that we did much more during this period in which Mr. Secretary has been in office. We met in Addis Ababa and he visited us this year, and we met during the African Summit. And this shows the commitment of the U.S. in a very positive way, and we’d like to encourage this effort on the part of the U.S. Thank you very much. (Applause.)
MS. PSAKI: The first question will be from Ali Weinberg of ABC News.
QUESTION: Thank you. To Mr. Secretary, there’s a lot going on in the world so I hope you’ll indulge me in asking about two topics.
First on Cuba, several members of Congress have already made their opposition known to lifting the trade embargo and related measures announced today over which they do have some discretion. How do you expect the political atmosphere here in the United States to affect your efforts to normalize relations with Cuba?
And second, you met with Alan Gross today and you talked a bit about that. But how did you perceive his health and his demeanor? Can you tell us a bit about how he’s doing?
Second, on the UN efforts –
SECRETARY KERRY: Third. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Fair enough. Palestinian leaders are reportedly planning to submit a UN Security resolution as early as this afternoon – perhaps they’ve already done it since we’ve been in this room – that would demand an Israeli pullout from the West Bank and East Jerusalem. What is your understanding of the status of that resolution at this time, and how would the United States respond to it? And to what extent does the planned submission of this resolution undermine your efforts earlier this week to find common ground between Israelis and Palestinians?
And finally, for Foreign Minister Chikoti, how concerned are you on maritime security that the Gulf of Guinea will become a bigger problem for Angola and its neighbors with respect to terrorism threats? And to what extent did that come up today during the Strategic Dialogue? Thank you.
SECRETARY KERRY: Do you want to go first? Go ahead, please.
FOREIGN MINISTER CHIKOTI: Okay. Well, I don’t know whether I’m going to answer in English or in Portuguese. I think the Angolan press – but maybe –
SECRETARY KERRY: Do both.
FOREIGN MINISTER CHIKOTI: I think this conference is particularly important, and we should congratulate the ambassador of the United States in Angola because very recently Angola was faced with a terrorist attack on one of its platforms, and we did not realize up till now how important and serious the threat was on the Gulf of Guinea.
But what we’ve got to look at is that the Gulf of Guinea represents a lot, and that we – there is about 25 percent of world crude oil in the Gulf of Guinea. But you also have many countries and borders and a lot of trade within the region, so the safety of the Gulf of Guinea is particularly important, and that’s why this conference is going to be a conference on security and energy. Most of the countries in the region produce oil, which is naturally consumed by the international community. And so we think that unless we address very well this issue of the – having a navy that is capable in the region, but if we can’t do it, then we will have to have our partners – the United States, France, and others who are our international partners – who eventually can work with our armies to make sure that we guarantee security in that particular region.
I think that one of the issues will also be interstates. I think that some of the piracy comes from within the states of the region. I think that one will have to be handled by government within the region. So I think we need to work on all these aspects of the problem so that we solve the problem. So we’ve got to talk during the conference, propose solutions, and then looking at how local governments will do their part and how we can bring in our partners as well so that we can guarantee security in that region.
SECRETARY KERRY: Thank you, Minister. Thank you. With respect to the members of Congress, the members of Congress who oppose what the President did today and the Administration absolutely share the same goal. We want a Cuba that is free. We want a Cuba where human rights are respected, where it’s democratic and the people of the country have the ability to make choices.
The President’s announcement today is calculated to open up opportunity both for the people of Cuba but also to begin to break down the barriers that have existed for all these years so that we can hopefully make progress on the other issues of concern: the democracy, human rights, the ability of people to move and travel and make choices. And we’re confident that the choices the President made today are going to make some difference. Now we hope in the normalization process, which we will engage in now, that further progress will be made. And we also hope that over the course of the next months and years, the people of Cuba are going to change Cuba. And that’s what I think will happen here.
Now we recognize some members have strong feelings about it, as do some people in the country, but these are the choices one has to make. And we welcome the debate. We will obviously engage with Congress very, very closely when Congress returns next year. And hopefully, people will see ultimately the wisdom and the possibilities of these openings. For many years, we have engaged with countries far bigger, far more threatening, in some cases more repressive, in various places in the world, because we have to deal with governments that are there. And when you remain isolated, you really cut yourself off from any potential.
If a policy hasn’t worked in 60 years – you know the old saying, “If you’re digging a hole and if you’re getting deeper and deeper, stop digging.” And I think a lot of people feel this is the time for a change. Life is different; the world is different; communications are different; people have access to more information. We will not stop standing with civil society or fighting for human rights or fighting for democracy. All of those are part of the agenda. And the President very specifically said that in going to the Summit of the Americas in Panama, Cuba’s participation, he believes, is conditioned by this notion that civil society will also take part and that human rights and democracy will be on the agenda. And it should be on the agenda.
So we’re quite ready to have a good dialogue with Congress and we hope that people will see the wisdom of the choice the President – courageous choice the President made today.
With respect to Alan Gross, he was – I mean, look, this is a man who just won his freedom, just touched down in America five years after imprisonment. And I know from our efforts over the course of the last few years, even when I was in the Senate, we engaged in efforts to try to see if the release could be won.
And most recently, I talked with the foreign minister a number of months ago when Alan’s mother was very, very sick and we had hoped to be able to have him released before she passed away. We didn’t succeed, and Alan was very despondent. The – I know I wrote him a personal note at one point in time to – because we were concerned and his lawyers and his wife was particularly concerned about his state of health. Today I saw a man who was rejuvenated by freedom, by seeing his wife again, by being restored to American soil, and by knowing that he had made it. He told me he was buoyed always by his own sense of humor, and I think you saw touches of that today.
So I’m confident he’s asked for his privacy. I’m sure at some point people will get to know him better, but for the moment I think we’ve seen a man who buoyantly and excitedly and passionately extolled the virtues of being an American, and gratitude for being back in the United States.
With respect to the UN resolution, we haven’t seen the language yet. We don’t know precisely what was filed. We’ve been troubled by some of the language that had been out there at different points of time, but it’s premature for us to be commenting on language we haven’t seen, to comment on a process that has not yet fully taken shape. We don’t have any problem with them filing some resolution providing it’s done in a spirit of working with people to see how we could proceed forward in a thoughtful way that solves the problem, doesn’t make it worse. What we are focused on is reducing the violence, reducing the sense of confrontation, trying to make certain that the people of Israel can conduct their election in an atmosphere where they can focus on their issues internally, not externally imposed. And our hope is to be able to advance the process, not set it back. That’s our goal.
With respect to it undermining the chances of long-term reform, well, that depends. I don’t believe that will happen if people act responsibly. And if people come together, work together, exert an effort to try to find the common ground here, I’m confident that the people of Israel are as interested in peace as are the people in Palestine, in the West Bank, in Jordan, and in the region. But this is not the moment to opine on that process. There’s an election underway, and I think we need to see it progress and pull our efforts together in the most constructive way possible, and that will come through consultations.
MS. PSAKI: The next question will be from (inaudible) from Angola Public Television.
QUESTION: Thank you. I will ask in Portuguese because of my bad English. Sorry. (Via interpreter) I would like to know from Mr. Secretary if whether after this meeting with our Ministry of Foreign Relations of Angola what can we expect in terms of results in the near future in terms of bilateral cooperation. For example, will we see a growth of the American investment in our economy, which is not only limited to oil?
SECRETARY KERRY: We hope so. We very much hope so. And this effort to expand and broaden the base of our investment was very much the subject of our conversation when we were in Luanda. We didn’t talk about it today, although we mentioned investment. But we specifically talked about it in Luanda, and it is very much an objective of the United States.
And what we want to do is strengthen the bilateral relationship so that we can make progress on all of the multilateral issues but also on the bilateral issues, which means education, exchange, infrastructure development. There are many things we think we can do on health and health care and other kinds of things. We’re prepared – technology, technology transfer. So we understand the challenge in Angola of infrastructure development, one of the main challenges, I think. And I think we feel there are many ways in which the United States could be helpful in that process, where we would like to be able to cooperate.
We definitively, particularly in the age of climate change and in an age where many people are looking for diversity with respect to energy sources, we want to have a diversified economic relationship with Angola. And that means broadening its base, but to attract – as the minister knows better than anybody, attracting investment and attracting capital requires stability, requires certainty, requires clarity in the rules of the road, requires transparency and accountability. And we need to make certain that all of those ingredients are also very much part of our conversation, which they will be as part of the dialogue that we’re engaged in.
MS. PSAKI: Thank you, everyone.
SECRETARY KERRY: Thank you all. Thank you all very much. Appreciate it.