Secretary of State Rex Tillerson And Jordanian Minister of Foreign Affairs Ayman Safadi At Memorandum of Understanding Signing and Press Conference


Secretary of State Rex Tillerson
And Jordanian Minister of Foreign Affairs Ayman Safadi
At Memorandum of Understanding Signing and Press Conference

February 14, 2018

Ministry of Foreign Affairs

Amman, Jordan


SECRETARY TILLERSON:  Well, thank you as well, Ayman, and we have developed quite a friendship over this past year.  When you confront so many serious issues, it’s important to have trusted partners that you can consult with, and I value our discussions greatly.

I really am pleased to be in Jordan, my first trip as Secretary of State.  For decades the United States and Jordan have sustained a truly indispensable strategic partnership that’s been critical to the security of both of our nations, as well as contributing to the security of the region.  Today we recognize the importance of that partnership by signing this new five-year memorandum of understanding.  Under this agreement, the United States commits to provide Jordan no less than $1.275 billion per year in bilateral foreign assistance.  This MOU is a signal to the rest of the world that the U.S.-Jordan partnership has never been stronger.

The MOU represents a 27 percent increase to the United States previous bilateral commitment to Jordan.  We’ve also increased the length of the MOU from three years to five years, giving Jordan greater certainty of planning for the future.  The additional funds and the years will support Jordan’s important role in addressing regional conflict and instability, including the impact that the crisis in Syria has had on Jordan.  The elements of the new MOU will also support His Majesty King Abdullah’s political and – importantly – his economic reform agenda, and move Jordan closer to achieving the self-reliance that it seeks.

We thank the government and the people of Jordan for receiving so many of those displaced by the conflict in Syria.  We are dedicated to finding a way forward in Syria that will allow for the safe and voluntary return of these displaced people when conditions allow.

I also want to highlight Jordan’s partnership and commitment to combating terrorism and violent extremism.  His Majesty King Abdullah has long been a regional and global leader and a voice against terrorism, and is critical to our counterterrorism efforts.  And I think this is evidenced by Jordan’s active participation in the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS and in their efforts to convene the Aqaba process.

I also want to acknowledge and thank Jordan for their recent decisions to cut ties with the DPRK.  The tools of pressure such as this are helping to reverse North Korea’s trajectory by putting pressure on them to change their course and find their way to the table for discussions to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula, and we appreciate Jordan’s actions in concert with the entire international community.

We take special note of His Majesty’s interest in the peace between Israel and the Palestinians and his tireless support in pursuit of such a peace.  Jordan has a unique and positive role and is of great importance as we continue to pursue President Trump’s goal of a lasting and comprehensive peace.  And I think it’s important to note that when President Trump made his decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, he first committed to respecting Jordan’s role as the Custodian of the Holy Sites.  And secondly, he made clear that the positions on the final boundaries or borders of Jerusalem is a matter that’s left for the parties to negotiate and discuss and would be dealt with in the final status of issues, all of which are subject to negotiation.

On behalf of the United States, I want to repeat what Vice President Pence reaffirmed to His Majesty last month, and I quote, “We are here as partners for security.  We are here as partners in both of our nation’s prosperity.  And most importantly, we are here as friends.”  The MOU underscores all of those partnerships, and I am pleased to be here with His Excellency the Foreign Minister as we, again, formalize that commitment to the five years and beyond in our bilateral relationship.  And we look forward to our ongoing partnership and collaboration to address the many serious issues that the region is faced with today.  Thank you very much.

QUESTION:  (Via interpreter)  I am Faisal Malkawi from the Jordanian Daily Al-Rai.  I have a question to Your Excellencies.  The first question has to do with the Syrian issue.  In days or weeks, this crisis will enter its eighth year with no political solutions.  Recently there was an Iranian-Syrian-Israeli clash there.  How is it possible to regain control over this situation and pushing a political solution according to 2254 and the points of reference?

A second of question has to do with the developments pertaining to the political peace process.  The area is very skeptical when it comes to the – and worried about the Arab-Israeli conflict, and this conflict actually generates other conflicts.  We are awaiting the U.S. peace plan next month.  The two-state solution is the – being contemplated in this region.  How is it possible to go back to the two-state solution to end this conflict once and for all?  Thank you.

SECRETARY TILLERSON:  Well, we are quite concerned about the recent incident involving Israel and Iranian assets inside of Syria, and I think this again illustrates why Iran’s presence in Syria is only destabilizing to the region.  We think Iran needs to withdraw its military, its militia from Syria, and allow the hope for peace process to take hold in Geneva.

As the foreign minister indicated, we are working very closely together and collaborating to support the Geneva peace process, and we think there has been important milestones achieved after the Sochi conference that was hosted by the Russians.  Everyone left Sochi with a unified commitment to the Geneva process, authorizing the special envoy, Staffan de Mistura, giving him the authority to convene the constitutional committee.  So I think we are moving forward, but it is going to be a lengthy process.  We need the engagement of all parties in good faith in Geneva to try and find a way to bring peace to Syria, restore Syria and its territorial integrity, democracy governed by people the Syrian people select.

With respect to the Middle East peace process, President Trump remains committed to seeing a Middle East peace process go forward.  And as I indicated, I think the decision taken on Jerusalem was about the United States and our recognition of Jerusalem and where we choose to place our embassy; but the President was clear also on his statement and as I just indicated in my statement, that the final status, the final borders in Jerusalem, are up to the parties to decide.  So it does not preclude a two-state solution.  If that the solution the parties seek, the U.S. would support that.  So we continue to support the Middle East peace process going forward.  We recognize the important role that Jordan and King Abdullah can play in facilitating that as well.

MODERATOR:  Nick Harris*, New York Times.  Nick Harris*, New York Times, please.

QUESTION:  Thank you.

MODERATOR:  (Off-mike.)

QUESTION:  That’s all right.  Mr. Secretary, you’re going tomorrow to Beirut.  There is growing concerns about Hizballah’s influence in Lebanon and also about the growing worries about war throughout the region between Israel and Syria, between various parties that would take place now that ISIS has largely been defeated.  You’ll then go to Turkey, where Prime Minister Erdogan threatened an Ottoman slap against the United States.  Is that sort of rhetoric helpful, and are you going to bring some sort of plan to de-escalate the situation in Afrin and elsewhere?

And one other thing on the budget.  You proposed cuts to, for instance, the UN Global Fund, which advocates believe would lead to about 500,000 deaths.  Is that an appropriate budget measure for the United States, or the United States – is it pulling out of the AIDS Africa crisis?

And Foreign Minister, at what point – how many – it’s now been 50 years since the two-state solution has been in the offing.  You now have yet another American administration suggesting they are going to come up with a peace plan.  How long does the two-state solution remain in the offing, until the people sort of realize that maybe Israel is never going to give up this land and only a one-state solution is possible?  When – when is the deadline that the two-state solution finally dies?

SECRETARY TILLERSON:  Well, I will be going to Beirut tomorrow to meet with leaders in Beirut about Lebanon’s future.  We support a free, democratic Lebanon free of influence of others, and we know that Lebanese Hizballah is influenced by Iran.  This is influence that we think is unhelpful in Lebanon’s long-term future.

We also have to acknowledge the reality that they also are part of the political process in Lebanon.  I think Lebanon is taking positive steps with their law on disassociation that was passed last year to send a signal as to their view that they do not want to see any of Lebanese Hizballah involved in foreign conflicts and have asked that they bring all of their people back from the conflict in Yemen.

So I think it’s a long process.  We support the democratic process there.  We support strengthening the LAF, the Lebanese Armed Forces, so that there is a legitimate security force under full control of the Government of Lebanon to provide the security the Lebanese people deserve.

With respect to my meetings in Ankara, Turkey is still an important NATO ally of the United States, they’re still a very important partner in the region for us, and we need to find a way to continue to work in the same direction.  We are committed to the same outcomes in Syria, and we know that Turkey also has threats within Turkey as well as in areas surrounding Turkey, from areas out of Iraq, some areas out of Syria.  And so we hope to have talks about how we can work cooperatively to lessen those threats to Turkey but ultimately achieve the objective in Syria, which is the full and enduring defeat of ISIS, the de-escalation of violence in Syria, and moving the Geneva peace talks forward.  I think what will benefit Turkey the most will be a successful peace process in Geneva that stabilizes all of Syria.

And finally as to the budget, our budget still provides our full levels of support to PEPFAR.  And the whole budget – and this is the same approach that was taken last year – is, as you know, part of this president’s and this administration’s theme is to seek greater burden sharing from others, and so we are going to maintain the AIDS support programs that are in place, but we’re seeking other partners to come in and pick up new cases that need to be dealt with.  And so we’re working that both with other governments, but we’re working it through private foundations and others.  We’re engaged very actively with them as well.

QUESTION:  (Via interpreter)  Hamdan al-Haj* from Dustour daily newspaper.  My question is to both of you.  Having signed the Memorandum of Understanding between the two countries, the recent months witnessed a lot of misunderstanding, maybe we can call it, between the two countries.  And how do you assess the ties, the relationships between the two countries?  And Mr. Tillerson, how do you see the role of Jordan in the coming strategy of USA?  Thank you.

SECRETARY TILLERSON:  Well, I think as you just acknowledged, we just signed a five-year commitment of well over a billion dollars – in fact, cumulatively well over $6 billion – so I think our commitment to this relationship and to seeing Jordan continue to succeed is firm.  That should not be under any question whatsoever.

Again, the strength of the partnership, whether it be in countering terrorism, whether it be in pursuing a Middle East peace process, whether dealing with the serious humanitarian and refugee problems created by conflict in the region, Jordan and the United States have always been able to work shoulder-to-shoulder to address these issues.

We have our – we have differences, as any countries may have from time to time, over tactics I think more than final objectives.  I think our final objectives are quite clear and they’re shared, and those are unchanged.  How we pursue those from time to time we may take different approaches, but we consult and we know that what we’re trying to achieve at the end is still the same.

Mr. Nick Wadhams, Bloomberg.

QUESTION:  Thanks very much.  Nick Wadhams with Bloomberg.  Mr. Foreign Minister, you just said the challenge now is to not make things worse.  Can you talk about the challenge posed by the U.S. decision to name Jerusalem the capital?  Did that complicate your work and, in fact, make things worse in the pursuit of peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians?  Also, on UNRWA, did the U.S. decision to slash funding for UNRWA complicate your efforts to bring greater stability to the region and to assist Palestinian refugees?

Also for Secretary Tillerson, there’s been a lot of talk that the Trump administration will unveil its peace plan for the region in the next month or two.  Have you seen that plan?  Are you working on that?  Can you give us a timeframe for when that may emerge?  And also, would the use commit to restoring funding for UNRWA?  Did you discuss that possibility today?  Thank you.

SECRETARY TILLERSON:  Well, with respect to the timing and details of a Middle East peace plan that the administration’s been working on, I don’t want to get in front of the President or his team that’s been working on that.  I have seen the plan, the elements of the plan.  It’s been under development for a number of months.  I have consulted with them on the plan, identified areas that we feel need further work.  So I think it’ll be up to the President to decide when he feels it’s time and he’s ready to put that plan forward.  I will say it’s fairly well advanced, is what I would say.

With respect to the UNRWA funding, we did release $60 million in order to ensure that teachers’, hospital workers’ salaries and whatnot would continue to be paid uninterrupted.  I think the remainder of what we may do with respect to UNRWA in some measure is also dependent upon what are others willing to do.  I think it’s interesting that the U.S. provides about 30 percent, perhaps a little more, of the total UNRWA funding from year to year.  That means there’s 70 percent that comes from a lot of other countries.  Yet when there’s a crisis on January the 1st or January the 15th, only the United States gets called.  And then when the United States – there’s some fear that we’re not going to deliver, only the United States gets criticized.

Now, the UNRWA funding is an international commitment.  Many countries are donors to UNRWA.  And part of, I think, what we would like to see – and I know the foreign minister and I have had many discussions about this as well – is we need to put UNRWA on a more sustainable footing.  It has never had a sustainable funding model.  It has always operated in almost in a one crisis to the next kind of environment.  We really need to find a longer-term solution and we need to invite more donors to participate in the funding of UNRWA’s activities.  There are many countries that we believe should be supporting that are not supporting, and we’re going to be calling on them to do so.

But hopefully we can find a way that UNRWA is not in a crisis every January the 1st and then another crisis along about November of every year.  And so we’re going to look at our ongoing support for UNRWA, but we want to look at it in the context of trying to address the longer-term need.  So we’ll see how this goes, and Jordan is taking some important leadership in that regard.  We’re going to be very supportive of that.