Press Availability in South Sudan
Secretary of State
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, good afternoon. I just completed an in-depth, very frank, and thorough discussion with President Kiir. And throughout the meeting, I think it’s fair to say that both of us spoke very candidly, very directly, and we got to the issues that I came here to discuss. Throughout the meeting, I made it clear to him that he needs to do everything in his power to end the violence, and also to begin a process of national dialogue, a process by which there is the beginning of discussions – real discussions – about a transition government that can bring peace to the country.
It’s fair to say that President Kiir was very open and very thoughtful and had thought even before this meeting about these issues, because we have talked about them on the phone in recent days, and because our special envoy and others have had conversations with him about it. So he committed very clearly his intention to do exactly that: take forceful steps in order to begin to move to end the violence and implement the cessation of hostilities agreement, and to begin to engage on a discussion with respect to a transition government.
I just spoke a few minutes ago to Prime Minister Hailemariam of Ethiopia to convey to him President Kiir’s willingness to travel to Addis Ababa in the near term, sometime early next week hopefully, in order to engage in a discussion with Prime Minister Hailemariam, and hopefully with Riek Machar, who had previously indicated to the prime minister a willingness to do so. And I hope to talk to him sometime later in the course of today to encourage him to do so.
This meeting of Riek Machar and President Kiir is critical to the ability to be able to really engage in a serious way as to how the cessation of hostilities agreement will now once and for all really be implemented, and how that can be augmented by the discussions regarding a transition government and meeting the needs of the people of Sudan. President Kiir and I have spoken about this many times over the course of the last months. We particularly spoke almost every day during the period from December 15th through the Christmas period. In fact, I even talked to him on Christmas Day, and was particularly pleased today to be able to return to Juba in order to sit down and discuss these issues face to face.
I’ve told President Kiir that the choices that both he and the opposition face are stark and clear, and that the unspeakable human costs that we have seen over the course of the last months, and which could even grow if they fail to sit down, are unacceptable to the global community. Before the promise of South Sudan’s future is soaked in more blood, President Kiir and the opposition must work immediately for a cessation of hostilities, and to move towards an understanding about future governance of the country.
I might also say that we do not put any kind of equivalency into the relationship between the sitting president, constitutionally elected and duly elected by the people of the country, and a rebel force that is engaged in use of arms in order to seek political power or to provide a transition. Already, thousands of innocent people have been killed and more than a million people have been displaced. And it is possible – as we’ve seen the warnings, because people have not been able to plant their crops – that there could be major famine in the course of the months ahead if things don’t change.
Both sides are now reportedly recruiting child soldiers and there are appalling accounts of sexual violence in the conflict. The reports of Radio Bentiu broadcasting hate speech and encouraging ethnic killings are a deep concern to all of us. The United States could not be any clearer in its condemnation of the murder of the civilians in Bentiu or in Bor and all acts of violence, including those that use ethnicity or nationality as justification are simply abhorrent and unacceptable.
If both sides do not take steps in order to reduce or end the violence, they literally put their entire country in danger. And they will completely destroy what they are fighting to inherit.
The people of South Sudan – and I’m talking about all the people of South Sudan – all of them have suffered and sacrificed far too much to travel down this dangerous road that the country is on today. That is why both sides must take steps immediately to put an end to the violence and the cycle of brutal attacks against innocent people.
Both sides have to do more to facilitate the work of those people who are providing humanitarian assistance, whether from the UN or from the UN mission or any organization that is responding to increasingly dire needs of citizens. Both sides need to facilitate access for humanitarian workers, for goods, for cash in order to pay salaries, and they need to provide this access to South Sudan’s roads, to its waterways, including to opposition-held areas. And we talked about this very directly this morning with President Kiir and his cabinet members.
It is important that both sides also act to ensure the safety and the security of the humanitarian workers themselves, and both sides must stop dangerous verbal attacks on people who are bravely providing relief to the South Sudanese people. It’s unconscionable that people who have come here not with weapons but with assistance are being attacked by both sides, and nothing will do more to deter the international community and ultimately to wind up in an even worse confrontation in the country itself.
Both President Kiir and Riek Machar must honor the agreement that they made with one another to cease hostilities, and they need to remember as leaders their responsibilities to the people of the country. The fate of this nation, the future of its children must not be held the hostage of personal rivalry.
Yesterday in Addis I spoke with representatives from the African Union and South Sudan’s neighbors about how we can coordinate and restore peace and accountability. We support the AU’s Commission of Inquiry in South Sudan, and I met this morning with the leader of that commission and listened to their early reports of their work. And we support the IGAD’s monitoring and verification mechanisms. The United States is also prepared in short order to put sanctions in place against those who target innocent people, who wage a campaign of ethnic violence, or who disrupt the delivery of humanitarian assistance.
Even as we come here in this moment of conflict in an effort to try to find the road that has been obscured, I can’t help but remember – as I drove to meet with the president and as I came back here to our Embassy, having traveled here and been here a number of times – but particularly at the moment of self-determination for this country, it is important to remember what the people of South Sudan achieved for themselves recently. Through their efforts, through their commitment, through their patience, they helped to move this country to independence, to the creation of a nation, through peaceful, democratic, and prosperous future, and the opportunity to be able to try to achieve that. And they came together to create a new nation in that effort.
I remember walking in one community and watching people vote and talking to somebody who was standing out in the hot sun and who’d been there for hours. And I walked up to them and said, “Look, I hope you’re not going to get impatient. Don’t leave. You need to wait to vote.” And that person to me said, “Don’t worry” – I was then a senator – “Don’t worry, Senator, I’ve waited 50 years for this moment. I’m not going anywhere until I’ve voted.” The dedication that I saw, the commitment of people to try to create this nation deserves to be fully supported and the aspirations of those people deserve to be met by our efforts, all of us, to try to bring peace, and mostly by the leaders to fulfill the promise that made them leaders in the first place.
It is absolutely critical that to prevent that moment of historic promise from becoming a modern-day catastrophe, we all need to work harder to support the hopes of the people and to restore those hopes. We have to be steady in our commitment to the people of South Sudan. And I was encouraged yesterday in Addis Ababa by the unanimous commitment of the neighbors, of IGAD, of the foreign ministers I met with from Kenya, from Uganda, from Ethiopia, all of whom are committed and dedicated to helping to pull South Sudan back from this precipice and help to implement the cessation of hostilities agreement, and most importantly, help South Sudan to negotiate its way through this transition government that can restore the voice of the people in a way that can give confidence to the South Sudanese people, that their future is indeed being spoken for and that the best efforts are being made to meet it.
So with that, I’d be delighted to take any questions.
MS. PSAKI: The first question will be from Michael Gordon of The New York Times.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) you’ve described some of the political and military steps that you would like to see unfold – expect to see unfold in the next weeks. If neither side honors their commitments, how specifically do you plan to hold them accountable? And how long do you plan to wait before holding them accountable? There’s been some concern in the Congress and by groups like Oxfam that the United States has moved too slowly on this. And are you prepared to sanction the president and Riek Machar themselves?
And lastly, yesterday, you spoke publicly about your interest in deploying African troops to create a more robust peacekeeping force here. How many troops do you think should – will be deployed? When do you think this will happen? Will there be – will it be necessary to secure a new UN Security Council mandate to make this happen? Basically, how real is this? Thank you.
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, it’s real. Each of the countries I just listed are all committed. And I met yesterday with the foreign ministers who say they are absolutely prepared to move with troops from those countries almost immediately. But yes, we do need to secure an additional United Nations Security Council mandate. I believe that can be done quickly. I hope it can be done quickly. And it’s very, very important to begin to deploy those troops as rapidly as possible.
How rapidly? Hopefully within the next weeks, and we’re talking about an initial deployment of somewhere in the vicinity of 2,500 troops. Well, I think 5,500 have been talked about, and it may be that there are even – it may be that, depending on the situation, more may have to be contemplated. But for the moment, that’s the limit, that’s what’s being talked about.
With respect to the hopes on the – what was the first part? The —
QUESTION: How long do you plan to wait before (inaudible)?
SECRETARY KERRY: Oh, okay. Let me just say – you asked about the – sort of what might follow if people don’t implement these steps. And the answer, very, very directly, is the global community will then make moves in order to have accountability. There is a commission of inquiry already underway. I met this morning with the head of the commission of inquiry and listened to former Nigerian President Obasanjo’s observations about his initial start of that effort. We support that effort; the global community supports that effort. That will obviously be ongoing.
I think the single best way for leaders and people in positions of responsibility to avoid the worst consequences is to take steps now, the kind of steps that we heard promised this morning. We are not going to wait. However, there will be accountability in the days ahead where it is appropriate. And the United States is doing its due diligence with respect to the power the President already has with respect to the implementation of sanctions, and I think that could come very quickly in certain quarters where there is accountability and responsibility that is clear and delineated.
MS. PSAKI: The next question will be from Memoska Lesoba from Eye Radio.
QUESTION: You said that President —
SECRETARY KERRY: Can you hold it up real close?
QUESTION: You said President Salva Kiir has agreed to transitional government. What kind of a transitional government? Can you delve more into that? And I would want to know what kind of sanctions would be imposed if (inaudible) way of (inaudible) resolve the crisis, and what impact will it have.
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, with respect to the transition government, ultimately it is up to the people of South Sudan. And it is up to an inclusive process which brings the civil society to the table and reaches out to political opposition and to all of the different stakeholders in South Sudan to shape that. What is important is that President Kiir is prepared to engage in that process in a formal way, to reach out, to work with IGAD, to work with the community, in order to make certain that that process is real, it’s transparent, it’s accountable.
Now, how that unfolds will be part of the discussions that we hope will take place between Prime Minister Hailemariam as the mediator and two of the principle antagonists in this conflict, President Kiir representing government and Riek Machar. But there are other players, lots of them. As you know, 11 detainees have now been released. And each of those detainees has – have had voices and roles to play in the politics of South Sudan.
So it’s really up for the process itself to take shape as the stakeholders and as the people of South Sudan speak up and speak out and demand a certain kind of participation. What’s important is that that participation is promised and it is available.
With respect to sanctions, we are – there are different kinds of sanctions, obviously – sanctions on assets, sanctions on visas, sanctions on wealth and travel and so forth. All of those options are available, among others. But in addition to that, with the commission of inquiry and other standards that are applied. There have been atrocities committed and people need to be held accountable for those kinds of atrocities. And there are methods by which the international committee undertakes to do that. So I think the real test is what happens in these next days, what kind of bona fide legitimate steps are taken by people to prove they want to move in a different direction. And that will be a significant guide as to what may or may not be pursued by members of the international community in the days ahead.
MS. PSAKI: The next question will be from Lara Jakes of AP.
QUESTION: Thank you. Just to clarify, in this transitional government, do you see a place for either President Kiir or Riek Machar to be holding office in the future for this country? And then also, as you head to Congo tomorrow, what are you looking to hear regarding the prosecution of troops who were given amnesty and then returned to M23? And is the United States satisfied with the deep mobilization plan for all armed troops in eastern Congo, including Hutu troops – I’m sorry, groups? And then one last one. Could you comment on the new charges against Gerry Adams? Thank you.
SECRETARY KERRY: I don’t have any comment on the charges issue. I’ve heard about it, I’m not familiar with all of the details of it. And he’s presented himself. He maintains his innocence. And we need to let the process in Northern Ireland work its way.
With respect to the Central African Republic – excuse me, the D.R.C. – we are hopeful that the terms that have been put in place, the Kampala Accords, are going to be implemented properly. But I’m going to wait to comment more fully on that until I meet up with Special Envoy Feingold, who will meet us there when we arrive there. And I think I would rather get the latest briefing up to date before I summarize it, because I may be outdated and I just would rather do that.
On the first part of your question —
SECRETARY KERRY: Whether or not they can be part of in the future – that’s not a decision for the United States of America to make or to comment on. That’s for South Sudanese to decide. It’s for the process to decide. I think that certainly people will judge carefully, I think, what happens in these next days, which could have a great deal to do with respect to future legitimacy of any player engaged in this, not just President Kiir or Riek Machar, but anybody who is engaged. If there is a legitimate, open, transparent, accountable, and real process by which people are listened to and people come together, then the people of South Sudan will have an opportunity to make that kind of decision and it won’t be necessary for us to comment on it.
If it doesn’t go in that direction, it may be that the United States and other interested parties who have helped so significantly to assist South Sudan in this journey to independence and nationhood, it may be that they will be then more inclined to speak out about what’s happened with leadership here or not, but at the moment I don’t think it’s appropriate to do that.
MS. PSAKI: The final question will be from Gabriel Shada from Radio Miraya.
QUESTION: Thank you. The background to the conflict in South Sudan refers to a disagreements, disgruntlements inside the SPLM ruling party on the modalities of election and selection of leaders. So reaching an agreement that does not resolve the SPLM leadership issues is like suspending the real issues, which means they will rise again in the nearest future. So how can the U.S. Administration help the SPLM sort out its problems.
Second question is about the U.S.A. promising a lot to help South Sudan in the past, and even now. But one of the promises was building the – an institutional capacity for South Sudan, and observers can see that institutional capacity in South Sudan is still very, very weak. What are the reasons for this failure, especially when building the capacity of the army and other institutions? Thank you.
SECRETARY KERRY: Very good questions. Very, very good questions. With respect to the first question, you’re absolutely correct: There are internal issues within the SPLM that need to be resolved. But it’s not up to the United States to resolve them. It’s up to the leaders and the members of the SPLM to do so, recognizing that their validity and credibility as a leading party to be the governing party of the country is at stake in how they do that.
And so it is – there’s already a process in place where they’re doing some meetings and evaluations, and will do that. What is important is that they recognize that the negotiations over a transitional government ultimately, in terms of what role they play or how that plays out, will depend to some measure on how they resolve those kinds of internal issues. And the credibility of the civil society, the credibility of the people of South Sudan, with respect to their leadership will depend, obviously, on their ability to do that.
So that’s part of the road ahead. And they know that work is in front of them. They understand that. They discussed it with us here today, and I’m confident that that’s very much in their minds as they think about the future structure of any kind of transition and future.
But it’s also related, I may say, to the second part of your question. Yes, the United States committed to do certain kinds of things, as did the international community. And for a certain period of time, many of those things were attempted to be done, but the truth is that there’s been a difficulty, as I think most people understand, in the governing process that gave people pause and made people stand back a little bit. And that’s been part of the problem. And that’s why this transitional government’s effort is so important, because it is the key to being able to open up the kind of direct help and input that would be then meaningful and not wasted and not lost. And it’s very important that there be a process in place where people have confidence that the way forward is clear and that assistance can be put to the use that it’s meant to be put to.
So I would say to you that that’s part of the reason why this transitioning effort is so critical, because it really is what can restore the legitimacy so that going forward all those people who care, and there are many who do – in Africa, in Europe, in America, elsewhere – would be able to hopefully help in the capacity building for the country. That’s really where all of South Sudan’s energy ought to be going, not into killing each other but into building a government that can serve the needs of the people. And our hope is that that is what can get restored out of this terrible conflict that has interrupted that path.
MS. PSAKI: Thank you, everyone.
SECRETARY KERRY: Thank you all. Appreciate it.