SECRETARY KERRY: Good afternoon, everybody. Thank you for being here with us. It’s my privilege today to welcome the Foreign Minister of Georgia, Mikheil Janelidze. I’m very happy to have him here. I have had the privilege of traveling several times to Georgia previously, and it’s very much my hope to be able to get there somewhere in the course of the next months.
Before I say a few words about Georgia, with the gracious indulgence of the foreign minister – he’s agreed – that I would like to say a couple of things, if I can, first, about Syria.
Five years ago today, peaceful protestors gathered in the streets of Damascus and in Daraa and many other cities in Syria at the same time. And all of these people were calling for reform, for basic human rights and for justice and for jobs, for opportunity, for a future. Their peaceful protests were met with bullets and eventually with chemical weapons and barrel bombs and torture and starvation. Over the past five years, hundreds of thousands of Syrians have died and millions have fled the country and millions more have been displaced within Syria’s borders. It has been nothing short of the most significant humanitarian catastrophe since World War II. And amid the chaos and the destruction, terrorism has, regrettably, found the cover that it needs in order to be able to flourish.
But today, as we mark the fifth anniversary of the start of this horrific war, we may face the best opportunity that we’ve had in years to end it. The cessation of hostilities has obviously not been perfect. I don’t know one that ever has been. And we have raised and we will continue to raise our serious concerns about violations when they occur. But it’s also clear that the violence in Syria is down, very significantly reduced. And access to humanitarian assistance is up, though it still could be increased even further. The cessation of hostilities is now going into its third week, defying most predictions, and far more importantly, improving the lives of Syrians on a daily basis.
Now, certainly, more progress has to be made. And we have a team that is working in Amman, Jordan and a team working in Geneva with a task force that is daily reporting on any potential violations and working through those violations. But with the cessation of hostilities largely holding, Russia’s announcement yesterday that it will remove half of its forces immediately and more perhaps from Syria, and with the political negotiations reconvening this week in Geneva, we have reached a very important phase in this process. Continued progress, in particular finally and fully ending the sieges on Syrian towns and cities and ensuring absolutely unimpeded humanitarian access – all of that will require vigilance from the international community.
And over the weekend, last weekend, I met with many of our international partners in this effort. I met in Saudi Arabia and I met in France in order to discuss the path forward. I will be traveling next week to Moscow to meet with President Putin and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in order to discuss how we can effectively move the political process forward and try to take advantage of this moment.
We know that despite the progress that we’ve made, despite the reductions in violence and the increases in humanitarian assistance and relief, lasting peace will be impossible without a genuine political transition. That is a simple statement of fact. For five straight years, the Syrian people have seen their communities torn apart. They’ve seen their families and friends killed; their homes, schools, and places of worship shelled and/or destroyed. Parts of their country have become a safe haven for Daesh and al-Nusrah terrorists.
So this is a moment to seize, not waste. We have at this moment the ability to finally take a step towards ending this war and the bloodshed. It is time for the Syrian people to have the opportunity to rebuild their country and their lives and it’s time for all of us, every interested party, to come together and find the way forward and be able to focus squarely on defeating Daesh.
Now, I’m grateful to the foreign minister for letting me say a few words in marking this fifth-year anniversary, if you want to call it that – this marking, if you will, of a terrible process over these years.
Georgia has undergone its own challenges over these last years, and I’m very happy to welcome the foreign minister here and to declare unequivocally the United States support for Georgia’s sovereignty and its territorial integrity. And we applaud the current focus in Georgia on economic development and on building the economic opportunity for the people of Georgia. We believe that an independent, unified, and prosperous Georgia is essential to the peace and stability of the Caucasus. We also appreciate very much Georgia’s significant contributions to the efforts in Afghanistan and its active counterterrorism support, which is essential, on a regional basis. We very much support Georgia’s Euro-Atlantic aspirations and we support their efforts to pursue a closer integration with both the United States and with Europe.
And finally, I’d just reiterate it’s my intention to try to get to Georgia somewhere perhaps in June or perhaps shortly thereafter, but we are trying to make plans to get there because Georgia is an important friend of the United States and we want to make clear to Georgians the depth of our support for their struggle for full independence and for the full territorial and sovereign respect of its borders.
Mr. Foreign Minister.
FOREIGN MINISTER JANELIDZE: Thank you very much, Secretary. It’s a great honor to be here today with Secretary Kerry. Georgia has made tremendous progress in democratic and economic development over the past 25 years since we regained independence in 1991. The Georgian Government is pursuing a bold reform agenda that will continue to strengthen our democracy, our economic development, as you mentioned already, and our aspiration and integration in the EU and NATO and Euro-Atlantic space. Georgia’s strategic partnership with the United States has been instrumental and contributed greatly to achieving these results, and we continue our successful cooperation in many areas. It’s a true friendship based on common values and shared interests, and we continue to work together and we are grateful for all the support provided by the United States, by the American people, to achieve the progress we are having today.
Unfortunately, Georgia’s territory still remains to be occupied – more than 20 percent of Georgia’s territory – and we are grateful for U.S. position and firm support to our territorial integrity, sovereignty. And we hope that those problems will be solved in a peaceful manner and we will find jointly solution together with the international partners – United States and other, our friends – and international society to find a peaceful solution to that issue.
Just as the United States has stood with Georgia over the past 25 years, Georgia stands shoulder to shoulder with the United States in ensuring global security. The relationship between our two countries at all levels of government has never been stronger. And you, Secretary Kerry, has been a close friend for Georgia for many years and we thank you for your continued support and friendship.
When we talk about the international security and global security, would like to welcome the cessation of hostilities in Syria and we hope that a long-lasting, peaceful solution will be found for that crisis. And also, we are confident that Georgia and American relations will continue to serve as a pillar for regional economic development, democratic progress, and security cooperation in the region and beyond.
And I would like to thank you for expressing readiness to come to Georgia, to visit Georgia in coming months. It will be our great honor to host you in Georgia especially when we are celebrating 25th anniversary of regaining independence.
So thank you very much for all the support. We have many issues to discuss today in bilateral relations as well as our cooperation on regional and international levels. And thank you for your warm welcome and hospitality. Thank you.
SECRETARY KERRY: My pleasure. Thank you.