Press Availability With U.K. Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson

FOREIGN SECRETARY JOHNSON: Good afternoon, everybody. I am delighted to welcome Secretary Tillerson to London. We've had an excellent series of meetings, including, of course, about the appalling damage wrought by Hurricane Irma. I returned this morning myself from Anguilla and the British Virgin Islands, where I saw the scale of the destruction and the ordeal that has been inflicted on the people across the Caribbean and in Florida.

Our immediate task is to ensure that aid reaches everyone in need, and today there are nearly 1,000 British military personnel deployed in our Caribbean territories, supported by RFA Mounts Bay and two Puma transport helicopters. More than 40 tons of aid has arrived, including one ton of food and enough shelter for 13,000 people. RFA Mounts Bay is now heading to the U.S. Virgin Islands to pick up more supplies before moving on to the Turks and Caicos. I thank the United States for allowing the U.S. Virgin Islands to be used as a hub for the distribution of aid.

And I'm grateful to France and to the U.S. for assisting the departure of British citizens. We have been glad to respond to a request for assistance from our French friends by sending an RAF C-17 transport aircraft to provide heavy lift for their aid effort. The prime minister has announced 57 million pounds of help for the overseas territories; in addition, the government will match every pound donated to the Red Cross appeal, up to a maximum of 3 million.

Later today, I'm going to chair COBRA to check on the progress of our response. The minister for the commonwealth, Lord Ahmad, is arriving in the Turks and Caicos tonight to assess the situation on that British territory. Once the emergency phase is over, the overriding need will be for long-term reconstruction to get our Caribbean territories back on their feet, and in that effort, Britain, France, the U.S., and the Netherlands will be working side by side.

I've also today chaired a meeting on Libya with Secretary Tillerson and our colleagues from Italy, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, and France. Libya is a front line in our common struggle against terrorism and illegal migration, and we all share a vital interest in that country's stability. Our shared goal is to break the political deadlock and rally behind the United Nations envoy, Ghassan Salame, as he seeks to bring all sides together. Our friends in North Africa share the same interest in a peaceful Libya, and that prize is wholly achievable. We now have a new opportunity to make progress by helping the Libyan people to reach a political settlement based on compromise and consensus.

Finally, we discussed the grave situation in East Asia, where North Korea has defied the world by testing a nuclear device and launching ballistic missiles. On Monday, the Security Council unanimously adopted UN Resolution 2375, including the toughest sanctions imposed on any country in the 21st century. Today, we discussed how best to enforce those measures, with the aim of maximizing the pressure on North Korea to reach a diplomatic solution. We resolved to continue to work together and with important partners who can influence North Korea, including China, with the aim of securing the complete and irreversible denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.

On all these issues and more, I am delighted, again, to work alongside Rex, Secretary Tillerson, demonstrating once again the strength of the alliance between our two countries. Rex, it's great to have you in London. Thanks for all your time. Over to you.

SECRETARY TILLERSON: Well, thank you so much, Foreign Secretary Johnson, and again, it's always an honor and a pleasure to be here in the United Kingdom and to work with such close and committed allies to find solutions to some of the most complex issues in the world, not the least of which is North Korea and Libya.

I do want to thank Foreign Secretary Johnson for his kind words to the American people, particularly in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey and now Hurricane Irma. Many Americans, as you know, continue to suffer in recovery and have a long way to go to rebuild their homes and their lives. Americans, though, do have a reliable friend in the British people, and the British have a reliable friend in the United States. And I think that was clearly demonstrated in the response to the effects of Irma throughout the Caribbean on British territories, American territories, and French territories. The cooperation through that event has been extraordinary. I think all of us set down our own concerns and said what can we do to help each other's citizens, and we are very thankful for that. We're also committed to take that same spirit into the aftermath and how can we work together and coordinate now to complete the recovery and begin the long, long process of reconstruction in a way that I think is beneficial to everyone.

I do quickly want to recognize and congratulate the United States has a new ambassador to the United Kingdom, Woody Johnson. He has arrived here 18 days ago. I think it ensures that our special relationship will remain in good hands. I did comment to the ambassador I'm a little concerned I have an Ambassador Johnson and a Foreign Secretary Johnson, and all that assures is that on any given day, a Johnson's going to be to blame for something.

I do want to also acknowledge that we had a very, I think, useful meeting � short but very useful opportunity to meet with Prime Minister May and members of her senior staff this morning. We discussed a number of areas of mutual interest. I expressed my appreciation to the prime minister for the very strong support and resolve of the United Kingdom both as an important member of the UN Security Council but also in the public statements and actions to send a very strong message to North Korea and the regime in North Korea that their efforts to advance their nuclear weapons programs and the threatening posture that they have taken is not acceptable to any member of the international community. And that support is very important in our efforts to bring that to a resolution.

The prime minister and I had also had a discussion briefly about the threat that Iran poses to the region through its destabilizing activities in Yemen, in Syria, and other parts of the region, and we discussed our shared interest to find a solution to the conflict in Syria once the war against ISIS, the defeat of ISIS is concluded. And again, we continue to welcome the opportunity to work closely with our counterparts in the United Kingdom.

While Brexit does present unique challenges to the British people, please know that you have a steadfast ally in the United States, and we will stand by our ally as Brexit continues to take shape. And we look forward to continuing this long relationship.

As indicated, Foreign Secretary Johnson and I also had the opportunity to delve into a number of detailed topics of mutual concern. As again, as I said, we're very thankful for the U.K.'s leadership, and the foreign secretary in particular has been stellar in terms of supporting our efforts on North Korea, from sanctions to also implementing those sanctions, finding ways to de-escalate the violence in Syria. And we express our deep gratitude to the United Kingdom for their very generous contributions towards humanitarian assistance to the long-suffering Syrian people as we continue to liberate areas that have suffered under the oppression of ISIS.

Along with representatives from France, we had a very substantial meeting to discuss how to increase that diplomatic and economic pressure on the DPRK, and also how we can work together to relay messages to the regime in North Korea that we � you need to stand down your program and engage in a dialogue to find a way to a peaceful resolution.

Foreign Secretary Johnson and I also had very productive discussions, as he indicated, with the French, Italian, Emirati, and Egyptian colleagues, as well as the UN special representative for the secretary-general, Ghassan Salame, on the way forward on Libya � again, an issue that's important to the United States to create stability, reconciliation, and restore Libya under a functioning government. What we don't want to see happen is Libya become a place to birth additional terrorist organizations or provide opportunities for ISIS to re-emerge in a different part of the world. We are all committed to helping the Libyans find the Libyan solution that will lead to their future.

I think as Special Representative Salame works with the Libyans to advance the political reconciliation, it's important that he know that he has the full support of the United States. We think it is time to focus the mediation efforts in one location at the UN under his leadership, and I think we had very strong unity among the group that met today to support the special representative in his efforts. We will meet again with the UN Secretary-General Guterres to consider these issues in New York next week on the margins of the UN General Assembly meeting.

Once again, I want to thank Prime Minister May and Foreign Secretary Johnson for their most gracious welcome, for a series of very, very productive meetings today on a host of important topics, some of which we've touched on with you, but most importantly for their commitment to action in the achievement of our common goals.

So, Foreign Secretary, thank you again.

FOREIGN SECRETARY JOHNSON: Thank you, Rex. Thank you very much. We're going to take a couple of questions. James Landale from the BBC.

QUESTION: James Landale, BBC. First of all, Foreign Secretary, on aid. Do you believe that the government should be able to use its aid budget to help people in need in the Caribbean? And if so, what are you going to do about it?

Secondly, on Libya. Do you actually think that elections next year are feasible? And when do you think they should be held?

Thirdly, on Burma. You said last weekend that Aung San Suu Kyi was, and I quote, one of the most inspiring figures of our age. Do you regret saying that now, and has your view changed as a result of the events of this week?

And Secretary of State, if I could ask you on Iran. What actually is the position of the United States today on the Iran nuclear deal? Are you going to continue to waiver the sanctions? Do you continue to believe that Iran is fulfilling its obligations of that deal?

And secondly, what is your view on what is taking place in Myanmar and Bangladesh, and the behavior of Aung San Suu Kyi?

FOREIGN SECRETARY JOHNSON: Let me go first, Rex. Well, on your first question, James, I think anybody who see � I mean, I don't believe that � anybody's seen the effects of a hurricane, but it's absolutely catastrophic, awe-inspiring. I've never seen anything like it. It's like the destruction that you see in images from the First World War. And I think anybody with an ounce of compassion would want to see spending by our government on getting those people back up on their feet, and indeed, on getting those British � and I stress it � British Overseas Territories helped in the long term. And of course, we are looking now across Whitehall at ways in which we can make sure that our aid budget can be used in that way. And I know that Priti Patel, all my colleagues are looking at how we can do that. That is absolutely natural, and we're on that right now.

On Libya, you ask a very important question: Would it premature to hold elections within a year? I happen to think that that could be about the right time scale. I think it's very important, however, that you don't do it too fast and that you get the political groundwork done first. There has to be a constitution; there has to be an accepted basis for those elections to take place. That is currently not here. You have to amend the Skhirat Agreement, the Libyan political agreement. That needs to be done. Everybody understands, broadly speaking across the actors in Libya, what needs to be done. And I think there's � I think there's a very wide measure of support amongst the Libyan people for getting on with an election, by the way.

So I think that the program that Ghassan Salame has sketched out certainly commanded support this afternoon in the P3+3, in the format that we brought together today. Obviously, what we are hoping is that that will gain further, wider support at UNGA, the UN General Assembly next week.

Thirdly on Burma and the tragedy that is unfolding and the gross abuse of the human rights of the Rohingya population, nobody should underestimate what is happening now. 370,000 Rohingya have fled or are estimated to have fled in desperation. That's almost half the Rohingya population in Northern Rakhine.

And to answer directly your point about Daw Suu, State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi, let's be clear: She led Burma after a period of decades of repression by a military junta. And I yield to no one in my admiration of what she stood for and the way she fought for democracy. I think many people around the word share that admiration. But I think it's now vital for her to use that moral capital and that authority to make the point about the suffering of the people of Rakhine.

And I think nobody wants to see � nobody wants to see a return to military rule in Burma. Nobody wants to see a return of the generals. But it's also vital that the civilian government � and that is Daw Suu, for whom, as I say, I have a great deal of admiration, but it is vital for her now to make clear that this is an abomination and that those people will be allowed back, that those people will be allowed back to Burma and that preparation is being made, and that the abuse of their human rights and the killings � hundreds perhaps even thousands � then the killings will stop.

SECRETARY TILLERSON: Well, first, with respect to the administration's view of the JCPOA, of the nuclear deal with Iran, the Trump administration is continuing to review and develop its policy on Iran. It is underway. There have been several discussions internally among our NSC and along with the discussions with the President. But � so no decisions have been made.

But I think it's worth noting that, as the administration continues this review of the JCPOA, I think President Trump has made it clear to those of us who are helping him develop this policy that we must take into account the totality of Iranian threats, not just Iran's nuclear capabilities; that is one piece of our posture towards Iran. And I think if one revisits the preface to the JCPOA, that preface reads that the participants, quote, anticipate that full implementation of this JCPOA will positively contribute to regional and international peace and security, end quote. That was one of the expectations of the JCPOA.

In our view, Iran is clearly in default of these expectations of the JCPOA through their actions to prop up the Assad regime, to engage in malicious activities in the region, including cyber activity, aggressively developing ballistic missiles. And all of this is in defiance of UN Security Council Resolution 2231, thereby threatening � not ensuring, but threatening � the security of those in the region, as well as the United States itself. So we have to consider the totality of Iran's activities and not let our view be defined solely by the nuclear agreement. So it continues to be under review. No final decision's been made.

With respect to the horrors that we are witnessing occurring in Burma, I think it is a defining moment in many ways for this new emerging democracy, although it is a power-sharing arrangement. We all clearly understand that. And so we appreciate the difficult and complex situation Aung San Suu Kyi finds herself in. And I think it is important that the global community speak out in support of what we all know the expectation is towards the treatment of people, regardless of their ethnicity, and that we must � this violence must stop; this persecution must stop. It's been characterized by many as ethnic cleansing. That must stop.

And we need to support Aung San Suu Kyi and her leadership, but also be very clear and unequivocal to the military share � power-sharing in that government that this is unacceptable. And this is going to, in many ways, I think, define the direction that Burma will take. We � they need our strong support. We should give them our strong support.

QUESTION: Secretary Tillerson, on North Korea, President Trump described the UN Security Council resolution that was passed this week as a small step. Do you concur with that assessment, and do you still seek a full oil embargo against North Korea? And do you think China would ever agree to that?

And Secretary Johnson, on the � on Iran, the French have signaled a willingness to supplement the nuclear deal to extend sunset provisions. Did that come up in today's conversations, and is Britain open to such a suggestion?

And Secretary Tillerson, would the U.S. be open to that as well?

SECRETARY TILLERSON: With respect to the UN Security Council resolution and the President's view that it was a small step, I share that view. We had hoped for a much stronger resolution from the Security Council. Having said that, I think it does � it did accomplish a couple of things: one, a complete prohibition on textiles, which does represent somewhere between $7- and $800 million of export revenue to the regime.

And I think importantly, the successful conclusion of yet another unanimous UN Security Council resolution, in and of itself, I think, does continue to send a consistent message to the regime in North Korea and importantly to those who continue to enable North Korea's activities that the international community does have a common view on the seriousness of North Korea's proliferation program and the development of their weapons � their nuclear weapons, I think it's clear that with respect to oil and a complete embargo on oil from the UN Security Council, that's going to be very difficult.

In effect, that is directed at China alone because China supplies essentially all of North Korea's oil. I am hopeful that China, as a great country, a world power, will decide on their own and will take it upon themselves to use that very powerful tool of oil supply to persuade North Korea to reconsider its current path towards weapons development, reconsider its approach to dialogue and negotiations in the future. That is a very powerful tool that has been used in the past, and we hope China will not reject that or discard that as a very powerful tool that they alone really have the ability to assert.

So we're going to continue our efforts of the global campaign, going to continue to call on all countries to fully implement the UN Security Council sanctions and resolutions, and where countries have a sense that they can do more to put pressure on this regime to bring them to a point of dialogue with a � in a very productive way, we ask that everyone do that.

FOREIGN SECRETARY JOHNSON: I just � on North Korea, quickly, if I can just add, Rex, that there was, I think, a wide measure of support for the position that you and I have both adopted that this is � this is not the time, when we're trying to get the Chinese to exert the maximum possible pressure � and by the way, I think they � I think the Chinese have done more perhaps than we thought that they would, but there is scope for them to do much, much more, particularly in respect to � of oil. Now is not the time to start setting other hairs running with other attempts at engagement with the regime in Pyongyang. Now, the focus has got to be on what China can do as the country that's responsible for 93 percent of North Korea's external trade. And that � I was very struck by the strong support for that position, particularly from our French friends.

And just to get to your point about Iran, the North Korean crisis shows the importance of having arrangements such as the JCPOA. And you ask about extending the � having the sunset clause, and I actually can't remember who raised it. It did come up. Everybody could see that it was going to get tenser as we get towards the deadline, and that's why it's important that we make it work and that we keep it alive. And there are two aspects to this. As Secretary Tillerson has just said, the Iranians have got to behave and fulfill their side of the bargain, and they've got to stop being adventurous and expansionist and causing trouble in the region, whether it's in Yemen or Syria or anywhere else.

And of course, on the other side, we in the U.K. think it very important that Iran, that country of 80 million people, many of them young, potentially liberal, could be won over � could be won over to a new way of thinking. I think it's important that they should see that there are benefits, economic benefits from the JCPOA as well. So we in the U.K. want to keep that alive, and that's certainly a point that we have been making to Rex and others in the U.S.

QUESTION: I also have seven or eight questions after that. (Laughter.)

SECRETARY TILLERSON: Thank you. Thank you.

FOREIGN SECRETARY JOHNSON: Thank you. Thanks a lot.

Source: U.S Department of State