October 13, 2018
[Moderator]: Okay, so, welcome everybody and thank you so much for coming. My name is Rebecca Resnik. I am the new Deputy Public Affairs Officer at the embassy. I will be moderating tonight’s discussion. I will be the one calling on people for you to ask your questions and when I do call on you please state your name and what outlet you’re with. I will start with the ground rules. This session is on the record and the Deputy Secretary is here to talk about his trip to Bahrain. We have thirty minutes for this event and thank you all for agreeing to the parameters that were laid out earlier. And with that I will turn it over to the Deputy Secretary.
[Deputy Secretary Sullivan]: Thank you. Good evening everyone, it is a pleasure to see you tonight and thanks for coming out and speaking with me this evening. This is my first trip to Bahrain. I was here yesterday and here today for important meetings. I met today with His Royal Highness the Prime Minister, with Deputy Prime Minister Mubarak, with the Foreign Minister and a number of other officials. I had lunch with business leaders and government officials, including the Minister of Oil. I have had very productive talks, important talks, important because the partnership between the United States and Bahrain is extremely important. It is a long-standing partnership over decades based on an important and mutually-beneficial security arrangement, but it’s much broader than that. We have an important commercial relationship, including our Free Trade Agreement, and beyond that, our shared values. The relationship between the people of Bahrain and the United States is deep and enduring and is of great importance to us in the United States. So I have been very pleased with our meetings today and I am looking forward to having a discussion with you and trying to answer your questions.
[Question]: My name is Rasha Ibrahim from Bahrain News Agency. Welcome to Bahrain. This is first. My questions is: Is there any […] of your visit to Bahrain? Or are you on the way to other countries?
[Deputy Secretary Sullivan]: Well, this is my first stop on the trip and I am spending more time here I think than any other country on my trip, an indication of the significance of Bahrain and the United States’ relationship with Bahrain. And as I said in my opening remarks, it is a very broad relationship and we have covered a lot of different issues. We have discussed security issues, counterterrorism issues, economic issues, cultural, people-to-people exchanges. So I have covered a lot of ground in my meetings, which was my intent because our relationship is as broad and important as it is. So that was my principal goal, was to cover those meetings… and these were meetings, some of which, for example, the Foreign Minister I have met with previously. He and I co-hosted, along with the United Kingdom and others, a forum at the United Nations General Assembly on ending modern slavery. And he I continued our discussion today about the great progress that Bahrain has made in combatting trafficking in persons. And it was a significant moment when the United States was able to elevate Bahrain to Tier One in our Report on Trafficking in Persons. So my trip consisted of both continuing discussions with officials with whom I met previously, although not in Manama, and in meeting others and discussing, as I said, that broad range of issues that unite the United States and Bahrain.
[Question]: Tamam Abu Safi from Al-Ayam newspaper. […] I am going to ask about Iran because I believe that part of your visit regards also Iran’s activities in the region. The first main point is about threats coming from Iran’s side of Bab al-Mandab and I would like to hear what is the position of the United States if the ships in Bab al-Mandab are under any attack of any activities from Iran’s side […] and another thing, sanctions coming from the United States… Still Iranians can get the access to financial Western system by the nuclear from your side and Europe they still confirm that they will keep dealing with Iran, especially in the humanitarian sector. So what about the sanctions coming from the West? Is there any kind of deal with Europe about the issue?
[Deputy Secretary Sullivan]: Sure, I will take those questions in order. On the first question, as you know, the United States in this region and around the world is committed to a free and open trading system, and that includes the movement of goods and persons by land, by sea, by air. And particularly in this region, in the Gulf and in other areas, we are committed along with our allies and partners, including most importantly Bahrain, to ensuring that that free transit continues and that states that are not committed to that free and open trading system are not able to disrupt that, threaten free trade, or worse, threaten lives and property. So I have had discussions with the Government of Bahrain on our support, on our joint commitment to addressing the threats to the region that are posed by Iran, which, as you know, have been well-documented and resulted in the President of the United States withdrawing from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or the so-called JCPOA, because of, among other things, among its significant failures was the failure to address the threats that Iran poses to the region. So yes, that was a topic of discussion in my meetings today. And with respect to sanctions, sanctions have been reimposed by the United States. The first tranche, reimposition of sanctions starting in early August, and the second round focused in particular on the Iranian oil sector will be reimposed on November 4th. And the reason for that is to change the behavior of the Government of Iran, which I know you have heard senior U.S. government officials say before. Our point in reimposing these sanctions is not regime change, it is behavior change. We intend to enforce those sanctions. We are looking to convince our allies and partners to join us in that. It has been a commitment by Secretary Pompeo to engage with our allies and partners to convince them to support us in that effort, and that is an ongoing dialogue. The Secretary has appointed a special representative Brian Hook to assist him in this effort. Brian is working very hard on this and engaging with our allies and partners as we have been since before the President made his decision to withdraw from the JCPOA. It is a dialogue that continues and will continue until we see a change in behavior by the regime in Tehran.
[Question]: Mohammed Al’Ali, Gulf Daily News. Sir, today the ambassador spoke about trade. The Free Trade Agreement now it has been 12 years. Any plans to improve or build up on the Free Trade Agreement, FTA, knowing that it is financially beneficial for the U.S. and Bahrain? Are you looking at new terms, new scope, new economic, financial, cultural… Do you have in mind any idea on what the direction of the FTA will be in the future?
[Deputy Secretary Sullivan]: Very good question and very important question and something that I have discussed, not only with senior government officials with whom I have met today, but with business leaders over lunch. The United States’ partnership with Bahrain is not limited to security issues, important as those may be. Our relationship is much broader. I happened to work in the Bush 43 administration in the Department of Commerce. I was at the end of the Bush 43 administration the Deputy Secretary of Commerce, so I was there when the Free Trade Agreement was signed. It has great promise. It has helped increase the level of trade between the United States and Bahrain but there is much more that we can do. There are great prospects for the Bahraini economy which I have discussed today. As you know, there has been a significant oil discovery in the west side of Bahrain that I believe U.S. companies could be very helpful in helping to develop. So I want to work hard to convince U.S. companies… It should not take that much convincing, but to help them engage in Bahrain and pursue all those opportunities that we believe are waiting for them here.
[Question]: Budoor al-Malki from Al-Bilad newspaper. Welcome in Bahrain, sir John. I want to ask, your first station is Bahrain Kingdom. It there any other country in the region you will visit and will it be the same dialogue or something else? We want to know. Thank you.
[Deputy Secretary Sullivan]: Sure, my next stop is Baghdad, Iraq. I have spent a lot of time in my career working on issues related to Iraq, including when I was Deputy Secretary of Commerce, so I will be continuing those discussions in Baghdad and Erbil over the next few days.
[Question]: […] from Al-Watan Newspaper. President Trump’s remark about oil prices in the previous days was a little bit sharp towards the GCC countries. Do you think that will have any impact on the relations between the GCC and the United States because of the oil prices?
[Deputy Secretary Sullivan]: I am not familiar with the remark you are referring to, but our relationship with the GCC, both in the individual members and collectively, is very strong, both on security issues but also on economic issues, including oil and gas. So, I expect that our relationship will only deepen and that we will work cooperatively together, as I discussed today, the opportunities that were available for US companies to work, to help develop for and with Bahrain its oil resources.
[Question]: Maki Hassan from Akhbar al-Khalij. [Unclear question].
[Deputy Secretary Sullivan]: Well, I think there could be no clearer statements than the statements that President Trump has made about his views on the behaviors of the regime in Tehran, its threats to not only to our Gulf partners and allies, but across the region. So those threats were among the principal reasons that the President decided in May to withdraw from the JCPOA, why we are working as hard as we are to reimpose sanctions to, as I said before, change the behavior of the regime and reduce the threats to the United States and to our allies and partners.
[Question]: Mohammed Zafran from the Daily Tribune. […] Are there any requests about the aluminum tariffs and is the US open to allow more countries to enter the […]?
[Deputy Secretary Sullivan]: We have discussed the aluminum tariffs that were imposed, steel and aluminum tariffs broadly, but I understand the impact on the aluminum industry here in Bahrain. Yes, we did. There are processes for countries to seek exemptions, and we have discussed that, both in the past and going forward with Bahrain. The problem that the tariffs are ultimately seeking to solve is a problem of over-production, principally in China, specifically with steel and aluminum. So there is a process and we are in continuing discussions with the Government of Bahrain to discuss the potentials for a waiver or an exemption from those sanctions/tariffs on aluminum.
[Question]: Hi, my name is Habib Toumi from Gulf News. My question is why are you opening up on Taliban? Why are you… Why is the US Administration opening up on Taliban right now?
[Deputy Secretary Sullivan]: Opening up with the Taliban, you mean discussions and the potential for discussions?
[Question]: Yes, the discussion yesterday in Doha. Why now? And to go back to the Iran issue, we heard so many times that the US Administration is offering deals and is ready to talk with Iran. Can you elaborate on that please?
[Deputy Secretary Sullivan]: Well, let me take the second question first. The deal that the United States wants is change in Iranian behavior. We believe the way to accomplish that is by reimposing the sanctions that existed before the JCPOA was adopted and we are working very hard to do that. With respect to the Taliban, the United States adopted last year what we described as our South Asia Strategy. Ultimately, we do not believe that there is a military solution to the situation in Afghanistan. Having said that, we are not going to retreat from the battlefield. The Taliban also is not going to win on the battlefield in Afghanistan. We are looking ultimately for a political solution that will include, of course, as the government of Afghanistan its voice at the negotiating table with the Taliban. There have been discussions that we seek to try to facilitate. That direct discussion between the Taliban and the Government in Afghanistan. It is not a negotiation between the United States and the Taliban. The discussion needs to be between the Government of Afghanistan and the Taliban.
[Question]: Sir, you spoke about the FTA. My colleague spoke about aluminum tariffs. There are also other issues, for example garments. Clothes, textiles, garments are mostly from Bahrain to the US. Now you stopped some of those exports to your country […] exports from Bahrain. Any plans to resume the garments. I have heard that you stopped garments from Bahrain because there was a strike in the U.S. saying that it affects the business in the U.S. Any plans for a solution.
[Deputy Secretary Sullivan]: I may turn this question over to my colleague Ambassador Siberell who has been more directly involved in these issues than I before I misspeak.
[Ambassador Siberell]: Thank you. I think that you are referring is that when the Free Trade Agreement was signed in 2006, it included something called tariff preference levels, specifically with regards to garment imports to the United States with a ten-year expiry period, and that was built into the agreement. So, from the very moment it was signed we understood that after ten years these preference levels would expire as they indeed did in 2016, which did result in some decrease in textile exports to the United States. That having been said, garments and textiles continue to be produced in Bahrain and exported to the United States under the Free Trade Agreement. A very good example of that is that the U.S. company WestPoint Home, which opened a factory in Bahrain for the very purpose of taking advantage of the free trade facilitations to the United States. They are producing bed sheeting, principally, and towels, that sort of thing, for premium brands to the United States, boxed here with a “Made in Bahrain” label, then exported duty free to the United States. So, there are examples of successes in that field and it is an important category. Thank you.
[Question]: I am going to ask this question. It does not regard Bahrain. We have been hearing recently several reports about the United States’ position from this case of Jamal Khashoggi in Turkey and yesterday Turkey released the priest… the American priest from Turkey and we do not know if this was kind of a deal between the United States and Turkey or anything. So I would just like to hear what exactly is the position of the United States from this case because we work in the media, but to be honest, we hear many reports about the United States’ opinion, but we cannot trust.
[Deputy Secretary Sullivan]: Two different cases, let me talk first about Pastor Brunson. I have been most directly involved in that. This is an issue that we have been raising with the Government of Turkey since the start of the Trump administration, and I was delighted to hear the news that Pastor Brunson has been released after the court proceeding yesterday in Ankara. So, we are looking forward to having him home in the United States with his family as soon as possible. This is completely unrelated to the events involving Mr. Khashoggi, which as you’ve heard the President of the United States say, and other senior leaders, including Secretary Pompeo, how concerned we are about what may have happened to him. The fact is that we need to get to the bottom of that as soon as possible, and the United States is pressing for that. We are deeply concerned about what happened to him and want to learn exactly what happened as soon as we can, but that is not related to the issue of Pastor Brunson. That is not related in any way.
[Question]: Does the United States accuse Saudi Arabia about this issue or we should wait until the investigation coming from the Turkish side? This is already a case in Turkish land.
[Deputy Secretary Sullivan]: Neither I nor the United States Government is accusing Saudi Arabia. What you have heard the President say and other senior leaders of the United States say is that we need to learn facts as soon as possible and then make a judgment about what happened and the consequences, but we cannot make that judgment until we know the facts and we need to know them as soon as we can.
[Question]: Sorry, this question leads me to another question. Mr. Brunson is hamdulillah out now and he will reach America very soon and this is very good news. We are very happy about it. What about the other American in Turkey? Is there any deal or…
[Deputy Secretary Sullivan]: Well there are both American citizens and Turkish citizens who were employed by our embassy and our consulates in Turkey who have been detained and we are very concerned about them. Just as we are concerned about all Americans who are detained unjustly in foreign countries. We have Americans who have been detained unjustly in Iran for example. And as you know, one of the significant developments in our relationship with the DPRK, with North Korea, was when Secretary Pompeo was able to go to Pyongyang and return those three Americans who had been unjustly detained in Pyongyang. So we work very hard, often behind the scenes quietly, but sometimes publicly and loudly to do all we can to get anyone who is an American citizen and in trouble and detained abroad home – treated fairly and brought home as soon as possible. So we celebrate that Pastor Brunson is on his way home but we still have a lot of work to do with other Americans, both in Turkey and around the world, who are not free but who should be.
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[Deputy Secretary Sullivan]: Thank you.