The following is attributable to Spokesperson Heather Nauert:
Secretary Tillerson met with Djiboutian President Ismaïl Omar Guelleh in Djibouti on March 9 to affirm the United States’ commitment to our broad partnership with the Government of Djibouti as it addresses regional political, development, and security challenges.
The Secretary thanked President Guelleh for continued security cooperation, which promotes the common economic and security interests of the people of Djibouti and the United States. The Secretary also encouraged President Guelleh and Djibouti to further efforts to make Djibouti a more attractive destination for foreign investment.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson And Djiboutian Foreign Minister Mahamoud Ali Youssouf At a Joint Press Availability
FOREIGN MINISTER YOUSSOUF: (Via interpreter) The Secretary of State has had two crucial meetings with myself and with the President of the United States. The Secretary of State is here at the beginning of his five-nation African tour, and Djibouti is extremely proud to be on the list of countries that the Secretary of State is visiting.
We've had many fruitful discussions today, but we are very proud also of the fact that Djibouti is the host country to Camp Lemonnier, and we've had many fruitful discussions pertaining to our goal together in fighting against violent extremism, and security, stability throughout the region. We have talked about many issues: our relations with China, and also many other commercial issues pertaining to the region. And also we also talked about the fact that this year there will be some upcoming meetings of the binational forum.
SECRETARY TILLERSON: Well, first let me begin by thanking Foreign Minister Youssouf for his very warm welcome to Djibouti, and I appreciate his leadership, not just here, but in the region as well. And we had a very fruitful discussion on how we can deepen U.S. – United States and Djibouti relations.
I also want to thank President Guelleh for the opportunity to have an important dialogue with him, as well. As I expressed to the foreign minister, the United States is committed to continuing this very strong partnership with Djibouti. Our relationship continues to provide benefits to both the people of the United States, and certainly to the people of Djibouti. And both of us are working together to address a variety of challenges that this region is confronted with.
One of our most important areas of cooperation and mutual interest, I think is well understood, is security. And we are grateful to Djibouti for hosting thousands of United States troops here in Djibouti. This is a relationship that has been mutually beneficial to both the United States and Djibouti, by strengthening Djibouti military forces, as well. U.S. military presence here does facilitate a very quick response to terrorism and violent extremism that threatens both of our countries. But as well, it threatens the region and stability in this region.
Wherever that threat may come from, whether it be ISIS finding its way to this continent or from al-Qaida, al-Shabaab, or other terrorist organizations, we are here in partnership with the people of Djibouti to protect the citizens of both our countries, as well as countries in the region. And we greatly appreciate all that Djibouti is doing, and the contribution of troops it makes to the African Union Mission in Somalia, through AMISOM. Djibouti plays a major role in safeguarding the free flow of global commerce through the Red Sea, allowing billions of people to access goods from all over the world by keeping the sea lanes free and open.
During our meeting we discussed the large role Djibouti plays in humanitarian support. It is a critical staging point for significant humanitarian aid that is distributed throughout the region – in particular, countries that are suffering food insecurity. Djibouti is a very important port for the delivery and the distribution of food assistance to so many countries. And Djibouti also plays an extremely important role in its hosting of refugees that are escaping conflict in the region.
We talked about our efforts to support reforms that would create long-term prosperity for Djibouti and will make Djibouti even more competitive for investments and trade. And part of our commitment in working with the Government of Djibouti is to continue long-term progress towards good governance, strengthening the governance and the institutional governance capacity here in Djibouti. We are committed to support civil society development and institution-building in several ways, and we had a very good exchange on that.
So again, thank you, Excellency, for the warm welcome. We look forward to continuing this very important relationship with Djibouti. And again, I appreciated the opportunity for both of our meetings today. They were very useful to me. Thank you.
MODERATOR: We can take a few questions.
QUESTION: Good morning, Your Excellencies. It's (inaudible) from Djibouti Television. My question is for the State Secretary, Rex Tillerson.
And Mr. Secretary, as part of your walking visit to Djibouti, how do you look forward in order to expand and strengthen partnership and trade and investment between the United States of America and Djibouti?
And my second question is related to the security issue. Let's bear in mind that Djibouti is the biggest African country for the peacekeeping mission in Somalia, and one of the key allies in the fight against al-Shabaab in Somalia in that country. How United States and other countries from the sub-region can work together in order to better fight or enhance security in the regions?
SECRETARY TILLERSON: Well, we had a very good discussion, a lengthy discussion, about the investment climate in Djibouti and what U.S. investors are looking for, in terms of stability and certainty in the investment climate. And we do see that there are investment opportunities in Djibouti. And I think part of this is ensuring that U.S. businesses understand what those opportunities are.
But we had a very good exchange on strengthening the business climate for investment. Transparency is very important to private sector investment. And we had a good discussion around that.
In terms of the joint effort to fight terrorism and al-Shabaab in Somalia, this is – obviously, Djibouti has an important role because of the number of troop contributions that they make to AMISOM. And we coordinate with AMISOM, with the African Union, our own efforts in the fight against al-Shabaab in Somalia. We shared our views on how that is going. We feel that there has been very good progress made in liberating areas of Somalia. It's important, though, that those areas then are secured so they remain liberated and they don't fall under control of al-Shabaab.
But we have a lot of work to do in Somalia yet. And I had very good discussions in my meetings in Addis Ababa with the African Union chairperson about that mission. And rest assured, the U.S. is committed to staying engaged with AMISOM forces until we defeat al-Shabaab, and Somalia is stable and secure and able to find its own way forward to prosperity. Thank you.
QUESTION: Thank you so much. Mr. Secretary, for months you've been saying that conditions are not yet right for talks with North Korea, and that you would know it when you saw it. Less than 24 hours ago, that was still your position. What changed in the last 24 hours that gave the Trump administration confidence that now is the right time? Can you explain the logic behind starting this process, talks about talks, as you've described it at the level of the leaders of the country? And did you know when you made those comments yesterday that this meeting was in the works?
And Mr. President, if I may --
FOREIGN MINISTER YOUSSOUF: Minister. I'm not president. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Pardon me. My apologies, my apologies. Yes, we've been seeing quite a few people today. The United States, the IMF, and others have warned that your country's incredible debt to China is putting your future at risk. Some say it's as much as 85 or 90 percent of your GDP. How will Djibouti be able to service that debt?
SECRETARY TILLERSON: With respect to talks with North Korea versus negotiations – and I think this seems to be something that people continue to struggle with the difference. My comments have been that we're – the conditions are not right for negotiations, but we've been saying for some time we are open to talks. President Trump has said for some time that he was open to talks and he would willingly meet with Kim Jong-un when conditions were right and the time was right. And I think in the President's judgment, that time has arrived now. So there's no – in my comments yesterday, I was indicating comments about negotiations, but we've been open for talks for some time.
In terms of the decision to engage between President Trump and Kim Jong-un, that's a decision the President took himself. I spoke to him very early this morning about that decision and we had a good conversation. This is something that he's had on his mind for quite some time, so it was not a surprise in any way, because I think this has long been something. He's expressed it openly before about his willingness to meet with Kim Jong-un.
So now, I think it's a question of agreeing on a timing of that first meeting between the two of them and a location, and that will take some weeks before we get all that worked out. So no surprise. We know that there's been a lot of discussion, and you've been reading about it too through the intra-Korean dialogue. We also had been having contacts back and forth with them, as you're well aware, through channels that we have had open for some time. And I think this was the most forward-leaning report that we've have had in terms of Kim Jong-un's, not just willingness, but his strong desire for talks.
So I think it was really – what changed was his posture in a fairly dramatic way that, in all honesty, was a – came as a little bit of a surprise to us as well that he was so forward-leaning in his conversations with the delegation from South Korea.
FOREIGN MINISTER YOUSSOUF: As far as the debt burden is concerned towards China, let me first underline the fact that no country can develop itself without having a strong infrastructure. And China is, from that perspective, a very good partner. Of course, the burden of debt is there, we are aware of it. But let me tell you that it is so far manageable. We have something, like, 84 percent of our GDP in terms of debt, but we have also to recognize that countries like Japan have more than 200 percent of their GDP in terms of that burden.
So it is manageable. We invested in a very strong and good infrastructure, and we hope that this commercial infrastructure will be able to help us pay back our debt. So we are not that worried, but we have – we keep an eye on that and we see that China is doing a good job in terms of financing our infrastructure.
QUESTION: Thank you. Mr. Secretary, the Gulf Crisis is affecting the Horn of Africa with the United Arab Emirates getting involved in the internal affairs of countries on the Horn of Africa. What is the U.S. response to this situation?
And secondly, the Yemen war is right next door. Many Yemeni-Americans are unable to bring their children or spouses to the U.S. Nearly all of them are being rejected because of the Presidential proclamation. What would you say to these American citizens that are being separated from their families?
SECRETARY TILLERSON: Well, we remain very concerned about the dispute among the Gulf partners and Egypt with Qatar. The President's been directly engaged in discussions with the leaders about this dispute. I – the State Department has a mission in the Gulf this week talking to all the parties about seeking a way to start a process of resolving this dispute. We are aware that that dispute has spilled over into parts of Africa in – particularly the Horn of Africa. We have spoken directly to the leaders of those countries and asked them to not take their dispute into third countries, but deal with it among themselves, do not use others as part of this disagreement they have with each other. We have – we will continue to send that message to them, because we see that it as unhelpful. The region has enough challenges of its own without having that kind of interference finding its way into the Horn of Africa.
The situation in Yemen is – it can only be described as heartbreaking. It's a terrible tragedy what's happening in Yemen – the civilian casualties, the humanitarian tragedy we have on our hands now, both from a health standpoint as well as a food security standpoint. We have made progress in getting the Port of Hodeidah open, where we're able to get more humanitarian assistance in. Djibouti is playing a role in helping get humanitarian assistance in with flights into the capital of Sana'a.
In terms of the people leaving and wanting to come to the U.S., the President has put policies in place that are designed to ensure that people coming are fully vetted. It is somewhat chaotic. I hope everyone can appreciate that when you have areas of conflict like we're dealing with and we don't have functioning governments inside of Yemen, there's not – a lot of time people are leaving with not good documentation. We've all witnessed the kinds of attacks that have taken place both in Europe, we've had attacks in the United States as well. The President feels a deep responsibility to do everything he can to prevent those. And so, processes have been put in place that do slow the processing of people's applications to come to the United States. We are going to follow those procedures closely and we hope that people will be patient with us while we work through that.
QUESTION: I am the correspondent Voice of America in Djibouti. And Mr. Rex Tillerson, Secretary of State, welcome to Djibouti.
SECRETARY TILLERSON: Thank you.
QUESTION: The United States of America are late in investment in the continent Africa. What is the President Trump policy to solve this issue?
SECRETARY TILLERSON: Well, U.S. investment into Africa, and in particular the Horn of Africa, is really a matter for private investors to decide. The United States is continuing to provide significant assistance to the Horn of Africa. I think this year we will be providing something like over $530 million to countries in the Horn of Africa, in the form of assistance.
But business investment and creating business prosperity and economic activity is largely something for the private sector from the United States to engage. I think what we can do in the State Department and as the U.S. Government is to work with countries to ensure that they understand the kinds of business and climate that needs to be created, the kind of fiscal terms, the regulatory kinds of structures, transparency, all of the elements that we know U.S. investors are looking to understand in order to make decisions about investments.
There is significant U.S. investment on the continent broadly, but in the Horn of Africa it's not as large as we think it could be. And so we're going to continue to work with governments, not just here in Djibouti but throughout the Horn of Africa, to ensure that U.S. businesses understand what the opportunities are, what the challenges are, and help the host governments understand actions we think they can take to improve the attractiveness of their countries to inbound investment.
FOREIGN MINISTER YOUSSOUF: (In French.)
QUESTION: My name is (inaudible) from (inaudible), and my question is to Mr. Secretary. The critic says Africa is not priority for Trump administration. How do you react to that?
SECRETARY TILLERSON: How do what? Oh, no, that Africa is not a --
SECRETARY TILLERSON: Oh, no, it's that Africa is not a --
QUESTION: How do you react? The critic says Africa is not priority for Trump administration. How do you react?
SECRETARY TILLERSON: Well, I think that's a mischaracterization in terms of the importance of Africa to the United States. And our relationship with Africa dates back obviously for more than a century, and we have diplomatic relations with countries in Africa that date back more than a century. And I think it is variable around the continent; depending on where you are in the continent, that relationship is stronger, there's greater economic activity. And so it is something that's variable.
What I have been discussing in this trip, and we had discussions with the African Union about yesterday, is we are very encouraged by steps we're seeing being taken within the African Union and on the continent, such as the continental free trade agreement. We think that's going to be a really important engine of future economic growth, which, in fact, will create opportunities for more inbound investment from U.S. businesses as well. The civil aviation agreement that's being negotiated and put into place, we think that's going to connect Africa and make it easier for U.S. travelers to come to a hub in Africa and then jump off into the continent more easily. That's going to create, I think, new opportunities as well.
In terms of economic activity, we see a robust future for Africa. You have a very rapidly growing population. Five of the twelve fastest-growing economies in the world are in African countries. So we see the economic opportunity here.
Obviously, there are important security issues that we share as well. As terrorism moves around the globe, we have created a Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS. We see ISIS has come to this continent. We will be on this continent to fight ISIS with important partners like Djibouti and other countries who are not just contributing money but they're contributing their own blood of their own fighters to eradicate terrorism. So there are many, many bonds that bind us together from a security standpoint, but also a future economic opportunities standpoint.