Senior State Department Officials Previewing Secretary Kerry's Trip to Davos

Special Briefing
Senior State Department Officials
Washington, DC
January 20, 2016

MODERATOR: Hi, you guys. Thank you for coming. Apologies – well, actually, we’re almost on time for Matt. We will start this backgrounder. As you guys know, we will be posting this. This is a background to senior State Department officials. Each of our speakers will have about three to five minutes of opening remarks, then we’ll open it up to questions. We ask you guys identify yourselves so our speakers know who you are.

So first we will go to [Senior State Department Official One].

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Okay. Well, thank you very much for being here. And as you know, the Secretary recently gave a speech outlining the sort of security and foreign policy objectives for 2016. Now he’s going on to the World Economic Forum, and we have – the Secretary is very famous for saying economic policy is foreign policy and foreign policy is economic policy. And so the World Economic Forum is a great place for him then to outline some broad themes that touch the nexus between the economy and foreign policy and economic opportunity. And it is – just as with foreign policy and security policy, we intend to be very proactive, not just reacting to the crisis du jour but also pursuing some long-range goals. And I would just highlight four of those that have economic components.

The first one is the importance of tackling corruption, because not only does corruption rob folks in societies of their very fabric and their own economic opportunities, but it also leads to disillusionment and extremism, and good governance is what makes economies move in a well-oiled way. And so that is a place where we believe we have a natural alliance with the private sector, who – our private sector is – behaves in a transparent and law-abiding and rules-based way and can be a beacon in countries where that is not the case.

The second is clean energy. And as you know, we just had a huge victory for the world with the climate agreement in Paris. And the corollary to that is in order to implement that and in order to save us from global warming, clean energy is going to be one of the key components of that, as well as energy efficiency. And we talk a lot about that from an environmental standpoint, but from an economic standpoint, it is estimated that energy investment is going to reach close to $50 trillion by 2035, and clean energy is going to be by far one of the most important aspects of that. And it’s a place where the United States leads in terms of development of technology. So this is a place where we have all kinds of economic opportunity, and it totally aligns with our security and our policy.

Third is expanding connectivity to the internet, which has many benefits. The World Bank has already done a study showing that for every 100,000 people connected to the internet, there’s a 1 percent increase in connectivity – in GDP growth. So we know that this is a place where GDP can grow, people’s economic opportunity can grow, people’s right to engage with their government can grow, education, remote access to medicine, et cetera. So this is a kind of all-in-one package, and we are pursuing that. We are going to be having a conference to further the Global Connect initiative that we launched at the UN General Assembly, which is to bring 1.5 billion people online by 2020, and the conference will take place in April here – a ministerial conference.

And lastly, with respect to the environment, as you all know, the Secretary has a deep, personal commitment to oceans. And he launched the Our Ocean conference here two years ago. It was picked up by Chile. And people think of that as a purely conservation issue; however, billions of people around the world take their livelihood from the ocean. There is now a great deal of looking at the blue economy and ways to marry environmental conservation with economic opportunity, and we are going to continue with this, hosting the next Our Oceans conference this coming September. And I know the Secretary will be engaging in Davos with some of his counterparts to urge them to come to the conference with commitments to further this nexus.

So I will stop there and let [Senior State Department Official Two] continue with some more Davos-specific issues.

MODERATOR: And now we’re moving to [Senior State Department Official Two].


QUESTION: Wait, sorry. Just to clarify, can we say that this person is a senior --

MODERATOR: No. This is Senior State Department Official.


SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL THREE: There’s actually only one person with [Senior State Department Official Two]’s title, so I don’t know if that would --

MODERATOR: Yeah. (Laughter.) No, it’s Senior State Department --

QUESTION: Well, no, I mean all [title redacted] are kind of [title redacted]. That’s okay, I just wanted --

MODERATOR: Yeah. No, but thanks, Elise. [Senior State Department Official Two].

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: It’s complicated here. Who is going to Davos? Everybody, you’re all part of the travel team?


SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Okay. Is Margaret Brennan going? I saw her name on the list, but --



Well, I’m happy to talk specifically about Davos, and this – my colleagues here are the sort of economic team – of the Secretary’s economic team. And [Senior State Department Official One] has certainly laid out the agenda for this coming year for all of us. As pertains to the conference in Davos, it’s organized by the World Economic Forum.

First of all, the Secretary – this is one of many trips that he has made to this over the last 20 years. He likes to go to this. He appreciates the opportunity to interact with global leaders. And in this particular case, there’s actually a great number of U.S. Government officials going to this Davos conference, including the Vice President, the Secretary of Commerce, the Secretary of Defense, and U.S. Trade Rep Froman. And so there’s a – the U.S. Government is going to be well represented.

The title of the conference is “Mastering the Fourth Industrial Revolution,” really a certain focus on technology, although not exclusively on technology, and the sense that connectivity has solved a huge number of problems but it’s also created a huge number of dilemmas and difficulties. And so how are we going to manage these two forces that are derived from all the innovation and technology which the world is creating at this point. And of course, center stage is the – is economics as a – as one of the central solutions to our – not just our business problems but also our policy and diplomatic problems.

[Senior State Department Official One] talked about the Secretary’s repeated – oft-repeated remarks about economic policy and – is foreign policy and foreign policy is economic policy. And just to touch on that, and I wanted to add just that there’s an overall frame here in the State Department. We have grouped our – all our economic activity under something called the shared prosperity agenda. And essentially, that’s about ensuring State Department employees have the skills and tools to generate inclusive growth here and abroad, support growth of the middle class, encourage policy environments where entrepreneurship can survive, thrive, and just in general strengthening broad-based economic activity. The – one of the precepts is you cannot have a lasting peace and security without prosperity, and therefore it is important that we do everything here as part of our diplomatic policy, economic policy, to foster and encourage that activity.

I just want to touch on what I think are some of the broad themes that I know that the Secretary is thinking about and very engaged in. One is that diplomacy matters, that we – it has to be the first line of engagement and it has to be as much as possible the solution to the differences that we encounter around the world. Certainly – and I’ll touch on some of those – the last six months have been dramatic evidence of this diplomacy, that diplomacy matters, and it certainly has been the cast of his entire tenure here as Secretary of State.

Secondly, and [Senior State Department Official One] mentioned corruption is a corrosive force in the world today. It’s weakening prosperity, it’s undermining governance, and it’s aiding violent extremism. And we’re really focusing on it as something that we want to get the world leaders and the world leadership engaged in, and some of what he says in his speech will certainly be addressing that.

The corollary of that – I guess the positive corollary is that entrepreneurship is the major job creator in – not just in this country – all net new jobs have been created essentially through new business formation over the last 10, 20 years – 10 years anyway, and that that dynamic is the same across the globe. And we are doing a number of different – and a number of different ways encouraging – trying to encourage the countries to establish policy environments that encourage and enhance the new business formation and entrepreneurship. The Secretary will touch base on this theme as he encounters people around Davos.

And lastly, and I think this is particularly – something that’s particularly important to him is that, frankly, things are not as bad as you would believe the press was – as believing. That we – just looking at the last six months, there’s been an Iran nuclear deal, now implementation, prisoner exchange; COP21 climate deal, unprecedented; Cuba, diplomatic relations; and TPP, a massive trade deal, which is as much a, shall we say, a standard-setter, as Bretton Woods 21 – as the Bretton Woods agreement was back right after World War II.

So it has been a very good run over the last six months, and I think he wants to make sure that people are aware of that, and the actual agenda at – in Davos. There’ll be a number of bilats. We can’t really – it’s a moving target so we can’t really talk about which ones, but there’s – the leadership of the world is here and so these are a wonderful environment to get a lot of work done, shall we say.

He’s got essentially four – four or five sort of more formal meetings. One is the Young Global Leaders. That is an interactive open session. No press, though on – just interacting with young global leaders as to what’s going on and what’s on their mind and exhorting some of the same themes that I’ve just reviewed with them.

There’s a small private roundtable of global industry leaders – no more than 20, probably more like 10, 12 of the most senior global industry leaders will have a private interactive conversation with the Secretary. He wants to listen to understand what’s on their mind and to see how that’s going to shape his policy and see what he can do in working with them. The – there’s a major speech on – by the way, both those are on Thursday at this point.

He’s got a major intervention speech on Friday morning. A good chunk of that is going to be on Daesh and the progress against Daesh/ISIS and with a sense that we are making seriously – serious progress. At the same time, there remains a serious challenge. It will be on corruption, it’ll be on entrepreneurship, and internet technology. And those are – it’s a work in progress, but that’s pretty much where it’s going right now.

And lastly, on Friday evening there’s a reception hosted by WEF for the Secretary where there will be maybe a hundred or so of the gathered world leaders who will attend from everything we can tell. And that’s – those are the formal interactions between the Secretary and the – and this community. He’ll be leaving Friday night and is – that’s it for me. Thanks. Thank you.

MODERATOR: Thank you. Now we’re pleased to turn it over to [Senior State Department Official Three], our Senior State Department Official Three.



SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL THREE: All right. Well, look, first of all, I’m really looking forward to traveling with the Secretary today, this afternoon, to go to Davos. This is the second time that the Secretary has asked his economic team to join him, and it’s with good reason. And I wanted to mention that both my colleagues talked about Secretary Kerry’s philosophy that economic policy is foreign policy and foreign policy is economic policy. But the more we say it out loud, the more it risks sounding like a slogan, which, having come from the private sector, is not something I’d love to just repeat.

So I want to just spend two seconds, maybe two minutes, mentioning to you that this is – and I know all my colleagues would agree with this – this is heartfelt. This is not just a fact, but it’s heartfelt. Secretary Kerry, on his first day in office, met with all the State Department employees and said that at his – at their heart, he wants all Foreign Service officers to be economic officers. He said that the minute he walked into the building.

And what has he done? He’s done a tremendous number of things over the last couple years to support this. There is something that some of you know – the QDDR, that’s what’s called a quadrennial review of how the State Department operates, combined with the shared prosperity agenda. It actually has – he’s made fundamental changes to the way the State Department operates, the way it puts an economic frame on its foreign policy decisions, and one that’ll be lasting beyond his tenure as Secretary of State.

The State Department has a key role in economic sanctions around the world, making the world more secure. The State Department helped design a strategy to cut off ISIL revenues from oil and antiquities. The State Department has obviously sanction regimes in Iran and Russia and Burma and elsewhere. I’ve brought with me the State Department’s Official Number Four, [Senior State Department Official Four], who is here --


SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL THREE: -- our expert on sanctions in case there are detailed questions you want to ask about later. But when it comes to Burma, an example of economic policy here, easing 80 percent of the sanctions in Burma has ushered in about a billion two of American investment. We just sent a delegation, including [Senior State Department Official Four], to see Aung San Suu Kyi, to talk about how we can evolve that policy – excuse me, evolve our business relations with that nation, and to help them grow as well as to help American businesses.

We – in Cuba, the embargo remains in place, of course, but we just concluded a civil aviation agreement with Cuba that’s going to allow a dramatic increase in the commercial flights – scheduled commercial flights, in addition to the charter flights, between America and Cuba. And this week, the State Department’s leading an information, communication and technology – an ICT dialogue with the Cubans, again, to help show examples of how ICT can grow. And the – [Senior State Department Official Two] mentioned – or I should say Senior Statesman Two mentioned the Trans-Pacific Partnership, TPP. Thirty percent of GDP, 40 percent – or trade – 40 percent GDP and 50 percent of the projected economic growth in the world – this is led by USTR, but it couldn’t happen without the State Department. It couldn’t happen without the State Department because our 11 embassies and economic officers around the world allowed that to obviously come to fruition, which is the same thing that’ll happen with T-TIP – our deal we’re negotiating in Europe – and the bilateral investment treaties that we’re negotiating around the world, including the one with China that’s already had 23 rounds.

The State Department took place, in 2015 alone, in $21 billion of advocacy for U.S. business just last year alone. And [Senior State Department Official One] mentioned Global Connect, which is an important project that we’re working on. But in addition to that, on a daily basis, the State Department fights to keep the internet open and free and multi-stakeholder, and to keep the multi-stakeholder model of governance around the world. If you consider that a significant percentage of America’s $17 trillion, $18 trillion economy comes from businesses that didn’t exist 20 years ago, you can imagine on an economic level how important that is, but it’s also extremely important on a policy and political level.

And so in Davos, we’re working with U.S. businesses to solve these problems. [Senior State Department Official Two] and [Senior State Department Official One] mentioned we can work with businesses on entrepreneurship, on trade, on innovation, on investment, on anticorruption. We give an award at State called the ACE Awards, the Award for Corporate Excellence, that re-emphasizes how the American brand is invaluable around the planet for not only our business, but our foreign policy. So under Secretary Kerry’s leadership, Davos is going to help advance these agendas with the business sector and with government officials, and we’re all looking forward to it. So thank you.

MODERATOR: Great. Thank you. Again, just introduce yourself and your outlet.


QUESTION: No, I don’t have --


QUESTION: I have two questions. I’m Pam Dockins, Voice of America. First to Senior State Official Number One, you outlined the four overall goals for the Secretary. Can you get a little bit more granular? You mentioned clean energy, expanding internet connectivity. Can you get a little bit more granular, in that are – you mentioned some of these are just set-up events that will take place later in the year at State. But also along with that, are there going to be deliverables or new initiatives that we should anticipate being announced?

And then for Senior Official Number Two, I had a question about the intervention speech on Friday. You mentioned the focus would be Daesh, corruption, technology. Is the overall goal more a summary of what the U.S. has done to this point, or should we anticipate elements that look forward?

MODERATOR: Okay. Senior State Department One?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Okay. With regard to the granularity, I’ll start with Global Connect. So we launched Global Connect at the UN General Assembly – and the Secretary had previewed all of this in a speech he gave in Korea – and the idea is to actually bring together at this conference in April – but between when we launched and then, many deliverables. I mean, there is a measurable deliverable of connecting 1.5 billion people to the internet by 2020, but there are many other important things. One of them is that just having connectivity by itself isn’t going to sustain the kind of economic development that we want from remote education, from remote medicine, from having folks in areas that currently can’t access the global market – be able to access them, because you need to make sure that you have a sound policy environment to protect competition, to make sure that there is affordability of these kind of services. So that’s – so we’re working, actually, on a country-specific basis to try to get those policies in place.

The second specific thing that we’re doing is trying to create a paradigm shift in the thinking of the multilateral development banks that we except to be present in April. And that is that in the past, as these banks have been looking at infrastructure development, they think about roads, they think about bridges, they think about electric grid. But the internet has been kind of a cherry on the top of the sundae and not the actual ice cream sundae itself, and we want to change that so that the internet is seen as the infrastructure of the 21st century and is therefore prioritized as such. So we are – we’ve made a great deal of progress in working with the World Bank. And they just put out a development report last week sort of talking about the importance of the internet, but we want to bring all of those banks together to make that shift.

So we are looking at specific deliverables being announced in April. And I don’t want to forget the private sector, which is doing a number of innovative things – some of which are in competition with each other, which is exactly as it should be – to bring connectivity. And so we’re going to bring all those pieces together in April.

With respect to clean energy, we have – the Secretary just hosted a big conference on clean energy, again, where he brought together the private sector, ministers, scientists, to talk about where is the future of this heading, and to actually help make those connections and have deals made that can push forward more clean energy development and installation. And we are working on both of those things actively across the globe, particularly in places like Africa where we have the Power Africa initiative, but also with India and other countries who have large energy needs, and we hope are going to be – and we’re going to do everything to facilitate that. Those will be met in as large amount as possible by clean energy technology.


SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: On the speech, it’s – frankly, as they usually are at this point in the game very much a work in progress. So I really don’t want to get out ahead of the progress, shall we say. But I mentioned the Daesh progress and corruption, because it’s – these are things that I know are very much on the Secretary’s mind and that he wants to address. The other thing I didn’t mention was the exhortation to the private sector to partner on solutions. I mean, we – as Number Three said, we collaborate with the private sector, especially this team, collaborates with the private sector actively all over the world in very, very meaningful ways, some of which Number Three talked about. But this is an opportunity to really try – in all the meetings he’s going to have to have a – to engage with the private sector and address ways which – how they can cooperate and help the government’s policy.

So I don’t want to say too much more about what’s going to be in the speech about Daesh, other than I know the Secretary wants to emphasize the idea that progress, real progress, is being made, and that he wants to review that. You know that problems exist and will continue to exist for some times, but – some time, but that progress is being made.

QUESTION: Can I follow up on that?


MODERATOR: One question. I do want to emphasize our first senior State Department official does have to go in about eight minutes, so we will prioritize – Carol, I know you want a question too. But if this is a follow-up, Elise --

QUESTION: It’s a follow-up to --

MODERATOR: Yeah, let’s do that. And then we’ll go to you, Carol, and then we’ll go to you, Felicia.

QUESTION: Thanks. I was wondering if you could talk about that – about the Daesh issue more broadly. And I mean, I know you say that bilats are a work in progress, but would you say a kind of – even as you have your economic agenda, which is obviously very important and the driving reason that he’s going there, it’s also – generally, as these things go, there’s also a kind of national security and the fact that all the world leaders are together, these kind of things take a theme of their own. I’m wondering, as he goes out there and as you’re looking to the meetings that he’s going to be having – obviously, he’ll be meeting with Foreign Minister Lavrov – can you say in any way whether you think that ISIS or Syria in general will be a kind of larger theme of the political discussions he’ll be having?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: The – first of all, the bilats are a work in progress, and I’m not free to discuss which ones are going to be having when. Obviously, the bilats are about the specific interaction between U.S. and that particular country. And so it will be widely varied, I would imagine. But it is – you’re right, and as I said, it is an opportunity. They’re all in one place and that – the Secretary take great advantage of that opportunity. But I don’t want to talk about – I don’t want to talk – use his words to say which ones he’s going to talk about what with.

MODERATOR: Okay, thank you. Carol.

QUESTION: I’m Carol Morello with The Washington Post. Elise asked one of my questions. The other one I had is: Do you – can you tell us if the Secretary has any plans to address ways in which to limit or manage or whatever the appropriate word is, internet access in – so as to block extremist groups from using it as a recruiting tool?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: (Inaudible) really address that. I don’t expect him to be that granular in what he’s going to be talking about, but [Senior State Department Official One], you might want to add to that. But I – that’s as far as I can take that.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Yeah, I mean, already there’s been, as was reported in the press, a discussion out in Silicon Valley about the – this is a place where partnership between the governments and the private sector is – can be very fruitful. At the same time, one has to be mindful of freedom of speech and not wanting to engage in censorship. And so it’s a very fine line that has to be walked in trying to determine how to deal with this, and it’s – it is a serious issue that we need to sort of find that line to walk.


QUESTION: My question was pretty similar to Carol’s. I guess last year in the Secretary’s speech, he emphasized that now it’s time to turn to the root causes of extremism, focusing on tech. Well, I was wondering what – if he was going to offer some sort of sober assessment of how that’s gone in the past year in his speech. And then also is he going to be meeting outside the sort of five major events that you mentioned? Are there going to be separate meetings with some of the tech executives that – since you said technology is such a big theme, maybe some of them were represented in some form in the Silicon Valley meetings earlier?

MODERATOR: Felicia Schwartz, Wall Street Journal.

QUESTION: Oh, sorry. I’m Felicia with The Wall Street Journal. (Laughter.)

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: I know who you are. (Laughter.) Sure. There will be meetings with tech executives. And by the way, just to add on to what [Senior State Department Official One] was saying, there is a fairly robust dialogue and interaction going on between Silicon Valley and the government to find ways to combat these things.

QUESTION: Will there be announcements of some sort?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Not that I can discuss or – and frankly, that I know. I think it – I – nothing specific in this regard. So --

QUESTION: But he’ll have individual --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Yeah. And I – no, I also want to say that last year’s speech was very strongly countering – on countering violent extremists. And this will be a take-off from that. It will certainly acknowledge some of the things that he said last year. And – but how much and exactly what emphasis that’s going to be is still being worked on.

QUESTION: Which tech companies, which tech executives is he looking to meet?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: I’m not going to – I’m – a bunch, and that’s, again, a work in progress right now. I don’t want to put that – talk about that.

MODERATOR: Do we have any other questions? Arshad, anyone? Well, thank you. Thanks to our senior State Department officials. Have a safe trip, those who are going. We’ll see you in a few hours. Thank you so much.