Press Availability After NATO Ministerial

John Kerry
Secretary of State
NATO Headquarters
Brussels, Belgium
April 23, 2013

The video is available with closed captioning on YouTube.

SECRETARY KERRY: Good afternoon, everybody. Thank you very much. I apologize for the delay earlier. I’m really happy to be here in Brussels at NATO for my first ministerial as Secretary of State and I am very appreciative for Secretary General Rasmussen’s leadership. I thank him for hosting us here today. I think everybody understands the first trip I made, the first places I stopped when I was appointed Secretary, was here in Europe. And the reason is very simple because Europe is America’s partner of first resort and this alliance is a vibrant and critical institution for ensuring the security not just of our region but all across the globe. We partner in many different important ways.

These meetings provide us all with a very important opportunity to meet face-to-face and share views about the many challenges that we face. And as everybody here knows, these challenges have very far-reaching consequences and we believe strongly in our responsibility to respond to them and collaboratively to address these issues as allies.

I was struck today by the broad acceptance of responsibility by so many people in the room simultaneously with the same sense of urgency, the same sense of values, the same feelings of humanitarian responsibility. And I think it was impressive. The list, obviously, is long: Afghanistan, Syria, North Korea, Middle East peace, among others. And so let me just update you very quickly about a few of the discussions, and then happy to take some questions.

On Afghanistan, we just finished a long meeting lunch talking about the NATO role, which is obviously about to transition from the role of combat to support as Afghanistan takes an even greater responsibility for its security. And my counterparts and I reaffirmed our commitment to the Afghan people and to our determination that Afghanistan not again ever become a haven for terrorists. To that end, we are committed beyond 2014. Though, obviously, President Obama has yet to make his personal decision about the numbers, it is clear what the mission is. The mission will be to support, advise, train the Afghan military on an ongoing basis as well as to engage in counterterrorism activity.

I expressed my hope – well, I think one of the things to reiterate is there was a unanimity about the principle that has governed our engagement in Afghanistan – in together, out together. I also expressed my hope that our bilateral security agreement with Afghanistan will be completed soon, and that clearly out of that can come an even easier negotiation, hopefully, for the NATO status of forces agreement that will follow.

The United States is also proud of the Afghanistan National Army Trust Fund that we are adopting for the post-2014 period in conjunction with our allies and our partners. And I think that is evidence of the enduring partnership between the United States, NATO, and the Afghan people.

As you know, I met just the other day in Istanbul with the Friends of Syria Core Group, and we continued the discussion about Syria here today because there’s a lot of concern. While there isn’t a specific NATO role, nor did anybody suggest a very specific role, obviously all of the countries here have ways of being supportive of the humanitarian crisis or other choices that they may or may not choose to make. What we did was underscore that the mass murder that is taking place outside of Damascus is unacceptable. We committed – all of us – to the notion that we must continue to work together in Europe, elsewhere, to root out extremism. And I think there was a strong feeling within the room that Assad needs to leave in order to be able to permit Syria to be able to move forward with its future.

We also – and this is very important. Everybody’s first choice is a political resolution along the lines of the Geneva communique and everybody is hopeful that somehow through changes of mind with some country or interventions by others, it will be possible to be able to find a way forward to that end.

I discussed the United States commitment to continue directly supporting the Syrian Opposition Coalition and the Supreme Military Council as they take on the difficult task of ensuring the safety of the Syrian people. And we agreed that the future of Syria that we want to see needs to be a nonsectarian democracy that respects all human rights and particularly try to reach out to the minorities, some of whom have great concern about their future.

Needless to say, this is a critical priority for the stability of that region not just on diplomatic grounds and not just for security reasons, but because Syria borders NATO territory and also because as a humanitarian matter what is happening there is reaching catastrophic proportions. So on behalf of NATO, we were pleased and everybody commented on the fact that it was appropriate to deploy to Turkey, along with Germany and Netherlands, the Patriot batteries that help Turkey with the defense of its population under these circumstances.

Today our allies here also met with Foreign Minister Lavrov, and we discussed our work together in Afghanistan as well as the importance of increasing transparency and predictability with respect to the security issues that confront our countries. Foreign Minister Lavrov and I also met in a bilateral and discussed the strength of our two countries’ bilateral relationship and some of the issues between us as well as the partnership between NATO and Russia.

We continue, and will continue coming out of this meeting, to work together to build trust and transparency. And we encourage Russia to embrace the constructive approach to missile defense which was shared with them recently in the visit of National Security Advisor Tom Donilon. And we discussed how we might build on that, which we intend to do in the days ahead.

Finally, we all agree that – all of the parties here – that North Korea’s provocations not only violate international agreements which it has already made, but they threaten the stability of the region, the peninsula, and because of the nuclearization, it represents a global threat in terms of nonproliferation efforts. NATO has released a joint statement reiterating our commitment to the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula in a peaceful manner and urging North Korea to join us in making it peaceful and in succeeding and accomplishing that goal.

So these are the issues that principally affect NATO; there are obviously others. The United States commitment to our shared prosperity, our shared security, is unwavering, and I’m very happy to take any questions at this point.

MS. PSAKI: The Secretary will take three questions today. The first will be from Elise Labott from CNN.

QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. Secretary. You have met with Foreign Minister Lavrov, who today said that the Boston attack is a reminder that you cannot have a – say that there is a victory over terrorism. And the President has also talked to President Putin about the Boston bombing and its relationship to Russian concerns about a connection to terrorism in Chechnya. What information have the Russians shared with you? Has it been helpful in piecing together what happened? And when the Russians say that President Obama agreed to strengthen cooperation on terrorism, what does it mean in this context?

And just a short one on Syria: Can you address allegations that oil fields have fallen into the hands of al-Qaida in Iraq?

SECRETARY KERRY: I can’t on the latter question. No, I can’t address that. I don’t have information with respect to that at this time.

With respect to the conversations between President Putin and President Obama, I think the White House has spoken to those. But I’d just reaffirm that President Obama was very gratified to receive the call from President Putin. President Putin offered help and assistance. Foreign Minister Lavrov today reiterated that. I do believe that our folks are working right now in cooperation with the Russians. As you know, there were connections of certain of the family members to Russia and to the accused with respect to Russia. So those are being pursued.

But in terms of details, anything about what they’re doing, learning, et cetera, I need to refer you to the FBI, which is the lead agency with respect to this, and they need to be the people who are controlling what is an ongoing investigation.

MS. PSAKI: The next question will come from Nicolas Buset. Oh, hello. I hope I pronounced your name correctly. Go ahead.

QUESTION: That was correctly. Hello, I’m working from Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. I’ve got a question on the recent announcement of the German Government on their contribution to the training mission in Afghanistan post-2014. They said they’re going to contributed 6-800 troops. This announcement comes before you have announced your contribution and before NATO has made a decision. Now, do you welcome this announcement or do you think it was premature?

SECRETARY KERRY: No, no, no. We welcome it.

QUESTION: And secondly – I have a second one, if I may. Secondly, you’ve said the President still has to take the decision on the American contribution, but still could you give us a hint as to how big the contribution will be?

SECRETARY KERRY: No. (Laughter.) But nice try. Let me just say to you, no, we’re very grateful to Germany. We’re grateful to all of our allies. This has been a long, tough slog. We know that in each country, differing countries, there are different feelings about this initiative. As I said: in together, out together. We are – we believe that Germany is very much in keeping with that spirit, and I say thank you to the people of Germany and thank you to Chancellor Merkel for her leadership, and we are – and to Guido Westerwelle. And we’re very, very grateful for the commitment to do this. I think it’s actually an act of leadership. I think it helps show other countries the right direction, so Deutchland, Vielen Dank.

MS. PSAKI: The final question will come from Karen DeYoung of the Washington Post.

SECRETARY KERRY: I see a lot of hands. We can do one or two more. Are you going to get mad at me? Who’ve we got here? Where’s Karen DeYoung?

QUESTION: I’m here.

MS. PSAKI: Oh, she’s right over there.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, you’ve spoken about widespread agreement on the Geneva agreement, and Minister Lavrov also spoke about that when he was here. And yet, the understanding of how to move forward under Geneva seems very different between the two countries. You said you hoped to make progress during your meetings here with Lavrov. Did you make any progress toward coming together on a joint understanding?

And also on Syria, senior Israeli officials today said their own scientists have determined that the Assad regime has used chemical weapons, a week after Britain and France confirmed similar beliefs in a letter to the United Nations. How much longer does the Obama Administration need to reach its own conclusions about a situation that the President has said would change his calculations on Syria and constitute a redline?

Also, could you clarify the remarks you made to NATO foreign ministers this morning when you asked for additional planning beyond what NATO has already done on a possible Syrian threat, including chemical weapons? What more do you want them to do?

SECRETARY KERRY: Let me begin with the last first. I didn’t ask for additional planning. I think it might have been Secretary General or somebody who commented that we may need to do some additional planning. But there’s no specific request. What there was from me was a very clear statement about the threat of chemical weapons and the potential for chemical weapons generically to fall into bad hands. And what I did suggest to everybody was we therefore need to all be thinking about how we can get to the negotiating table to avoid an implosion of Syria which would be the worst consequence.

So it’s sort of an extrapolation to suggest that I’m suggesting planning. But what I am suggesting is we all need to redouble our efforts in order to try to bring people to the table, and that was precisely the conversation that I was having with Foreign Minister Lavrov.

Now with respect to that conversation, I don’t think there’s – there’s a difference of opinion between Russia and the United States with respect to when or how Assad might leave. I don’t think there’s a difference of opinion that his leaving may either be inevitable or necessary to be able to have a solution. And so there may be some way to move forward here to have a discussion about how you can sort of thread that needle in between their sense of timing and the timing of the opposition. Remember, the opposition are the people who basically have the right to say this is acceptable or not acceptable. It’s not us, nor is it Russia; it’s Assad. So you have Assad and you have the opposition, and until they come to some kind of an assessment of what they’re willing to do here, this remains a very, very difficult diplomatic initiative to achieve.

And for the moment, President Assad remains not just reluctant; unwilling to live by or move towards the Geneva communique. And as you know, there were some differences of opinion within the opposition. But I believe that it’s still possible to get there. That said, Foreign Minister Lavrov and I talked about a number of different ways in which one might try to figure out if you could create a reality to this diplomatic initiative. And we’re both going to go back, we’re going to explore those possibilities, and we’re going to talk again about if any of those other avenues could conceivably be pursued.

I would say to you that it’s a very difficult road. Special Envoy Kofi Annan tried and made a number of different formulations and proposals, and it couldn’t work. Special Envoy Brahimi has been trying and made a number of different formulations, and they haven’t worked. So no one should think that there is an easy way to move quickly forward here on this. But I think we owe it to ourselves, we owe it to the Syrian people, we owe it to the region and the community of nations to make our best effort to keep trying. And that’s what we’re going to do.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, the chemical weapons?

MODERATOR: Sir, just so you know, the next meeting has started.

QUESTION: On chemical weapons?

SECRETARY KERRY: Oh, I’m sorry. On chemical weapons, let me just speak – I’m sorry, folks. The next meeting has started, and I don’t want to be rude, and I’ve already had to be out of one meeting for some period of time.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

SECRETARY KERRY: Let me just finish the answer here.

I talked to Prime Minister Netanyahu this morning from here. I think it’s fair for me to say that he was not in a position to confirm that in the conversation that I had. And so it’s up to him and their process as to when and how they do that, not for me to make any other announcements except to say to you that I don’t know yet what the facts are. I don’t think anybody knows what they are. And I’m sure you’ve heard the old saying, “Don’t always believe what you read in the newspapers.” So --

QUESTION: There’s a public statement by the --

SECRETARY KERRY: Yeah, I know. I saw that. But there’s – I do know that, Karen, and I’m not trying to be – I just think that the information I have at this point does not confirm it to me in a way that I would be comfortable commenting on it as a fact. But obviously, whatever allegations are made have to be thoroughly investigated, and it is appropriate to chase this one down and find out what’s going on, no question about it.

MODERATOR: Thank you, everyone.

SECRETARY KERRY: Folks, I got to run. I apologize. Thank you.

PRN: 2013/T04-10