Remarks With German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier After Their Meeting

John Kerry
Secretary of State
Berlin Tegel Airport
Berlin, Germany
January 31, 2014

FOREIGN MINISTER STEINMEIER: (Via interpreter) Well, ladies and gentlemen, allow me to bid you a very warm welcome. And let me say that I’m delighted to have my American colleague here today, that I am able to welcome him here to Berlin. It’s more than a stopover on the road towards Munich. We’ll see each other again on the margins of the security conference there.

Dear John, I’m very pleased to have you, delighted to be able to welcome you. The favorable winds across the Atlantic brought you here a little bit earlier than could be expected yesterday night, so this is why our talk here today was a little bit more extensive than we could have hoped for, which is a very good thing. And it’s very important, because as long as politics are made by people, and hopefully this is going to be the case for a very long time, personal contacts among those who are in political responsibility is of the utmost importance. And I think that this was a very good beginning.

We meet at an airport in Berlin. It’s not Tempelhof. Had we met in Tempelhof, we would be able to see the monument that was erected in memory of the airlift, and it would remind of those times. It would remind us of the very close links and bonds that have existed between Germany and the United States of America. We are very much aware here in Germany that a development towards a stable democracy in Germany would not have been possible without the assistance of Americans as well.

And we know that the suffering of the German people, particularly here in Berlin, would have been immeasurable had not America stepped in at the time, recognized clearly, seen its responsibility, and alleviate the suffering of the people who were enclosed.

And well, in a nutshell, ladies and gentlemen, German-American friendship is a reality. That doesn’t exclude that, from time to time, we may see things differently. That became very clear over the last few weeks and months when we were debating the surveillance activities of the NSA. But let me also state quite clearly such a debate, differences of opinion, if they are there and when they are there, must not be allowed to destroy a friendship that has grown over so many decades. And I am sure it won’t destroy this friendship.

It is true we all have to face challenges, but I am absolutely confident that we will be able to weather those challenges, because the debates that we have to make with each other we are able to have on a very firm foundation, on a very firm base as well.

Trust has been lost. I’m confident we will be able to rebuild it, to restore it. We talked about this today in our meeting, how we can actually get again into a bilateral dialogue where we look at those different assessments where we are trying to discuss about how we strike an equitable balance between freedom and security, which is sometimes difficult. We also addressed a number of bilateral issues, as I said. But we also looked a little bit beyond our two nations. The international agenda that will keep us busy also over this weekend in Munich was at the very top of our agenda.

We have just now come back from the Syrian conference. A small step was made in order to prepare to pave the way for an end to the civil strife in Syria and the civil war. Obviously, we are not completely satisfied, cannot be completely satisfied with the state of the negotiations. The only thing that we can safely say and that is positive is that those parties that for three years have been waging war against each other at least agreed at last to be at one at the same negotiating table and one in the same room. Sitting there together today, the first stage of negotiations at working level will end, and I think both of us hope that the delegations from Syria, after an appropriate time, will meet again in order to continue those negotiations.

The incredible suffering in Syria on the ground – death, expulsion, flight – all of that requires a solution where local cessation of hostilities, humanitarian corridors can be established at least as a next step. The crisis in Syria is one where my American colleague is very much engaged on, and I would like to issue a word of respect. It is a very strong attempt of the American Government to bring about also in the vicinity a solution to the Middle East peace – to the Middle East conflict, to find and establish a two-state solution, find a breakthrough there in the negotiations.

We talked about that as well just now, about the ongoing negotiations with the Israelis and the Palestinians. And dear John, I hope that your very good efforts will, in the end, be crowned by success. Wherever we see these attempts, these efforts to finally come to a peaceful solution to the Middle East conflict, wherever we can support that, we will gladly do so. And the same goes for those talks that we’ve had for quite some time already with Iran. It shows how long it may well take until conflicts that have – that are protracted, that have lasted for decades can again be calmed down. More than 30 years of conflict, more than 10 years of negotiations with Iran. Now a first step has been made that seems to be a fairly encouraging one, at least one that encourages us to test whether the Iranians, in that first step of negotiations, have been serious – whether that will be followed up in the next few weeks and months to come so that the long, ongoing dispute over the nuclear ambitions of Iran can be brought to a successful and peaceful settlement.

Tonight and tomorrow, over the weekend, we shall have an opportunity to address the situation in Ukraine repeatedly. The good news is that the last nights were more calm than the previous ones. We did not receive any news of casualties, but we’re far away from a political solution. That is true, too, there have been offers also from Yanukovych. Until this moment, we don’t know whether these offers are actually ones that one can build on that are reliable. In Munich, representatives of the opposition and of the government will be there on the ground. We shall have an opportunity to talk to the representatives of Ukraine, but we will also have an opportunity to talk to other foreign ministers present and try to explore, try to sound out what one can do not only to calm down the situation in Ukraine, but to also lend a helping hand towards enabling this country, Ukraine, to have a free and democratic future.

Thank you very much. Dear John, you have the floor.

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, thank you. You guys alright? (Laughter.)

Thank you, Frank-Walter. (Via interpreter) I am delighted to be back in Germany.

(In English) I’m really happy to be back here in Berlin, where I spent some formative years as a child. I remember Tempelhof. Obviously, we all remember the history of those events. But usually, when I came into Berlin back then, I came on a special military train from Frankfurt, which was an all-night trip. And for a young kid of 11, 12 years-old, it was a great adventure, I can assure you.

It’s special for me to be back here, and I thank my friend, Frank-Walter, for his hospitality and for being willing to meet us here at the airport like this because he has to rush off to open the Munich conference. I get to spend a little more time, and then I will join him in Munich this afternoon for the rest of that conference over the next several days. And we are grateful to Germany for its longtime hosting of this important security gathering.

Almost a year ago, I came here on my first trip as Secretary of State. And I came here – I think this was one of my first stops – because of the value, of the longstanding relationship between the United States and Germany, and particularly, I want to say, with the German people. It’s no secret, and my friend Frank-Walter referred to it, that we’ve been through a rough period in the last months. But I’m pleased to be here to help direct our focus – my focus, that of the United States and of Germany – to the future and to strengthen the trust and the confidence that has always characterized this relationship. A strong U.S.-German partnership is crucial to the long list of global issues that we face. The United States, I want you to know, welcomes Germany’s growing and important role on the world stage.

I was grateful to see Foreign Minister Steinmeier at the Geneva II conference where we had a chance to talk just a couple of weeks ago. And there we reiterated the need for a Syrian-led political solution on the brutal civil war. We’re also working very closely – again, as he discussed – on the P5+1 negotiations with respect to Iran. The international community has expressed its concerns over Iran’s nuclear program through several United Nations resolutions, and obviously, they have been – those concerns have been reinforced through the sanctions regime that has been put in place by the global community – not by one country, but with the support and ratification and affirmation of the United Nations Security Council.

So we are working together, Germany and the United States, on this critical security challenge. We are also working hand-in-hand with respect to Afghanistan, and we are very mindful of the challenges that lie ahead, but also of the deep commitment that exists between us and our important leadership with respect to the other countries involved, so that we can have a successful conclusion to this significant effort and hopefully build a prosperous future for the Afghan people.

We also discussed briefly our ongoing economic relationship. Germany and the United States – Germany is the United States’ largest single European trading partner. And this is a relationship that has meant more jobs, investment, and growth in both of our countries. We believe that much more exciting opportunities lie ahead, and this must be one of the primary areas of focus for both of us.

We are working on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership – the TTIP, as it is called. And this is a trade arrangement that could result in one of the world’s largest markets being created – the combined market of Europe and the United States – Europe the largest market in the world, the United States the largest single economy in the world. And if we can raise the standards, what we do is help the citizens of both of our countries, and indeed, of the rest of the world to see that the global community is responding in a way that provides opportunity for everybody and helps to raise the standards – the living standards, the labor standards, the trade standards, the product standards – all of the things that benefit our people. So that’s what we’re working for.

When I was here in Berlin last year – and I look forward to coming back here and being able to do this again – I had a really enjoyable, fun session with a group of young people. And we met in a cafe in the city and had a question-and-answer session, an opportunity for me to listen to them, them to listen to me, and just talk. And it was a great opportunity for me to understand better the hopes and aspirations of the next generation, and also to reconnect on a people-to-people level. It really was clear to me that young Germans and young Americans of any persuasion, walk of life, religion, belief all share the same goals, the same aspirations, and the same concerns. They share the same dreams and they share most of the same values.

So it’s our hope that those aspirations for opportunity, for democracy, for liberty, freedom, which have been at the heart of our bilateral relationship, will continue to be the centerpiece of what defines German-American relations. Those values are why both Germany and the United States find the recent events in Ukraine so concerning. We have worked shoulder-to-shoulder. Foreign Minister Steinmeier has talked to the opposition. I have talked to the opposition. We will meet with the opposition and with other leaders in Munich, and we will have an opportunity to be able to press forward in the months ahead to support democracy, freedom, freedom of association, and to support the European aspirations of the Ukrainian people. And together, we join firmly to reject violence. We are encouraging and supporting political dialogue. We hope that together, we can remain committed to helping the Ukrainians end the human rights abuses, get political prisoners released, and see their dignity restored.

So we look forward to continuing to work with Germany very, very closely to make progress on all of these issues, and frankly, just to build on the strength of the relationship that has defined United States-German relations for many decades now. And I look forward to my further meetings on that subject, but most importantly, I look forward to turning a page and getting us focused on the larger, most critical issues that we face together. Thank you.

MODERATOR: (Via interpreter) Questions from the American side, please.

QUESTION: A question for both ministers, please: What can you do to force Syria to meet its chemical weapons obligations on the deadlines that have been laid out? And on Ukraine, President Yanukovych says his government has met its obligations to resolve the crisis. Do you believe that’s true? And what is your message for the Ukrainian opposition leaders that you’ll be meeting in Munich? Thank you.

SECRETARY KERRY: Well – go ahead.


SECRETARY KERRY: Well, with respect to Ukraine, no. The offers of President Yanukovych have not yet reached an adequate level of reform and an adequate level of sharing of the future so that the opposition can, in fact, feel that it could legitimately come to the table and form some kind of a unity government.

Now, we believe unity is important. And we believe that moving towards that is critical. So our message to the Ukraine opposition – that is certainly my message to them that we meet with today – will be the full support of President Obama and the American people for their efforts. We will reinforce their courage and their need to continue to be unified as they press for an adequate level of a reform agenda. But we will also say to them: If you get that reform agenda, if you are able to secure genuine participation and a genuine ability to bring the country together, then we would urge them to engage in that, because further standoff and further violence – or violence that becomes uncontrollable – is not in anybody’s interest.

We also would say to our friends in Russia: This does not have to be a zero-sum game. This is not something where Ukraine should become a proxy and trapped in some kind of larger ambition for Russia or the United States. That’s not what this is about. This is about the freedom of choice for the people of Ukraine, and their ability to be able to define their future without coercion from outside forces. And that’s what we hope to achieve.

With respect to Syria, let me make it clear that Bashar al-Assad needs to understand that he agreed to an international United Nations Security Council Resolution which has reinforced a requirement that he remove all of those weapons and that he do so in a specific period of time. That was passed by unanimity within the United Nations Security Council. Russia is a partner in this effort. And Russia obviously plays a critical role in helping the Syrians to understand their obligation of compliance.

Now, Bashar al-Assad is not, in our judgment, fully in compliance because of the timing and the delays that have taken place contrary to the OPCW’s judgment that this could move faster. So the options are all the options that originally existed. No option has been taken off the table. We made that clear at the time of the passage of the UN resolution, and I restate that now today. We want the Syrian regime to live up to its obligations. And it is critical that very rapidly all of those chemical weapons be moved from once – from their 12 or so sites to the one site in the port and be prepared for shipment out of Syria all together.

Every indication we have is there is no legitimate reason that that is not happening now. And therefore we call on Bashar al-Assad to live up to his obligations or we will join together with our friends and talk about which, if any, of the options we deem necessary at this point to proceed forward.

FOREIGN MINISTER STEINMEIER: (Via interpreter) Allow me to complement that briefly. I think the importance of this agreement on the destruction of chemical weapons cannot be overestimated. After three years of civil war in Syria, this was the first agreement that allowed at least to prevent a further escalation of the violence. So it is so important therefore that these agreements are abided by. And to complement what Secretary Kerry just said, I think the Syrians and Assad need to be well aware of the fact that they’re not only toying with their own credibility but after the first talks with the Americans, the Russian side was also in on this, so they’re also toying with the credibility of the Russian side. So I very much hope that this is not the end of the debate, but that there will be pressure and adequate pressure on the Syrian side to stand by their commitments. And this is an element also that is part and parcel of how we got to Geneva II in the first place. So the agreement on the destruction of chemical weapons is very important, and if it is not kept, that would have a negative impact on Geneva II.

To complement this even further, we – and I’m saying this for the German side, as the German journalists know – only a few days ago we adopted a decision about correct – the position that we have taken up until now. We have said if the negotiations towards a political solution in Syria are to be injected with at least a glimmer of hope, then we too need to step in and give our contribution to making this possible. And this is why we have decided to be part of the destruction of chemical weapons, and those chemical weapons that are transported out of Syria. And together with American assistance, they are diluted on the Mediterranean and the residual components will then have to be removed. We have the technical possibilities to help with this process in Germany, and we are glad to be of help. So should those chemical weapons be transported from Syria, out of Syria, then about two-thirds of those weapons will be destroyed in Northern Germany.

As to Ukraine, I don’t need to add to what the Secretary has said. My impression is that Yanukovych, up until now, still has not fully understood how serious the situation is, as can clearly be seen by the nature of the offers that have been made. They have been made contingent on a number of conditions. So up until now, we have not – we do not see yet that those offers that have been made to the opposition in the end will really make a crucial difference, politically speaking, on the ground in Ukraine. And we still are not able actually to say to what extent the president is willing and ready to accept a change of his – remit of his competences according to the constitution. And that’s going to be crucial in order to come to an agreement with the opposition.

QUESTION: (Via interpreter) Christoph Sator from the German Press Agency. I have two questions directed to Secretary Kerry. You will soon – you will now also meet Chancellor Merkel, who has apparently been surveyed – eavesdropped on by the secret intelligence service of your country. I would like to know whether you are ready – whether the American side is ready to come to a contractual basis that, in the future, bans such spying – we call it, which is a bit curious, a no-spy agreement? And there are quite a number of people here in Germany who think that actually the United States ought to issue an apology. Would you be ready to do that?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, look, the United States and Germany enjoy a really long friendship, as we have described here today, and a long history, a long history of great cooperation, and particularly on complicated issues like counterterrorism and national security and defense. As part of our deep relationship, we cooperate very, very significantly on all of the collective security issues of our countries and our citizens. As the foreign minister knows, because he’s been here before, and he’s also been involved in security issues for a long time, none of this is simple. None of this is easy.

And since 9/11, when we were attacked out of nowhere and more lives were lost than at any time since Pearl Harbor, we responded, we think carefully, but in ways that tried to deal with the protection of not just the American people, but of everybody against acts of terrorism. Madrid saw a terrible act of terrorism, London has seen acts of terrorism – Athens, various other places. And we are living in a world where unfortunately some people are willing to strap a pack on their back and walk into a crowded theater or a sports event and just blow people up. So we are trying to respond as intelligently and responsibly of all that.

Now, Chancellor Merkel and President Obama, at their mutual direction – and they’ve had several conversations – we have undertaken a extensive, close consultation with Germany, which we are engaged in on the subject of cooperation and how we move beyond this particular challenge. We now have a better understanding, I think, of the requirements and the concerns of both sides.

So what I can tell you is the consultations will continue between our intelligence services. And we absolutely share a commitment to trying to put this behind us in the appropriate way and to strengthen our practical cooperation going forward. Our consultations right now reflect our close relationship, they reflect the shared threats that we face, and the technical – very complicated technical environment in which we live where the threats to us have changed and become, in many ways, more lethal and harder to discover.

So we will continue to work to protect the privacy interests of all of our citizens. When I was in the United States Senate, John McCain and I are the original authors of the privacy laws and rules for the internet. So we are committed to privacy, and I assure our friends in Germany this will get worked through in the proper channels in the proper way, but most importantly Germany and the United States have very significant issues to continue to work on together and none of us want to let this get in the way of our ability to be able to continue to build our friendship and our cooperation.

Thank you all.