Interview With David Gregory of NBC's Meet the Press
Secretary of State
QUESTION: I’m now joined by the Secretary of State John Kerry. Mr. Secretary, welcome back to Meet the Press.
SECRETARY KERRY: Glad to be with you. Thank you, David.
QUESTION: So for the past 10 days, Administration officials and the President himself have basically said to Russia: Don’t do this or else. Here, just Friday, the President laying it out when he spoke to Vladimir Putin.
(Video clip plays.)
PRESIDENT OBAMA: The United States will stand with the international community in affirming that there will be costs for any military intervention in Ukraine.
(End of video clip.)
QUESTION: Now you’ve called this an invasion. So what are the costs?
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, we’re now discussing all of the options. This is an act of aggression that is completely trumped up in terms of its pretext. It’s really 19th century behavior in the 21st century, and there is no way, to start with, that if Russia persists in this, that the G8 countries are going to assemble in Sochi. That’s a starter.
But there’s much more than that. Russia has major investment and trade needs and desires. I think there’s a unified view by all of the foreign ministers I talked with yesterday, all of the G8 and more, that they’re simply going to isolate Russia, that they’re not going to engage with Russia in a normal business-as-usual manner, that Russia is inviting opprobrium on the international stage. There could even be, ultimately, asset freezes, visa bans. There could be certainly disruption of any of the normal trade routine. There could be business drawback on investment in the country. The ruble is already going down and feeling the impact of this. And this is not – the reason for this, David, is because you just don’t invade another country on phony pretext in order to assert your interests.
QUESTION: Well, but what --
SECRETARY KERRY: There are ways to deal with this, and President Putin knows that. President Obama yesterday offered mediation. There are plenty of ways to protect Russian-speaking people in Crimea or other parts of Ukraine. But they are really sort of a hidden pretext here of possibly trying to annex Crimea, and --
QUESTION: Is there a military option? There is, as you know, a security arrangement with Ukraine that goes back to the ‘90s between the U.S. and Ukraine and other Western powers. Does NATO draw a line here to try to check any further aggression beyond Crimea into the eastern part of Ukraine?
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, NATO is meeting today. The North Atlantic Council is meeting probably even as we speak now. They will be – I know that the Secretary General of the – of NATO Rasmussen issued a statement, a very strong statement, against what has happened. But I don't know what is actually on the table with respect to the steps they may or may not take. But they’re deeply concerned. Today or tomorrow, the European Foreign Affairs Council will meet. They are very concerned about what has happened. We talked yesterday with Japan, with others. This is a global concern, because in the 21st century countries have been working to establish a different kind of behavior as the norm.
QUESTION: That I understand. I’m just trying to understand – I think a lot of people watching us are trying to understand how important is Ukraine, essentially, to the United States. What’s our interest there? Is this worth fighting for, literally?
SECRETARY KERRY: David, let me make it clear. The people of Ukraine are fighting for democracy, they’re fighting for freedom, they’re fighting to have their voices heard and not be governed by a kleptocracy, by a tyrant, by someone who puts their political opposition in jail, somebody who robs the country of its livelihood and future. And they spoke out against snipers from roofs who were killing them; they kept on marching and fought for their freedom. Now they have the opportunity for that democracy.
And by the way, President Yanukovych’s only supporters abandoned him. They voted against him. They impeached him. So Russia and President Putin are aligning themselves firmly with this kleptocracy. They’re aligning themselves with the person who was legitimately stripped of his power by the parliament, even by his own supporters. I think this is an enormous mistake for Russia, and we hope – President Obama hopes that President Putin will turn in the direction that is available to him to work with all of us in a way that creates stability in Ukraine. This does not have to be and should not be an East/West struggle. This is not about Russia and the U.S. This is about the people of Ukraine, and that’s who needs to be front and center.
QUESTION: I just want to clarify this. I mean, I gather by what you’re saying you don’t want to be too precise. Is there a military option that has to be contemplated here?
SECRETARY KERRY: David, the last thing anybody wants is a military option in this kind of a situation. We want a peaceful resolution through the normal processes of international relations. But in the absence of President Putin making the right decision to work with the Government of Ukraine, to work with the West, to work with all of us --
SECRETARY KERRY: -- as I said a moment ago, this is not about Russia and the United States; it’s about the people of Ukraine. And we ask President Putin to step back from being in violation of the UN Charter, in violation of the Helsinki Final Act, in violation of the 1997 Russia-Ukraine basing agreement. I mean, they are in direct, overt violation of international law --
QUESTION: But can I just challenge you on one point?
SECRETARY KERRY: -- and we ask them to step back. Yes.
QUESTION: You say it’s not about the U.S. and Russia, but the reality is that just Wednesday you told my colleague, Andrea Mitchell, that Vladimir Putin said he would respect the territorial integrity of Ukraine. Now you’re talking about Russia annexing the Crimea. Something happened. And I wonder, as you hear some criticism from conservatives who say the issue here is that Vladimir Putin is not afraid, that he saw a red line by this Administration in Syria and then no follow-up, no action, that he thinks that he can provoke the U.S. and the West and that President Obama won’t do anything in response.
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, he’s finding out the opposite. Let me make it clear: President Putin is not operating from a place of strength here. Yanukovych was his supported president. Yanukovych was thrown out, despite Putin’s support. Yanukovych turned on his own people. President Putin is using force in a completely inappropriate manner that will invite the opprobrium of the world, and it already is. He is not going to gain by this.
He may be able to have his troops for some period of time in Crimea unless he resolves this, but the fact is he’s going to lose on the international stage. Russia is going to lose. The Russian people are going to lose. He’s going to lose all of the glow that came out of the Olympics, his $60 billion extravaganza. He is not going to have a Sochi G8. He may not even remain in the G8 if this continues. He may find himself with asset freezes on Russian business. American business may pull back. There may be a further tumble of the ruble. There is a huge price to pay.
The United States is united; Russia is isolated. That is not a position of strength.
QUESTION: Two quick ones here as we extend, this – these difficulties with Russia, your blunt talk this morning, also extends to Syria, where you’ve been very clear that Russia’s support for Bashar al-Assad, in your words, has allowed Assad to double down in his killing efforts of his opponents in this civil war. Isn’t it true, Mr. Secretary, that you support a more robust intervention into Syria, that you would like to see some kind of military action to at least train those rebel fighters in Syria? Is it time for that? And has Russia complicated the Syrian effort?
SECRETARY KERRY: I support the President’s policy and I support what the President is doing now, reviewing all of the options, as he has been continually with respect to Syria, David. The fact is we are doing more than almost any other country. We’re doing an enormous amount.
And once again, Russia is playing a very duplicitous game and a very dangerous game. They proclaim that they are worried about the terrorists, worried about Syria, worried about the impact on Jordan and on Lebanon and surrounding countries, and yet they continue to support Assad in a way that prevents him or helps him to make the decision not to come to the table to negotiate. It’s a completely contradictory and cynical policy. And I believe Russia, in the Crimea and in Syria, is really engaging in activity that is completely contradictory to the standards that most of us are trying to operate by in the 21st century.
QUESTION: Before I get to --
SECRETARY KERRY: It’s certainly not behaving like a G8 country.
QUESTION: Before I get to my final question on Israel with a big meeting with Benjamin Netanyahu, the Prime Minister, coming to meet with President Obama, Marco Rubio is on this program in just a few minutes and saying it’s time for the Administration to publicly acknowledge that the reset with Russia is dead. Do you acknowledge that?
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, I don’t know what you mean by the reset. Long ago --
QUESTION: The reset in relations that this Administration called for.
SECRETARY KERRY: No, I know, I know. I know. But long ago, we’ve entered into a different phase with Russia. I don’t think this is a moment to be proclaiming one thing or the other. We’ve had difficulties with Russia with respect to certain issues, and even as we have, we’ve managed to do the START Treaty, they’ve cooperated on Afghanistan, they’ve cooperated on Iran. So this is – it’s not a zero-sum, dead/alive. It’s a question of differences, very profound differences on certain issues and certain approaches, and we’ve made those very clear over the course of the last months.
QUESTION: With regard to Israel, you’ve worked so hard on Middle East peace. As Netanyahu comes to Washington, is this a moment of truth for him? Does he have to act for the peace process to be successful?
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, everybody has to act, David. This isn’t just a question or a series of questions for Prime Minister Netanyahu. He’s been very courageous and he’s made tough decisions with respect to entering into these negotiations and some of the things that he’s indicated he’s willing to do in the negotiations. It’s also up to President Abbas. The Palestinians need to decide whether or not they’re prepared to compromise, whether or not they’re willing to do some of the things necessary. This is not a burden exclusive to one party or the other.
So we expect to have a good conversation. I don’t think it’s some showdown or anything. This has been a very cooperative, very engaged process on a daily basis with both parties. And even while Prime Minister Netanyahu will be here this week, there will be representatives of the Palestinians here too, and we’ll have some conversations with them. And hopefully over the next weeks, we can reach some kind of understanding about how to negotiate a final status agreement.
QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, we always appreciate your time. Thanks so much.
SECRETARY KERRY: Thank you, David.