Interview With Nikole Killion of Hearst Television

John Kerry
Secretary of State
Washington, DC
March 18, 2014

QUESTION: (In progress.) -- before we get to the budget, but we do want to talk about the news of the day when it comes to Ukraine and your response to Russian President Vladimir Putin, his actions, his comments today on Crimea.

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, I thought his comments today were not factual, and unfortunately were very nationalistic and polarizing and on the wrong side of history. My sense is that when you say you have no – that Russian forces didn’t go into Crimea, I mean everybody in the world sort of scratches their head and says, “What?” So the key here is that this could have been worked out effectively through the legal process. There were many other alternatives other than forcing this masquerade of a referendum. No matter what the vote was, you don’t do this in the way that he did against the constitution of the country and against the international law.

So I think that what it does is it asks for additional responses from Europe and America and other parts of the world. And I think it is a preview of further isolation as a result.

QUESTION: You have said there will be costs. What will those costs be? And why not go directly after President Putin?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, those costs will be announced by the President. He has to make that decision, and he will, as we see exactly what unfolds in the next couple of days here. We are looking at any number of options which involve further economic sanctions, further restraints, further restrictions, further ending of certain kinds of engagements, and other kinds of things. The President will so decide in which the best mix of those.

QUESTION: Is going after President Putin something that’s even on the table?

SECRETARY KERRY: I don’t want to talk about what’s on or off the table. I’ve given you the general categories. I think we ought to leave it at that.

QUESTION: I want to turn now to Syria. We learned today that the U.S. is suspending diplomatic relations with Syria here in the United States. Why now and why not sooner, considering we’re three years into this crisis?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, I think that everybody had high hopes that there would be a transformation at some point in time, but given their intransigence in the diplomatic process through the negotiations, given the fact that they’ve stopped their consular services here and they’re not providing any, and given the illegitimacy of the regime, when you add it all together it just seemed inappropriate to have that continue here.

QUESTION: With regards to Syria as well, I know the President was very clear a couple of months ago, in terms of having a redline, drawing a redline in the sand. And some have been critical that that redline has not been enforced. Now we find ourselves in the situation here with Ukraine and Russia, and some here again are wondering why should anybody take the U.S. seriously in terms of how we respond. When we say there will be costs, when we say there’s a redline, are we going to enforce our actions?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, let me say, first of all, believe me: I don’t know any nation that doesn’t take us seriously. We’re the most powerful economic force in the world. We’re the most powerful military in the world. And when we wanted to unleash it, as we did the other day, in seizing the Morning Glory oil tanker in the water, our Navy Seals went out and did an absolutely brilliant job, as they do, and we flex our muscles. We know how to do that. We did it with Usama bin Ladin; we’ve done it in plenty of places.

Secondly, the President of the United States did set a redline and he decided that he was going to strike Syria. He announced his position publicly. But in America, we think it’s a good idea for the Congress of the United States to exercise its foreign policy prerogatives under the Constitution. And the President sent it to Congress, and Congress blocked and said we’re not sure we want to do this. But the President’s threat alone, which he made up his mind about and announced publicly, forced Assad, Bashar al-Assad, to give up his weapons. And we are now in the process of removing those weapons.

So without firing a shot, we succeeded in doing far more than we would have if we’d fired the shot. I’d say that’s very effective policy. And the truth is that we’re in an age of politics where criticism never ends, no matter what, and we’re used to it. But we have a steady policy. And the President has made it clear there will be repercussions for what’s happening in Crimea, and there are. And he’s started it appropriately, and if there’s more, there will be more.

QUESTION: With regards to one other developing story, we did learn through The Washington Post they are reporting that the NSA has a surveillance system that’s capable of recording 100 percent of a foreign country’s phone calls. I guess this is based on documents obtained by Edward Snowden. What do you know about this? And do you worry --

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, I know that we don’t do that. I know that we don’t do that. I don’t what our – I mean, we have a lot of capacities, but just having a capacity doesn’t mean we engage in a policy. We don’t – we’ve had a policy put in place by the Congress of the United States – I was there, I voted for it – in which we authorized a certain process for gathering very random, very anonymous, significant amounts of just data about calls – not the substance but the data. And then, if there were connections between those numbers or calls, we had an ability to be able to follow up on it. And – but without court orders and appropriate protections, I think there are obviously restrictions. I think a lot of Americans obviously are concerned about what happens to them when they’re at home. Our Constitution applies to any of our activities to any American citizen.

QUESTION: One other story of the day with regards to --

MS. PSAKI: Last question.

QUESTION: Okay. With regards to the budget, we’ll go ahead and discuss that. Obviously, you had a town hall with some students a short time ago, and I know in your testimony last week on Capitol Hill you really tried to emphasize the importance of foreign aid and how it’s applicable here at home. So with regards to that, what do you say to American citizens out there who wonder why we’re sending all this money overseas and that it might be better spent here at home?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, I would say to every American who asks that question, first of all, all this money is one penny on the dollar. Everything we do in foreign policy in the State Department and in USAID, our development program, is one penny on the dollar. For that one penny on the dollar, we represent America in 285 posts and embassies around the world. We have extraordinary reach on economic issues. We are winning contracts for companies back here at home in the billions of dollars. We increased the revenue at home. We’ve actually announced a new program here at the State Department called Department of State by State. And if you go – anybody goes to, they can get a readout of this map and their state, their district, and you can begin to see what comes home in terms of jobs, contracts, tax revenues, goods, all those kinds of things.

It’s really an extraordinary benefit to Americans, not to mention that through our presence working with these other countries and the associations and the international community, UN, whatever it is, we – NATO – we build mutual relationships for the security of our country that result in stopping terrorists before they get here, stopping a war before it takes place. We’ve just helped make peace in an African country. We’ve just helped make – at least get a truce. We’ve helped disarm a rebel group that was tearing apart a region. We save lives. We stabilize. We reduce conflict. That reduces the possibility of young Americans having to go over there because it’s an ungoverned space where terrorists are plotting against the United States and so forth.

Now, I think the benefits for us – just our exchange programs for students which we run brings in something like $24 billion a year to the United States. So we have incredible return on our investment. And I would say to every American for the 46 billion total that does all of the things we do – you think of 5 million kids who are alive today because we saved their lives because of what we do on anti-retroviral drugs and what we do for tuberculosis and malaria. It’s extraordinary. I think Americans need to be very proud of what our country does for other nations. And I don’t know a church in America or a synagogue or a mosque or any person who doesn’t live by the idea that you ought to be giving something to other people in an effort to help them. And that’s what we do, one penny on the dollar.

QUESTION: In terms of the home front and your home state Massachusetts, next month marks the one-year anniversary of the Boston bombing. You were very emotional last year when it happened. What are your thoughts now?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, I’m hoping to be up there. I helped start the wheelchair marathon. I was – in fact, I was the principal leader to help make that an official division of the marathon. And I hope very much – I’ve started it traditionally when I was lieutenant governor, a senator, many years, and I’m hoping maybe to be back there. I think this will be special because, as everybody knows, with the Red Sox championship last year, there was a kind of coming together around the concept of Boston Strong and the outpouring of goodwill, of the unbelievable connections that were built during that. I think people admired Boston and Boston admired the unbelievable support from the country. So I think it’s going to be a celebration of our strength and of our brotherhood/sisterhood, if you will, across the country and around the world.

QUESTION: Excellent. I won’t eat up any more of your time, but thank you.