Press Availability at NATO

John Kerry
Secretary of State
Brussels, Belgium
April 1, 2014

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, good evening to everybody. This obviously could not be a more important time for NATO allies to come together and to reaffirm our commitment to each other, to the transatlantic treaty and transatlantic security, and especially to our common values. As we mark the 65th anniversary of the strongest alliance on earth, we are all facing a new challenge, a critical moment, a new reality on the Euro-Atlantic landscape at a time when some of the basic principles underlying the international system have been violated and, frankly, our alliance has been put to the test.

Let me reiterate what President Obama said in this city last week: Russia today has challenged truths that only a few weeks ago appeared to be self-evident; that in the 21st century, the borders of Europe would not be redrawn with force; and that international law still guides all of us; that people and nations must always be able to make their own decisions about their own future. It’s clear that the alliance is prepared for this moment. We heard that over and over again today from every participant. We are unified, and the alliance is strong.

Today, NATO allies tasked the Supreme Allied Commander to provide visible reassurance with respect to our Central and Eastern European allies, assurance that Article 5 of NATO’s treaty means what it says on land, air, and sea. The United States has already begun to contribute to this mission because, as President Obama reaffirmed to Secretary General Rasmussen last week and I reiterated to my colleagues here today, the United States commitment to Article 5 obligations is unwavering.

Now in recent weeks, the United States has augmented NATO’s Baltic air policing mission with six additional F-16s. We’ve deployed 12 F-16s to Poland. We’ve kept the USS Truxtun in the Black Sea and more U.S. support is on the way. Today, many allies pledged their own contributions to assure that every ally, from the Baltic to the Black Sea, feels secure.

Just as importantly, Europe and North America have stood together in defense of Ukraine’s right to choose its future and in defense of international law. Together, we have rejected any notion that there is any legality in Russia’s efforts to annex Crimea and challenged – we have all challenged - the tactics of intimidation, particularly the deployment of unprecedented amounts of military forces around Ukraine’s borders.

Ukraine’s democratic and economic success is, in the end, going to be the best response to this challenge. Every ally here today pledged unwavering support in order to help make sure that Ukraine succeeds. This includes support through the IMF, our bilateral and multilateral assistance, the OSCE monitors, and through our support for free, fair, constitutional elections and for constitutional reform, as well as the anticorruption and demobilization efforts that are taking place.

We also reaffirmed to Foreign Minister Deshchytsia that just as Ukraine has stood in partnership for the past two decades, it’s important that NATO stand in partnership now with Ukraine, and we endorsed a range of measures in order to do so. Secretary General Rasmussen has called the events in Ukraine a wake-up call – a reminder that the stability and security in NATO’s neighborhood requires all of our constant vigilance. To that end, today, I made clear that many members of the alliance now need to step up defense spending. As we plan for NATO’s summit in Wales this September, each of us must demonstrate by the decisions that we take and the budget commitments that we make that we are committed to each other, and by our shared security and our shared prosperity and our shared values, we will continue to maintain that strength.

This afternoon, we mark the five, ten, and fifteen-year anniversaries of NATO’s post-Cold War expansions. And it is clear that each of these expansions has actually strengthened NATO by opening doors for millions of people who, through the power of this alliance, now are able to experience greater opportunity, a greater prosperity, and greater security. As free nations, we will continue to stand together and stand always in defense of international law, of our mutual security, and of the right of nations and people everywhere to freely choose their own destiny. Our meeting today underscored these principles in both words and in deeds.

I’d be happy to take a couple questions.

MS. PSAKI: The first question will be from Margaret Brennan of CBS News. Oh, right – other side.

QUESTION: Geez, wow. Thank you very much. (Laughter.) Mr. Secretary, two questions for you. NATO says there are no signs of a Russian pullback. What is it going to take for this body to have a greater show of force? Because there do seem some members wary of antagonizing Russia.

And on Mideast peace, where are we in this process, with President Abbas saying he’s canceled this meeting with you? Is this brinksmanship? And has the U.S. offered the release of Jonathan Pollard?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, that’s about three questions or four, I think. But I’m happy to answer them. With respect to NATO and the presence of force and what is it going to take, I think everybody here today made it clear that the preference of NATO and the preference of all of us is to see a de-escalation, to find a diplomatic route in order to be able to work, hopefully, ultimately, together to strengthen the possibilities of Ukrainians making their own choices about Ukraine in the future. That’s the goal.

And at the same time, it is important for everybody in the world to understand that the NATO alliance takes seriously this attempt to change borders by use of force. So that is the wakeup call. And as a result, people here today made a commitment to be able to strengthen visibly, as a matter of deterrence and as a matter of reality, the cooperation, the deployment, and the efforts of those who are members of this alliance.

Now, with respect to the de-escalation, we were happy that yesterday Russia made an announcement, President Putin made the announcement initially, that they were going to move a battalion back. And that’s obviously small compared to the numbers that are deployed, but it is a welcome gesture in the right direction. The question now is: Is there a way to build on that in order to be able to find a way to move the masses of troops back and truly deescalate?

So I think there’s a delicate balance, and we’re engaged in efforts with lots of different people engaged in this effort to see if there is a way forward. That’s a lot of the discussion here today – it’ll be some of the discussion at the dinner tonight – is to help map that road forward.

With respect to the Middle East peace process, I’ve heard a rumor about, quote, not being invited or something. But I’m not sure I’m going, regardless of that, whether or not we have certain things that we’re trying to figure out in terms of the logistics on the ground and what is possible.

What is important to say about the Middle East right now is it is completely premature tonight to draw any kind of judgment, certainly any final judgment, about today’s events and where things are. This is a moment to be really clear-eyed and sober about this process. It is difficult, it is emotional, it requires huge decisions, some of them with great political difficulty, all of which need to come together simultaneously.

And all I can tell you is that we are continuing, even now as I am standing up here speaking, to be engaged with both parties to find the best way forward. We’ve been in touch with the White House and Washington during the day, as well as all of the parties. And I’ve talked to many people on the ground in the region, and I will continue to even tonight.

So my team is on the ground meeting with the parties even tonight. And we urge both sides to show restraint while we work with them. Obviously, it’s moments like this when we all need to remember exactly what brought us to this effort in the first place, what the goal is, and where everybody wants to end up. And tonight I haven’t heard yet what the public response of Israel has been, but I know that President Abbas in his comments made it clear that he intends to continue to work, even tonight, on this process that we are engaged in.

So we will see where we wind up at the end of the evening in the next days, but it is, as I said at the outset of my remarks, completely premature to draw any judgments about this at this point in time. And at this point in time, no agreement has been reached with respect to any prisoner, not even the ones that, at this moment, are at issue in terms of the transfer. The cabinet in Israel has to vote; I’m not sure exactly when that might take place or not. And so there is no agreement at this point in time regarding anyone or any specific steps. There are a lot of different possibilities in play.

MS. PSAKI: The next question will be from Lesley Wroughton of Reuters.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, I just wanted to be clear because there’s a lot of reports going around. We also understand from a U.S. official that you’re not traveling tomorrow to Ramallah. But also if it is true – I mean, I’ve looked at the transcript and President Abbas has signed those conventions to join these 15 agencies – is this in your mind a breach of the understanding of the process that you launched eight, nine months ago?

On the other hand, do you – how do you see the way going forward? If this is – the way that President Abbas explained it was that the Israelis did not release those prisoners; that was the agreement. He agreed he wouldn’t go to the UN until the end of April, and he’s going – he’s going to go now. So there seems to be a lot of disappointment.

SECRETARY KERRY: No, he’s not. He is not. Let me make it absolutely clear: None of the agencies that President Abbas signed tonight involve the UN. None of them. And President Abbas has given his word to me that he will keep his agreement and that he intends to negotiate through the end of the month of April.

Now obviously, the prisoners were due on the 29th, which was Saturday. I’m not going to get into the who, why, what, when, where, how of why we’re where we are today. We’re where we are today – and the important thing is to keep the process moving and find a way to see whether the parties are prepared to move forward. In the end, this is up to the parties.

I mean, I want to make this crystal clear: The United States is proud and ready and willing to be a facilitator in this process. But the leaders on both sides have to make the decisions, not us. It’s up to them to decide what they’re prepared to do with each other, for each other, for the future, for the region, for peace. And we will do everything in our power. President Obama has been as committed to this as anybody. He has committed his personal time. He has committed my time. The President is desirous of trying to see how we can make our best efforts in order to find a way to facilitate. But facilitation is only as good as the willingness of leaders to actually make decisions when they’re put in front of them.

And we’re going to continue to do our work. We’re going to continue because this matters – matters to the region, matters to the parties, matters to us, matters to the world. Everywhere I go, people ask me: Is there any progress? Can you get anywhere? Can you move? The one thing that I keep in the center of my mind is that, even tonight, both parties say they want to continue to try to find a way forward. And so we will continue to work with them in order to try to do that.

MS. PSAKI: Thank you, everyone.

SECRETARY KERRY: Thank you, everyone.