Press Availability With German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier

Press Availability
John Kerry
Secretary of State
Berlin Wall Memorial Visitor's Center
Berlin, Germany
October 22, 2014

FOREIGN MINISTER STEINMEIER: (Via interpreter) Well, ladies and gentlemen, I’m delighted that so much have come, and we’re delighted to be able to welcome my American counterpart, the American Secretary of State. I would like to extend a very warm welcome to him.

Well, I’m delighted that you have come to this press conference. We’re delighted to be able to welcome my American colleague, American Secretary of State, here in Berlin. Dear – I’d like to tell you, dear John Kerry, welcome back to a place here in Berlin where a younger John Kerry used to live many, many years ago right in the times during the Cold War, right in the neighborhood of the Iron Curtain, where he used to live – the city he used to live.

I’m very delighted that we not only are able to hold bilateral talks, but I’m delighted to be able, at this truly historic place, that we’re able to meet here, which used to be like a focal point of – for the Cold War for many decades. During our tour of the Berlin Wall, we just remembered and reminded ourselves that 100,000 people fled at great risk; 138 people died here in Berlin at the Berlin Wall. And it is tragic that up to this day, we don’t even know just how many people have died during – or have been killed or assassinated during their flight across the border. There’s a research project going underway, which hopefully will give us clarity whether we – there – we have to mourn 600 or 700 or a thousand people who lost their lives. To convey this to a younger generation of people who have been born after the fall of the wall is our joint responsibility, and this is why we are delighted to have been able to have this opportunity to talk to students from Berlin and Brandenburg, a generation of people who cannot envisage or imagine that 25 years ago, this wall not only divided the city of Berlin but also separated friends from each other and tore families apart.

We are delighted that we’re able to say, 25 years on, 25 years ago, the division of Germany was overcome and the division of Europe was overcome 25 years ago. And dear John, let me explicitly state all of this would not have been possible without the unconditional support provided to us by the U.S. It would not have been fathomable or feasible, and we will never forget what the Americans did for us.

What we have worked on and fought for hard in the past decades and – is at risk these days. Even if the conflict in Ukraine does not make headlines in German newspapers anymore, we still know that this conflict still bears enough explosive potential to pose a serious threat to the peaceful order in Europe so many people have fought for so hard. And this is why – and this is our responsibility, the responsibility of our generation. This is what we told the young people and the young students. This is why it is our responsibility to prevent a new division in Europe from happening. We have to work hard and make a serious effort that the tedious first steps since the Minsk agreements, that tedious steps are actually being implemented. We must succeed with all our might and possibilities to making sure that Ukraine’s integrity and unity is safeguarded, that we help protect the borders with the help of drones, and that the buffer zone that has been agreed upon between Russia and Ukraine leads to a situation that fighters and heavy arms will be finally withdrawn from this zone, from this territory.

The conflict in Ukraine is only a small indicator towards the fact that the people are right when they say the world seems to have come out of kilter these days. Unfortunately, we’re not only faced with the conflict in Ukraine. In various meetings in the past days, but also last night, we talked about the situation in the Middle East, and we talked about steps that are necessary. Now, I think it was right and good that we together – the United States and Germany – work towards forging an international alliance in the fight against ISIS in order to prevent the further advance of this terrorist group and further contain the advance of this group.

We are also lending a contribution towards weakening ISIS militarily, and we hope that we’ll make progress in Iraq. We’re going to make progress in Iraq – I’m sure of that – if our military aspects are also embedded in a political solution, and this is why we are both happy that we – that it was successful that an inclusive government under the inclusion of Kurds and Sunni was possible. This is very promising and we hope that the Sunni people who have sided with ISIS can be won back gradually in order to fight against Islamist terrorism.

We’re faced with the same situation in Syria. Aside from military measures, we have to forcefully and make a great effort to make sure that aside from military activities, there is also a path towards a political solution. We support the new Special Envoy of the United Nations de Mistura.

Once again, dear John, a very warm welcome to Berlin. I’m delighted that we have the opportunity to be here at this historic site. I’m also delighted that we had the opportunity to talk last night and took the time to discuss the situation in the world, which is worrying, indeed, and that we’re able to talk about the situation and we’re able to agree on joint steps forward. Thank you very much.

SECRETARY KERRY: Vielen Dank, mein Freund. Thank you very, very much, Frank. It’s a great privilege for me to be here. And I am extremely grateful for your partnership, for your personal friendship, for the leadership that Germany is providing, and particularly for the initiative that you, as a foreign minister, are undertaking on a number of difficult issues. And we in the United States are deeply appreciative for Germany’s important role at this moment.

(Via interpreter) America and Germany have a long history of cooperation for fighting for freedom, for peace and for prosperity. It’s a great pleasure for me to be here today and to renew our commitment to our relations with Germany, and we look forward to continuing to build upon our long history.

Let me further say that this is very moving to be here outside this wall, in this city, at this moment of time. And it is particularly special to not just be here 25 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall and all that that symbolizes, but this city, obviously, as Frank said in his opening comments, means something to me on a personal level. The time I spent here as a kid when my father was in the Foreign Service touched me significantly. And obviously, when I was living here, a unified Germany was still decades away. I was 12 years old at the time, very curious about East Berlin, and I exercised the privileges of a diplomatic passport to one day ride my bicycle through the checkpoint into East Berlin. And literally, as a young child, I saw the difference. I felt the difference. I actually noticed it. And it frightened me enough that I turned back fairly quickly to come back into the American sector. It was a difference between hope and despair, between light and darkness. You noticed it in the absence of people, in the color of the clothing, in the atmosphere. And it was the difference also, obviously, between freedom and oppression, people who were given a chance to make something of their lives and people who were denied that chance.

So I just had an opportunity to walk through the Berlin Wall Memorial into the no man’s land, where lives were lost, a gulf that was much greater than its distance in feet and yards, meters. Some of the people I walked through there with today, some of the young people, were around the same age as when I lived here, but all of them born into a post-Cold War world. And they all have had the opportunity to grow up in a Germany that is unified and peaceful and prosperous. So this was a perfect way to, ahead of time – not that far ahead, but a few days ahead – to mark the 25th anniversary of the day that the wall came down.

Today, there are pieces of that wall in every corner of the globe and in a handful of cities in the United States. It is in South Korea. It’s in Argentina, in Spain, in Luxembourg, in Bulgaria, in South Africa, in Italy, Canada, Australia. Truly, parts of this wall and what it symbolizes and its coming down are in countries around the world to inspire people.

So it is there also to remind us of the struggle that took place here decades ago, and to remind us that freedom for people living in places like Germany and the United States that we enjoy today – the ability to choose our political leaders, the ability to dissent, the ability to criticize, to say what we want, to pursue whatever opportunities we desire – these freedoms are still being threatened in too many parts of the world. And they are even being threatened right here in Europe.

Russia’s aggression in Ukraine needs to end. And that is why we have worked together with Germany very closely, in lockstep with Chancellor Merkel, whose leadership we appreciate greatly, and Foreign Minister Steinmeier, who’s undertaken diplomatic initiative after diplomatic initiative in order to try to resolve this peacefully. We are grateful for their strong leadership and their partnership, as I said, and we hope that Russia, with whom we do not seek conflict, with whom we would much rather be working together to deal with the problems of the world – we hope that Russia will understand how seriously the world takes the efforts to cross the lines of sovereignty and independence of a nation.

At the same time, the United States is also very grateful for Germany’s contribution towards the diplomatic resolution, the meetings with President Putin, with President Poroshenko in Milan. And together, the United States and Germany and our partners are working hard to ensure that the Minsk protocol is fully enacted.

Germany’s leadership has also been important to NATO efforts to bring about a Europe that is whole and free and at peace. But the fact is that U.S.-Germany cooperation extends way beyond the borders of Europe, and we value their support in the global effort to degrade and ultimately defeat ISIL, where Germany has provided critical military and humanitarian assistance. We value their support in the ongoing negotiations with Iran, where we are consulting on a regular basis, and where Germany is a vital P5+1 member. We certainly value their support in fighting the Ebola outbreak and enhancing our global health system. And the United States is committed to intensify every aspect of our engagement on Ebola, and we call on our international partners to do the same. We are deeply appreciative for the contributions that Germany has made to date – their monetary contributions as well as their plans to create their own medevac capabilities.

I think it’s safe to say that in many ways, the city of Berlin has become a symbol of our transatlantic relationship. What happened here 25 years ago and over the course of many years – and I’m grateful for Frank’s expressions of gratitude to the United States, because we’re proud of having stood together with freedom-loving people – but all of that is a reminder of what we can accomplish together. It’s also a reminder, as the young people who were with us earlier said, of what people can do – not the government, but what people can do when they have the courage and the determination to do so.

So again, let me thank Foreign Minister Steinmeier, Chancellor Merkel and Germany for your enduring friendship, for your partnership, and we look forward to continuing to work with you for many years to come. Thank you.


MODERATOR: Thank you. We now – yeah. Before the ministers head to their next appointment, we have two questions each side. And I would say the American friends start, right? Thank you.

MS. PSAKI: The first question will be from Matt Lee of the Associate Press.

QUESTION: Good morning. Mr. Secretary, I wanted to ask you about Iran, the nuclear talks which you just referenced, and then I have a very brief other question. On Iran, is it the Administration’s intention to go for a deal that – to avoid Congress, to cut Congress out of the loop on this? There seems to be a lot of concern on the Hill that this is what’s going to happen, and I’m just wondering if that’s the way the Administration intends to go.

And then I’d like to ask briefly, both of you, about the foreign fighter and ISIL question. You saw there was some American teenagers picked up here in Germany, and I’m just wondering if you think that this – that enough is being done to stop the flow of the fighters coming in, and if not, what more needs to be done? Thank you.

SECRETARY KERRY: Do you want me to go?


SECRETARY KERRY: Okay. Matt, let me – I really want to make this very, very clear, because I read a story the other day that suggested exactly what you said. And let me just begin by saying, as you know, as everybody in the United States knows, or most people, I spent 29 years in the United States Senate. And I have too much respect for the process of the Congress, the rights of the Congress, and the importance of the relationship between the Executive and the Congress, the Legislative Branch, to ever suggest that there would be any credibility to this notion there’s some thought of going around it; on the contrary. We are completely engaged in a regular series of briefings. I’ve been talking even during the break to senators about our thoughts with respect to the Iran negotiations, and I personally believe, as does the President, that Congress has an extremely important role to play in this, and Congress will play a role in this.

So on sanctions, what we’ve merely said to people is that – and we’ve said this in public testimony as well as in private conversations – that in the first instance, we would look to suspend sanctions, which the President can do, simply because that’s the necessary way to proceed with respect to the negotiations themselves. But that does not in any way write Congress out of the process or suggest that, in the end, Congress isn’t going to have a vote or do something with respect to this. We anticipate hearings, we anticipate a significant amount of back-and-forth, we certainly will be briefing as we go forward in the next weeks, and we look forward to serious and deep congressional engagement in this effort.


SECRETARY KERRY: With respect to the foreign fighters? We think everybody in the world can do more with respect to foreign fighters, ourselves included, and that’s what we’re doing. Germany – we’re very, very grateful to Germany for their cooperation with us on this particular instance of some young folks who were traveling. And it’s under investigation now, Matt. Our folks are looking at the causes and impacts very carefully. I don’t want to violate any of that process, so it’s important not to comment on the why and wherefore of this except to say that this is an example of good cooperation between us and the increased vigilance of law enforcement on this issue of the movement of people from one country to another.

But let’s let the story unfold a little bit so people understand exactly what happened here before we comment further.

FOREIGN MINISTER STEINMEIER: (Via interpreter) Allow me to give you my perspective on both questions. On the topic of Iran, well, I have been dealing with the Iran talks for 10 years now in various capacities. Between 2005 and 2009, I intensively participated in each phase of discussions. In my second term in office as foreign minister, I am also involved in this.

We could have had this deal much earlier, but we’re not talking about just any deal, no. What we’re talking about is a political agreement that gives us the guarantee that Iran is not capable of gaining access to nuclear arms, and this is the only criterion that is important here. And according to this responsibility, our responsibility – and also are responsibility with regard to the Middle East, Israel, ourselves, our peaceful order in the world – and according to this responsibility, we are going to act and analyze together when the conditions are met.

As far as foreign fighters are concerned, it’s not that easy. Even by cooperating more closely in the field of the security services, it is not easy to control the movement of these young people so that those who have the – who want to go and fight and to actually prevent these from going there. Tens of thousands of young people have been traveling to Turkey each year, and we don’t know whether those who are going on vacation to Turkey – we don’t know whether there are people among those people who have different objectives to travel to the region. As my colleague, Mr. Kerry, just said, it is important that the security services, police forces are cooperating, the American and the German forces are cooperating, but we also need this cooperation between Germany and Turkey. Hundreds of young people traveling to Turkey have been held because we assumed that they were making their way to the battlefield.

But it is clear, despite an increase of cooperation between the authorities, we have not been successful to prevent these young people from traveling to these battlegrounds. The security forces are making an effort, but it is a very difficult task in light of the mobility of these young people – the young people who are enjoying this mobility, because there is a freedom of mobility in our countries.

MS. PSAKI: David Brunnstrom from Reuters.

QUESTION: Thank you very much. I wondered if I could ask: You’re here 25 years after the Berlin Wall came down. How confident are you that you can avoid a new Cold War growing over Ukraine? What are the prospects at the moment for the talks there?

And looking at a surviving Cold War frontier, North Korea, can I ask the Secretary, was there any quid pro quo for the release of the U.S. citizen there, and what it will take for the others to be released? And is there any prospect of a resumption of talks?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, let me begin with the last part of the question, and then I’ll come back to the Cold War issue. No, there was no quid pro quo, and we are very concerned about the remaining American citizens who are in North Korea, and we have great hopes that North Korea will see the benefit of releasing them also as soon as possible. We’re in constant touch with their families. We’re working on their release. We’ve talked to Chinese and others, and we have a high focus on it. But just two days ago, three days ago, I had State Councilor Yang Jiechi with me in Boston for a day and a half. We had long talks about North Korea, the commitment of China and the rest of the Six Parties – five parties to the denuclearization of the peninsula and the denuclearization of the regime.

We hope to get back to talks, but we need some indication from Kim Jong-un and the regime that they are, in fact, prepared to talk seriously about the central topic of the talks, which is the issue of denuclearization. We do not want to return to talks just for the sake of talks. We’ve been there before. We’ve been through this routine. We’ve entered into agreements and we’ve provided food aid and done other things in the aftermath of those agreements, and notwithstanding, those agreements have been broken, and the march towards their nuclear program has continued, in fact, with greater level of threat than before.

So we have raised this issue with the Chinese, with the Russians, with others. We are cooperating. I want to thank the Chinese, who have taken measures, additional measures in the last year, to try to send a very clear message to the North Koreans that this is unacceptable to the Chinese, unacceptable to the world.

So we hope that the dynamics can develop in the next weeks, months perhaps, where we could get back to talks. And the United States is absolutely prepared to do that. We’ve said from day one that if North Korea wants to rejoin the community of nations, it knows how to do it. It can come to the talks prepared to discuss denuclearization. And the United States is fully prepared – if they do that and begin that process, we are prepared to begin the process of reducing the need for American force and presence in the region because the threat itself would then be reduced.

On the subject of the Cold War, Frank and I talked about that last night and we actually talked about it with the kids this morning right over here by the wall. One of the kids asked us, “Do you think we’re going to be heading towards another Cold War?” And the question itself, frankly, is a question I wish I didn’t have to hear. None of us want another generation growing up with the foreboding sense of a Cold War. None of us want to see another generation see the resources and the efforts of nations diverted from building governments and societies and providing opportunity, and diverted into the mutual action and reaction that comes with a Cold War.

So we are very, very hopeful – and that is why Germany and the United States and others have been engaged in such robust diplomacy – we are very hopeful that we can avoid that. And it’s certainly our primary mission to try to do so. We want to see a respected Ukraine that is independent and sovereign. We would like to see a Ukraine that could even serve as a bridge between Russia and Europe, and this could become not a competition against each other but a competition together to see who can do a better job of developing their economies, of trading, of building stability and of meeting the threat of extremism and radical religious extremism that threatens everybody.

So that’s our hope. I think the Minsk Agreement provides a very clear roadmap for how we move to avoid confrontation, to have an off-ramp that can ultimately result in the lifting of sanctions and hopefully the rebuilding of a more productive relationship. And I think Germany, the United States, the rest of Europe, most of the world shares that hope.

MODERATOR: (Inaudible.)

QUESTION: (Via interpreter) I have a question to both of you. Mr. Kerry, you talked a lot about the Middle East. Israel is also part of the Middle East. In Israel and around Israel, there are many people who voice the concern that the window of opportunity for a two-state solution is closing, and closing quickly. How do you assess this? How big is your concern?

And my second question: You talked a lot about November 24th, the opportunity for a conclusion of nuclear talks with Iran. What’s your assessment? If there is a solution in this field, does this actually make peace negotiations more difficult in Jerusalem if negotiations with Iran are successful? So far, Prime Minister Netanyahu voices concern because he doesn’t believe that Iran is serious.

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, I have many times said, and sometimes even been criticized for saying it, that there’s a real challenge in terms of trying to fulfill the aspirations of peace in the region by achieving two states for two peoples living side by side in peace and security. Obviously, we have opposed settlement policy in the West Bank, and with each new settlement there is a growing challenge – with each new settlement in the West Bank specifically, there is a growing challenge to what we call the peace map to how you might achieve the lines of that state.

But our hope is and remains – and the United States remains deeply committed to trying to work for that peace. Israel needs and deserves to have full assurances regarding the security of the Israeli people. No people should live with rockets raining down on them in the tens of thousands. Nobody should have tunnels coming up into their villages with the potential of kidnapping citizens. Seeing a terrorist jump out of a tunnel with tranquilizer drugs and handcuffs would challenge any nation on the planet.

By the same token, Palestinians deserve the right to have rights protected, to have a state and a life that is defined by the rights that are afforded them. And that is a challenge, both in the West Bank and in Gaza. I know that Prime Minister Netanyahu is considering possibilities for how one might proceed forward; so is President Abbas. And my hope is that it will be possible to get back to a negotiating table because that is the only way to resolve the issues that stand in front of us.

The current situation – the status quo – is unsustainable. President Obama said that in his United Nations speech. I have said that many times. I think most people understand that in order to avoid the challenges of a binational state and the challenges of further deterioration, it is important to try to find a way to negotiate. But I think we’re best when we try to work quietly at that, and that’s what we’re doing now, and we will continue those efforts, and obviously we understand the urgency of it.

With respect to – the second part of your question was on the --


MODERATOR: The impact of --

SECRETARY KERRY: Yes, the talks. Let me – I’m not going to get into predicting possibilities or rank where we are. I will express hope, not optimism – hope that we can bridge the gaps that still exist. Both sides have negotiated in intensive and serious and respectful ways. They, I think, understand what is needed here, and let me be clear about what is needed. There is a fundamental reason why we are having these negotiations. It is because the United Nations Security Council voted a set of restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program based on the unanswered questions about where that program was going. So Iran has a very simple task, really. All it has to do is prove to the world through its transparency and accountability that its program is indeed peaceful. There are four major tracks to the potential of an Iranian bomb, and each of those four tracks needs to be clearly unattainable – and that’s what we are working to achieve – with a breakout time that is sufficient for the world to be able to respond, should that occur.

And I’m not going to get into the details because we’re not going to negotiate publicly. I think that’s a mistake. But I will tell you that we’re hopeful. We’re working very hard. And the Iranian team is tough, they’re knowledgeable, they negotiate hard, but they’ve also been negotiating seriously. And we will continue over the course of the next weeks with hopes that we can achieve what I think the world would like to see, which is a reduction in the possibility of further conflict and the clear path to a non-nuclear Iran, which everybody is seeking.

FOREIGN MINISTER STEINMEIER: (Via interpreter) When I elaborated on the criterions that are necessary for successful talks with Iran, I also talked about Israel. Aside from regular needs for security, aside from peace in the world, we also know that, of course, Israel has a vital interest in making sure that there is no threat posed to Israel’s security in any way. We all know that. And once again, let me reiterate there will not be a negotiated result that – a result to the negotiation that leads to Iran gaining access to nuclear weapons. At the same time, let me endorse what John Kerry just said. The illusion that some people in Israel have that the status quo is the best possible option is deemed by myself, and I think John agrees, is an illusion. After the third war in Gaza, I said the most dangerous thing is for us to actually get back to the status quo ante between – go back to the time between the second and the third war in Gaza.

Those are saying that – faced with the negotiations in Cairo are expecting a sustainable ceasefire to come out from these negotiations in Cairo. We will not have sustainable ceasefire if Cairo offers the foundation for the returning to the negotiating table with regard to a two-state solution. I think this is where we need to get, and I think that in the long run, I think this is the only option in order to provide for security and peace for both sides – for Israelis and Palestinians in the Middle East.

And let me add one more thing. I am extremely grateful to John Kerry for knowing about all these difficulties. I’m grateful that he has not lost his energy and effort and enthusiasm to bring success to what has not been happening in the past year, and we will support you Mr. Kerry.