Remarks at a Press Availability
Secretary of State
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, good afternoon, everybody, and thank you. And I apologize for keeping you waiting for a few minutes.
A little while ago, as I think you know, I had the opportunity to address the UN Human Rights Council here in Geneva. And since the United States made the decision to re-engage on the council, we have worked hard to try to drive a number of significant steps to be able to bring new levels of international attention to some of the world’s most egregious human rights violations, and also to focus on some of the worst abusers – particularly, obviously, we have focused on North Korea and Syria.
We’ve also worked hard to try to create new mechanisms that explore and address serious human rights infringements on the freedom of assembly, expression, and religion, and the rights of LGBT people. And as many of you know, just the other day, I had the privilege of making the appointment for Randy Berry as the first special envoy for global LGBT rights for the State Department.
Because of the important progress that we have seen over the course of the past five years, the United States very much continues to believe in the potential of the Human Rights Council, and we’re dedicated to try to work for its success. At the same time, however, as I mentioned earlier, we recognize that there are places where it needs to improve, and most notably, as I cited earlier, has been the excessive bias, in our judgment, on one country, on Israel. So we wanted to make it clear today that we think that that is an impediment that stands in the way of the progress that should be achieved here when we look at the wide array of the world’s ills and the many challenges that we need to speak out on with respect to human rights.
I made it clear that the United States will oppose any effort by any group or any participant to abuse the UN system in order to delegitimize or isolate Israel. And we think it’s important that for the right – for the council to be able to achieve the breadth of goals that it is faced with – the breadth of the – to address the breadth of the challenges that it currently faces, it really needs to break out of an older mold and begin to put the time and energy and major focus on some of those most egregious situations. And that is really what has happened within the Council over the course of the last five years, particularly if you look at the commission of inquiry work that has been done with respect to the DPRK and other work it has done.
I also met this morning with Foreign Minister Lavrov. And we spent a fair amount of time discussing Syria, Ukraine, ISIS, and Iran. I reiterated the urgency of Russia’s leaders and the separatists that they back implementing the full measure of the commitments under the Minsk agreements and to implement them everywhere, including in Debaltseve, outside Mariupol, and in other key strategic areas. And I underscored this morning that if that does not happen, if there continue to be these broad swaths of noncompliance, or there continues to be a cherry-picking as to where heavy equipment will be moved back from without knowing where it’s been moved to, or if the OSCE is not able to adequately be able to gain the access necessary, then there would be inevitably further consequences that will place added strain on Russia’s already troubled economy. Now, obviously, Ukraine is just one of the issues, as I mentioned, that we focused on. And it’s only one of the issues, frankly, on which the United States and Russia together are focused.
This morning, Foreign Minister Lavrov and I also spoke at some length about Syria. The situation in Syria actually grows worse, if that’s possible for people to imagine. Almost three-quarters of the entire country is now displaced people – half of them refugees in mostly Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey, but many of them displaced within the country and unable to move because of ISIL, Daesh, al-Nusrah, the regime, or some other extremist group.
So we spoke at length about steps that might be able to be taken in order to try to see if there is a potential of common ground. And we agreed that there is no military solution; we agreed there is a need for a political solution; and we agreed on the need of those countries who have been supporting people in this endeavor, in this conflict, to be able to search yet again to see whether or not there is a path either to Geneva 1 or to some hybrid or some means of ending the violence. And one of the things that drives that interest, that common interest, is the reality of Daesh, the reality of what is happening to Syria as a result of the presence of Daesh there and its use of Syria as a base for spreading its evil to other places.
We also talked about the Iran nuclear negotiations, where we are, together with the other P5+1 members – where we are all focused simultaneously on the need to elicit from Iran answers to questions about their nuclear program – not just answers for today, but answers that are capable of lasting well into the future in order to be able to provide people with a confidence that the program is, indeed, a peaceful nuclear program.
We continue to believe, all the members of the P5+1, that the best way to deal with the questions surrounding this nuclear program is to find a comprehensive deal, but not a deal that comes at any cost, not a deal just for the purpose of a deal; a deal that meets the test of providing the answers and the guarantees that are needed in order to know that the four pathways to a nuclear bomb have been closed off. And that is the task. And we hope it is possible to get there, but there is no guarantee.
Sanctions alone are not going to provide that solution. What needs to happen is that Iran needs to provide a verifiable set of commitments that its program is in fact peaceful. And that average people and experts alike looking at that verifiable set of commitments have confidence that they are sustainable, that they are real, and that they will provide the answers and guarantees well into the future.
Any deal must close every potential pathway that Iran has towards fissile material, whether it’s uranium, plutonium, or a covert path. The fact is only a good, comprehensive deal in the end can actually check off all of those boxes.
Now, I want to be clear about two things. Right now, no deal exists, no partial deal exists. And unless Iran is able to make the difficult decisions that will be required, there won’t be a deal. Nothing is agreed until everything is agreed. That is the standard by which this negotiation is taking place, and anyone who tells you otherwise is simply misinformed.
Now, we are concerned by reports that suggest selective details of the ongoing negotiations will be discussed publicly in the coming days. I want to say clearly that doing so would make it more difficult to reach the goal that Israel and others say they share in order to get a good deal. Israel’s security is absolutely at the forefront of all of our minds, but frankly, so is the security of all the other countries in the region, so is our security in the United States. And we are very clear that as we negotiate with Iran, if we are able to reach the kind of deal that we’re hoping for, then it would have to be considered in its entirety and measured against alternatives.
Second – I cannot emphasize this enough. I have said this from the first moment that I become engaged in this negotiating process, President Obama has said this repeatedly: We will not accept a bad deal. We have said no deal is better than a bad deal, because a bad deal could actually make things less secure and more dangerous. Any deal that we would possibly agree to would make the international community, and especially Israel, safer than it is today. That’s our standard. So our team is working very hard to close remaining gaps, to reach a deal that ensures Iran’s nuclear program is exclusively and verifiably peaceful, and we have made some progress, but we still have a long way to go and the clock is ticking.
That’s why I will leave here momentarily to head to Montreux to meet with Foreign Minister Zarif and continue the negotiations. And in the days and weeks ahead, we’re going to answer a very simple question. We’re going to find out whether or not Iran is willing to make the hard choices that are necessary to get where we need to be. I’m happy to take a few of your questions.
MS. PSAKI: Michael Gordon, New York Times. Right over here.
QUESTION: Sir, Minister Lavrov asserted in his address that the ceasefire in Ukraine was being consolidated, but you made clear that Russia cannot expect to consolidate its gains in Debaltseve and avoid economic sanctions. Did Minister Lavrov offer you any assurances that Russia would arrange for the separatists to pull back from Debaltseve? And how long is the Obama Administration prepared to wait before imposing those additional sanctions you’ve been talking about? And did he have any response to your assertion to Congress last week that Russians have lied to your face?
And lastly, you’re meeting shortly with Foreign Minister Zarif on the Iran issues. You told Congress last week that you hoped to know soon, “whether or not Iran is willing to put together an acceptable and verifiable plan.” What do you need to hear from Mr. Zarif today, and what do you need to get done over the next three days to stay on track for the framework accord? Thank you.
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, Michael, first of all regarding Russia, it’s clear from the conversations that I’ve had with President Poroshenko as well as with Foreign Minister Lavrov, and the conversations that we’ve had in Washington in the aftermath of the Minsk negotiations, that there was not a clarity with respect to Debaltseve, which we obviously saw play out in the drama of the soldiers who were left there and who were fighting and who eventually fought their way out, with many being killed. What is critical here is that the maps that were agreed to show several different areas of drawback on both sides from the line of contact and according to the size of the weapon, the gauge of a particular weapon, they have to pull back different amounts.
Right now, the OSCE has complained to us, at least, that they have not been granted full access to be able to make those judgments, and particularly the end zones as to where items that have been withdrawn have actually been placed, whether they’ve been placed there or not.
So there’s been a kind of cherry picking, a piecemeal selectivity to the application of the Minsk agreements. And as we all know, shooting, shelling has still been going on and people have still been killed over the course of these last days. So there is not yet a full ceasefire, and it’s extremely difficult for the full measure of the Minsk agreement, which includes a political component, to begin to be implemented until you actually have the full measure of security that comes with OSCE monitoring and an actual ceasefire. So our hope is that in the next hours, certainly not more than days, this will be fully implemented. I might add, a convoy that came through from Russia passed across the border into the eastern part of Ukraine without being properly inspected also.
So these are the issues I raised with the foreign minister. He assured me that they are intent on seeing to it that the accord – that the agreements are, in fact, implemented. He said he would get back to me with respect to a number of the issues that I raised. And our hope is, indeed, that this will prove to be a road to further de-escalation rather than a road to disappointment, potential deception, and further violence. But that’s going to have to play out, obviously, over the course of the next few days. So I’m very hopeful that it will, in fact, be the start of a change which would be an improvement for everybody.
With respect to Iran, I really just articulated – I just said it – France doesn’t have to answer questions here, Germany doesn’t have to answer questions here, Great Britain doesn’t have to, China doesn’t, Russia doesn’t, the United States doesn’t. We’re not the ones who have been pursuing a program outside of international norms. Iran has posed the questions over the course of time sufficient to invite United Nations sanctions, United Nations Security Council resolution, and IAEA outstanding questions. Iran needs to answer those questions and Iran needs to give confidence to the world that its many articulations of a peaceful program can have the confidence of verification. Every arms agreement in history has been subject to verification to clear levels of access and knowledge and insight, transparency, that allow people to be able to measure that program.
And one of the reasons I make it clear to people that we’re not going to accept a bad deal is because we know that whatever agreement is reached here doesn’t suddenly get stuffed in a drawer and put away and disappear to be implemented; it is going to be scrutinized by people all over the world – leaders of countries, scientists, nuclear experts, every NGO involved in nonproliferation – not to mention, obviously, all the countries in the region most affected by the choices we are making, and all of the members of the United States Congress House and Senate.
This is going to be highly judged and we’re aware of that, and frankly, we would be either – well, I’m not going to – we just – we’re not about to jump into something that we don’t believe can get the job done. Now, there may be disagreements; if somebody believes that any kind of program is wrong, then we have a fundamental disagreement. And clearly, sanctions are not going to eliminate just any kind of program. You can’t bomb knowledge into oblivion unless you kill everybody. You can’t bomb it away. People have a knowledge here. The question is: Can you provide an adequate level of the management of intrusive inspections; structured, tough requirements; limitations; all the insights necessary to be able to know to a certainty that the program is, in fact, peaceful?
That’s what the IAEA was set up to be there for, that’s what the NPT is, that’s what the additional protocol – the NPT is. There are all kinds of tested components of this. This isn’t happening at first blush. This has been in effect for a long time with a lot of countries, and there are ways to be able to make certain that a program is peaceful and the test – what we’re looking for in the next days, Michael, is adequate satisfaction that this program is, in fact, going to be complying with its own promises, that it is a purely peaceful nuclear program.
MS. PSAKI: Frédéric Koller from Le Temps.
QUESTION: Yes, thank you. You just said on Iran that sanctions cannot eliminate problems. And I would like to know – with the Ukrainian situation, it seems the conflict in Ukraine becomes more and more conflict between Russia and Western countries – Russia and United States. And I would like to know how to deal with these problems, knowing that United States threatens now Russia with more sanctions if the Minsk agreement is not implemented. And a few years ago, you were here in the – at the hotel – Intercontinental Hotel, and you started – well, it was Hillary Clinton at the time who started with this reset policy with Russia. What went wrong with Russia? And how to deal now with Russia? Comprehensive agreement somehow is needed between Russia and United States, I guess to deal with --
SECRETARY KERRY: How what? I’m sorry. I missed the last part. How to?
QUESTION: How to deal with Russia. We understand that Russia needs something more to build a new confidence with the United States and Western countries. When we hear Mr. Lavrov this morning at the Human Rights Council, he has very strong statement against United States and its values – it’s kind of clash of values. How to deal with today’s Russia?
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, it may be a clash of realities. I don’t see it as a clash of values. It seems to me that on sanctions, there’s a real distinction between sanctions that are calculated to have an impact on a nuclear program which is one set of choices for a particular country, and sanctions which are broadly adopted by many nations because of a violation of a norm of international law and which particularly have an impact on the – particularly have an impact on Russia’s choices at this particular moment, given a lot of other variables like oil prices, other exigencies that Russia faces.
So sanctions have obviously had a significant impact on Russia, and you try to use them in order to make a point about the choices that are available. And in the case of Russia, the ruble has gone down 50 percent, there’s been about $151 billion of capital flight, the bonds of Russia are now judged to be junk bonds, and the economic predictions are that Russia will be going into recession this year. So it’s obviously had a profound impact, but not sufficient that President Putin has decided that he isn’t going to pursue his particular strategy. It may change at some point in the future, but those are the things you have to weigh in deciding what alternative policies you may pursue or what alternative choices may be available.
I suspect that President Putin, as the months go on, is going to have to really weigh those things. And we’ve tried to make it clear to him and particularly to the Russian people we’re not doing this to hurt the people of Russia, we’re not doing this to make life difficult for all Russians. We’re doing this to try to affect the choices that their leaders are making in order to uphold the norms of international law. We’re here in a UN facility, and the United Nations is critical to the upholding of international standards of behavior. And the world has worked hard since World War II to try to adhere to a set of global norms of behavior, particularly with respect to respect for territorial integrity.
One of the cries that came out of the World War II experience was we can’t allow nations to make land grabs running over the territorial integrity of external borders, as we saw in the period leading up to and then during World War II. So we’ve really ingrained in international behavior this notion of the value of international borders and of upholding the sovereignty and integrity of nation states. That sovereignty and integrity has been violated over the course of the last months, and that’s the purpose of the sanctions that we put in place.
But our hope is, obviously, that we can get back to a better place of cooperation with Russia. I personally – I think President Putin misinterprets a great deal of what the United States has been doing and has tried to do. We are not involved in multiple color revolutions, as he asserts, nor are we involved in a particularly personal way here. We are trying to uphold the international law with respect to the sovereignty and integrity of another nation. And others have joined us. The fact is that Europe has the same sense of commitment to this. And our hope is that we can persuade President Putin and Russia that we’re prepared to cooperate with them as soon as they are genuinely prepared to uphold the agreements that they signed and to live by these international standards.
We have happily been able to find cooperation continue on other issues. Russia has been helpful in the context of the P5+1 talks. Russia was extremely engaged and essential in our success in getting chemical weapons out of Syria in the arrangement that we reached right here in Geneva. And we were able to work together to do that. Russia is sitting with us even now, as I discussed with you, and talking about ways we might – might, I underscore – be able to try to make some progress with respect to Syria and with respect to Daesh.
So even in the midst of this major disagreement over Ukraine, we are still finding ways to cooperate together, and I hope that if we can work through Ukraine, we will get back to a place where we are finding more to be able to cooperate on and less to disagree on. And I’m not going to get into resets or non-resets, but I think that sometimes events get in the way of the best-laid policies. But both countries have indicated, I think, a maturity with respect to the willingness to try to find ways to cooperate notwithstanding this fundamental disagreement over Ukraine.
MS. PSAKI: Unfortunately, we need to get on the road for our next meeting, so this will conclude this press availability. Thank you, everyone.