Press Availability Following the Arctic Council Ministerial

Press Availability
John Kerry
Secretary of State
Cadet Hall
Iqaluit, Canada
April 24, 2015


SECRETARY KERRY: Good afternoon. I’m delighted to be here in Iqaluit, and we’ve had a very, very interesting day. I’m very grateful to the Canadian Government. I’m particularly grateful to Minister Aglukkaq. I want to thank her for her hospitality and for her leadership over the course of the last two years. I particularly also want to thank all of my Arctic Council colleagues, including representatives from the permanent participants, who I see sitting here, and the observer states.

Every action that the council takes requires collaboration, so we’re very grateful to have partners who are all intent on getting things done and on being constructive and getting them done right. And finally, I want to thank two United States senators who traveled here with me: Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Senator Angus King of Maine. I’m very appreciative for both of them taking time, and I think it’s a strong demonstration of the interest of the Senate and Congress in the Arctic itself and in the work that we are doing here.

I also want to thank the U.S. Special Representative for the Arctic Admiral Robert Papp, who fully shares President Obama’s and my commitment to this region, and who in less than a year on the job has already helped to shape an ambitious, important agenda, I think. And I also thank Fran Ulmer of Alaska, who is serving as the special advisor on Arctic science and policy.

Over the nearly 20 years since it was created, the Arctic Council has really become the preeminent forum for cooperation among Arctic states, indigenous communities, and others who are concerned about the Arctic’s future. And a lot of that is due to the leadership that we’ve had over the last two years from Canada. Just consider a few steps that we’ve taken since 2013: the creation of the Arctic Economic Council, which we will meet with shortly; more integration of indigenous perspectives; greater emphasis on improving health in Arctic communities; and steps to address climate change, including emissions of black carbon and methane.

So I believe it is clear that the council is making constructive steps forward. But the fact is – and I think everybody agreed on this today – the challenges are in some respects moving faster than some of the response. And so we have to quicken our strides and do more faster. The region is changing faster than ever, and the challenges are greater and more urgent than ever. And how we as Arctic states and indeed the global community respond to this is going to make all of the difference.

Today, when I accepted the gavel on behalf of the United States and assumed the council chairmanship, I had the chance to set out our plan for the next two years. And it is not a plan that just reflects U.S. priorities. It is the product of widespread consultations with the friends and the colleagues who are here today, which is the way the council works, and with many other stakeholders across the Arctic. We talked; we listened and listened even more. We incorporated a lot of ideas that we heard, and so in the end we believe that the program that was unveiled today is ambitious, yes, but it is balanced and achievable, and it represents the goals and aspirations of all of the members of the Arctic Council.

Our plan is centered on the idea that while all of us come to this council with different experiences and different perspectives, ultimately we all share one Arctic and we have to do everything that we can to ensure that the interests and the future of this vital and sensitive region are protected. It is not going to come as a surprise to anyone that addressing climate change is a key pillar of the United States chairmanship program, just as it is, in fact, a key part of United States foreign policy writ large today.

And in the Arctic, the science is particularly alarming. This region is warming faster than any other region on Earth. Temperatures are increasing at more than twice the rate of the global average, and over the last three decades both the increase in temperatures and the corresponding decrease in sea ice observed in the Arctic are unprecedented in the last 1,500 years.

So in the coming months and years, it’s clear that we have to redouble our efforts in order to be able to help Arctic communities be able to adapt to changes, to climate impacts, and to prevent the worst impacts from happening at all, including by increasing the resilience of communities in the region and our ecosystems to be able to push back, and indeed to be able to take steps to curb black carbon and methane emissions, which have even more devastating effects than carbon – than CO2 itself.

So our cooperation is particularly important in the run-up to the UN Climate Conference negotiations that will take place in Paris in December. And there we hope to reach an ambitious goal on a global basis that obviously will have a profound positive impact, if implemented, for the Arctic.

Another pillar of the U.S. chairmanship will be stewardship, safety, and security of the Arctic Ocean. And as the ice continues to melt, the navigability of the Arctic Ocean is expanding. Now this is going to lead to increased human traffic, which will lead in turn to much greater risk for maritime ecosystems. More traffic on Arctic waters also means that our search-and-rescue exercises and our efforts to prevent and to respond to oil spills will have to be more important than ever.

Ultimately, we and all of our partners are committed to putting the people of the Arctic first. And that’s why the third and final pillar of the U.S. stewardship is to improve the economic and living conditions of people – indigenous people – throughout Arctic communities. On this point I want to make something very clear: The Arctic’s economy and its environment are not divergent priorities. On the contrary, they’re inextricably linked. The people of the region tell us this all the time. I just met with some of them. They don’t think that it’s necessary for it to be a zero-sum game – one wins, the other loses – nor do we believe that. If we destroy the Arctic environment, we destroy the Arctic economy.

So our policies have to ensure the protection of both. Development has to be sustainable, and accomplishing that means we have to work together to pursue development wisely, carefully, and in a way that doesn’t counteract the efforts to be able to address the other significant challenges such as climate change. That’s the balance that we hope to strike and that we believe we need to strike over the course of the next years – not just two years. And the things that we do this year, the things we’ve done over the last two years, are not just two-year expeditions. They are part of the building block of a vision for the century, all the way out into the future. That’s the meaning of “sustainability.”

So as I said, our program is ambitious, and we’re well aware of that. But given the progress that the council has made in recent years, we are convinced that this is achievable, and we’re going to work very, very hard to make sure that that is the case. So I thank again our hosts for bringing us here. It’s my first time being this far north in Canada, and I look forward over the course of the next two years to exploring a few other places, too.

So with that, I’d be delighted to take a couple questions.

MR. RATHKE: So we have time for just a couple of questions. Bob Weber from Canadian Press is first.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, given that military activity in the Arctic is not likely to slow down, and given that it’s already come up at the ministerial level however informally, might it be time for the council to revisit its mandate to give it at least some way of considering security issues in its various deliberations?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, we didn’t talk about that today. It is a subject that a number of us have kicked around and talked about individually. The tricky thing is whether or not that would complicate what thus far has been an easy process – not easy but nevertheless a very functional process by which we’ve been able to address social, environmental, other kinds of structural issues. And I think to allow that to happen really could deter from the overall work of the council itself, which is why the council has regularly tried to steer clear from it.

And we have other fora in which to be able to pursue those issues, many other fora, whether it’s through the G20 or the G7 or maybe once again someday in our lifetime the G8 – who knows, depending on what happens – or whether it’s through NATO or whether it’s through UN Security Council. There are many different ways to approach those challenges without diminishing the capacity of the council to build the kind of consensus that it has built thus far. So I would suggest that for the moment I don’t see that on the agenda. I see addressing those issues on the agenda but not directly through the council itself at this point in time.

QUESTION: I’m sorry, can you clarify that last point you made about addressing those issues through the council?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, because – addressing the military issues?

QUESTION: That’s what I took you to mean, yes.

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, yeah, they have to be addressed at some point in time. There are legitimate concerns. I personally have had some of that conversation with my counterparts in Russia. On occasion we’ve had these conversations. It is inevitable that it’s going to be talked about in one of those places that I mentioned or another or in bilateral relationships. But I will tell you this: I talked to Sergey Lavrov just a couple of days ago about any number of broad issues on which we continue to cooperate, and he made it crystal clear to me that Russia wants the council to be successful, that they want this to be a cooperative entity that is geared towards peaceful purposes, and that it’s their intent to cooperate with us on the protection of the environment on the agenda that we have set forth. So again, I think it is better to approach those other issues through the alternative fora.

MR. RATHKE: Our next question comes from Cami McCormick from CBS.

QUESTION: Hi, Secretary. To follow up on your conversation with Foreign Minister Lavrov, did he give you any indication that Russia is willing to withdraw forces and these advanced weapons from in and around eastern Ukraine? And also the situation in Yemen – how concerned are you about the growing civilian casualties? Have you asked the Saudis to end their airstrikes? Have they given you any indication they will do that soon?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, with respect to – with respect to Foreign Minister Lavrov and Ukraine, we did discuss Ukraine. We spent some amount of time on it. There are conversations taking place now about how to proceed to implement Minsk more fully. There are differences of opinion which rose at the last Normandy meeting that took place about a week ago which are being worked through. And it’s our hope – what he did express was a hope that the political portion of the Minsk-Ukraine relationship is going to go forward.

And I challenged him, obviously, very directly with respect to convoys, the OSCE inspections, the presence of both military personnel and military equipment that has not yet been moved, and some of the areas where there are still hotspots. I think that hopefully through other channels in the next days a lot of those issues will continue to be focused on, as we have been. And my hope is that some progress can be made in getting the full implementation of Minsk. But it is clear at this point in time that it has not yet been lived up to sufficiently, and at this point in time the desire that Russia has expressed to begin to move Europe away from some of the sanctions I think remains elusive because Minsk itself has not been adequately implemented. So we have to continue to keep the pressure on.

QUESTION: On Yemen?

SECRETARY KERRY: On Yemen, we’ve had a great many conversations in the last days with the Saudis and with other friends in the region. And I think it is – I think the Saudis made an important announcement when they said they were shifting from their Decisive Storm operation, which was a full-scale air campaign, to their Renewed Hope transition, which is only using air power when they have a direct threat from the Houthi, when the Houthi are moving, as they are not supposed to be under the circumstances of this agreed-upon approach to the political settlement – to the political discussion. And unfortunately, the Houthi have not observed that. The Houthi were moving and the Houthi did take certain Yemeni forces under attack, so the Saudis responded.

So this has to be a two-way street. The Saudis publicly announced their willingness to move to the humanitarian and to the political phase, but not unilaterally suggesting that the Houthi could go do whatever they want and they wouldn’t respond. They said very clearly that they will respond if threatened or if attacked or if the Houthi continue to move. So we need the Houthi and we need those who can influence them to make sure that they’re prepared to try to move, as they have said they are, to the negotiating table. The United Nations has decided on an individual to serve as the facilitator of those talks. Both sides have indicated a willingness to agree on the location of those talks. Now the key is to get that up and running and get to talks as fast as possible because the political solution is absolutely essential.

QUESTION: Are you concerned about continued civilian casualties?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, of course, anybody is concerned. Everybody in the world is concerned about any continued civilian casualty. Any collateral impact of war is ugly, and all of us want that to change. We want that to change in Syria. We want that to change in the eastern part of Ukraine. Civilians are, unfortunately, the innocent bystander victims of these power moves by different entities, by terrorist organizations, by whatever. And it is absolutely vital that all of us make it a top priority to try to avoid that altogether or minimize it if that’s the best you can do. But in this case, as I say, the Houthis attack in certain situations where they make it almost inevitable. That’s part of their strategy. And one can’t just sit there and let them take over areas and assault everybody’s common sense about the best road ahead to have a political solution. So hopefully, in the next days, this can de-escalate even more and we can get to a place where the negotiations take hold. And it is absolutely vital for that to happen.

MR. RATHKE: Thank you very much.

SECRETARY KERRY: Thank you all. Appreciate it. Thank you.