Interview With Jose Diaz-Balart of Telemundo
Secretary of State
QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, thanks.
SECRETARY KERRY: A pleasure.
QUESTION: Thank you.
SECRETARY KERRY: Great to be here.
QUESTION: Human rights organizations report an increase in the number of arrests and beatings inside Cuba of activists since the December announcement. What’s the message of the United States to the Cuban people regarding our embassy opening?
SECRETARY KERRY: The message is that, number one, that we believe that our engaging in direct diplomatic relations with the Cuban Government, being there, being able to interact with the people of Cuba, will in fact help the people of Cuba. It will shed light on what is happening. It will help us to be able to talk internationally authoritatively about the situation. And we believe the people of Cuba benefit by this step, number one.
Number two, it helps us to be able to engage in direct diplomatic relations with any government, but particularly with the Government of Cuba, because we have many things we need to work on together, ranging from law enforcement, maritime security, education, health, telecommunications. There are many things. And this enables us to do so directly. It strengthens our diplomatic presence and we believe the people of Cuba are strengthened by that presence.
QUESTION: The – Cuba was removed from the state sponsor of terrorism list this year. It was also removed from the list of human trafficking, from the bottom to the top, even apparently according to reports above the – over the objections of the experts at State who wanted to keep it at that third level. There are reports that dissidents will not be invited to the Cuban embassy ceremony on Friday. Is there anything the United States is not willing to do to have relations with the Cuban Government?
SECRETARY KERRY: There are thousands of things we’re not willing to do, and none of those things that you just mentioned are in fact a reflection of our decision to open diplomatic relations with the Cuban Government. Let me go through them. The trafficking in persons is a judgment that was made based on the merits of what Cuba has done and is engaged in with respect to counter-trafficking efforts. Every judgment is based on the record. I make the final decision. I had no discussion outside of this building, with the White House or with any other entity, about whether or not this should happen and it is --
SECRETARY KERRY: Zero. It was done on the basis of our judgment about trafficking and the progress we can make in that process.
With respect to the question of dissidents, I’m going to meet with dissidents. I will have an opportunity in the course of the visit --
QUESTION: Closed-door probably?
SECRETARY KERRY: -- to meet – I think we invited to our mission. They’re going to come to the mission. I’ll have a chance to sit down with them at the mission. There will be a broad cross-section of Cuban society that will be invited to that event at the mission. What they’re not invited to, quite notably, is the raising of the flag at the embassy itself because that is a government-to-government moment with very limited space, by the way, which is why we are having the reception later in the day at which we can have a cross-section of civil society, including some dissidents.
Furthermore, I will take an open, free walk in Old Havana at some point in the day. I look forward to meeting whoever I meet, and listen to them, and having whatever views come at me.
So the United States, I can assure you in this effort, after 54 years of seeing zero progress, one of the things we negotiated is the ability of our diplomats to be able to meet with people in Cuba and not to be restrained. And I believe the people of Cuba benefit by the virtue of that presence and that ability.
QUESTION: The fact that dissidents feel as though they’re not being invited – it’s a shift in American policy as far as dealing with dissidents --
SECRETARY KERRY: Not in the least.
QUESTION: -- in Cuba. It’s not a shift in policy?
SECRETARY KERRY: No. And I just said to you we will be – I will be meeting them. I mean, that is pretty significant and important. But there are different events; there are different moments in the course of the day, and nobody is invited to every one of them. So that’s the way it works.
QUESTION: Let’s talk a little bit about Iran, if you don’t mind, Secretary. Senator Schumer says if the U.S. quits the Iran deal, just the unilateral U.S. sanctions, there is enough pressure there that could maybe make a new – a different deal possible. What do you say to those people who think it just isn’t good enough for us to support?
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, it’s absolutely – I mean, look, I have great respect for Chuck Schumer. He’s a good friend. I served with him and he’s a terrific political leader who has more to do for this country, but I disagree with him very, very much on that judgment just on the merits of it. You can’t negotiate with five other major countries – Russia, China, Germany, France, Britain – and they all negotiate at the table with you for years, the last few years; you come to an agreement, you stand up and announce the agreement, and then you turn around and go home and your Congress says no to the agreement and you go back and say, “We’re going to sanction you if you don’t do what we tell you in order to uphold this agreement,” or to get a better agreement.
Moreover, there’s a presumption there that Iran will come back and renegotiate, but that’s not going to happen. There’s nobody who believes that will happen.
QUESTION: But why would it happen that --
SECRETARY KERRY: Because the ayatollah will believe that he can’t negotiate with the Administration because they can’t deliver, and he will believe that they already negotiated in good faith and we couldn’t show good faith in the delivery of the deal, which is precisely what he feared in the first place about this agreement, whether or not he was willing to negotiate because he didn’t trust us. That would be the ultimate act of proving we can’t be trusted. We would lose leverage not just on this, we’d lose leverage across the board in the world. The United States, frankly, would really take a real hit if that were to happen here.
Moreover, none of the people then answer what do you do when Iran says, “Well, you didn’t do the deal. Now we’re going to go ahead and enrich and pursue our program,” but we don’t have inspectors there, we don’t have any restraints. They can go back immediately to the very danger that prompted us to negotiate in the first place. Then what do people do? They don’t answer that. Nobody has an answer to that.
And our – that’s why the President said that’s what leads to conflict. That is where you wind up with the specter of war potentially. And it’s very real, because if they’re enriching and if they are already – made enough fissile material for 10 to 12 bombs – that’s what they have now, they know how to do it – you’re going to hear from all kinds of people saying, “Oh, you’ve got to stop them now, we’ve got to stop them now.” And it won’t be through negotiation because they’re not going to do that.
So it makes the world far more dangerous, it’s far more threatening to Israel and the region, and I do not think that that is in fact do-able by any sense of the imagination.
QUESTION: Secretary, putting politics and U.S. politics aside, do you think that Donald Trump’s repeated comments that the Mexican Government is sending undesirables to the United States, that the Mexican Government is far smarter, better negotiators than the American Government is? Do you think that kind of talk could have an effect on U.S. and Mexico relations?
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, let me say this. One of the great virtues of being Secretary of State and leaving the United States Senate is that I am not involved in electoral politics and I don’t comment on presidential races. We have a very strong relationship with Mexico. I work very effectively and frequently with my counterpart. We will continue to cooperate and work very closely together.
SECRETARY KERRY: And I think that --
QUESTION: Putting U.S. politics aside, do you think that kind of language could affect American-Mexican relations?
SECRETARY KERRY: Again, I’m not going to comment indirectly. Nice try.
QUESTION: Come on. Come on. (Laughter.) I mean, do those kind of comments help or hurt when you talk to your counterparts in Mexico?
SECRETARY KERRY: Ask the Mexicans what they think about all that, and I think they’ll tell you. My judgment is that what we need to do is have immigration reform in this country. We need it very, very badly. It’s been long overdue. That would be a very important decision by the United States and it would help to fix a lot of things.
QUESTION: Secretary Kerry, thank you very much for your time.
SECRETARY KERRY: Thank you. Appreciate it. Thank you.