Print Roundtable at Chief of Mission's Residence

John Kerry
Secretary of State
Havana, Cuba
August 14, 2015

MR KIRBY: As I said guys, no opening. Go ahead, sir. I’m sorry. Maybe you do.

SECRETARY KERRY: No, I have no opening at all. Ready to roll.

MR KIRBY: Okay, who’s going to be first. Paul.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, is there a Rouhani in the Cuban Government, by which I mean somebody who seems more open to American suggestions than the others?

SECRETARY KERRY: I don’t know. I know that President Castro and President Obama had a very positive, constructive engagement when they met in Panama and a very serious discussion. And I think that this wouldn’t be happening without both of their commitment to make it happen, and that goes for both of them. I mean, President Castro obviously embraced all the implications of this, and President Obama did too.

So I think it remains to be determined. I wouldn’t apply one person’s title to another. I mean, it remains for us to be convinced of what the definition is of Rouhani completely yet. I mean, he obviously engaged in this negotiation, but we’ve got to go beyond that. So I’m not sure I’d rely on – what I would say is that our hope is over the next months through this working group steering committee and through the engagement we have on the phases, on the three different categories of what we’re going to be talking about, that we will be able to make some progress and that will begin to define the future. And we’ll find out precisely what the limits of their rate of movement are and the – it’ll be defined by itself.

MR KIRBY: I think --

QUESTION: (Inaudible) movement?

SECRETARY KERRY: The limits of the rates of their – of movement.

MR KIRBY: Let me call on you guys, please. Brad, I think you had your hand up next.

QUESTION: I just wanted to ask you, after Iran just last month and this today – and while they are completely different, they are two major foreign policy achievements of this Administration – are you disappointed by the sharp reactions, especially from Republicans at home? You look at the foreign – the presidential candidates and there just seems to – I just wonder if you’re surprised by the tenor and even shocked that there’s just such a lack of foreign policy consensus on things that you would say are not partisan goals but national goals.

SECRETARY KERRY: I think we’re obviously living – I mean, look, I’m out of politics, and I’m not a commentator or a pundit on this process. But speaking as Secretary of State, clearly our country is stronger and we are more advantaged when we have bipartisanship in foreign policy. I was delighted to see Senator John Warner – former senator, former chairman of the Armed Services Committee – come out in favor of the agreement; delighted to see former National Security Advisor Brent Scowcroft similarly. And I think it’s very important for the nation to have bipartisanship in the conduct of foreign policy. That’s always, I have said, when we are at our strongest is when we can speak with one voice.

So we’re in a very difficult political place right now in America. And I’m not going to go into all the politics of it, but everybody here knows what my record is historically about money in American politics, and everybody here knows that I’ve spoken out forcefully about bipartisanship in the conduct of foreign policy, so take it from there.

MR KIRBY: Karen.

QUESTION: Are you – as you speak about human rights in Cuba, I’m sure you’re aware of the statistics about increased numbers of detentions and people getting roughed up. I know you said you spoke with the foreign minister about that, but how concerned are you? And at what point do you say, “Wait a minute. We have this agreement. Things are supposed to be getting better here”?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, you heard me – we condemned it from the podium on Monday. Admiral Kirby went out publicly and condemned the several hours of detention of additional people. I think what – I’m not making any – I mean, there’s no excuse for detentions, period, but they’re not the old 20-year sentences; they’re a few hours of detention. And who knows where it goes in the future? I don’t know the answer to that.

What I do know is that we’re at the beginning of this – literally at the very beginning of it. And I also said today very clearly and I believe it deeply: The people of Cuba are going to decide the future of Cuba. It’s not going to come out of America’s articulation of our policy, per se. After 54 years, people ought to understand that. So the fact that there are some people out there – maybe it’s a sign that they’re taking a cue from this and that they are ready to, in fact, go out and press their cause.

QUESTION: You mean the dissidents?

SECRETARY KERRY: Yeah. So I’m not ready to interpret it one way or the other except to say to you that we are going to continue, and I made it clear in my public comments today at the embassy. I don’t think I could have been more clear about our goals and our designs and our commitment. So that’s why I said today at the press conference there will be rough spots, there will be hiccups. But if we are both showing good faith in an effort to try to move down this road and get to normalization, certain things are going to be required, and one of them will be progress on that front. And I’ve told them I don’t see how you get the embargo lifted if you’re not making progress on these things. So we’ll see where we are, folks. You can lead a horse to water; you can’t make him drink.

MR KIRBY: Indira.

QUESTION: Thank you. Secretary Kerry, you were clearly today trying to emphasize the positive at – both at the ceremony at the embassy and at the press conference with the foreign minister. It felt like you were trying to look forward, put the Cold War and everything behind you, when you recounted that history. But I was struck that the foreign minister in his presentation – the Spanish part of it – went on and on with this long litany of complaints that Cuba has and accused the U.S. of police brutality in Guantanamo and inequality to women and race and blah blah blah. You looked a bit uncomfortable while he was giving that long list.

SECRETARY KERRY: No, I wasn’t uncomfortable in the least.


SECRETARY KERRY: Actually, I found it quite interesting and affirming of the fact that I thought it was somewhat defensive and purposefully preemptive. And I find that encouraging. It means they’re listening.

QUESTION: And why didn’t you respond to – why didn’t you – like, why didn’t you say anything in your public remarks to defend the U.S. against the things that he said about the U.S.?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, because I was answering your questions, not debating him. But I’m happy to say something about it if you want. It doesn’t --


SECRETARY KERRY: I said something earlier. Where was it? I said it in one of the TV interviews I just did, that there’s obviously been a series of events over the years in Cuba that we have never seen in any way whatsoever in the United States of America. And there’s a huge distinction between some of the ways in which people have been treated through the years in terms of human rights versus a wandering – a police officer who independently and not as a matter of government policy and through their own inadequacy or misinterpretation of events makes gigantic mistakes. That’s quite different from government repression or oppression or attacks on people. So there’s been a historical difference there that has been very defined, and we’ve never shied away from defining it, nor will we now.

MR KIRBY: Michael.

QUESTION: Sir, when you were speaking at the embassy, you made the point that lifting the embargo was a two-way street and that there were some things the Cuban Government needed to do, like allow their citizens to start businesses or access information – things that are not easy for them to do and which they haven’t done.

But then later at your press conference when you were discussing this committee that you’re going to establish – a steering committee with the Cubans – and you were discussing what they would do, you were talking – I think you called it less provocative, but I would say a less central set of issues like civil aviation cooperation or health care cooperation or law enforcement. And it sort of looked like your strategy is to sort of start small and build confidence rather than tackle these --

SECRETARY KERRY: No, there are three areas, Michael. We’re not starting small at all. We’re going to start with all three areas. And I said – I think I --

QUESTION: The areas are what?

SECRETARY KERRY: I think I said at the press conference – I think I said; maybe I’m conflating it into a different interview. But I believe I said that some of these will be easier and some will be difficult. In fact, I’m convinced I said it. The easy package begins with the maritime security, the climate change, some of the environmental cooperation. There’s sort of a package of things there that I’m confident – and I said this at the press conference – we’re going to make progress on those things.

Then there’s a second package, a little more complicated, which is the civil aviation and the connectivity issues – telecommunications, et cetera. Then there’s the third package, which I said was human trafficking, human rights, law enforcement regarding fugitives, claims – those are toughies and those are very much on the agenda, and we talked about them today. So there will be no – there’s no shying from the direct conversation. And I think probably the foreign minister was making his argument recognizing that we’ve made ours quite publicly and will continue to regarding human rights.

By the way, not alone – not a point of view exclusive to Cuba. I hear it from a number of other countries in the world when we talk to them about human rights. You get the same kind of pushback: “Well, you guys have Ferguson, and you guys have Brown who was killed.” And I’ve heard it very directly. So it’s not on a par, it’s not government – I don’t think it’s the government in a – obviously not the government, not an administration, and not a whatchamacallit – a pervasive government policy that we effect. It’s just not. Everybody here at this table knows that. That’s a huge distinction. But we will be talking about that, I assure you, very deeply.

Now, this group is --

QUESTION: “That” being human rights?


QUESTION: That – you were talking about that --

SECRETARY KERRY: Yeah. Oh, absolutely; every aspect of human rights. And we already talked about it considerably today, and my judgment is we’re going to have some tough conversations on it.

But we begin that process – I think our dates are already set. I think September 10th and 11th a team will come here and begin that dialogue, and then a team will come back to the United States and we’re off and running on this conversation.

QUESTION: On all three areas?

SECRETARY KERRY: All three areas.

QUESTION: At the same time?

QUESTION: That’s – the steering committee process begins --

SECRETARY KERRY: Yes, the steering committee process.

QUESTION: Who’s leading that?

QUESTION: Who’s on the team on the U.S. side?

SECRETARY KERRY: I beg your pardon?

QUESTION: Who’s part of the U.S. team?

SECRETARY KERRY: Probably be very similar to the people who were involved before, but we have not given them the list yet. And we told them today we’ll give them the list very shortly.

MR KIRBY: Lucia, you’ve been – had your hand up.

QUESTION: Thank you. I wanted to first clarify if this committee means that all the dialogues – the separate dialogues that you’ve been having on human rights and all this are now merging into this committee. And also, I think on September, President Obama has to make a determination on whether to renew Cuba’s designation under the Trading with Enemies Act. I was wondering if there’s any plans to remove Cuba from that.

SECRETARY KERRY: I don’t know that, honestly. Let me check. Let me give you an answer that’s – I’m not – I don’t know directly what that is (inaudible), so let me find out.

QUESTION: Okay. And --

SECRETARY KERRY: Maybe we can have John find out and follow up.

MR KIRBY: Yes, sir. Yes, sir.

QUESTION: And the dialogues are going to end? The dialogues on human rights, on telecommunications that you’ve been having now, like periodic dialogues and meetings on the island and back – they are going to end?

SECRETARY KERRY: No. I just said we’re going to be doing this through the steering committee. We’re going to continue this discussion --

QUESTION: Okay. (Inaudible.)

SECRETARY KERRY: Right. And the 10th and 11th – we wanted to create a very specific entity out of this in which the foreign minister and I are directly involved going forward. And this will be through the State Department in our team that we put together, and it’s something that he and I have agreed we will continue to discuss personally and be involved in.

MR KIRBY: Yes, go ahead, Yoani. Go ahead. Yes. Can you --


MR KIRBY: Yeah, make sure they can get your voice. Okay.

QUESTION: May I speak in Spanish, please?

MR KIRBY: Pardon?

QUESTION: In Spanish.

MR KIRBY: Yes, we can translate. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you so much.

MR KIRBY: Yeah, go ahead.

QUESTION: (Via interpreter) It’s unfortunate that I came with such little time, because it would’ve been great to show you where Cubans are connecting to Wi-Fi internet. Yeah.

SECRETARY KERRY: Wi-Fi hotspots, yeah.

QUESTION: (Via interpreter) There are only 35 points all over the country, but it’s a social phenomenon.

So the government says that we have restrictions on the internet because – due to the Government of the United States. How do you respond to that claim?

SECRETARY KERRY: We want every person in Cuba to be able to be connected. We have offered to and we will help in every way possible to help provide that connectivity. Our companies are very anxious to become involved in Cuba in helping to create that connectivity, and we’ve already – it is part of the agreement that there has to be an increase in this connectivity. So this will be one of the subjects, I said. It’s the second basket, so to speak, is connectivity, telecommunications. And we will be having very direct conversations about that in the next days.

MR KIRBY: Folks, we have like four minutes left, so I want to take just two more and they have to be quick. Mimi.

QUESTION: Okay. Some of the dissidents said they hoped to speak with you at the reception today. I know several were invited. Did you actually have any conversations with them?

SECRETARY KERRY: I haven’t met anybody yet. That’s why we’re in a rush --

QUESTION: Oh, you haven’t been out there?

SECRETARY KERRY: -- because I want to get out there and be able to meet --

QUESTION: And also I want to hand this to you from an old friend.

SECRETARY KERRY: Thank you. Okay.

QUESTION: Any contacts with Castros today, either Fidel or – no phone conversation or --

SECRETARY KERRY: No, no. We did not plan nor did we seek – this was always going to be at the foreign minister level today. I did not ask for a meeting with the – President Castro. I think if I come back in the winter, which I probably will somewhere in the next months, depending on the conversation and how we’re doing, I would like to do that. And I will take advantage of that when I have more time. But today we just made a decision we’re coming in and we’ve got to get home, and that’s the way it is – one-day deal. Next time I come I’m going to try to stay for a couple of days.

MR KIRBY: Last question, Barbara.

QUESTION: Do you have any clear benchmarks about how you’re going to measure the progress and if there’s a point where you say – you really come at them in a hard way and say, “You agreed to this and you’re not doing it,” or is it just something that you have in your mind and see how it goes? Or is there clear standards?

SECRETARY KERRY: No. I mean, look – I mean, we’re not going to sit here and have – talk about normalization without progress in all of these areas. And particularly, there’s got to be some progress in the context of human rights, because you can’t normalize without that. There’s no way Congress is going to vote to lift the embargo if they’re not moving with respect to issues of conscience. And we’ve been very clear about that. I mean, I even emphasized that today.

So we’re prepared to do certain things, but we’re not going to do things to the exclusion – that’s why I said it’s a two-way street. It’s a two-way street, and I repeated that with them in my – in my conversation when we met in small group and in the larger group with the foreign minister. It’s a two-way street, and we’ll know it pretty instantly, just as you will. I mean, we’re all going to measure it probably pretty simultaneously, I suspect.

MR KIRBY: Thank you, everybody. Appreciate it. Thank you so much.

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