Interview With Margaret Brennan of CBS

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

QUESTION: Thank you, sir, for making time. Congress has not heeded the President’s call to lift the embargo. Doesn’t that tie your hands?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well – I mean, it changes what the leverage is, obviously, and it changes the steps that could be taken right now. But not altogether, because we need to go through a period where we’re building some trust and confidence through the things that we are able to do and that need to be done – for instance, cooperation on maritime security; cooperation on law enforcement; perhaps even some steps on civil aviation and connectivity and telecommunications.

So if we can take those steps and it is combined with some progress on things like the human rights and human trafficking and the issues – other issues, it could wind up being the precursor to Congress and the leverage that Congress needs to realize this may be worth doing.

QUESTION: That takes time. It sounds like that --

SECRETARY KERRY: It may take a little bit of time, Margaret.

QUESTION: -- may not be lifted during this Administration.

SECRETARY KERRY: Oh, I can’t bet on anything. I think 16 months is a lot of time. Let’s see where we are six months from now. And I think we have to sort of measure as we go along. But it’s possible. It could take longer, for sure.

QUESTION: Well, you’re meeting with some dissidents later today who want real democracy. They want the Castros gone. They want change. How can you promise them that any of the changes here will do any of those bigger things?

SECRETARY KERRY: I can’t promise them. What I can say to them is that we are now engaged in diplomacy and able to help to shed light on what is happening in Cuba, help to understand, ourselves, better what is happening in Cuba. We’re here. Diplomatically it has been very, very difficult. We now have the ability to engage, to move around. Our diplomats will be able to talk with people. That will, I think, in itself help to create a transparency and accountability that has been lacking. And I also think that in the end, as I said today at the flag-raising, the Cuban people will decide the future of Cuba, not America and not foreign policy or another that we adopt. We’ve seen that over the last 54 years.

So we believe – President Obama believes, I share the belief – that it’s really important on a people-to-people basis to be here. It’s really important on a government-to-government basis to be here. But we can’t look to it to be the automatic, all-changing moment. It’s going to take time and these things will have to work through through the Cuban people themselves.

QUESTION: But some would look at this and say it’s just naive to try to negotiate with a rogue regime over values. How do you respond to that?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, we negotiate – I respond to that by saying that I think that is, in fact, denying the truth of what has happened by not negotiating over 54 years, and the fact that not being here allowed people to be perhaps more repressed, and so you’ve got another side to that coin. But it also ignores the history of our engagement in the world. Ronald Reagan negotiated with the “Evil Empire,” as he called it, with Gorbachev, and he came up with something that made the world safer – reducing nuclear weapons. Richard Nixon went to meet with the leader of then-“Red China,” Mao Tse-tung. It was heresy to many people in his party, but he did it and it opened up China. And we’re still not comfortable with China as doing many things we’d like to see them do with respect to their own citizens, but it has enabled us to engage with them and to make progress.

So you have to look at all these countries – Vietnam, other places – where there’s a history of conflict, a history of confrontation, but nevertheless we have engaged with them. Fifty-four years of an absence of any motion at all – in fact, of almost a manifestation of the isolation of America – is what we’ve seen in the relationship with Cuba. President Obama said when you know it’s not working, don’t keep doing the same thing; let’s go on to a new place. And every country in the hemisphere, Margaret, supports the fact that we are doing what we’re doing, opening up with Cuba and engaging with Cuba. Countries all over Europe and other parts of the world think this was long overdue, and I think a few months into it, it is way premature to make a decision about whether or not one change or another has taken hold here yet.

QUESTION: Well, anger over Cuba has influenced America’s own politics, and there is still tension with Cuba’s government. That’s apparent, particularly over laws like “wet foot, dry foot,” laws that give preferential treatment to Cuban exiles over any other immigrant group. Do you think that law should stay?

SECRETARY KERRY: For the moment, yes, and we’re going to leave that law the way it is right now. We believe that --

QUESTION: Even though it’s an irritant?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, I understand that, but not every irritant is subject to being changed automatically or immediately. We have to work through these things. For the moment, it will. And I think that the history is – has been long and painful for a lot of people. There’s been a lot of sorrow associated with tragedy around various events that have taken place in the course of this 54-year history. And therefore, there’s – it’s – change is not just going to come, number one, overnight, and it’s not going to come easily to everybody in terms of their willingness to accept this. We know that.

But what we believe is that on a people-to-people basis and on a government-to-government basis, this is in the interest of America and American citizens, and it’s in the interest of the Cuban people. And we believe that we will be better as a consequence.

QUESTION: I wanted to ask you quickly about Iran. Jason Rezaian, the American journalist --


QUESTION: -- his trial is now in its final stages. Have you gotten any signal that Iran might consider releasing him?

SECRETARY KERRY: We are engaged in discussions. We’ve been very clear to everybody that those discussions are ongoing. We do not have any indications at this point as to the outcome that we’re seeking, but I hope that they will be able to come home – all of them. And we’re going to continue to work for that goal.

QUESTION: Do you think Jason’s caught in part of an internal power struggle within Iran?

SECRETARY KERRY: I don’t want to comment on what – we’ve been very clear that we think he’s been wrongfully arrested and wrongfully charged, and we do not agree with this process, but we need to work hard to try to get him home and that’s our goal.

QUESTION: Sir, I’m told we are out of time.


QUESTION: Thank you.

SECRETARY KERRY: Appreciate it.