Interview With Andrea Mitchell of NBC

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

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, here in Havana you’re going to meet with dissidents, but they were not invited to the embassy ceremonies. It’s been noted – The Washington Post said it was a “lame” excuse to say that it wasn’t a large enough area. Why not have them come there and participate in the flag-raising?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, they’re going to participate. I mean, I just don’t – I don’t buy the notion that there’s a distinction. That was a government-to-government event fundamentally – leave out the space issue – fundamentally government-to-government event, the first raising of the flag.

But we’re meeting with them. I’m here for whatever number of hours, and during that time we have invited a large group to come and to partake and meet. And plus, I’m meeting with a whole cross-section of civil society from Cuba. So I just don’t accept that and I don’t draw a distinction between one event or another. I’m here; I’m here today; I’m meeting with them. We’ll have ample opportunity to talk, and it is known to the government that I am meeting with them.

QUESTION: And at the same time, the foreign minister, Bruno Rodriguez, really slammed the U.S. on human rights, saying that Cuba doesn’t have racial discrimination, Cuba doesn’t torture people as we do in Guantanamo – his words.

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, I think he was trying to draw his distinctions, and I would draw them right back. The record here through years has a sad history of a lot of things that never happened in the United States of America. And so those will be the differences that I talked about. We have differences and we will have to talk about those differences, and we will. We did today and we will continue to. I do believe, though, that it is possible that over the next months we can make some progress on a number of different fronts, and that is one of them.

QUESTION: With the trade embargo, which requires Congress to lift it, when can you imagine Americans coming as tourists traveling without restrictions?

SECRETARY KERRY: I think we need to make progress on the things that we’ve just talked about. We need to make progress in the easier things, which are the maritime security, some of the law enforcement pieces, environment cooperation, health. I mean, there’s a number of things where we can quickly move, then there are some more difficult ones like the telecommunications connectivity and civil aviation. And then, of course, there are a group like the trafficking in persons, fugitives, migration, and of course, basic human rights issues of freedom of speech, assembly, the elections. Those are tougher and we’re going to engage on those.

We do the same with China. We haven’t questioned whether we should have diplomatic relations. We do the same with Russia. We have a Magnitsky law. They hate it. We apply standards and judgments to it. But we still deal with Russia – Russia, who’s very helpful on the Iran agreement. Russia’s been helpful in Syria in chemical weapons.

So it’s not a straight line that you can just divide the benefits and the negatives. It’s tricky. We will improve this. We’ve just started. This is the beginning. It’s an historic day. We went nowhere for 54 years. I believe in the next year people will see much more change. We’re already seeing it with 35 percent travel up to Cuba by Americans. Let’s see what happens over the course of the next months.

QUESTION: What was the emotional side of this for you to be presiding over this with those three Marines and the flag finally being raised?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, the Marines are exceptional, and those guys were obviously very special. And in addition, they were moved and it was very touching to see them come back and have this moment where they’re keeping this promise. As I said at the end, promise made, promise kept. That’s a good deal in life, if you ever get to do that, and to, in their circumstance, have presided over such an emotional downer moment, and then to be able to come back here and preside over the reopening and the possibilities is pretty darn exciting.

Obviously, historically for me, given my formative years as an 18-year-old and watching what was happening in 1958, ’9, ’60, ’61, it’s a privilege to be able to be here as Secretary and to preside over something as exciting as the raising of the American flag back at our embassy. We’re back in the business of full-fledged diplomacy here. I believe in diplomacy, and I think this is exciting.

QUESTION: And I have to ask you about Iraq, about ISIS, or ISIL, if you will. Do you – are you not persuaded that they used chemical weapons, perhaps mustard gas, against the Kurds? And have they crossed a redline?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, I’m completely – well, they’ve crossed many redlines already, and they’re one of the most ruthless and dangerous terror groups that any of us have ever imagined. So mustard gas, cutting off heads, burning people alive – it’s hard to draw those lines. But – I mean the distinctions. Not the lines, but the distinction.

QUESTION: But do we have to take some action?

SECRETARY KERRY: But on the mustard gas issue, Andrea, we do not have confirmation yet, but we’re completely open to the possibility and we’re examining it. And we’ve joined with the Russians and others at the United Nations in a resolution to try to press a mechanism to be able to get at this so that we don’t just find out that, yes, it was used, but we can find out who did it and point to culpability. And that’s what we’re trying to do.

QUESTION: And there’s talk now that Al Gore is considering running, that Hillary Clinton is not as strong a Democratic frontrunner as people had thought. If Al Gore is considering it, if Joe Biden is considering it, is John Kerry considering getting into the political race?

SECRETARY KERRY: No, no, not at all. I’m not. And one of the virtues of this job is it allows you not to be engaged in day-to-day politics and prognosticating. And I have no idea what anybody’s going to do. I’ve been intensely focused on the diplomacy that we’re engaged in, that we have a strong and significant agenda for the next 16 months, and I’m going to be at it.

QUESTION: Are you concerned about the email controversy and the possibility of classified emails --

SECRETARY KERRY: Andrea, I’m not going to comment. All of those things are under the appropriate process of being either investigated or the emails are being declassified or classified and appropriately disseminated. And we’ll do our job according to the law and as rapidly as possible, and I may have something to lay out to you in the next days about how we’re going to make sure that happens. But we’re not engaged in making any editorial comments or judgments about it whatsoever.

QUESTION: Do you have a new way, a new proposal to try to --


QUESTION: -- speed it up?

SECRETARY KERRY: We’ll let you know when and if there is something. I said we “may” have something to lay out to you. We’ll see what happens.

QUESTION: But no more politics for John Kerry?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, I’m not saying forever, never. I feel young enough to be engaged in America’s political process and debates over time, but not now. Right now I love the job I have. I think I have one of the best jobs, if not the best job, in government, and we have a big agenda for the next 16 months – the Paris negotiations in December. We’re working on a number of other initiatives – Syria among other things – and we’ve got work to get finished.

QUESTION: And is it true that that’s Teddy Kennedy’s cane you were using today?

SECRETARY KERRY: Yeah, very much so. It was Joseph – Ambassador Joseph P. Kennedy’s cane, and then President Kennedy used it for a period of time when he had a bad back, and Ted Kennedy used it when he had his broken back. And Teddy loaned it to me when I was in the Senate when I had a knee operation, and then he loaned it to me again when I had a hip. And Vicki knew about my injury and she was good enough to loan it to me one more time.

QUESTION: We’re glad to see you walking again. Thank you very much.

SECRETARY KERRY: It’s great. Thank you, thank you.