Interview With Jim Acosta of CNN
Secretary of State
QUESTION: Secretary of State John Kerry, thank you for doing this. This is a long way to come to talk about climate change. What is the message for this conference?
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, we’re not here just to talk about climate change. We’re also here to help people understand the degree to which the United States is an Arctic country. Alaska particularly, obviously, is key to that. It’s the largest state in our nation and obviously one of the most beautiful, and a place that is special because of its wilderness and because of the Arctic.
And so the synergy between life in Alaska and life in the Arctic is a critical thing for people to understand in the context of climate change, because it’s threatened. It’s that simple. Life in Alaska has changed because of climate change. They’ve had 5 million acres of fires taking place in the course of this summer. That’s the size of the state of Massachusetts – an enormous change in life here. The permafrost is melting now. That is affecting buildings. It’s affecting the emissions of methane, which is much more damaging than normal greenhouse gas emissions, CO2 and so forth.
So fisheries are threatened. Life as it has been lived in Alaska has been threatened and is changing. And so all of this needs to be taken into account as we think about our policies not just to Alaska but to the rest of the country, and I think the climate change – it is warming twice as fast in Alaska as anywhere else. So this is the place where we think we underscore to people the urgency of responding to the challenge of climate.
QUESTION: And is it your view that it’s too late, that we’ve gotten to this point of no return?
SECRETARY KERRY: No, I think – it’s my view that we are going to have a level of mitigation now that is absolutely going to take place no matter what. But we still have time to pull back from the total precipice of absolute catastrophe that threatens life itself on the planet, providing we do the things that the President and others are talking about. We have a major negotiation taking place in Paris in December. Our – we’ve been doing a lot of work leading up to it. President Obama announced a major agreement with China, much to everybody’s surprise that China joined in in responding that we would work together to deal with this challenge of climate and go to Paris and try to leverage a positive outcome.
So much of what we are doing is targeted towards that. But I think that if we take the steps that we know we can take, that are waiting for us, that also have enormous economic benefit – by taking them, we can do what we need to do. But we’ve got to get to it now.
QUESTION: But you’re having to do almost everything administratively, diplomatically. You’re getting no cooperation from Republicans in Congress. Donald Trump has said global warming is BS. Ted Cruz has said the data and the facts just don’t support it. How do you take on an issue when the other side doesn’t agree it’s even happening?
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, that’s one of the reasons that we’re in Alaska, because it’s pretty hard – ask any Alaskan. I think people in Alaska would tell Donald Trump and tell Ted Cruz it’s happening. And all they have to come – do is come here and open their minds and their eyes and their ears, listen, look, and they will see the impacts of what is happening.
And science is irrefutable. I mean, science is a matter of facts, a matter of research, a matter of a process. And if you measure that process and that research correctly, which people do in peer-reviewed analyses of the studies that are made, they in a sense put it to the test. They test whether or not it was done properly and matches the standards that are appropriate. And in thousands of analyses – thousands, literally; more than 6,000 – there are peer-reviewed studies that document the science of climate change happening. There isn’t one, not one genuinely peer-reviewed study that shows that humankind is not contributing to what is happening. So I think – I’ll stick with the scientists and hopefully the country will listen to them more and more as the days go forward.
QUESTION: And what are the foreign policy implications? Because you’ve said that this conference is about the Arctic being a region. The Center for Strategic and International Studies has put out a report on Russia’s activities in the Arctic and that they’re boosting their military presence in this part of the world. They’re talking about something along the lines of an ice curtain coming down over the Arctic. What do you make of that? Does that concern you at all?
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, I take it – it’s a warning, it’s an appropriate warning, but I think that the verdict --
QUESTION: Something the public should take seriously?
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, I think the verdict – you have to take very thing seriously nowadays, but I think the verdict is not in yet on what Russia is doing or intends to do. I am the chair now of the Arctic Council. Russia is a member of the Arctic Council. And I can tell you that every conversation we’ve had with Russia in the context of the Arctic Council, Russia is embracing fully the same goals, the same vision for the Arctic. They have not expressed that it’s good for anybody to be militarizing the Arctic. And while yes, there has been some increased presence, there’s also been exercises by other countries in terms of military. And I think it remains to be seen where that is going. For the moment, there is a consensus within the Arctic Council that it should be demilitarized, that we need to have a shared responsibility, that fisheries need to be protected, that transportation needs to be managed, and that it needs to be approached in a responsible way. And so I think the – vigilance is required, but it’s too early to make a conclusion as to what their full intent is.
QUESTION: And what about this complaint from environmentalists that there’s some climate hypocrisy going on in this Administration when the Administration decides yes, Shell can go ahead and conduct gas and oil drilling in the Arctic at the same time the President and you are saying we need to do something about climate change?
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, we do.
QUESTION: Isn’t – is there some climate hypocrisy going on?
SECRETARY KERRY: No, I don’t believe that at all, Jim. I think that the President – first of all, these leases were issued before President Obama became President. These issues – these leases exist. And like it or not, there is going to be a certain amount of a certain kind of drilling that takes place well into the future. Now, what kind of drilling, what kind of oil, how it is used, what it is used for, what the restraints are on it, what emissions controls and requirements there are, are all critical to what the impact is on climate change. And --
QUESTION: Is this “drill, baby, drill”?
SECRETARY KERRY: No, I think what it represents --
QUESTION: The Administration’s not embracing that “drill, baby, drill” posture?
SECRETARY KERRY: No, I don’t think – I think the President said very clearly that this will be done under extremely strict supervision and restraints. Shell has been required to live up to higher standards than previously with respect to this kind of drilling. Lessons were learned with respect to the drilling incident that took place with BP in the Gulf, and there’s now a level of redundancy, a level of technology advance, and other requirements that the President is betting on in order to have an appropriate source of continued production within the limits. But the President, obviously, through his National Climate Action Plan – you’ll hear him over the course of the next days here in Alaska pointing to the urgent need to be moving faster towards alternative and renewable sources of energy. So it is by no means a sort of turnaround with respect to the President’s goals.
QUESTION: Is it --
SECRETARY KERRY: But it does represent a reality about some of the need that we’re going to have to meet even as we go through this process of transition.
QUESTION: Is Keystone going to be punted until the next administration?
SECRETARY KERRY: I am engaged in the process now, as I think you know the process is ongoing, but I --
QUESTION: It’s been going on for a long time.
SECRETARY KERRY: Yes, it has been. But I have – since I am responsible for the next step, I can tell you blanketly that I have no intention of punting this to anybody. I will fulfill my responsibility.
QUESTION: Have you made a decision?
SECRETARY KERRY: The process is ongoing. We’re going to do what’s appropriate with respect to the process, but – and I will see to it that I do that.
QUESTION: I know I’m running out of time, but I want to ask you two quick things. On the Iran deal, there was a lot of talk in Congress before the August recess about the situation in Parchin and whether the Iranians will have a situation where they’re essentially allowed to self-inspect or take a lot of the samples themselves and open that up to inspections, essentially a situation where they’re a part of the inspection process. I suppose you reject the notion that this is self-inspection that’s going to be taking place at Parchin, but how do you refute the notion that this is a little bit like Tom Brady inspecting his own footballs?
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, it’s nothing – I mean, look, you’re getting at a sore point there with me.
QUESTION: I --
SECRETARY KERRY: There’s a lot of us in New England are not very happy with that process.
QUESTION: I worked hard on that metaphor.
SECRETARY KERRY: I know, I’m sure you did. But let me make this crystal clear. First of all, this is a classified area where we’re not able to discuss fully what the agreement is between the IAEA and Iran because it is a confidential agreement. What I can tell you is that we are fully briefed on that agreement, and our Department of Energy has red-teamed the process and is fully confident in the capacity of that process to properly find the answers to the questions that are outstanding. And if it weren’t, we wouldn’t agree to or be satisfied with it. But on the basis of that and on the basis of the assurance by the IAEA itself that they are confident they will have the ability to be able to get the analysis they need and get the answers to the questions that are outstanding, and on the basis of our own analysis of that, we are satisfied that we will be able to have a process which can get us the answers and maintain its integrity in the process, no matter --
QUESTION: You trust the Iranians in that part of --
SECRETARY KERRY: There’s nothing in here that is reliant on trust. There isn’t one element of this agreement that relies on trust. It is all a matter of appropriate process, appropriate verification, access, of our ability to be able to verify what’s happening. And we will have 24/7 inspection capacity with respect to all declared facilities that are part of a peaceful nuclear program. That is a requirement under the Non-Proliferation Treaty. So there’s no point at which Iran suddenly escapes here from its responsibilities to the Non-Proliferation Treaty. And if they don’t answer those questions, if they are not accountable in the way that we expect them to be with appropriate access, then they would be in material breach of the agreement and subject to any and all of the options available to the United States.
QUESTION: All right. And last thing, I have to ask this question. It’s a political question about 2016. What do you think Vice President Joe Biden should do? Should he run for president?
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, first of all, he’s a terrific friend of mine for many, many years now, and I would never --
QUESTION: Would you like to see him jump in?
SECRETARY KERRY: -- give political advice to the Vice President through a television interview. And that’s no disrespect to you; I just wouldn’t do that. The Vice President has been around politics long enough that he doesn’t need my advice as to whether or not he ought to run for president or not. It’s a tough decision. It’s a big decision. He’s got to make that decision with his family, and I wish him well in the making of it. I’m not engaged in partisan politics of any kind supporting one candidate or another because of the job that I’m in, and so I’m just not going to go near what I’d like or not like with respect to the presidential race.
QUESTION: And you rule out 2016; that’s not happening.
SECRETARY KERRY: Ruled it out, that’s correct.
QUESTION: All right, Secretary. Thank you very much. Appreciate your time.
SECRETARY KERRY: Thank you.