Interview With Askar Alimzhanov of Mir TV

John Kerry
Secretary of State
U.S. Ambassador's Residence
Astana, Kazakhstan
November 2, 2015

QUESTION: Hello, Mr. Secretary. It’s an honor and a privilege to (inaudible).

SECRETARY KERRY: Thank you very much.

QUESTION: Thank you (inaudible) for your time and to answer a few questions. (Inaudible) to our TV audience in the countries of Commonwealth of Independent States. We are speaking with you during your Central Asia visit within the framework of 5+1. What is the reason of this format, and what does it mean – aims?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, the reason is to really try to build a cooperation between countries in order to be able to try to develop more effectively, in order to work on our security issues – counterterrorism, Afghanistan, other issues – and to talk about mutual interests: how we can work together on infrastructure, how we can work together to develop educational opportunity, how we could work on investment. I think that nobody should think of this visit as anything to do with choosing between Russia or choosing between China or choosing between – that’s not why I’m here. I’m here because we all have an interest, every one of us, in developing the opportunities for our citizens.

And we’re ready to work with everybody, whether it’s local, whether it’s neighboring countries, or countries from far away like Korea and Japan and others who want to be engaged. We want to help this region develop on a regional basis because we think there’s enormous opportunity for growth and development, and that helps stability, security, and prosperity for people.

QUESTION: So no big game, but big game?

SECRETARY KERRY: That’s a good way to put it. I like that. No, no big game at all. This is about everybody benefiting, including Russia and China and other countries. We all benefit when people are being lifted up, and I think that Kazakhstan particularly has had a very impressive policy of not trying to be pushed to choose between people but wanting to develop on a broad-based basis. And I have said to President Putin and I’ve said to President Xi we need to work together on development issues. And we’re beginning to do that with China. We’d like to, obviously, be able to do more with other partners.

QUESTION: At recent CIS summit, several speakers voiced concern over ISIS terrorist threat spreading through Afghanistan into the CIS countries. U.S. continues military presence in Afghanistan. Do you plan to coordinate of your actions – future actions in Central Asia with regional countries?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, we absolutely plan to consult and to be engaged with all of the countries. Everybody has an interest. Some of them border directly on Afghanistan, and others have populations that can be affected by what happens in Afghanistan. President Obama recently made an announcement about our decision to continue to maintain a troop level in Afghanistan that will help the Afghan Government, help the Afghan people, and help the Afghan military to be able to push forward to improve their governance and to push back against the Taliban. We look for cooperation and help from other countries in the region because we think that’s good for everybody’s security.

QUESTION: A couple of days ago, I think on Friday, we announced about sending some U.S. troops to Syria.


QUESTION: Can you tell us the details of the decision, and do they operate in cooperation with Russian air force?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, it’s very important to operate in cooperation when you have major powers with very capable air forces. You don’t want to be flying in the same airspace without coordination. So of course we are coordinating, and we will continue to coordinate with Russia.

But we’d like to be able to do more with Russia, but that depends on Russia really making the decision that they have to help settle the political part of the war. We have to deal with the future of President Assad, we have to deal with how we will find a political solution. We had a very effective meeting the other day in Vienna. Foreign Minister Lavrov was there; he helped to co-chair the meeting, and Russia and the United States together helped to forge a step forward, I hope, that could begin to shape the possibility of a peace.

So clearly, we would like to cooperate, not be in opposition. But it really depends a lot on the choices that Russia makes about whether it is there to find the political solution or whether it is there to simply support the Assad regime. If it is only the regime, it’s a problem, because Turkey, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, other countries, the opposition, will not stop fighting Assad. The way to end the war is to ask Mr. Assad to help with a transition into a new government, and he can help save his country. But if it’s all about him, then it’s a problem.

QUESTION: And then other question: Eurasian Economic Union is a new project of – in the territory of the former Soviet Union. How did you view to this project?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, it’s fine. We don’t have any problem with people associating economically as long as it’s not trying to lower the rules and lower the standards and split people apart. What we want to do is raise the standards. We think that people – citizens of every country, workers – do better when they profit from the work that is done and when they work by high standards of the quality of the workplace: they’re protected, they’re safe; they have benefits of health care, benefits of a good salary; and their work conditions are good. When those things happen, people are happy and they work well. And what we want to do is raise the standards, not lower them.

As long as people are moving in that direction, we don’t care what kind of association or agreement they have. And we invite people to come join other initiatives, like the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the TPP. We welcome China, we welcome Russia, we welcome other countries who would like to join, as long as they want to raise the standards and live up to the highest standards of protecting people and doing business openly and transparently and accountably.

QUESTION: And in early stages of Ukrainian crisis, American and Russian assessment of the situation was exactly the opposite. Now the bloodshed has stopped. Is compromise between Washington and Moscow possible with regard to Ukraine?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, Ukraine is not an issue so much of compromise, though I suppose some compromise on everybody’s part helps. But it is really an issue of an agreement. The Minsk agreement has been reached. And the Minsk agreement requires certain things to be done by both parties – all parties, actually – by the separatists, by Russia, by Kyiv.

And it’s important that those things happen. You have to pull back the heavy weapons. You have to protect the border, the international border. You have to allow the OSCE in to monitor. You have to allow ODIHR to come in an monitor the election. You have to have an election according to Ukraine law and rules. You have to have the special status for Donbas. All these things have to happen. And if they do, then sanctions will be lifted and we can go back to a relationship that I hope will be good for the people of Ukraine and begin to reduce the tensions that have existed for the past couple of years.