Roundtable With Print Journalists

John Kerry
Secretary of State
Le Bourget
Paris, France
December 8, 2015

SECRETARY KERRY: Okay, folks. We’re getting down to the point where --

MR TONER: Just before I start it, this is on-the-record, sir, just for the ground rules (inaudible).

SECRETARY KERRY: That’s good to know. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Feel free to say anything that you would have said off.

QUESTION: Anything you want to.

MR TONER: Yeah, sorry.


MR TONER: Tripped you up. (Laughter.)

SECRETARY KERRY: -- let it go. (Laughter.) No, I was just about to say, on the record, that hopefully we get a text sometime perhaps mid-day tomorrow, which will be reflective of getting down to the – closer to the finish line, not at it for sure. And that text will be revealing in that it will indicate sort of how the facilitators and the chair judge the arguments that have been made and the play. And from that, we will begin the work of the – sort of the intense hours leading in Friday, where you’re really working over the language and massaging a final product, hopefully.

But that will define where the problem children are and where the hurdles are. And we’ll just have to see where we are. That’s sort of key. And that’ll get us into the – there are still, judging from the field of comments as I had today, there are still some issues that are – we’re trying to work through, needless to say. And I’m sure that will be true right up until whatever hour it finishes, if it does.

QUESTION: Can you tell us about your meeting with the islands just now and --

SECRETARY KERRY: It was very, very, very cordial, very friendly. And I’ve talked to the prime minister a couple of weeks ago, as a matter of fact, the prime minister of Tuvalu, and we had a good conversation. And I have talked to the former president of Timor-Leste many times. Previously he’d lobbied me, and we’d worked when I was in the Senate.

So we had a good conversation. I think we made some progress. And we agreed that the teams will sit and work on language as we sort of understand the nature of the challenge. I think we had a meeting of the minds on some of the challenge, so we’ll see what happens.

QUESTION: A meeting of the minds on loss and damage?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, let’s see. The proof will be in the language. But I think we’ve talked conceptually in ways that there was – there was a meeting of intent. And now let’s see if that translates into the actual language.

QUESTION: If I could just follow-up lastly on loss and damage. The U.S. has been painted as a – badly on this issue, that it’s insisting on the language about compensation. Islands are saying that’s not what we’re talking about here; we don’t want --

SECRETARY KERRY: I think there’s a way – I think they understood – I mean, I explained exactly where we’re coming from on that. And I think there was good understanding that – I mean, the President of the United States came here, and stood up publicly, and said we accept responsibility for some of what is happening. We’re not alone, but he boldly and bravely and appropriately said we accept some responsibility for where we are. That’s pretty straightforward.

But where we are is where the whole world went over a period of 150, 200 years. And nobody really focused on it. I think in 1898, the Swedish scientist Arrhenius said something about it, but it didn’t get a lot of notice and it certainly wasn’t argued about through the 20th century until the 1980s. And I recall personally when Jim Hansen said, hey folks, it’s happening. I think it was June 1988 or somewhere right around there, on a pretty hot day.

And then people started to wake up. And Tim Wirth and Al Gore and a whole bunch of us began to focus on it pretty intensely. That’s where this thing has been growing from is that awareness. And I think if you want to end an effort to have people move responsibly to deal with this, create a concept of liability, and you’ll have 100 to nothing in the Senate and 435 to nothing in the House. So we’re going to have an agreement; let’s be smart about what we’re doing. And that’s what we’re trying to do.

QUESTION: Do you think since the Administration, the new – this Administration first came on board, it’s sort of bound to a lot of key parts of this deal, in the sense that we have a pledged-based deal, we’re trying to move toward pretty strong verification requirements, make sure those are in the deal. Is there a lot more that’s at stake in the sense for the U.S., in the sense that if a deal was crafted out of here – and whether we get one or not – it has a lot of the parameters, and a lot of sort of the philosophy that binds it together are sort of rooted in – a lot of it, the President’s approach. So is there a risk --

SECRETARY KERRY: A lot of the President’s what?

QUESTION: A lot of what the President, the U.S. – our U.S. President has pushed as sort of ideal for a new legal agreement. But now that’s what we have. That’s what we’re headed for. So if we get – if we – in other words, is the U.S. at risk here a little bit that it sort of carries as lot of the weight of this thing, more so than in the past? Because the idea is to pledge it – the pledges, the way it’s crafted, are very much steeped in the --

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, everybody – you have 187 nations that have offered – 186, 186.

QUESTION: 186, but ten are not.

SECRETARY KERRY: Yeah, it’s 186 nations that have submitted formally their INDCs. And there are a lot of ambitious projects within those submissions. We’re now one of them. We’re trying to do our responsible effort.

I don’t think there’s a great liability. I think we’re going to exceed it voluntarily, because I think American business and innovators and entrepreneurs are going to do what they do best and do it very soon. There are going to be massive amounts of money moving into this R&D. So I mean, the President himself, with Mission Innovation, has stepped up, and we’re going to be doubling our R&D component together with Gates and other entrepreneurs and folks.

And already things are happening. I mean, I hear when I talk to people who are engaged in this field in various parts of the country, the potential of breakthrough on battery storage, the potential of breakthrough on better solar panels and better solar, in fact, and so forth. So everything is moving in the proper direction, and I think people are going to be – they always have been. Innovation always steps up in some way to wipe out the worst fears of one thing or another occurring. And I believe in that. I believe in the $17 trillion that is going to be spent over the course of the next 10 years, and maybe more. That’s measureable today, but what you never can totally measure is the rolling mushroom effect, so the thing grows. And that’s how things kick in to surprise you with the results.

I mean, I can remember when I was doing acid rain back in the early 1980s, it looked like the Armageddon issue of the moment, and we didn’t quite know if it would work or not work. But guess what? It disappeared as an issue because technology came in and reduced the acidity and reduced the sulfur dioxide and so forth. Same thing happened with HFCs, the Montreal Protocol. You turn around, the Montreal Protocol technology solved the problem much faster than people thought.

So I’m betting on the private sector partly because we have to for the simple reason – not – no. Let me phrase that more fairly. I’m betting on them because I believe in their capacity, but the fact is government itself is not going to be able to do this. Therefore, everybody’s going to have to place their bets on the innovation and incentive and the capital markets and the movement of these companies. That’s why I think the presence today at that meeting of – that Ban Ki-moon and I were at of the businesses is so important. That’s why the President’s initiative on climate with businesses with these major corporations committing not just to be part of the thing in name but to undertake specific actions. For instance, not buying products that come from improper deforestation or any – to buy pure fuel cycle produced products, where it’s sustainable energy produced and so forth. Those were pretty big decisions by large corporations representing 7 trillion bucks of annual income and 11 million jobs in the United States, so I think they know what they’re doing.

QUESTION: Have you had a --

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, today the Senate is having a hearing entitled “Dogma or Data” about climate science, and they’re calling an academic from Princeton who has taken money from fossil fuel companies to say that CO2 is good for you. That’s in a Greenpeace post today. So I’m wondering what --

SECRETARY KERRY: How do I – like --

QUESTION: -- what you thought of that thing today.

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, I think it’s like --

QUESTION: But also, what you think an agreement here – wouldn’t it immediately sort of just spark new attempts by Republicans to defeat the President’s agenda and – at home and abroad?

SECRETARY KERRY: So is that a reason not to get an agreement?

QUESTION: Or how do you – how do you defend it?

SECRETARY KERRY: I mean, if we approached the Iran agreement that way, we’d have never gotten an Iran agreement. That’s not a deterrent. There are people who will oppose anything the President does, and everybody knows that, including the President. And it doesn’t mean you should not do the things that are responsible that you need to do on behalf of the country’s security and future. So I – this is not the first time – I mean, I was there during part of the debates about R.J. Reynolds and the tobacco industry, where people came in and raised their right hands and swore under oath that no, no, no, they hadn’t done this or that, and it all turned out that they had. So we’ve been here. We’ve been through this. And one professor or one scientist is not going to negate peer-reviewed studies by the thousands over many years and 97 percent of the scientists on the planet. It just – it’s not going to have impact.

QUESTION: Have you had a chance to meet with ministers from Russia or Saudi Arabia yet, and any sense of how the --

SECRETARY KERRY: Yeah, I’ve talked – I talked to Mohammed Bin Salman yesterday. He’s not here, obviously – crown prince – deputy crown prince of Saudi Arabia. We had a very good discussion, and he has pledged to cooperate and work with us and see where we go. They were very helpful in Dubai, where, once again, we talked to him and talked to Adel al-Jubeir prior to the – during the negotiations and they responded very much as they said they would and cooperated and helped us to get an agreement. So I’m very hopeful. I think the Saudis want an agreement here and we’re working with them closely to try to get it.

QUESTION: What about the Russians?

SECRETARY KERRY: Likewise. We’ve been in touch with Russia. Russia has agreed they want to try to get an agreement out of here and they’ve been – our people have been meeting and working, and I think there’s a cooperative atmosphere for the moment.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, are the negotiations stuck on differentiation? We heard a lot of pushback from China today on that issue, so I was wondering if their public stand was the same as their private.

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, it shouldn’t be. I mean, I had a discussion – I talked to Yang Jiechi, the state councilor, today, and we had a discussion about that. And it was more broad-sweeping, as a negotiating conversation would be here. But he made it clear that China would like to see a strong transparency agreement with understanding about the differentiation. But the entire agreement is based on differentiation. The entire agreement is based on it. 186 countries are – have produced 186 different plans based on their own design, their own national needs, their own capacities. So this is filled with differentiation. And the commonality – the common but differentiated – the commonality is that everybody agrees they have to do something, and it ought to be done in a way that is measurable and you can determine the progress.

So I think we are completely in keeping, and that’s what I said to the state councilor today. And I sat with the negotiators of China earlier. We had a discussion about it. They’ve agreed to look at some language from us. And that’s where things stand at the moment.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, are you looking toward endorsing a 1.5 degree increase to the ceiling as opposed to 2? Is that a change in the U.S. position? Two degrees versus 1.5?

SECRETARY KERRY: Two degrees – we’ve agreed – I think everybody feels, I think, fairly strong – not everyone. That’s wrong. I think there is a consensus that this is what we’ve been working on as a guideline and as the sort of appropriate target for the agreement as a whole with a full acknowledgment of and embrace of the aspiration of trying to reach 1.5 if it’s doable or possible. But that shouldn’t be the starting point guide here. I think – and in the conversations I’ve had with people, they were pleased. I mean, I think you can write that aspiration into the agreement in a way that doesn’t make it what the target guidepost is for the agreement as a whole.

QUESTION: Can we change topics for a minute here? Does Donald Trump’s comments on banning Muslims hurt U.S. relationships in the U.S. – in the Muslim world, rather? And is it putting – risking lives of any U.S. diplomats and troops in the region?

And then briefly, can we talk about Moscow? How are things progressing on the tri-military cooperation (inaudible) against ISIS? And what do you hope to ask of Putin if, say, we were to go there and you were to meet with him?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, I heard about Mr. Trump’s comments this morning, obviously. And I would simply say that nondiscrimination and equal treatment are a pillar of not just American values but of our immigration and our admissions policies for the country. And the State Department remains totally committed to treating all religions with respect and without discrimination.

As I travel around the world, I will tell you that it’s clear to me how both our friends and our adversaries listen to – watch and listen to the discourse in the United States. And I believe that comments such as those that we just heard are not constructive, and I would say that’s putting it diplomatically.

QUESTION: And then on the --


QUESTION: I’m sorry, on Russia.

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, Russia --

QUESTION: And the talks next week.

SECRETARY KERRY: The reason for going is that Russia is playing a constructive and important role in the context of the political track that we are trying to pursue in order to test whether or not a diplomatic track, political solution is possible. They helped to convene Vienna 1, helped to convene the Vienna 2, helped to create a constructive communique out of both, and have indicated to us that they believe in a unified, non-sectarian Syria in which the Syrian people decide the future of Assad and of the country. So I think it would be irresponsible – President Obama believes it would be irresponsible not to pursue, whether or not – since everybody has said from day one there is no military solution, there’s only a political solution, you’ve got to try and give that some life.

And in addition to that, we are war with ISIL, with Daesh, and Russia is at war with Daesh, though they obviously also have an – a bifurcated interest in that they have long been supporting Assad. There’s no secret. This is not a surprise. They built Syria’s air defense system. They’ve had Russians on the ground manning that air defense system. They’ve used the port of Tartus for years. They have supported Assad from the day this civil war broke out. So nobody should be surprised that they’re supporting him; that’s what they’ve agreed to do.

But they have agreed that it is important to have a political solution and to be part of trying to find it. So we need to test that, and I – the purpose of the trip would be to further – to prepare for a meeting of the international security – International Syria Support Group to prepare and explore the possibilities of what might or might not be done in the context of that negotiation going forward, and to discuss whether or not there is a possible UN function that could be enhanced here over the course of the next few weeks.

And I think that’s all very valuable, not to mention, of course, the continuing challenge of Ukraine and what we need to do to see the full implementation of Minsk. So given those interests that we have, it would – it’s an important potential visit.

QUESTION: Back on climate, if you don’t mind, Secretary. Can I --

MR TONER: One last question. I apologize.

QUESTION: Well, can I ask you to reflect on the differences and the challenges between this negotiation here on climate and the Iran deal?

SECRETARY KERRY: No. Honestly, I hate to say it to you, but I can’t – I just --

QUESTION: Really? Which is harder?


QUESTION: Which is harder?

SECRETARY KERRY: I mean, I just can’t go down that road.

QUESTION: Then I’m giving question to someone else if you’re not going to --

SECRETARY KERRY: I’m sorry. I – I mean, I’ll just tell you quickly that I think they’re very different. They’re just enormously different. One is seven countries sitting with one particular party where we haven’t had a relationship for 35 years or talked to them, had no negotiation, and there are huge suspicions and there are other challenges in the relationship. Here you have the entire planet of countries with the exception of 10 nations, all of whom have come to a fairly common understanding of the challenge but who have different interests and different outcomes in mind about how you deal with that. I mean, that’s really the difference, but then they’re just not comparable, really, in any really measurable way.

MR TONER: Last question.

QUESTION: Well, I just want to – I want to go back to the Trump thing because I don’t think you really said what you felt about it. (Laughter.) I’m going to give you the opportunity to say something --

SECRETARY KERRY: No, I said what I – I said what I want to say.

QUESTION: -- non-diplomatic.

SECRETARY KERRY: I said what I want to say.

QUESTION: Can you say anything about – you have a good understanding of the key four or five issues that Figueres talks about – the basket issues, temperature ratcheting, these kinds of issues. Do you have any kind of feel for whether any are further along than others in terms of you’re starting to get a feel – or do you feel like they’re all still sort of at play and need equal attention?

SECRETARY KERRY: No, I think progress has been made. I mean, what are the ones you mentioned?

QUESTION: 2C – the 1.5 or 2C degree you mentioned, the verification transparency.

SECRETARY KERRY: No, I think there’s progress being made. I think consensus is slowly being built. There will be differences tomorrow, some of them will be sharp, and that’s where your final stage fight begins. But I think there is a growing feeling of possibilities. Now, I still think – and this is a hurdle to get over here without mentioning names – I think there are a few countries that wouldn’t mind coming out of here with a minimalist consequence as a result.

And I think the verdict is very much out on what’s manageable there. I think there’s a strong feeling of wanting to get something, I think. And we obviously want something that’s meaningful, as do, I think, the Europeans and a whole bunch of other likeminded countries around the world. We just have to see where the text emerges before we know really how the lines are drawn on that. But there’ll be a few tough brackets, believe me.

QUESTION: So the U.S. wants a meaningful deal?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, we’ve always said meaningful is ambition, the right ambition; durable, measurable in terms of transparency, and the right balance in terms of adaptation and mitigation and efforts. So we’ve been clear about that. This is not a gilded process of some kind. This is meant to be effective. And while all of us understand that we’re not going to come out of here with a rigid structure that guarantees you two degrees, we know that’s not the real purpose. The real effort is to come out of here with a signal to the marketplace that the world is serious, and 186 countries are serious. And so that’s why you need certain things in this to achieve that measure of seriousness. That’s the key.

QUESTION: Will we see any other announcements from the U.S. before you go or while you’re here?

SECRETARY KERRY: It’s very possible that there would be a few things to try to help move the process along – possible, yeah. It’s possible.


SECRETARY KERRY: I’m not – just – it’s possible. There may be some things that try to move things along. I’m not going to predict or promise, but we’re certainly trying to be creative and thoughtful about ways in which we can make life easier for countries that need some help, and there are countries that need help. Obviously, technology transfer, money in some cases, adaptation, mitigation – these are important things. There are countries out there that want to do a good job and live up to their responsibility, but they don’t have the money – the price of capital is too high, they can’t buy the things they need to buy. Yes, the world needs to try to help with that, and we’re going to try to do our share.



QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. Secretary.

SECRETARY KERRY: Thanks to all. Appreciate it very much.

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