Interview With Chuck Todd of NBC

John Kerry
Secretary of State
Paris, France
December 12, 2015

(Begin clip.)

PRESIDENT OBAMA: I believe this moment can be a turning point for the world. We’ve shown that the world has both the will and the ability to take on this challenge.

(End clip.)

QUESTION: That was President Obama last night, on the climate change deal struck in Paris yesterday. The agreement aims to keep the increase in global temperatures well below 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit by the end of the century. It also aims to raise about $100 billion to help developing countries adapt their economies in order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Now, it was not drafted as a treaty to avoid President Obama having to take it to Congress for approval. And late last night, Paris time, I was joined by Secretary of State John Kerry and I started by asking about the lack of an enforcement mechanism in the agreement.

There’s a lot of pledges, there’s a lot of promises, but there seems to be no mechanism for getting countries to comply other than wagging your finger at them and shaming them. Am I wrong?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, that’s the most powerful weapon in many ways, but it’s not the only weapon. And in fact, we think there are other powerful weapons. President Obama understood – and believe me, he’s been really committed to getting this done, and it’s his leadership in America on our own Climate Action Plan that gave us credibility here, and the President has been able to do that without some of that enforcement mechanism, but by setting policy.

Here we set policy, 186 countries came together, and each submitted their own plan for reductions according to their capacities. We have a mandatory, legally binding reporting mechanism, Chuck, and that reporting mechanism requires people to retool their plans every five years in order to do more than they might be doing and meet the goal. So I believe you’re going to see – I mean, people understand this issue. This is not a question of just doing it because it seems nice or politically it’s good. It’s because it’s having a profoundly negative impact on nations; they need to respond, and that’s perhaps the most compelling reason of all.

QUESTION: But you say legally binding – okay, so somebody doesn’t comply. Again, is it – what’s this law that you’re going to hit them with other than international shame?

SECRETARY KERRY: There’s a mechanism that is being set up within this structure that will promote compliance, and you will have nations within that mechanism working with countries in order to help bring them on board. You don’t always need a sledge hammer. If you can provide people with technology or you provide them with technical assistance, or you’ve discovered a new means of reducing emissions more – at less cost, more efficiency. There will be a huge sharing of these kinds of experiences through the reporting mechanism of the agreement, and that’s going to have a profound impact on a lot of countries, Chuck.

Is it enough to necessarily get us there? Probably not. But what it is, is enough to send a very powerful message to the global marketplace. And we expect somewhere in the vicinity of $50 trillion to be spent the next 30, 40 years on energy. That is going to be one of the greatest reasons that nations spontaneously move in this direction, because there are jobs to be created, money to be made, and there’s a population to respond to in terms of the demand of their citizens.

QUESTION: I know that you can go around Congress right now in agreeing to this because you’re not asking for ratification. But Congress does have the power of the purse, and they could prevent your – they could prevent the federal government, despite any executive action, from using money to participate in this. If they do that, do you ask the President to veto that bill? Is that a showdown? How do you get Congress to just give you the money you need to participate in this deal?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, let me tell you something – President Obama has been on the phone to President Xi this week, to Prime Minister Modi, to President Hollande. He’s called the president of Brazil. He’s invested in this very deeply. This is a major priority because President Obama believes this is a major challenge to our country. So if people want to tempt the President’s veto, I really believe they do so inviting him to take the steps that he will do to protect what he believes is a critical, urgent national security issue for our country. And the President, as you know, has been able to secure money for critical programs on the basis of the fact that there is that check and balance between the Congress and the executive.

So I think the President’s going to stand up for his program no matter what.

QUESTION: You’ve spent a lot of time with a lot of diplomats from around the world. What’s been their reaction to Donald Trump’s proposal to ban – temporarily ban Muslim immigration into the United States?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, those people who know the United States well are quite shocked because they see it as totally contrary to American values, as discriminatory, and frankly, as potentially dangerous in that it seems like a person running for president of the United States who is doing well in the polls is prepared to take actions that would in fact ratify the notion that people are at war against Islam, not against Daesh. And so I think that you’ve got to be very careful just by categorizing people by being Muslim. That is discrimination and it is contrary, I think, to the fundamental values of our country.

We have plenty of ways to vet people, to – we – we already do it. We have a huge process of examining people for visas. We know who’s coming into our country for the most part.

QUESTION: You’re talking about a review of the State Department. The wife in the San Bernardino terrorist attack, it turned out she had been talk – communicating radical beliefs on her – on social media before she applied for her fiancée visa. That’s not something that’s done during the vetting process. Does that now need to be something that’s done in the visa vetting process, a look at social media, things like that?

SECRETARY KERRY: That’s – the review has been ordered and we need to look at whether there are means and whether we should be and how we can do it. But clearly, the social media has placed a whole new burden and a whole new set of questions, but not impossible ones to resolve. And I think we need to look at this very, very carefully, which is what we’re doing, before we jump to a wholesale prohibition without understanding what the implications may be.

QUESTION: That was Secretary of State John Kerry in Paris. It was actually after midnight, Paris time, when we talked.