Interview With Bloomberg's David Westin

John Kerry
Secretary of State
Grand Hyatt Hotel
New York City
April 5, 2016

QUESTION: So you’ve just given a speech on something I know that is very important to you, which is the potential partnership between the private sector and government when it comes to climate change. What is it that you are asking the private sector to do that they wouldn’t otherwise do?

SECRETARY KERRY: Make energy-conscious decisions in their business – in the plant that they produce, how they power their plant, where they do it, and also in their choices for national policy with respect to energy. I mean, we need to move rapidly to a low-carbon energy-based economy. And that will be not only significant in terms of our emissions and all the negative consequences that come from the climate, but it’s the greatest economic opportunity the world is looking at today. There are millions of jobs to be created in making those energy-conscious decisions. And by the way, a lot of savings for companies. If you power your plant more efficiently, you can save millions of dollars, literally.

QUESTION: So are CEOs and investors just missing the boat? Are they just not seeing it?

SECRETARY KERRY: No, many – no, no, lots of companies – increasingly, major companies in the country understand this. Walmart is engaged in working to deal with climate change, Pepsi, Coca-Cola, General Electric. I mean, I could run a long list of American brand-name companies that are doing it, but lots of other people are also engaged at lower and smaller levels to make wiser choices about their energy use and energy production.

QUESTION: And are you encouraging the government to take regulatory steps to account differently for the costs of some of the climate change problems?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, we’re – not a regulatory step, but we would urge – I mean, accounting is supposed to be a – it’s an exercise in transparency and accountability and truth. Real figures, real accounting. The real accounting on energy today does not take into account the costs that we pay – the American taxpayer is paying enormous sums of money. As I mentioned today, $70 billion for Hurricane Sandy. The storms, by every scientist’s account, are more intensive today. I can’t say that one storm or another was the precise effect of a climate moment, but I can tell you that the intensity of storms generically is up as a consequence of climate change – more flooding, more droughts, more melting of glaciers we depended on, migration of certain species of plants, certain species of animals. Fish are now migrating to find colder waters again. I mean, there’s just a huge transformation taking place that has potential negative consequences, but the accounting needs to reflect those realities.

QUESTION: Right. I want to turn to another subject that I know is very important to you, and that is Islamic State. There are reports that progress is being made on the battlefield, both in terms of territory, in terms of casualties, including in senior leadership. Is that progress reflected in the outflow of Westerners, both Americans and Europeans, going to Syria to fight on behalf of Islamic State?

SECRETARY KERRY: Yes. There is a reduction, but it’s not shut off altogether. There are still people going there. There are less fighters, though, than there were previously. We are taking increasingly more effective steps to curb the travel, to affect the decisions that people are making. We have now many communications centers that are beginning to reach out to the world of – to Islam, to counter the false narrative of ISIL and present to people what the realities are on the ground. Just the other day, 15 members of ISIL were executed in al-Raqqa and we presume because they were trying to get out or they were not buying the narrative. This is what happens: if you try to get out, they’ll kill you, and in effect you’re a prisoner of this. We see increasing instances of fighters trying to desert or running away from their fighting positions, even as commanders are urging them to fight.

So we believe we’re making progress. It’s still – ISIS is still a danger. It still has people it has positioned in countries over the last few years, and it is something that’s going to have to continue to require our vigilance and our initiative for some period of time. But we are going to defeat and destroy ISIS.

QUESTION: I think one of the things you point to is the effective use – appears to be effective use of social media by Islamic State. What are we doing to counter that? How do we measure progress on that part of the battlefield?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, that’s a very great question, because we’ve been evolving in our understanding of the metrics of how you do measure it. But we have an increasingly effective group of centers – in Abu Dhabi, for instance, in the Emirates. They’ve opened a center which is staffed by Arab-speaking clerics, communicators, people who get on the social media and actively counter the false narrative of ISIL. The Saudi Arabians are opening a major center which will draw religious leaders from around the world to help speak about the true Islam.

So it is a fact that ISIL mastered an early presentation in the social media that wasn’t countered initially. Now it is being countered, and increasingly, I think people are learning more and more about the lies on which their false caliphate is based.

QUESTION: A different part of the battlefield: In the wake of the attacks in Paris and most recently in Brussels, some people have been concerned there hasn’t been adequate coordination and cooperation among European security authorities. What’s being done to improve that situation?

SECRETARY KERRY: A great deal of work is being done. Even before the Brussels attacks, David, we had a team called a foreign fighter surge team that had gone to Brussels to work with their authorities to try to examine where there may be some gaps and where we needed to do better. We’ve had – a number of meetings were scheduled, again, before the attacks for this month, in which our experts are going to work with them.

But one of the things Europe needs to do, and we’ve talked with this – to them about this: They must begin to do a passenger name record system on air flights and travel, and they need to have an early access screening system for some of those folks so that we can do a better job. Europe has not been where the rest of – certainly the United States is and other countries with respect to that tracking. And they’ve had privacy concerns; we respect them. But I think they’re learning, as we did in America with 9/11, that you have to take certain precautions and you have to give up a little something to be safer.

QUESTION: Does that lacking on Europe’s part, on security, pose a potential security threat to the United States because people can come from Europe to the United States who haven’t been tracked sufficiently in Europe?

SECRETARY KERRY: In Europe, I’m talking about. Travel --

QUESTION: Yeah, but to what extent does that pose a threat to the United States? Because you have security problems in Europe that can be exported essentially to our shores.

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, yes, but we have one of the toughest screenings and much more – it’s much harder to get across the pond, as we say, and get into the United States than it is to move from Syria to Europe.

QUESTION: President Obama in an Atlantic Magazine piece criticized some of our allies for not sufficiently funding NATO. Is that affecting our battle against Islamic State?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, no, it’s not at all. We’re very united. NATO is very united. We just celebrated the 67th anniversary of NATO. NATO is deeply engaged with us in Afghanistan, deeply involved in Iraq, now becoming more involved in the counter-ISIL fight, now helping on the migration coming out of Syria, helping to secure the border with Turkey and Greece. So NATO is extremely active and involved. The United States is about 22 percent of the NATO budget. Other countries contribute accordingly. And the fact is that what the President was talking about, where he has been urging countries to do more, is there’s a pledge that was taken by every country to spend 2 percent of their GDP on the – on defense, and a number of countries in Europe have not done that. And that’s what the President is urging, a broader sharing of the overall defense expenditure requirements.

QUESTION: It’s difficult to see our ultimately prevailing Islamic State without a lasting peace in Syria. What in your view is a realistic, achievable peace plan for Syria?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, the test is right now. We’re going to see what it is. There needs to be a transition to a secular governing body that represents all of the interests of Syria, that assumes responsibility for the day-to-day management of the country while they move towards a new constitution and towards elections. Russia, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Qatar, UAE, many countries have all signed up to this and the key now will be whether or not Assad is capable of negotiating in good faith, and we have to put that to the test.

QUESTION: Can he remain?

SECRETARY KERRY: I don’t see any way possible for Assad to remain because there’s no way to end the war while he’s there. There’s no way to end the violence, there’s no way for him to unify the country. So I think Iran and Russia and others need to recognize if you want peace, Assad has to transition. Now, how he transitions is exactly what the negotiation in Geneva is going to be about.

QUESTION: Okay. Thank you very much.


QUESTION: Secretary of State John Kerry, thanks for being with us.

SECRETARY KERRY: Thanks a lot. Thank you.