Interview With PBS's Charlie Rose
Secretary of State
QUESTION: John Kerry is here. He is the 68th Secretary of State of the United States. After 28 years in the Senate, he succeeded Hillary Clinton in 2013. Last year, he brokered a landmark nuclear deal with Iran. He’s also played a key role in the latest round of Syrian peace negotiations. According to The New Yorker’s David Remnick, Kerry’s admirers and critics alike describe him in similar terms – “tirelessly optimistic, dogged, undaunted by risk, convinced that if he can just get the relevant parties into the room, he can make a deal.”
I’m pleased to have John Kerry on this program. Welcome.
SECRETARY KERRY: Good to be with you.
QUESTION: Does that sound true to you?
SECRETARY KERRY: No. (Laughter.) But that’s all right.
QUESTION: Getting them in the room is not necessarily in the end going to be a deal?
SECRETARY KERRY: No, no.
QUESTION: What did you learn?
SECRETARY KERRY: It’s obviously more complicated than that. And I guess like everything in public life, people try to simplify it and put it in a bottle and define it in very limited terms, I think, Charlie. But it’s much more complex.
QUESTION: You were the Senate majority – the Senate – chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. You know foreign policy. What surprises you about the execution of foreign policy?
SECRETARY KERRY: We are living in a completely different world from the world that I grew up in and the world that I was in in the Senate most of my life. Most of the last century was defined by state actors acting out for territory, for dominion or empire or whatever. And that changed when the Berlin Wall fell and with the demise of the Soviet Union. And I think, with the exception of President Putin’s venture in Crimea/Ukraine, most of this century is already being defined by non-state actors and principally radical, religious extremism.
You’ve also seen a massive squeezing, if you will, of the universe into a smaller ball because of technology, because of trade and the massive amount of interconnectedness of all of our economies today. And the result is many, many people are running around with smartphones but no education, no opportunity, no jobs, no rights within their country. And the consequence of that is a disgruntlement, a clash of culture, of aspirations, with the absence of opportunity, with the frustration of corruption. And that explodes. And it exploded with a food vendor in Tunisia who lit himself on fire and ignited the whole of the northern part of Africa, the Horn, and the Middle East.
QUESTION: What we now call the Arab Spring.
SECRETARY KERRY: And that’s what we’re dealing with. That is what we are dealing with in – and beyond there now; it’s spilled. I mean, it’s in South Central Asia. It’s in Asia. It is wherever – and unfortunately, one of the things I’ve discovered is the breadth of bad governance which feeds that. And corruption is an enormous problem on a global basis. There are just whole states that are seeing their future robbed by so-called leaders. And by the way, with the aid and abetment of legitimate banks and other entities around the world that harbor their money, that hide them, and so forth.
QUESTION: You were almost a successful president candidate. You were chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
SECRETARY KERRY: But for a certain state. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Called Ohio.
SECRETARY KERRY: Called Ohio.
QUESTION: When you look at the world today, you can see it being defined by non-state actors. Does that make ISIS our largest and toughest and most challenging national security issue?
SECRETARY KERRY: It’s the most immediate national security challenge, because they are out to kill people. They have declared we are the enemy. They have targeted us. They are targeting our allies and our friends and they are creating severe disruption in the region where we have significant interests for stability and peace. And they are feeding the frenzy of a potential sectarian divide that could grow even more dangerous. We’re not there yet, but it has the makings of that.
QUESTION: General Patraeus once said to me, “If we’re not winning, we’re losing.” Are we losing?
SECRETARY KERRY: No. No, we’re distinctly not. That I believe very deeply. We are aggressively making progress with respect to ISIL, Daesh. They haven’t gained any territory since last May, at least. They are losing their leadership at the top level, perhaps one every three days. They’ve lost 40 percent of the territory they held in Syria – in Iraq. They’ve lost 20 percent of the territory they held in Syria. We are increasingly moving now. The Russians, together with Assad, took back Palmyra. We have liberated Kobani. We’ve liberated Sinjar. We’ve liberated other communities.
QUESTION: And when will we liberate Mosul?
SECRETARY KERRY: I hope soon. I can’t tell you.
QUESTION: Soon, meaning within the Obama Administration?
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, the process has already begun, Charlie. This is an operation where certain things are being done now to lay the groundwork for it. I can’t tell you when the sort of main event will be engaged. That’s up to the military folks and the Abadi government and so forth. But I do know that that is a focus of effort, and it will happen, and we will succeed.
QUESTION: Are you getting what you need from the Abadi government?
SECRETARY KERRY: The prime minister has enormous pressures, and the answer is, for the most part, he is really working unbelievably hard to deliver. He has a very difficult hand. There are Shia militia there who put enormous pressures and hurdles in the way. The politics is complicated. The old ex-prime minister continues to maneuver behind the scenes and make life difficult. And of course, there is a relationship with Iran, between some of the folks there. So it is – again, it’s complicated. But he is working very, very hard to deliver. He has made very tough decisions and they are decisions that have turned out well. He has – was key to helping liberate Ramadi, now focused on Hit, moving up into Anbar. And I have confidence that, providing he can get his government pulled back together now, which is his biggest challenge, on the military side and security side, I think we’re on the right track.
QUESTION: You don’t think Iraq will end up in partition?
SECRETARY KERRY: I think that’s too easy a bromide to just throw out there and say divide it up, it’s going to – I don’t know quite how that works any more than some of the other difficulties of uniting it. I think we are not for that. We believe that a united Iraq, a united Syria are the way forward. And we’re working very hard to try to hold that possibility together.
QUESTION: So what is our present attitude towards President Assad, Bashar al-Assad? You and I both have been to Syria when he was viewed as a kind of possible reformer.
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, he lost the opportunity. As Foreign Minister Lavrov has said to me on occasion, he made mistakes. And I think it’s clear that Assad made enormous, gigantic mistakes in not recognizing what was happening throughout his region, and when his young people demonstrated he met them with thuggery rather than with a dialogue. And the result is that the parents came out, and he made sure they were met with bullets and violence. And the result really is – was the beginning of the tearing apart of Syria.
QUESTION: Will --
SECRETARY KERRY: So I don’t know how he puts it – let me – this is important. I don't see how – even if the United States or someone else said, “Oh, go ahead, you try and make a government and we’ll support that idea,” which we don’t, you couldn’t make it happen. There’s no way for Assad to be the person who puts the pieces back together again.
QUESTION: But is there a role for him in any way?
SECRETARY KERRY: Only in transition.
QUESTION: In transition?
SECRETARY KERRY: He can help an orderly transition to take place.
QUESTION: So how long does he have?
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, that’s – I mean, again, that’s the negotiating process as to how long he has, and --
QUESTION: And the Russians say what?
SECRETARY KERRY: The Russians say that they are not wedded to Assad, that they want stability, they want a whole, united Syria. They want the institutions of the government to be able to hold together. They worry that a sudden departure of Assad could shatter the country and you would have problems with the military and problems with others. And we don’t happen to agree with that view, but that is their worry. Now, the problem is that Assad has gassed his own people – that’s against the laws of war. He has tortured his own people – that’s against the laws of life and war. He has starved his own people as a tactic of war – that is a war crime.
QUESTION: So he is a war criminal?
SECRETARY KERRY: He has dropped barrel bombs on his people.
QUESTION: He is a war criminal?
SECRETARY KERRY: I believe there is strong evidence to that effect, and at some point, obviously, there could well be a reckoning with respect to that. But whether it’s dropping barrel bombs on civilians indiscriminately or gassing your people and putting 12 million of them into displaced person status – either refugees or in the country – when you’ve done that, how do you turn around and say, “Hey, I’m the guy to unite you. I’m going to pull your country together”? It’s not going to happen.
What’s more, the Turks, the Qataris, and the Saudis, who are the principal supporters of members of the opposition, will not stop supporting an opposition that will not stop fighting. So if you’re serious about ending the war, you have absolutely no choice but to find a way to have face-saving in certain quarters and to see Assad exit in an orderly, structured way.
QUESTION: But those are important words, orderly and structured.
SECRETARY KERRY: Sure.
QUESTION: You’ve got to have something that succeeds him.
SECRETARY KERRY: That is exactly what we are working on in Geneva. That is the principle around which the Geneva talks are organized – that there will be a transition by mutual consent, and both parties compromise to put people in place who manage the affairs of state until there is a new constitution and an election. And ultimately, the people of Syria ratify their new leadership and constitution through a referendum.
QUESTION: Do we have candidates to succeed him, who the Russians --
SECRETARY KERRY: It’s not up to us. It is --
QUESTION: Well, I know. It’s the Syrian people.
SECRETARY KERRY: There are very qualified people who I think could earn the respect of all parties.
QUESTION: Vladimir Putin. What does he want?
SECRETARY KERRY: He wants – he wants a Syria that is whole, secular, united, that has the --
QUESTION: That’s exactly what we want.
SECRETARY KERRY: That is exactly why we came together. That’s exactly what we took note of, and therefore, organized the conferences in Vienna and New York and Munich in order to push the cessation of hostilities and try to get to the transition.
QUESTION: But you don’t --
SECRETARY KERRY: Because their goal and Iran’s goal – Iran, at least its openly avowed goal, is to have a united Syria that is not sectarian, that is status quo ante effectively --
SECRETARY KERRY: -- with leadership that can unite the country and stabilize it and move forward. And Iran actually put a plan on the table. Iran said, “We’re willing to have a unity government, we’re willing to have a new constitution, we’re willing to have an election -- ”
QUESTION: And we’re willing to pull Hizballah out?
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, ultimately, that’s part of the negotiation --
QUESTION: Yeah, right.
SECRETARY KERRY: -- that Hizballah obviously has to get out and the long-term --
QUESTION: So have they been helpful --
SECRETARY KERRY: At this point, Iran --
QUESTION: -- in the process? The Iranians have been helpful coming out of a signed nuclear deal?
SECRETARY KERRY: Iran signed on to both communiques in Vienna which embraced the very principles that I just articulated, and in addition to that, they have supported the Munich meeting and declaration which reaffirmed our desire to have a transition and move forward. So Iran effectively had a similar plan. There was a difference of opinion about what the transition – what defines the transition and who actually has to do what, but in principle, they have embraced --
QUESTION: They have been helpful?
SECRETARY KERRY: -- the basic solution. Well, it remains to be seen whether they’re going to be helpful. They’ve embraced that solution. They didn’t stop us from being able to get consensus within the two meetings in Vienna.
QUESTION: Would that have been possible without the Iran nuclear deal?
SECRETARY KERRY: No, no, I don’t --
QUESTION: It is because of the deal that you’ve been able to talk to them, even though they’re still doing things in terms of behavior that you don’t like?
SECRETARY KERRY: We have a channel today to be able to communicate directly, which we didn’t have two years ago.
QUESTION: So you can pick up the phone and call Zarif, the foreign minister, and say you got to do something, as it was true when the boats were captured?
SECRETARY KERRY: That’s correct.
QUESTION: Pick up the phone and say, “This is a problem, let’s fix it,” and wouldn’t have done that before?
SECRETARY KERRY: We wouldn’t have known who to call before.
QUESTION: Wouldn’t have known who to call?
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, I mean, we’d know who to try to reach --
QUESTION: Right, right.
SECRETARY KERRY: -- but we wouldn’t have necessarily been able to.
QUESTION: And there was no relationship.
SECRETARY KERRY: Right, there was --
QUESTION: You were saying that Iran and Russia and the United States are communicating in a way and they understand and they have shared goals for the future of Syria?
SECRETARY KERRY: No, we have a different – we have shared goals and we have real differences, and that the challenge is to try to manage those. I’ll give you an example. When I first came in in 2013, we ran into the challenge of chemical weapons use in Syria.
SECRETARY KERRY: Through a conversation between President Putin and President Obama that talked about what other options might be or whether or not there was a way to get the weapons out, through conversations between Lavrov and myself, we ultimately shaped an agreement that --
QUESTION: For the removal of the chemical weapons in exchange for no --
SECRETARY KERRY: Of all of the declared chemical weapons, Charlie.
QUESTION: So the deal was you’ll remove the chemical weapons and we will not attack?
SECRETARY KERRY: And we did that, even as we were in controversy with Russia on almost every other issue.
QUESTION: So address this idea that by crossing the redline, yes, you got a deal to get the chemical weapons out, but as a symbolic act, it sent a message to Putin, it sent a message to the Iranians, it sent a message to others that you could cross the redline without consequences. And --
SECRETARY KERRY: Yeah.
QUESTION: -- all of those countries communicated that to you rather quickly.
SECRETARY KERRY: They did, but I disagreed with them rather quickly too, because the fact is the President of the United States, Barack Obama, made his decision and made it public. There was never an issue of the President deciding he wasn’t going to bomb. The President decided, particularly after David Cameron went to the parliament and they lost the vote only two days previously, that as we listened to congressmen and senators on the telephone as we were briefing them, they said, “Well, you’re going to come to us, aren’t you?” I mean, this is --
QUESTION: But there were advisors to him that said you don’t have to go to the Congress?
SECRETARY KERRY: There were some. There were some, absolutely.
QUESTION: Leon Panetta for one, I think.
SECRETARY KERRY: There were some who said you have no need to go to Congress, just go do what you have to do.
QUESTION: Right. But do you --
SECRETARY KERRY: But the President felt that it was important, particularly in the wake of what happened in Great Britain with the parliament’s vote, that he, the President of the United States, was going to honor our constitutional process, go to Congress, and we thought – we genuinely thought we would have very quick approval.
QUESTION: And you discovered?
SECRETARY KERRY: And we were surprised that it wasn’t quick approval; on the contrary. It dragged out.
QUESTION: So – but --
SECRETARY KERRY: In the meantime, Charlie --
SECRETARY KERRY: In the meantime, I floated publicly in London the idea, when asked a question --
SECRETARY KERRY: -- is there any way that Assad could avoid an attack, I said yes, get the chemical weapons out of Syria. And within a week or two, we had a deal to get all the chemical weapons out.
QUESTION: Right. You may remember I said to Assad at the time, “If the United States was willing not to bomb, would you be willing to take action like eliminating the chemical weapons?” He said, “I have to think about it.” Well, clearly, he made that deal.
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, I think the Russians helped him think about it.
QUESTION: They did. But – so when you look at that, the President says he’s proud of that decision. Are you proud of that decision?
SECRETARY KERRY: Yes. It came out --
QUESTION: Do you think it was the right decision?
SECRETARY KERRY: The President achieved more than what we would have achieved if we had bombed. If we had bombed, it would have been as everybody knew because everybody was discussing it in the context of our visits to the Hill – a day, two days – at which point Assad would have sat there and said, “Now I know why I have to have these weapons.” And today, some of those weapons might be in the hands of Daesh, ISIL. So I think the President made a very important decision that wound up getting a better result. And he never decided, never backed off of the notion that he was prepared to bomb.
QUESTION: Can you tell me that you recommended that action?
SECRETARY KERRY: Which?
QUESTION: You, to – not to bomb and if you couldn’t get – have to go to the Congress to get approval.
SECRETARY KERRY: No. The President told me – I think it’s a matter of --
SECRETARY KERRY: -- well-known public record that I got a call from the President in the evening of Friday, and he informed me what his thinking was and I said, “Fine.” We met the next day as a national security team, and the President told us what he was thinking.
QUESTION: As you know --
SECRETARY KERRY: And I supported that and said, “We need to now communicate to Congress and get Congress to support what we’re doing.”
QUESTION: As you know, there’s a famous article now in The Atlantic magazine by Jeffrey Goldberg talking about the Obama doctrine. One of the things it suggests is that you have been advocating a more aggressive action in Syria and in the Middle East than the President is prepared to take. Can you clear that up for me?
SECRETARY KERRY: Charlie --
QUESTION: Have you recommended more military use, more engagement?
SECRETARY KERRY: I think it’s entirely inappropriate for me or other people to be talking about the advice we’re giving a president while we’re still serving and giving a president advice. And I think that the President has a right to know that the conversations we have remain with us, memos we write remain between us, and I honor that.
QUESTION: Okay, but you can talk about philosophically. When you look at the Middle East, that article points out that the President really fears getting engaged and he looks --
SECRETARY KERRY: I don’t think the President fears – the President doesn’t fear.
QUESTION: Okay, fear or not, you used your own words --
SECRETARY KERRY: The President – well, I think it’s important. The President is very – is a very tough decision maker. He’s very demanding. He asks really good and really tough questions, and I’ve been very impressed by that. And he goes right at the nub of the issue and tries to figure out how – what the consequence is and effects are going to be of any obvious decision that he makes. I think that at times we have not put to the President the full breadth of some of the options that might be available.
QUESTION: What do you mean by that, “We have not put to the President the options”?
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, I think there are times that – there are times, Charlie, in the process where the President is clear about what he’s trying to achieve and it takes a direction. I think ultimately the President’s had every option put in front of him that is possible with respect to this. But you can have a difference of opinion as to one particular piece of action or something, but I’ve never had a difference about the fundamental direction that the President has taken.
QUESTION: Okay, but --
SECRETARY KERRY: He decided on day one we’re going to declare war against --
SECRETARY KERRY: ISIS. He initiated bombing immediately. I believe he saved Iraq at that moment and made the difference for Baghdad. And then he began to demand from everybody: What are the options as to how we’re going to fight this war?
QUESTION: But in fact, on day one he declared against Usama bin Ladin.
SECRETARY KERRY: Yes. And I think we have all learned as the process has gone on refinements in the ways in which we can fight Daesh more effectively.
QUESTION: How – okay.
SECRETARY KERRY: For instance – let me give you an example. The foreign fighters; that’s a new phenomenon. And so we’ve had to work unbelievably hard --
QUESTION: Let’s define “foreign fighters.” Those who go to Syria and come back to Paris or Brussels --
SECRETARY KERRY: And come back – people who leave a country, people who have left the United States to go to Syria and to fight with ISIL.
QUESTION: Right, right. And then they come back as far as we know?
SECRETARY KERRY: And they’ve left Australia and they’ve left Germany. Yes. And I think the trick – the challenge was how do we diminish that flow of people in both directions.
QUESTION: Right, right.
SECRETARY KERRY: And so we’ve worked extremely hard with our European friends, with friends in the region, about airports, names, passenger lists, scrutiny, the border of Turkey – this has been an enormous challenge. And --
QUESTION: Is Erdogan finally doing all he can to stop the flow from Syria into Turkey?
SECRETARY KERRY: I think we – we think there’s still more that could be done and we hope – there’s a meeting this week taking place, and we hope that --
SECRETARY KERRY: Between the United States and our Turkish allies. And we will be talking with them about how we can do more on the border to try to deal with ISIL.
QUESTION: Here you have in Palmyra the regime retaking Palmyra, the Assad regime.
SECRETARY KERRY: Yes.
QUESTION: How strong is Assad now because Russia came in and propped him up and used all that they could --
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, he’s stronger – he’s clearly stronger than he was before they came in.
QUESTION: And in a better negotiating position, I would assume.
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, not necessarily, Charlie, because it doesn’t change the fundamental dynamic. If you’re going to end the war, you can’t do it with Assad there. So if Russia wants to end the war --
QUESTION: If you want to end the war --
SECRETARY KERRY: Correct.
QUESTION: -- you can’t do it with him? So before you end the war, he’s got to be gone?
SECRETARY KERRY: The war will not come to a complete ending, closure, if Assad, against the wishes of the opposition – unless there’s some agreement that I’m not aware of that gets reached with the opposition somewhere in time – you can’t end the war, because the opposition will not fight – end fighting because of what he is deemed to have done to their people, to the people of his country. And the opposition is a determined opposition that has survived even the Russian bombing and even the toughest onslaught of Assad for five years. They’re not going to suddenly disappear. So even if Assad’s in a stronger position, if Russia wants to end the war, the strength of that position doesn’t change anything. Assad’s still going to have to transition.
QUESTION: You spent four hours with Putin. Give me your take on what he wants. He wants Russia to be relevant. He’s achieved that because of what he did in part in Syria. He wants Russia to be respected. What else does he want?
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, I don’t claim to be --
QUESTION: You talk hours and hours to Lavrov, hours and days and days, probably longer. You spent four hours with Putin.
SECRETARY KERRY: I’ve spent more than that. I’ve spent a lot of time with Putin.
QUESTION: You’re right. So what do you think?
SECRETARY KERRY: That’s the third meeting and each of them have been fairly lengthy. But I think he is intelligent.
QUESTION: What does he want?
SECRETARY KERRY: I think he is strategic and tactical, sometimes more tactical than strategic, but there is certainly a strategic vision. I think he wants his point of view acknowledged, and to a certain degree, his interests reciprocated, met to a certain degree. Now, there are limits obviously. Crimea – we’re not moving. I mean, that’s just not in the cards.
QUESTION: But most people think that’s a given that it’s not going to change, Crimea.
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, we’ll wait and see, but we’re not changing on it.
QUESTION: You think there’s reason to believe that Crimea can be taken back from the Russians?
SECRETARY KERRY: I think there is reason to believe that over a long period of time, depending on how the Crimeans feel about it, they may want some resolution with respect to whether they’re part of Ukraine legitimately. Ukrainians will not give up on it. So it’s not going to go away. Ukraine isn’t about to say, oh yeah, go ahead and take it and keep it.
SECRETARY KERRY: So that’s not in the cards. And I think that, ultimately – but that’s down the road. Right now the fight is over Ukraine, et cetera. I think President Putin feels that the United States abused the process in Libya, that we --
QUESTION: He clearly says that. He reminds you every moment.
SECRETARY KERRY: He reminds you every moment. Well, you know the history. There’s a litany.
QUESTION: Yes, exactly.
SECRETARY KERRY: There’s a long list of things. And the – what we need to do is find a way for President Putin to have an opportunity to meet the demands of the United Nations Security Council, live up to his obligations under the Minsk agreement, and --
QUESTION: That’s what he says he wants to do.
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, Charlie, that’s what you put to test.
SECRETARY KERRY: My job in diplomacy is to try to take what someone says and test whether it’s real, and particularly if you’re looking for an outcome that is in fact structured and peaceful and productive, you more than – you will have to find some road that is not perfect, but that finds a way to get there. And in the case of President Putin, he says that he is prepared to be part of the solution with respect to Syria.
Now, everybody doubted whether Russia would play any constructive role whatsoever with respect to the cessation of hostilities.
SECRETARY KERRY: And we got a cessation of hostilities notwithstanding.
QUESTION: Because they played a positive role?
SECRETARY KERRY: Because they played a positive role.
QUESTION: You’ve also said and the President has said --
SECRETARY KERRY: In fact, if they hadn’t done that, if they hadn’t played a constructive role, we would not have had an agreement with Iran.
SECRETARY KERRY: If they hadn’t played a constructive role, we would not have gotten the chemical weapons out of Syria and they would be in the hands of ISIL today. And if they hadn’t played a constructive role, we would not have gotten the cessation of hostilities or everybody at the table in Geneva. So I’m not going to sit here – the job’s not done. There’s a very, very difficult road ahead, and this can crumble very easily because the opposition may decide they’re not serious about a transition and they go back to fighting, or any number of different variations of that.
QUESTION: Will Iran – let’s assume that it works and it continues to hold, the nuclear deal. Would that be the crowning achievement of John Kerry’s secretary of stateship?
SECRETARY KERRY: I have no way of --
SECRETARY KERRY: I mean, I --
QUESTION: Do you think --
SECRETARY KERRY: Others have to judge that down the road, Charlie. I’ve gone at this with the notion that every day that I am there is an opportunity to try to get something done. And we began, as you know, working very hard to try to push the Middle East peace process forward. We have worked – we’re working now in so many different areas. We’re working on Sudan. We’re working on Yemen. We’re working on Libya. We’re working on DPRK. We’re working on the South China Sea.
QUESTION: Speaking --
SECRETARY KERRY: And above all, still Afghanistan.
SECRETARY KERRY: And so I think --
QUESTION: Still Afghanistan. Where does Afghanistan stand? Are the Taliban continuing --
SECRETARY KERRY: Yeah.
QUESTION: -- to make gains in Afghanistan --
SECRETARY KERRY: They have made some gains.
QUESTION: -- holding more territory?
SECRETARY KERRY: They have made some gains. I think it’s fair to say the Afghan army has also indicated a great capacity to stand its ground and fight. They’re learning and getting better.
QUESTION: Turning quickly to China, the president of China was in Washington about nuclear – one of the great fears is, to talk about nuclear issues, including how to protect nuclear weapons by countries that hold them, like Pakistan, and what happens in North Korea. Are the Chinese prepared to help us with respect to North Korea?
SECRETARY KERRY: They have helped recently in the UN Security Council resolution where we had a standoff for a period of time. I think China evaluated it very, very carefully. They moved quite significantly, and so we have a much tougher resolution than we’ve ever had before. Now the trick is to make sure that it is fully implemented, and we’re working on the implementation. I believe there is possibly still more China could do. I think President Obama feels that also. China is the key. China has the lifeline financial relationship through its banks to North Korea.
QUESTION: Geographical relationship.
SECRETARY KERRY: The lifeline geographical, the lifeline food security relationship, the lifeline on fuel.
QUESTION: Right. And so the question is: Are they – what are they prepared to do?
SECRETARY KERRY: That is the question.
QUESTION: American politics proceed without you being involved. (Laughter.) And you have been involved at every level. What is it that people say to you – leaders of other countries – when they look at American politics?
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, they’re very concerned, Charlie. There’s a great – there’s a great disquiet and an anxiety right now.
QUESTION: What are they anxious about?
SECRETARY KERRY: They’re anxious that the certainty that they’ve had about United States policy – I’ll give you an example. I mean, I will say one thing about a policy issue that a candidate has said. When Donald Trump talked about Korea and Japan going out and getting their own nuclear weapons, I can’t think of anything that would be more volatile, more contrary to peace and stability in the region, more contrary to the fundamental commitment of every president since World War II to try to minimize the risk of nuclear weapons and minimize the number of people who have them. And here’s a guy --
QUESTION: Who says --
SECRETARY KERRY: -- running for president who just says, oh, let them go get them themselves.
QUESTION: Like Japan.
SECRETARY KERRY: Yeah. And it’s beyond provocative. And that absence of continuity and stability --
QUESTION: With American traditional foreign policy.
SECRETARY KERRY: -- with American foreign policy and with risk assessment, with calculated strategy, is a profound challenge to the relationships that we have.
QUESTION: So what would they do, do you think, if Donald Trump somehow should become the nominee and some --
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, I’m not going to go – I’m not going to go down that road at this point. I think suffice it to say that there is great anxiety. Everywhere I go people say, “What has happened in the United States? What’s happened to your politics? What -- ”
QUESTION: Yeah, but it’s happening in Europe too. We see --
SECRETARY KERRY: Sure.
QUESTION: -- the move to the right because of the refugee situation.
SECRETARY KERRY: Yeah, but – you see a move to the right, but you don’t see people recommending that other countries get nuclear weapons --
SECRETARY KERRY: -- and go out and fend for themselves. And you don’t see an assault on NATO, which is engaged with us in Afghanistan, engaged with us in Iraq, very important now to the effort to hold the migration at bay. And so I think those are the things – there’s a – when people see a potential – potential nominee of a party starting to talk that way, they get nervous.
QUESTION: Your relationship with the President – there have been great secretary of state-presidential relationships. I would suggest Jim Baker and George Bush 41 would be the best that you could hope for in a sense; Henry Kissinger and Richard Nixon and then Gerald Ford. Is foreign policy conceived at the State Department or at the White House?
SECRETARY KERRY: Always between – it’s always a combination, Charlie. And I always – as a former chair of the Foreign Relations Committee and 28 years on the committee watching the different relationships --
SECRETARY KERRY: -- the different national security advisors and secretaries, I always knew that one of the first rules is don’t get into turf squabbles and don’t start fighting.
SECRETARY KERRY: You’re there to serve the President – both the national security advisor and the secretary. And I serve at the pleasure of the President. And so it just makes sense to be a team, and we are a good team. I believe that.
QUESTION: Between you and the President, Susan Rice, and --
SECRETARY KERRY: Between the whole team, the entire team, the security team – everybody works together as a team. And I think the President – and it’s too early for retrospectives, but I will tell you that he has given me enormous latitude, he has trusted me. He’s given me enormous scope to go out and try something and put him at risk too in the doing of it. And I have huge respect for the President’s strength with respect to letting someone else go do something, and he’s been there every step of the way, believe me. He was deeply involved in the details of the Iran agreement. He knew exactly what he could tolerate politically and otherwise. He made the final cut on we’re willing to go with this or not, and I think he deserves the credit for that.
QUESTION: And 2004, four years before he got the nomination of his party, there was a senator from Massachusetts who was having a nominating convention – (laughter) – and --
SECRETARY KERRY: Yeah, it didn’t quite turn out the way I intended, but --
QUESTION: But the man he chose --
SECRETARY KERRY: Yeah, I know.
QUESTION: -- and gave national prominence to, allowed him to be the keynote speech, made him a national political figure.
SECRETARY KERRY: And I really would – by the way, I am --
QUESTION: Did you really?
SECRETARY KERRY: Absolutely.
QUESTION: You thought, “I was looking at a future president”?
SECRETARY KERRY: I thought all the potential – absolutely, the potential to be a future president. I just didn’t think that I would wind up working for him as President. (Laughter.) I thought it’d be --
QUESTION: Life is strange, isn’t it?
SECRETARY KERRY: No, it’s been terrific. I have no complaints.
QUESTION: This is the job of your --
SECRETARY KERRY: I have no complaints.
QUESTION: You love the job. You love the plane --
SECRETARY KERRY: It’s a fabulous job. I’ve always believed this is the best job in government, I think. I really mean that, best job.
QUESTION: Better than president?
SECRETARY KERRY: Better than president.
QUESTION: Oh, you don’t mean that for a second.
SECRETARY KERRY: I don’t have to go out and raise unbelievable amounts of money and --
SECRETARY KERRY: Seriously.
QUESTION: All right, fair enough. We agreed to 30 minutes and I’ve gone a little bit over. Let me just ask this one last question having to do with – the thing that you spent a lot of your time on, which is the Israeli-Palestinian issue. I mean, you really went all out, even with more enthusiasm for the success, I think, than the President had. He wanted you to go see what you could do. A lot of people doubted you could do anything. In the end, you didn’t do it. Have you given up hope --
SECRETARY KERRY: No.
QUESTION: -- that before you leave this office --
SECRETARY KERRY: No.
QUESTION: -- you can somehow pull a rabbit out of a hat?
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, you’re not – I don’t see the time to obviously negotiate out a final status agreement.
QUESTION: Right. But --
SECRETARY KERRY: But I do think it is possible to get something started, get something moving in which you could lay out a vision for where you’re going and perhaps get the parties together and have some understanding, some confidence-building measures. You could have some efforts, for instance, in the West Bank on Area C, which is the area controlled by Israel in its entirety --
QUESTION: Right, right.
SECRETARY KERRY: -- and begin to build up Palestinian capacity. I think you could do more on security. I think you could do some things with the Arab --
QUESTION: More on economic development and things like that?
SECRETARY KERRY: More on economic development. You could build a horizon where there are some expectations for what has to be achieved that begin to quiet things down and give people some confidence or hope that there is within that framework the kernels of possible negotiations. I don’t think you can just plunk down and start to negotiate tomorrow, but I do think there are definitive steps that could be taken. And we have – what? – nine, ten more months, and I think President Obama will always welcome something that’s real.
What the President – the President’s view of this is actually, I think, sadly misinterpreted. The President --
QUESTION: By the Israelis?
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, by lots of people, yeah, but he would love to see something happen, but the President doesn’t have a conviction at this point in time that people are really serious and prepared to move in any direction towards doing that.
QUESTION: But he hasn’t had that conviction for a while, has he?
SECRETARY KERRY: I think – well, I think when things began to come apart in our efforts two years ago, I think since then, the President has been appropriately skeptical about whether people are serious.
So – but the President will always be prepared to embrace something that is real, and needless to say, cares about this enormously because it is vital to the security of an ally – Israel – vital to the region, vital to us, and frankly, without it being solved at some point in time, it leaves great uncertainty about the capacity for stability and of peace in the region.
QUESTION: What do you worry about the most?
SECRETARY KERRY: I worry about the gap between the massive numbers of young people in various parts of the world and particularly in the Middle East and north of Africa and South Central Asia, where they know what the rest of the world has; they don’t have it, and they know they don’t have it.
QUESTION: And they have access to knowing it because of social media.
SECRETARY KERRY: Exactly, and they see the connectedness, and they’re not connected to anything. And they are ripe for the picking of some kind of radicalization, and for the moment, that has become a very, very dangerous, extreme element of Islamic distortion that is putting many, many people at risk. And what I worry about is, Charlie, that there are hundreds of millions of kids in Africa and the region who need to be educated – not 10 years from now, tomorrow. And if you leave them without opportunity --
QUESTION: You believe they have a future.
SECRETARY KERRY: -- in bad governance with corruption surrounding them, and the only thing coming at them is a drumbeat of a distortion of religious belief, that can be dangerous for everybody. And I think that’s the greatest challenge we face in terms of security today. When someone can be built into a killing machine, who thinks somehow it is better to go be dead than to be alive, and they’re prepared to take a lot of people with them, that can be a dangerous world. And so I think we have to rise even more to the challenge of preventing that, of inoculating against it.
QUESTION: How do we do that?
SECRETARY KERRY: It’s very old practice of engagement with countries to help them provide the governance necessary to build the capacity necessary to deliver the services that are wanted, and to be able to provide an education system and to transform their economies.
Now, it’s not all doom and gloom, believe me. Hundreds of millions of people in India and China, in other countries, have been brought into the middle class. There’s a huge amount of growth out there. I mean, if you get away from the headlines and the violence – and it’s hard to do that, but if you did, there’s actually less violence and less numbers of people being killed than there were in the last century. So you have to measure this. There are diseases being cured. There are opportunities being created that some people never thought would exist. So there’s a really positive side to all of this and there’s a really dangerous side.
QUESTION: Here is the question, then, on that, and it’s an – I think, an important question. Are we using – are we using all the tools that we have in terms of economic development, in terms of all kinds of assistance we might be able to lend in terms of our own technology in order to --
SECRETARY KERRY: Not yet.
QUESTION: -- have an influence in the world, far beyond our military power?
SECRETARY KERRY: We’re using every one --
QUESTION: And that includes diplomacy too.
SECRETARY KERRY: We are using every one that we have been able to put together with serious budget limitations.
QUESTION: Serious budget limitations?
SECRETARY KERRY: Yes, sir.
QUESTION: You could do a lot more --
SECRETARY KERRY: We could do a tremendous amount more with more resources, but we’re dealing with a budget deal that the Congress insisted on, and limitations have been placed on our ability to do some of these things. And I think it’s – that’s a very important subject that needs to be built out.
QUESTION: All right. Well, then, will you come back?
SECRETARY KERRY: I’ll come back.
QUESTION: Thank you, Secretary Kerry. It’s a pleasure to have you here.
SECRETARY KERRY: My pleasure. Thanks.
QUESTION: Suppose Hillary Clinton is elected and says, “You’re doing such a hell of a job, you need to stay”?
SECRETARY KERRY: I’m planning – my plan right now is finish out.
QUESTION: And write a book?
SECRETARY KERRY: I don’t know what I’m going to do yet, Charlie. Obviously, a book is one option. I got to think about it.
QUESTION: Thank you for coming.
SECRETARY KERRY: Thanks. Good to be with you.
QUESTION: Thank you.
SECRETARY KERRY: Thank you.
QUESTION: Secretary John Kerry. We’ll be right back. Stay with us.
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