Interview With Adam Boulton of Sky News

John Kerry
Secretary of State
Marshall and John Jay Rooms
Washington, DC
September 15, 2016

QUESTION: Secretary of State, as you know, it’s a very turbulent time in the world. We’ve got Syria, we’ve got Ukraine, we’ve got the Maghreb crisis. So why the oceans? Why are you devoting so much energy to that?

SECRETARY KERRY: Because the oceans are a security threat, challenge. The state of the oceans are a security challenge for everybody in the world. They are under siege by overfishing, which is a food challenge to people in the world and an ecosystem breakdown challenge. They are polluted in many, many places. There are more than 500 dead zones in the ocean now, which will affect spawning grounds and the future of the ecosystem. The oceans are rising due to climate change and acidifying because of climate change. CO2 goes into the water and it changes form, becomes carbonic acid, has a profound impact on sea life.

So the oceans are threatened. We get 50 percent of the oxygen that we breathe on this planet from the oceans and we should not play with them. We need to be respectful. We need to do things to turn the course around, because life itself is threatened. And that’s why we’re taking time to do this. This is as a life-or-death issue in the ways that other challenges are also life and death.

QUESTION: I mean, that really is the question, of whether we can do anything about it.

SECRETARY KERRY: Of course you can do something about it.

QUESTION: I mean, take fishing. I mean, there are lots of parts of the world – the Mediterranean is one example that, close to the United Kingdom in Europe – where it’s pretty much fished out. Can you get the fish --

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, that’s the problem. The answer is yes, you can bring it back, but you can’t fish for a while in order to do that. We had that problem in Massachusetts a number of years ago. We lost our striped bass stock, and so we banned striped bass fishing for 10 years. Today, there is a healthy stock of striped bass. People can go out, recreational fishers, commercial fishermen, but it’s done in a sustainable way. And the reason the Mediterranean is where it is – it wasn’t done sustainably. So that’s exactly what we’re trying to foster here is a sustainable approach, a sustainable ethic, where you can fish, but you’re doing it in a way where it’s allowed to replenish and be there for the future.

QUESTION: But you got the problem of enforcement as well, haven’t you?

SECRETARY KERRY: You have a huge problem with enforcement, and we will be announcing here a Safe Ocean Network that is going to put in place modern technology to begin to do the tracking of fishing efforts in various parts of the world. And as we build that out – and we hope to do it rapidly – we will gain better control over who is fishing where and what they’re fishing and what they --

QUESTION: Quite a strong British contribution to that, I believe. It’s --

SECRETARY KERRY: Likewise, yes, indeed, a great British contribution.

QUESTION: Satellite from DITCO.

SECRETARY KERRY: But we’re also – we have the port state measures. When I started this conference in 2014, only 20 – 10 countries had signed up to this protocol or treaty, where you would actually have restrictions on people’s ability to sell fish within a port, and they’d have to be able to prove where they caught it and that they were licensed and that it was appropriate. And now, there are 60 nations signed up for this measure, and it only took 25 to make it become international law. So we’re building this out. We’re trying to do that in the context of this conference and we’ll continue.

QUESTION: Let’s take plastics for a moment, I mean, a massive amount of plastic in the ocean, which ends up in digestive systems and elsewhere. Some action on microbeads on both sides of the Atlantic, but here we are, four single-use plastic bottles here in the State Department. I mean, can you win that battle against plastics?

SECRETARY KERRY: Yes. But it takes a responsible approach to it and it takes – I mean, we’ve done a lot, as you know, with respect to recycling the bottles. There are lot of products made now with recycled fishnets and recycled plastic. And even clothing is made in some ways with some recycled plastic as part of it.

So there are a lot of things that we can do if we change the way people think and their casual practices. You can’t just throw it away on the beach. You can’t – I mean, people – there have to be consequences for actions. And if we begin to change the sort of standard approach of people to being casual about that, we can have an impact. I mean, that’s what I mean. You said marine mammals and other – birds and others ingest this. Yes, they do, but that could stop if we had better culture of sustainability and we begin to recycle; people don’t drop their plastic on the beach, they put it in a recycling --

QUESTION: And how important is media campaigning in all this?


QUESTION: I mean, as you notice --

SECRETARY KERRY: Media is essential. We have to communicate to people.

QUESTION: Sky in Italy and in the UK is the – campaigning this.

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, we need – the media is critical to educating people, but we all – we need basic education in our schools about this too. We’ll be preparing a video out of this conference that we will distribute to schools all across America. We want kids to grow up educated about the oceans, educated about water bodies, educated about the relationship of a farm and the chemicals that are used to the food they eat and the fish that they eventually catch and eat.

All of these things are related, and a lot of people are not sensitized to that relationship. The dots aren’t connected for them. We’re going to try to use this conference as a building block in the connecting of those dots.

QUESTION: Now, what we haven’t talked about yet is the whole question of global warming acidification, which perhaps is the climate change – the biggest threat. You’ve done what you could in Paris, yet we’ve got Donald Trump saying he would cancel that initiative and questioning the whole question of a global warming. I mean, what would be the impact on the sort of things you’re trying to do if we ended up with a Trump administration?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, I’m not permitted to engage in the politics, so I can’t start taking sides one way or the other. But it’s no secret that I believe very, very strongly in the science of climate change. And I believe today we have a President of the United States, Barack Obama, who has implemented major policies in order to respond to the urgency of climate change. He has changed automobile standards, truck standards, building standards, power plant emitting standards, put in place a major initiative on climate change and so forth, a Climate Action Plan for the country. So I want that to continue in the future, and I hope the American people will vote in a way that reflects the urgency of these issues.

QUESTION: Because presumably, your efforts here are hampered by the fact that the United States is not a signatory to the Convention on the Law of the Sea.

SECRETARY KERRY: No. Well, I mean, occasionally I run into a sort of comment or two about why aren’t you in it. But we – the reason we’re not in it is we have a United States Senate that won’t ratify it.

QUESTION: Exactly.

SECRETARY KERRY: But the Administration – and the last administration before it, which was Republican – made it clear they would live by the Law of the Sea. So George W. Bush – his administration has lived by it. The Obama Administration has lived by it. And I hope the next administration, even if we can’t ratify it, will continue to live by it.

QUESTION: I want to talk about the pressures --

SECRETARY KERRY: I expect it will.

QUESTION: -- on the Secretary of State at the moment – or on Hillary Clinton, who was secretary of state. Do you think she’s physically up to the job, got the stamina?

SECRETARY KERRY: I am absolutely convinced she is, but it’s not my job to get into this race, so let’s not be asking about the candidates, okay? We got to – I have no doubt about her physical stamina. She’s strong. But I – let’s talk about the fish and the --

QUESTION: Yeah. What about Britain’s role in all this? Because there is a perception that, perhaps now that Britain’s voted for Brexit, it doesn’t carry the clout, the influence that it has in the world. I noticed that it’s --

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, we’re going to have – I mean, Britain insists that that won’t change.

QUESTION: They said during the – yeah.

SECRETARY KERRY: Britain insists that that won’t change.

QUESTION: What do you think?

SECRETARY KERRY: I – we have to see what evolves. I mean, it’s too early to tell. We were against Brexit. Everybody knows the United States of America thought it was a mistake. But now that it’s been voted on and passed, the will of the people is going to be implemented and respected. And we will respect it and try to find a way forward that meets the security needs and the trade needs, the economic needs of our relationships. And that’s our job.

QUESTION: But that role is being bridged between Europe and America, presumably --

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, it may be some of that. It may be some bridging. But we also have to work out our own relationship with whatever changes take place in Europe as a result of this or whatever change there is in the relationship between Britain and Europe. We don’t know that yet, and we need to give them the space to negotiate and work through the Brexit process.

QUESTION: David Cameron, as you know, has quit politics this week. What do you think the verdict will be on his international role, bearing in mind --


QUESTION: -- the President, for example, saying he lost concentration in Libya.

SECRETARY KERRY: I, again, am not going to get into the business of commenting on the former prime minister or prime minister of another country or – that’s not my job. My job is to build the bridges, not tear them down and --

QUESTION: Yeah. But it is a mess in Libya, isn’t it? And this is affecting --

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, Libya is getting – yes, it’s been a mess. And President Obama himself has publicly stated that he wishes that he and others had focused more on the aftermath of Libya. And we’ve been working extremely hard to bring the Libyan Government to a place of legitimacy. We’ve made a lot of progress. We need to deal now still with some outlier players who are not yet unified into the government of national unity. But I think we’re making progress. We will have meetings on that in New York next week, and I hope we can strengthen Libya.

QUESTION: Two quick questions. Syria – Britain and America wanted Assad to go. It seems if there is a settlement now he’ll stay.

SECRETARY KERRY: I have no knowledge of a, quote, “settlement,” or a deal. I certainly – we haven’t made a deal.

QUESTION: But any deal or deal you’re working towards would let him stay?

SECRETARY KERRY: No. This is something the Syrian people are going to have to decide and something the negotiations are going to have to decide. Our position is still that we don’t see how you can possibly make peace or how there will be peace in Syria with Assad still there, because I think he is a magnet who draws the jihadis, who attracts the conflict such as it is today. It’s defined around Assad, to a certain degree. And I don’t see how he makes up for barrel bombing his citizens, torturing his citizens, gassing his citizens. I just don’t see how that happens. But it’s up to the Syrian people to decide what will be the future of Syria. And that will happen, we hope, when they get to the negotiating table in Geneva.

QUESTION: Finally, a reflective question. You ran for president, you’ve ended up Secretary of State after a long career in the Senate. Do you think actually you can influence the world more as U.S. Secretary of State than as president?

SECRETARY KERRY: No, I think that the president of the United States is obviously the most powerful position in our country, certainly, and one of the most powerful in the world, if not the. So obviously what I do as a Secretary of State I do with a President who wants to do those things and who licenses me to go out and do those things. So this is not automatically, inherently a powerful position.

It has been powerful, I think, in the last years because the President has trusted me; he has empowered me. And he, himself, has adopted a set of priorities which put us in sync and have empowered us to be able to, I think, be effective in Afghanistan and in our policy in Ukraine, trying to get the implementation of Minsk, in getting the Iran agreement, in getting the chemical weapons out of Syria, in working now on Libya, on Yemen, in helping to bring about a Paris Agreement, the rebalance to Asia, the TPP. I think we’ve been able globally – the Ebola crisis and now the Zika – we’ve been able to be effective because we have a President who is engaged on a global basis.

QUESTION: Thank you very much, indeed.