Press Availability with Irish Foreign Minister Charles Flanagan

Press Availability
John Kerry
Secretary of State
Tipperary, Ireland
October 30, 2016

FOREIGN MINISTER FLANAGAN: Good morning, everybody. Welcome to the Golden Vale of Tipperary on this beautiful autumn morning, and in particular I want to especially welcome Secretary of State John Kerry not only to Ireland but to the heart of Ireland to receive the highly acclaimed Tipperary International Peace Award.

Today, the Secretary of State joins a long list of awardees which includes Nelson Mandela, Mikhail Gorbachev, George Mitchell, Hillary Clinton, Benazir Bhutto, Mary McAleese, and most recently and last year UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. And the Tipperary Peace Convention could not have awarded its prize to a more worthy and indeed more deserving figure than Secretary of State John Kerry. He has an outstanding record of public service going back three decades and more. His record is one of distinguished service at state level, at national level, and in more recent times at international level as Secretary of State.

I was really grateful to have an opportunity over the past hour or so to discuss a number of issues with the Secretary of State. These include a number of current international issues and (inaudible) of concern to us nearer home, and had the opportunity to discuss in particular the most recent developments in Northern Ireland and the peace process, and indeed to acknowledge the appreciation of the Irish Government and indeed the Irish people to Secretary Kerry for his personal commitment to the peace process on the island of Ireland and the cause of peace and reconciliation.

I would like to acknowledge and welcome back to Ireland – his first time I think in this part of Ireland – Secretary of State’s Special Envoy for Northern Ireland Senator Gary Hart. The appointment of Senator Hart is a further demonstration of the ongoing commitment on the part of the United States to our peace process, and Secretary Kerry and Senator Hart, we very much value that and we thank you for Senator Hart’s skill, his dedication, his contribution, and – in his capacity as special envoy.

Turning to European issues, we discussed the intended withdrawal from the European Union of the United Kingdom. Ireland will continue to work with all our EU partners and the United Kingdom in this regard. Ireland remains a committed member of the European Union. We want as close a relationship as possible between the UK and the European Union in future, and of course, we are acutely conscious of the important need to protect the gains of the Good Friday Agreement in any future arrangement.

We also had the opportunity to discuss a number of other matters of importance, including immigration reform. And can I say that as a former senator from Massachusetts, Senator Kerry is acutely aware of the problems being experienced by many thousands undocumented Irish citizens, including being unable to return home for important family occasions. I know that Secretary Kerry does not have a direct role in immigration reform, but we still appreciate his interest and his understanding and his appreciation of this issue for Ireland.

We greatly appreciate the efforts made during his tenure by President Obama and his Administration, and indeed the ever-vigilant and ongoing commitment to Irish affairs and indeed Irish priorities of Ambassador Kevin O’Malley during the course of his tenure here, and I welcome Ambassador O’Malley to Tipperary too. Our government will continue our two-pronged approach on the issue of immigration reform, trying to regularize the undocumented and attempting to get a dedicated quota for legal immigration from Ireland.

We – the Secretary of State and I also had the opportunity to discuss a number of international issues, notably the appalling ongoing situation in Syria and in the city of Aleppo in particular. And can I say that the Secretary of State has demonstrated an enormous commitment to finding a resolution to this very, very serious crisis in the Middle East. I have assured the Secretary of State of Ireland’s unfailing support for his efforts to find a peaceful resolution to the tragedy in Syria. We also had the opportunity to discuss the situation in Yemen and Libya.

I’m very pleased to hand it over to the Secretary of State.

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, good morning to all of you and thank you very much, Foreign Minister Flanagan, my friend Charlie. I’m deeply appreciative for your welcome and also for the extraordinary contributions of Ireland to so many different parts of what we are engaged in right now in terms of seeking peace, not just within Europe but peace also in the issues – on the issues that he mentioned with respect to Syria, Yemen, Libya, Pakistan, India, the challenge of nuclear weapons in North Korea. This is a challenging moment on a global basis, and very few countries step up as much as Ireland steps up. Your peacekeeping efforts and your commitment to reconciliation are legendary now, and so it’s a particular pleasure for me to come here partly with the pleasure of accepting the Tipperary Award, which I’ll have more to say about later, but it’s a great honor for me to be able to be here for that, but also to meet bilaterally with your foreign minister and to be able to talk about these broader issues of mutual concern. It’s also an honor for me to be here in Ireland because, having represented Boston for 28-plus years in the United States Senate and grown up there, I don’t think any state in our nation has stronger ties – there are others with strong ties, but none stronger than Boston. And it was my great pleasure to work with Tip O’Neill, Ted Kennedy, others, in the many efforts that we made to try to encourage a resolution of the challenges of Northern Ireland and those issues, and George Mitchell – my friend, obviously your friend also, you know so well contributed so significantly to that effort.

It’s fair to say that few nations better understand the value of resolving territorial questions or addressing age-old grievances or bridging differences and reducing conflict and pursuing peace. I’ve often said to people it’s a lot harder to pursue peace than it is to make war or create conflict. Those are easier decisions than the decisions of reconciliation and of actually signing on to an agreement that puts grievances of the past behind one.

I’m grateful that this morning the foreign minister and I had an opportunity to be able to talk about the strong and enduring partnership between Ireland and the United States. We spoke about the importance of sustaining and advancing the Northern Ireland peace process. Over nearly two decades, the world has seen the remarkable success, the striking success, of the Good Friday Agreement. I was pleased to serve in the Senate with Chris Dodd on the – and Joe Biden on the Foreign Relations Committee when we first grappled with the issues of do we give a visa to Gerry Addams, do we begin to move this process forward? And the answer is we did, and the rest is history. And we want it to be history because that still can serve as a model for embracing reconciliation, for rebuilding trust, and for resolving longstanding disputes.

And I have to say to you, as I’ve traveled the world these four years as Secretary of State I have never seen a world with more opportunity waiting for leadership to put these conflict issues of the past behind us and grab the future, because so much of our effort needs to go into resolving this clash between modernity and globalization and opportunity for young people. The provision of jobs, education, creating the – meeting the expectations of young people all around the world should be a far greater priority, frankly, than some countries seem to want to make it, and then certainly some people in public life of one kind or another want to make it as they seem more and more prepared to engage in the lowest common denominator of politics rather than seeking the highest aspirations and implementing them.

We all know that the work of peace is ongoing even here and that continued success is going to require continued effort and that a lot more needs to be done to build on the progress of the past. That is why the United States remains absolutely firmly committed to both the Fresh Start and the Stormont House accords, and we will support all steps necessary to implement them. I was pleased to turn to my friend Gary Hart, who I served briefly with in the Senate before he left but who I have known for many years going back to the years when we opposed the war in Vietnam and worked to move our country forward, and I am deeply grateful to him for taking time out of his private life to give so much to Ireland and to this process. And I want to underscore the importance of establishing the institutions that are called for in the agreements that will deal with the legacies of “The Troubles.” Now, doing so is critical to attracting foreign investment, to strengthening businesses, to providing jobs, and to growing the economy of Northern Ireland – all key ingredients for building and keeping a lasting peace on this beautiful island.

The foreign minister and I also discussed the United Kingdom’s vote to leave the European Union, which we have both reiterated along with colleagues across the Irish and British Governments must not impact the push for peace in Northern Ireland. That is critical. I also want to make it clear that on a personal level as well as as Secretary of State, and President Obama, we felt very strongly that leaving the European Union was not the way to go and we expressed that at the time, but the people of Britain voted. And so we are committed now to figure out how we answer some very tough questions, which is how do you maintain the economic opportunity that is so critical that came through the EU while at the same time reconciling the requirements for the movement of people with access to a single market. This is a tough issue, and I can’t tell you that I stand here today knowing exactly how that’s going to be resolved. I just know it’s tough.

But I also know that the United States wants, as Charlie just said, a strong United Kingdom, a strong EU, and we want the closest possible relationship with both. And we want to make certain that the marketplace itself remains as strong as possible, and we will work as hard as we can to honor the vote but also to make sure that the larger challenges of security and of economic strength and the long-term future capacity for growth are all going to be met in whatever the resolution of this is going to be.

On the subject of Ireland’s global role, I commended this morning to Charlie and I’ve said a moment ago a few words about it, this nation’s critical contributions to international peacekeeping, particularly its deployment of troops to such challenging environments as Libya, Mali, Chad, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Ireland also ranks among the top 10 countries in the world in terms of humanitarian assistance with an investment of nearly 100 million euros this year alone in order to help refugees and programs to protect human rights and other initiatives to alleviate poverty, to combat disease, and spur economic development. I know the people of Ireland are proud, and I want to emphasize how proud they should be and how grateful we are in the United States for the extraordinary global partnership of Ireland.

Finally, the foreign minister and I talked about one of the greatest sources of dynamisms in our bilateral ties, and that is the connections between our two peoples, our youth particularly. Over the past half century, universities and businesses in the United States have benefited from the participation of more than 150,000 Irish students in our J-1 programs – exchanges that enable these young leaders to come over and study on American campuses, gain experience in our companies, learn about our customs and our culture – and yes, we do have some culture.

I am pleased to announce that next month in Washington I will be signing an MOU which will expand the number of young Irish people who will spend a full year as interns for U.S. enterprises, giving them the chance to be able to develop important professional skills before returning home.

So beyond these specific issues, Ireland continues to play an outsize role in big-picture challenges, from fighting climate change to countering violent extremism to spurring broadly shared prosperity to improving food security worldwide.

And for example, Ireland is a key partner in the negotiations on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, or TTIP, which will be an essential economic bridge tying the United States and Europe together even more closely than before. And this country has also been a member of the counter-ISIL coalition from day one, helping to lead the charge to fight and degrade the terrorists of Daesh. I want you to know that we are making great progress in that moving forward. With now the operation of Mosul, we’ve gained back enormous territory in Iraq, we’re putting enormous pressure on them in Syria, and I am absolutely confident that we are setting up the ultimate defeat of Daesh, which will do an enormous amount for the security of Europe and the rest of the world. I have no question but that our partnership on this, Charlie, is going to grow in the months ahead as we all gain more sophistication in those things that we can do to have greater impact.

President John Kennedy, who I was privileged to meet several times as a young man when I was in college, knew a thing or two about Irish-American relations, and he referred to us as “two nations, divided by distance, [but]...united by history.” And I would add that we’re also united by our values, our love of freedom, and a certain exuberant and optimistic approach to the possibilities of life. So I’m delighted to be here, and I am absolutely convinced that the United States and Ireland are going to remain bound together in the pursuit of peace and prosperity and progress for many, many years to come. And the United States of America could not be more grateful for this very special relationship.

Thank you.

MODERATOR: Okay, we’ll take a few very brief questions. Carole Coleman, RTE.

QUESTION: You both say that Brexit must not impact the push for peace in Northern Ireland. And in your discussions, are either of you concerned that it could actually impact the push for peace in Northern Ireland, and particularly, Minister Flanagan, in relation to the comments by the DUP that Ireland is being driven by political instability?

And to you, Secretary Kerry, also, you’ve spent a lot of time trying to work on a diplomatic solution in Syria, and do you think that there can be any diplomatic breakthrough there before the end of this Administration?

FOREIGN MINISTER FLANAGAN: I’m satisfied in the context of my discussions with members of the UK Government, with leaders in Northern Ireland, and at meetings with all of my 27 EU counterparts that the issue of the unique status of the island of Ireland in the context of the withdrawal of the UK from the European Union is recognized, is acknowledged, and is appreciated. So it’s important, therefore, in the context of the negotiations which will commence next spring that that unique status is acknowledged and maintained.

With particular reference to the issue of the current invisible border between Northern Ireland and Ireland, in the last seven days I was in Derry, I was in Newry, I was in Armagh speaking to business leaders regarding the challenge, which is an enormous challenge, in order to ensure that our level of trade is not only unhindered but continues to grow, and also in terms of people-to-people contact and the entire peace process.

Can I say in relation to the remarks of the first minister at the DUP conference yesterday, I was very surprised at these remarks and very concerned at these remarks. I’m very concerned that it claimed that representatives of the Irish Government were allegedly talking down at the Northern Ireland economy, very concerned at allegations that representatives of the Irish state were in any way poaching business or investors. I spoke last evening to the minister of the economy, Simon Hamilton. I expressed my concern. He and I agreed that it’s important that we work together, which we will do.

I believe it’s important that the unique relationship of the people on this island forms part of the negotiated framework in the matter of the relationship between United Kingdom and the European Union. We need to work together, we have to work together, in order to ensure economic and social prosperity for all the people on this island, and that is the priority of my government and my government colleagues.

QUESTION: Thank you. Sir.

SECRETARY KERRY: I think you had just the separate question for me. You didn’t --

QUESTION: Well, do you want to comment on --

SECRETARY KERRY: No, no, no, no. I think Charlie did a great job with that. The only thing that I would say is people need to be really careful with downstream consequences, that one choice can have an impact on other aspects, and whatever happens with the border, how that border access is managed. I just want to underscore what Charlie was saying. It’s really critical that it be done very thoughtfully and very sensitively so it doesn’t impact. I’m not saying it will, but one needs to make certain that it doesn’t.

With respect to Syria, we are engaged even now, still, on a daily basis trying to find a way to address the humanitarian disaster of Aleppo and of the war itself. Every day this war goes on, every hour it goes on, is an hour and a day too long. And so we are still engaged on a multilateral basis, including with Russia and Iran and other parties – Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Qatar, et cetera – to see if there is a way to try to reduce the violence and move towards the negotiating table.

Because there have been a sufficient level of starts that have not produced an outcome except for a temporary period of time, I want to be very, very careful with any kind of predictions in answer to your question. But just broadly writ, is it possible? Yes, it is possible, providing that the Russians and Iranians and the regime itself are willing to accept a reasonable approach put on the table by all sides – by all the other parties – in the hopes of being able to move towards that political discussion. And we are not going to stop, not for one day, without any shame whatsoever in saying that, because the alternative is that on a daily basis civilians are bombed, kids are bombed, schools are bombed, hospitals are bombed, and we cannot just be sitting on our heels while that’s going on. We have a fundamental responsibility to try to push the process forward. And my hope is that over the course of the next two, two and a half months, we might be able to find a way to actually get to the table and begin some kind of legitimate and long-overdue conversation.

MS TRUDEAU: Our next question is Lesley Wroughton from Reuters.

QUESTION: Thanks. Mr. Secretary, have you or the State Department officially been notified by the FBI of the new review of Secretary Clinton’s emails? Have you been told what the contents are of the new batch, and are you willing to hand them over? On a second question – well, Secretary Clinton has actually said it’s troubling behavior and unprecedented; was wondering what your thoughts were on it.

On a second question on TTIP, I was wondering whether you think that that negotiation can be completed before the end of the Administration or – and whether you think anything can get pushed through before January. And for the foreign minister as well, what would the implications of that be if it’s not?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, Lesley, regarding the FBI and the emails, et cetera, the answer just very quickly is no, I haven’t been notified of anything; no, I haven’t been requested of anything; no, I’m not aware of the department being requested. And I have no further comment to make whatsoever on a subject that is within the purview of the Department of Justice and the FBI. They will have to respond to any and all other questions regarding this.

With respect to TTIP – by the way, obviously, as an American citizen, not to mention as a former nominee of the party, there’s a lot I’d love to say about what has been going on. But I can’t, and I’m just going to remain out of this, which is the appropriate place for the Secretary of State to be regarding this issue.

On TTIP, let me just say a word about TTIP so that people really understand what this is all about. TTIP is, in our judgment, a vitally important economic and vitally important strategic initiative, and our support for it and our desire to see it implemented is as strong as ever. And I am very grateful for Ireland’s interest in this and its recognition of how important that it is. It will bring real economic benefits to Europe, and it will help ensure global trade standards for a long time to come. And there’s no doubt in my mind about that.

Now, we are still in negotiations on this; and depending on who is elected president of the United States, I don’t see those negotiations ending. I think that it doesn’t have to be concluded in the next month or two, but it’d be great if it were. We are going to continue to negotiate; we’re going to continue to push for it. We’re committed to negotiating a comprehensive and high-standard TTIP agreement and to making progress towards that as much as we can in the coming months, and it’ll be up to the negotiators to determine. I know that Ambassador Froman is having discussions with Trade Commissioner Malmstrom about the best way to continue to work forward, and I am very supportive of this. I think that this will boost exports from Ireland to the United States and elsewhere, particularly for small and for medium-sized enterprises.

And some of the resistance that I’ve heard in different places in parts of Europe we’ve begun to address and I’m personally addressing, because I think there’s a mythology out there on the negative side of this. And I don’t want to see mythology drive this particular decision. It does not lower anybody’s standards of doing business. It does not lower anybody’s standards with respect to goods or services that are provided. It raises standards. And in addition to that, it doesn’t undo any country’s ability to protect its environment; it has environment within it. It doesn’t undo anybody’s ability to have labor standards; it raises the ability. So nothing goes backwards in this agreement, and some people have been trying to scare people by alleging that, in fact, it would.

So I am confident that ultimately the wisdom of TTIP will be seen by Europe, will be embraced, and that we will get an agreement. And I can’t get into predicting time frames or whatever. We’re just going to keep hammering away and moving towards this, because it’s really vital to all of our countries to be able to grow our economies and provide greater prosperity to our people.

FOREIGN MINISTER FLANAGAN: I would just add to what Secretary of State has said that Ireland, being a small, open economy, is reliant on our export trade and business. I was very pleased to see progress made in the last few days on the Canadian-EU deal, the CETA deal, and I believe it’s important that that be wrapped up at the earliest opportunity.

I favor TTIP. I don’t believe that putting strict time frames is a substitute for getting it right. If the Secretary of State is to look to his left, he will see one of the finest agricultural areas in the world, producing the freshest and most nutritious milk on this planet. Ireland, as well as that, is a knowledge-based economy. We enjoy a very high reputation as being one of the best places in the world for business, our highly educated and talented workforce, our business-friendly environment, our corporate tax rate – 12 and a half percent – and our place at the heart of the European Union as regard to Brexit.

Ireland will continue to be a most attractive destination for business – at the heart of the European Union, at the heart of the Eurozone, Ireland continuing to play its part. And we look forward to a successful conclusion of the transatlantic trade talks at the earliest opportunity.

MODERATOR: Okay, everyone, I think we’re going to have to --

SECRETARY KERRY: Thank you all very much. Thank you.