Remarks at the 11th Annual Edward R. Murrow Program for Journalists

John Kerry
Secretary of State
Loy Henderson Auditorium
Washington, DC
November 2, 2016

SECRETARY KERRY: Good morning.

AUDIENCE: Good morning.

SECRETARY KERRY: How are you doing? Everybody good?

AUDIENCE: Yeah. Good.

SECRETARY KERRY: Good. The loudest “yeah” was over here. Where are you from?

QUESTION: Sri Lanka.

SECRETARY KERRY: Sri Lanka. Well, you have reason to be loud. That’s good. I appreciate – Sri Lanka’s done some amazing things in the last years.

So Evan, thank you very, very much. I’m enormously proud of the work that Evan Ryan has done and Rick Stengel and John Kirby. Rick is our undersecretary, and he has been really superb in thinking of new ways to be able to talk to people, new ways – excuse me – to be able to collect information, new ways to counter lies that move in a nanosecond around the entire planet.

So your jobs are really more important than ever. And I really am very happy to welcome you here. Edward R. Murrow was a hero of all of us who grew up in the Cold War. He was a truth teller. He was always trying to find a way to communicate reality to people. And if you’ve ever heard his radio broadcasts from London during the war, they set the standard for reporting in real time what was happening.

I know that the fact that each of you are here is a big deal, and I want you to understand that. I hope you do. It reflects your own skills; it reflects your own abilities, your interest, and whether you write for a blog or write real time or write for newspaper or film, or take pictures – whatever form of journalism you’re in, the world has never needed truth more than it needs it today. And I applaud you. I congratulate you. I thank you for having the courage to take on what you are taking on. You’re 75 different countries here, representing 75 countries. And that is evidence that the calling to try to find the truth and report the truth is not limited to a few places.

I think it’s a global instinct. I think people everywhere want the truth. And it’s not easy in some places to be able to report it. And these are complicated times. I think everybody understands that, that the world is changing at a very rapid pace. Globalization brings a lot of benefits, but it brings challenges, too, and we know that. Technology changes the type of work that people do or can do. And as that changes more rapidly, societies are put under pressure. And it’s up to all of us as leaders to figure out the best way to manage all of that in public policy.

I think it’s very exciting that you’re here in the final stages of the presidential campaign, which I’m sure you’re watching closely with different reactions. If you’re reacting somewhat curiously to what is going on, don’t feel unique. In 1884, the Cuban reporter Jose Marti – and patriot, obviously – this is what he wrote of the campaign of 1884: “Once the candidates are designated by the convention, all sense of dignity is totally forgotten. Mud-slinging becomes rampant, and any blow is justified if it stuns the political enemy.”

Well, I’ll let you draw your own conclusions about what’s going on, and whether – what you’ve observed over the last 132 years of campaigns. But I hope you will give credit to the central feature of our campaign, which is that we’re now engaged in the 58th free and open presidential selection process for the 58th consecutive time. Compared to a lot of places in the world, that’s pretty amazing. That’s pretty good. And I am very pleased that the State Department, through the Edward R. Murrow program, is able to bring you here to understand that whatever form of journalism you practice, whatever the challenges are that you face in your country, one of the principal things we want you to take away from this is you’re not alone. Look around you. Look at all the other folks who are working like you are to tell the truth about whatever it is that is happening in your country.

And I know that the dangers that are faced are multiple. If you’re from Syria, for instance, in the middle of a war, people don’t want you to write certain things. It’s complicated. There’s a target on your front and back. And that’s true in other places, too. In some countries, it’s just taboo to be able to write the truth or to be able to tell people, share people information about what’s going on. And in some places, a lot of people will tell you, well, we’re not ready for democracy, or people can’t handle all the truth, or, well, we’ve got to develop things, this is really – you don’t have the story right, and you can’t report that, and they threaten you. In some places people have suffered great physical harm for trying to tell the truth. And anybody who tells you that people aren’t ready for democracy, I’ve never met a place that is ready for dictatorship. And that’s often the alternative that people are offering.

So however you write, whatever you do, I simply want you to take away from here a sense of collegiality, a sense of brotherhood and sisterhood with people in other countries, and a sense of – a renewed sense of the value of what you are doing and trying to do. It is so important that public people be held accountable, that people keep faith with principles and standards of good governance, that leaders lead, and that they don’t just enrich themselves or steal all of the work product of the citizens of a country and put it in bank accounts in other nations without regard to the possibilities of the future of that country.

So we hope very much that this experience of being an Edward R. Murrow journalist here in the State Department over these next days will leave you with a sense of the respect that Americans have for journalism, the respect we have for free speech, for the truth. We fight about it ourselves sometimes, and we have very robust debates about what is the truth. But in the end, I am convinced that those who get the privilege of sharing that kind of debate and who have the opportunity to get real information are in the end the richer for it, the better for it, and their societies are usually the stronger for it.

So with that in mind, let me offer you an enormous welcome from the State Department, from me personally. And what I really want to do, I spoke – I used the free press and the free – right of free speech for too long last year, and we didn’t have enough time for questions. So I’m going to end right now and try to get as many questions as I can in so you really have a sense of what it’s like to have a good give and take.

And with that, I will open it up to questions.

MR KIRBY: Thank you, sir. Our first question this morning comes from Aseel Abdulkareem from Iraq.

QUESTION: (In Arabic.)

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, I read The Atlantic article some time ago, and I don’t really remember every aspect of it at this point in time. I don’t recall the notion that we don’t have a strategy. I just don’t agree with that. We have a strategy. We’ve had a strategy. We continue to have a strategy. And our strategy in the Middle East was to bring the parties together around a set of principles that most people understand are the key to peace between Palestinians and Israelis, and that is you have to negotiate according to the 1967 lines with swaps. We’ve said that for years. We have to reduce the number of settlements – reduce the number, we have to stop the settlements. We have to have no incitement – no incitement coming from Palestinians in the West Bank – in order to create the climate and the atmosphere for peace; no terrorist attacks in order to make it possible for people to believe in peace; and a strategy of economic assistance to the West Bank, which we put together in a major program of different things like opening the Allenby Bridge for 24 hours, getting the Wataniya communications process in place, being able to develop work, new jobs, more work permits for people to go into Israel. I mean, there were countless things that we put on the table. That was the strategy.

But you know the old saying: you can lead a horse to water, you can’t make the horse drink. And if the leaders aren’t prepared to take risks in order to put policies on the table to make a change, it’s very hard for the countries that are motivating and urging and mediating and working in between to make something happen that they don’t want to have happen.

So I don’t – yes, it didn’t succeed in getting the outcome at that very period of time, but I think a lot of progress was made. I think there is a ready-made place for people to pick up when and if the leaders decide that they’re prepared to go back to the table and actually negotiate rather than just fight or rather than continue a process which may make two states impossible. If there is a steady, continued settlement-building in the West Bank, it is going to alter whatever the process of a peace map might look like, and it becomes ultimately counterproductive to the notion that you are accepting, in fact, that there will be a two-state solution.

So we’re going to keep acting as a legitimate agent of peace, urging both parties to recognize the things that each can do to try to change the atmospherics in order to be able to move forward. Now, President Obama did say that in the aftermath of what happened in Libya, there was not enough immediate follow-through by all the countries involved in order to try to stabilize Libya. So that is something we are working on extremely hard right now. I just came from London two days ago where we had a meeting with the central bank and the Prime Minister Sarraj of the national unity – or the Government of National Accord, and we are working to get resources into the hands of the national government which needs to be able to develop the security apparatus and needs to be able to develop the capacity to deliver services.

Now, why isn’t it happening? Because you have individual ambitions and interventions by different proxy countries which is supporting some of those ambitions. You have some radical Islamists in the east who are competing for power. You have General Haftar and his supporters who are competing for power in the west – in the east, excuse me. In the west you have a certain group. In the east you have the Tobruk house of representatives, which has not done its duty of having a vote on the issue of the agreement that was reached by the parties regarding the standing up of an international government – of an internationally accepted government.

So this is a country of six million people, folks. I represented a state, Massachusetts, for 28 years that had a little bit more than those six million people. It should be manageable. But if you’re going to be caught in a crossfire of personal power competition by individuals in the country, rather than people who are willing to compromise and come together to lift the country and define its future, I don’t care how much the United States wants to have a better outcome, it’s not going to happen. We can’t want peace and unity and stability more than the citizens of a particular country.

So I don’t sit here saying oh my gosh, we failed or whatever. That’s not the way I look at it. We continue to work at trying to get the parties to come together to see their own interests. And you all, when you write about it, whether you come from Libya or you come from Iraq or wherever, you need to write about the truth about what is needed in those countries.

In Iraq, you need a government that is delivering to everybody in the country and not dividing the spoils according to Shia or Sunni but according to Iraqis and according to the needs of a nation that needs to be healed and brought together and put behind it these kinds of sectarian and narrow divisions. And other countries need to work to make that happen, not to exacerbate the divisions. And I’m talking about Iran, talking about Syria, talking about the other countries in the region which can have an impact on what is happening there.

So I really think that the premise, the fundamental premise of your question, is not based on a sort of factual analysis of exactly what has happened. There is a reason that for 48 years the Middle East process has not been settled – or for longer, since 1948. It’s hard. It’s complicated. And if you don’t have leaders in the region who are ready to come to the table like Prime Minister Rabin was and like Arafat at the time, it’s very hard to force people to sign something that politically they’re not prepared to sign.

So we’re going to continue to work at it. That’s what the United States is going to do. And my advice to the next administration is: Get caught trying. Don’t shy away from it because it’s hard. We all have an obligation to work at this, whether the prospects are enormously open at a particular moment or not. And that’s what we’re doing. We’re doing it in Libya. We’re doing it in Yemen. We’re doing it in Syria. We’re doing it in Afghanistan. We’re doing it in Ukraine. And I think we have made a difference in helping to hold some of those places together, notwithstanding the terrorism and extremism that is working hard to try to pull them apart.

MR KIRBY: Our next question will come from Emma Farne from Italy.

QUESTION: Good morning. My question is from also my European colleagues. So in recent years, right-wing parties have gained influence in Europe, and many people – European countries seem to lean more towards Russia politically and economically, and U.S.A. doesn’t serve so much as a role model for European people. In light back of these events, if you could change something as Secretary of State and could do one thing differently, what would it be?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, if I could change one thing, I’d change the outcome of the 2004 election. (Laughter.) And by doing that, I don’t think we’d have the problem we have with Iraq and a lot of European perceptions. Am I allowed to say that? (Laughter.)

I think that – I think the United States gets blamed unfairly for a lot of things. I’ve noticed that as Secretary of State, and I want you to think about it for a moment. The United States stands squarely and firmly for a united Europe that is strong and free, peaceful. The United States has been working to have a trade agreement with Europe that would strengthen Europe, give it more jobs. The United States led the effort to put a coalition together to save Iraq and fight back against Daesh. I personally went around talking to countries, building a coalition of 67 nations, and we have liberated community after community in Iraq – Tikrit, Ramadi, Fallujah, and others surrounding Mosul, and now moving towards Mosul.

Iraq stood alone, and I didn’t see Europe rushing to save it all by itself, when ISIL, Deash, was moving across Iraq and Syria and killing randomly and threatening Baghdad. But it was the President of the United States who stood up and said we’re going to intervene, sent our war planes in, started to bomb ISIL, and kept them from taking Baghdad, and then rebuilt the army of Iraq to the point now that it is moving on Mosul and Daesh has not taken one community – not one – since May of last year and held it. Daesh is on the defensive in Syria. And if you look at the work we’ve done in Libya, in Sirte, in other places, we have been able to shred Daesh, to eliminate much of its leadership, to narrow its scope of activities. Yes, it’s still dangerous, but that’s what we’ve been able to do.

The United States and the rest of the world faced a challenge in Western Africa: Ebola. Everybody was predicting a million people were going to die. But President Obama sent 3,000 troops in, at risk, and they built the healthcare capacity and we worked with the French and the British particularly, but with other countries. We summoned an international movement, and guess what? Those million people didn’t die. In fact, very few ultimately did because we were able to end the scourge of Ebola.

In Africa, AIDS – a death sentence 15, 20 years ago. Today, we’re on the brink of seeing the first generation of AIDS-free children being born in Africa, and that’s through PEPFAR, the United States program to help provide healthcare and change lives for people.

Iran – we led an effort, at great political cost, to rid a country of a nuclear weapon, and we worked – after 35 years of not even talking to the country, we reached out.

Cuba – we changed our relationship with Cuba.

Run the list, around the world, and tell me how the United States is not, in fact, providing for opportunity and jobs and peace and stability. After World War II, the United States rebuilt Europe – the Marshall Plan. No country has conquered as much territory as the United States of America and turned around and given it back to the citizens of that country.

So when you say people are looking to Russia, for what? I’m not sure. The ninth-largest economy in the world? We’re the number one. Looking to Russia because it’s making a whole lot of products that you all use? Tell me what you use that comes out of Russia. Looking to Russia because it’s great on human rights and because it respects the freedom of people and it doesn’t interfere in other countries, with men in little green uniforms running around in Ukraine, violating the international norm for the first time in years? Please. I’ll take anybody on on that topic, anywhere, anytime.

Now, maybe we have to do a better job of putting our narrative out there and making sure that people understand, because I will tell you this: I have never – and I’ve grown up in public life for years now, 28 years-plus in the Senate, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, years and years of travel and – I have never seen the United States of America more engaged to the benefit of everybody else, in order to try to help other countries work their way through crises, to make peace and stability so we can go home and pay attention to things here – I’ve never seen us more engaged in more countries at one time on more issues of significance with greater consequence than now. And I’m happy to talk to any young person in Europe about the degree to which we make a difference to the security and the prosperity and the future of other people, and that includes what we’ve just done on the environment.

We worked with France, hand in hand, but it was the United States that went to China and made a deal with China that, for the first time ever, China joined the United States in order to set an example for what we could do to reduce emissions on a global basis and save the planet. And it was our joint statement with China that helped to set the stage for what we were able to achieve in Paris. We helped work on the hydrofluorocarbons to get an agreement in Kigali with 186 other nations. We’ve helped to set aside the Ross Sea in the Antarctic. We’ve helped to set aside millions of square kilometers of ocean in the Pacific and the Atlantic to save our oceans, literally, and save our fisheries.

So I’m – I don’t know what the media over there is saying. Maybe you all need to report a little more on what we’re doing, and maybe we need to tell the story a little more. But I’m proud of what the United States is doing and I will put our record up against Russia’s any day, any time, with respect to global engagement that benefits other people and changes the world for the better.

MR KIRBY: Our next question will come from Elnura Alkanova from Kyrgyzstan.

QUESTION: Good morning. Secretary Kerry, my next question is: I’m wondering if you would mind telling me the foreign policy goals you set out to achieve in Central Asia and in South Asia as the Secretary of State. And what do you think you did not succeed in your achieving? Thank you.

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, I’m actually very – thank you for the question, and I have to tell you, I’m very, very proud of what we have done on Central Asia. It’s the first time ever that we’ve really had a focused and specific Central Asian policy. So I went there. I went to Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, to Tajikistan and we met with all of the foreign ministers, I met with all of the leaders, and we went to Turkmenistan – we went, I mean, to each of “the ‘stans”. And we sat there and said, “How do we come together in this landlocked region in order to create more of a joint five-nation effort to be able to open up to the world, transition for young people who really need jobs, and begin to create a connection that can be more lasting?”

So out of that we designed a series of projects for several of the countries, which we began to work on and define. And then I hosted each of the foreign ministers here in Washington, and they brought with them teams for the economy, for health, for infrastructure, and we started to further define these projects in ways that we could work going forward. We particularly looked at transportation. How do you take goods that might be produced in this landlocked area and get them out into the world, which requires either roads and trucking or rail or airplanes that can move certain kinds of goods more rapidly?

So we laid out a plan, and I’m very excited about the prospects. I think we have begun something with Central Asia that never existed, in terms of very specific and direct engagement that begins to address the questions of the region. And obviously with the death of the president in Uzbekistan, there’s transition taking place there. That may change some of the prospects of what we can do more rapidly. But I think that we have opened up a new initiative that holds great promise for the region and for our relationship with the region as a region and not with individual countries alone on a targeted, specific basis of what’s in our interest. In this case we’ve really tried to solicit from the five countries, what do you want? What’s in your interest? Where do you want to go? What are the challenges you face? And how can we help? And I think that is an important characteristic of American foreign policy that we really try to work with other countries for what they may need. Example: Pakistan. A number of years ago, we passed legislation to put $7.5 billion into Pakistan’s development issues. Now, it didn’t work out as well as we would’ve hoped, frankly, but it’s not for lack of trying. And I think that the Central Asian countries can look forward to developing a much more robust and productive relationship with the United States as a result of what we have done.

MODERATOR: Our final question today will come from Olivia Siong from Singapore.

QUESTION: Good morning, Secretary Kerry. My group has a question on the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Given how things are unfolding, is the Trans-Pacific Partnership dead and buried regardless of the election result, or do you see a path forward from America’s point of view? Also, are you concerned about what impact this could have on America’s credibility in Asia? Thank you.

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, thank you. No, it is not – not only is it not dead, it is very much alive and about to be in play, because we’re going to make a push with the Congress to try to see if the votes are there to pass it.

Now, as you know, there’s been a very big shift in the politics of many nations that are feeling the impacts of globalization and have not yet figured out how to respond to those currents and to tame the negative side of globalization – which there are some negative sides – in order to harness more fully the upside, which is much, much bigger than any negative. Now, let me be more specific. No nation is going to be able to grow as significantly over the long term. I mean, some nations that have been completely hidden from global commerce could obviously change and open up and for a period of time they’d develop somewhat. But you’re never going to develop to your maximum unless you have the ability to be able to trade and sell products outside of your country. Look at the United States today. Do you think we can grow as a nation if we’re not selling to the rest of the world where 95 percent of the world’s customers live? Of course not. So the issue is not should you trade or do you trade; the issue is how do you trade? What are your policies, not only so that the trading itself is a fair playing field, but so that the results of the trade, the benefits of it actually flow to the people.

What’s been happening in America is that too much of the benefit has flowed to the top one or two percent. And so a lot of folks who are producing the goods or who are dislocated because some new technology comes in that makes it possible to make things faster and more easily in a country and it takes away jobs, they are not easily able to shift to another job necessarily. But that’s not meaning that there won’t be other jobs or that their skills couldn’t be amplified to do those other jobs. You could train people more effectively. You could help people in the transition, which is something, when I was in Congress, we used to try to do in something called the Trade Adjustment Assistance Authority. And we helped people to make that transition. But I think a lot of people are scared today and think they’re going to be left behind. And so they’re fighting back a little bit.

But in the end, it seems to me that if you really measure the benefits, not only have we grown as an economy, not only have we created many, many more jobs – President Obama has presided over the greatest period of growth in the United States in history – the longest number of consecutive months of job creation we’ve ever had. So we’re creating jobs, and our unemployment is right around 5 percent or below at times. So it’s – the key is making sure the salaries that people earn are rising as the economy grows. In the 1990s under President Clinton, that happened. Every single quintile of American income earner saw their income go up. But that is not true in the last ten years, where people have either stayed the same or fallen back. That is not a good recipe for building support for a particular policy.

So TPP is critical in our judgement, because it’s unlike any past trade agreement. TPP raises the standards of doing business. It has the environment provisions written into the agreement itself, not as a sidebar to the agreement. It has labor standards written into the agreement so that if you’re – in Vietnam, for instance, improbable as it may sound to some people, you’re able to now create – under TPP you can have a labor union – actually they’re allowed to have them now, anyway, but they will be expanded in the ability to organize and strike and bargain for their wages. That’s giving power to people. It’s empowering, liberating.

And so we believe very strongly that TPP, when you add the modern notions of protection of the environment, protection of labor, and that it gets rid of barriers to trade – some 18,000 separate taxes on goods made in America that are now trying to be sold abroad go away. So those goods will be able to sell more easily. That creates more jobs and it provides more revenue, more income.

So we’re very much believers that if you believe in high standards, if you believe in unifying regulation so that people know what the rules of the road are, if you believe in protecting the environment, protecting people’s labor rights, and you believe in encouraging growth through the movement of capital and goods so that people can live more prosperous lives and you can trade more easily, TPP is absolutely essential. And I assume that some people, if it – if the Congress were to reject it, would indeed question American credibility, to answer the last part of your question. I would assume people will say, well, if we just cut a deal, we’re willing to live by it; but the guys who proposed the deal and made the deal have now walked away from the deal. I don’t think that’s a very good message.

So I think the United States needs to look carefully at all of the benefits in this agreement. The benefits, if you – are enormous and the negative side is completely changeable and manageable. So that seems to me to be a pretty sure bet on the side of doing something to grow your economy and create greater prosperity and stability and have a set of rules that everybody understands, everybody is pledging to work by, which raise the standards of doing business. So you have a race to the top, not a race to the bottom.

And the last thing I’ll say to you on this is: Loads of countries where they haven’t had a trade agreement wind up with that race to the bottom where there’s no environmental standard, no water quality standard, no air quality standard, no expectation of environmental protection; where there is no protection for workers’ rights, so that people have to work for 20 hours a day, no breaks, not having decent pay, not having decent safety standards, and a whole lot of other things. So we believe that the TPP is indeed the best definition of the future and we hope that countries will embrace it. And we hope our Congress will, too.

MR KIRBY: Thank you, sir. Thank you, everybody. I’m afraid that we’ve got to get --

SECRETARY KERRY: Thank you all very, very much. I have to run. Thank you. (Applause.)