Interview With David Martin of CBS
Secretary of State
QUESTION: Is it true that the Trump transition has decreed that all politically appointed ambassadors have to be gone by Inauguration Day?
SECRETARY KERRY: Yes.
QUESTION: Does that tell you that they intend to make a pretty clean break with the Obama Administration’s foreign policy?
SECRETARY KERRY: No, because all ambassadors serve at the pleasure of the president, number one. Number two, it is traditional that people offer their resignation if you are a political appointee. The Chief of Staff of the White House sent a memorandum last December or even earlier – I can’t remember exactly when – requiring all political personnel to tender their resignations by December 7th, I think it was, or 8th. And so we did. I mean, I tendered my own – everybody did. So this is a normal thing.
Now, occasionally there are requests for extension for one reason or another, and they’re granted, and that hasn’t happened in this case. But I don’t think it indicates necessarily where the foreign policy choices are going to be made.
QUESTION: Does it do anything to the conduct of foreign policy to be without the ambassadors?
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, I – my own personal opinion – look, first of all, any president has the right to ask for people who serve at his pleasure to serve at his pleasure. But that said, I think there’s a certain value in continuity of presence in places. I think there’s particularly a value in the turbulent world we’re living in right now to have some continuity. But again, it’s not something I’m making an issue about or I think is our prerogative to make a different choice, because the rule is all political appointees serve at the pleasure of the president of the United States.
QUESTION: Yesterday the Vice President said in his view, it was a concern – is that the incoming administration will dismantle the Obama Administration’s foreign policy. Do you share that concern?
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, the Obama Administration’s foreign policy is based on the values and interests of our nation. I’m proud to tell you that we have kept America safe and we have done an extraordinary job, in my judgment, of being more engaged in more places with more crises simultaneously, and with greater impact, than at any time in American history, and I can document that – whether it is Ebola that we worked, or led the effort to try to prevent from becoming a disaster, a catastrophic spread of the infectious disease; or whether it is the South China Sea and freedom of navigation; or North Korea, where we’ve gotten the toughest sanctions ever, with China joining in now twice to strengthen those sanctions; or whether it is Russia and sanctions with respect to Ukraine; holding onto Afghanistan; holding on – I mean, I can run a long list – the Iran nuclear agreement; getting the chemical weapons out of Syria.
I think we have managed to assert our interests and our values, and I think what’s going to happen is the Trump Administration will come in and they’re going to confront real choices, not campaign choices, not what to tweet on any given day, but real choices with real consequences of life and death on a daily basis. And I have confidence that the same values and interests that guided us are going to be on the table staring these new members of the cabinet and the president and vice president in the face.
So I can’t predict what they’re going to do but I don’t believe common sense dictates that you’re going to undo something that is working. If you’ve managed to keep Iran from having a nuclear weapon or from leading us to a place of conflict in the Middle East, I think there’s a value in that and I think, ultimately, they’re going to realize there’s a value in that.
QUESTION: Well, let’s take some of the particulars – the Iran nuclear deal. What, in your opinion, would happen if the next administration were to back away from that deal?
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, a lot of bad things begin to happen. First of all, our credibility just goes way down to – on a global basis. We are the ones who helped lead this negotiation, who urged it, who understood its importance, who avoided what would have been almost inevitable confrontation and conflict with great danger for the region. We managed to avoid that by negotiating and finding a way to block all of the paths to the creation of a nuclear weapon.
Now, if all of a sudden you pull out of that, all of our allies who joined us in the effort will have extraordinary questions about America’s leadership and American judgment. They may decide on their own just to keep the deal and do what they’re doing, and the United States will become isolated. Or Iran may decide, with the United States gone, they’re going to have to protect themselves and they’re not going to sit there and believe in an agreement anymore, therefore they may begin to believe in having a nuclear weapon, in which case you are on a path to confrontation.
So I think the bottom line is this: This agreement is working. Iran had 12,000 kilograms of enriched nuclear material. That has been reduced to 300 kilograms. You know that you can’t build a bomb with 300 kilograms. And we’re able to measure that every single day. They are limited to 3.67 percent of enrichment. You can’t build a bomb limited to 3.67 percent enrichment – and if they started to break out of that, we’d know that instantaneously. They are having their uranium manufacturing monitored from cradle to grave. I mean, this – their centrifuges have gone from 19,000 centrifuges down to about 5,000 and they’re being watched every single day with television cameras and inspections. If you walk away from that, you are inviting danger. And I’m pleased to say I even saw today that the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, Senator Corker, who didn’t like the deal and voted against, but nevertheless said it is working and you wouldn’t want to start off your administration by creating a new crisis.
So I believe that wisdom, hopefully, will prevail here. I hope.
QUESTION: You said as recently as yesterday that you’re absolutely convinced that the two-state solution is the right thing for the U.S. to pursue in the Middle East. The incoming administration has certainly given indications that it’s not going to go for a two-state solution, including the choice of its ambassador. What would happen if the U.S. backed away from a two-state solution?
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, I think that would be extraordinarily dangerous for Israel, our friend. And if you are a true friend of Israel – and I consider myself a true friend of Israel; I voted 100 percent pro-Israel when I was in the United States Senate over 28 years, and I believe in the state of Israel’s dream to be the democracy and the Jewish state it wants to be. But the simple reality is you cannot be a unitary, one state, with more non-Jews than Jews and remain a democracy or a Jewish state. It’s impossible. You can’t do it. David, Ben Gurion, the first president of Israel, said that. Rabin said it. I mean, you – there are leaders of Israel who have understood that moving towards a single state without resolving this two-state issue, which is why everybody has supported it until today, is leading Israel to a very dangerous place of perpetual conflict and it will not be a Jewish state.
Now, that’s okay, but it’s hard for me to understand how that’s okay when Prime Minister Netanyahu constantly says the one obstacle to peace is the unwillingness of the Arab world to acknowledge Israel as a Jewish state. Well, guess what? In my speech that I gave, which they chose to ignore, I pointed out that there is a new movement among the Arab world and a readiness to try to make peace with Israel if Israel will make peace with the Palestinians, and they accepted the principles as the basis of negotiation that I laid out, which include the negotiation of Israel as a Jewish state. Now, it doesn’t mean they’ll get there, but they have at least, for the first time ever, put it within the framework of parameters that are worth negotiating about. In addition, Israel’s security is front and center in that negotiating process, and the Arab world accepts that just as they have to be secure, Israel has to be secure.
So I think we have a new possibility for negotiations unlike anything we’ve ever had. I hope the new administration will sit down very carefully and listen carefully to people who have been deeply involved in this for many years and make judgments about what is in the best interests of Israel, to protect it for its goals and aspirations; what is in the best interests of the region, of the Arab world – how do you protect that, their interests; and finally, but not least importantly, how do you live up to and protect the values and interests of the United States of America. That’s my job while I am still here: to protect the United States of America’s interests and values, and those are embraced in the concept of two states for two peoples living side by side in peace and security, and having a Jewish and an Arab Palestinian state, which is what was envisions in 1948 when the mandate was first created.
QUESTION: What would happen if the U.S. were to move its embassy to Jerusalem?
SECRETARY KERRY: You’d have an explosion – an absolute explosion in the region, not just in the West Bank and perhaps even in Israel itself, but throughout the region. The Arab world has enormous interest in the Haram al-Sharif, as it is called, the Temple Mount, the Dome, and it is a holy site for the Arab world. And if all of a sudden Jerusalem is declared to be the location of our embassy, that has issues of sovereignty, issues of law that it would deem to be affected by that move and by the United States acquiescing in that move, and that would have profound impact on the readiness of Jordan and Egypt to be able to be as supportive and engaged with Israel as they are today.
QUESTION: So another longstanding policy that seems to be up for grabs is the “one China” policy. What do you think would happen if the U.S. were to adopt something that looked like a “two China” policy?
SECRETARY KERRY: Again, that would be absolutely explosive. If there is any core interest, red line that exists with China and in China, this is as serious a one as any that I know. And you have to be very thoughtful about any other nation’s core interests, just as we have said to China it is a core interest of the United States not to have nuclear ballistic missiles aimed at us coming from North Korea capable of reaching the United States. That’s a core interest.
So we’ve been very clear to the Chinese; the Chinese have been very clear to us. And every president – Republican and Democrat alike – since we arrived at the understanding in the 1990s, early 1990s about the joint communiques, we have lived with an understanding of a “one China” policy and we would not recognize nor would we encourage any move towards independence by Taiwan. We have nurtured cross-strait relations between mainland China and Taiwan in order to try to encourage reconciliation over a period of time. It will take time; it needs to be negotiated.
We do stand against any forcible effort by China to try to change that equation. It has to be worked out. But we have consistently said there is a “one China” policy and we live by the several communiques that have been issued between the United States and China with respect to that. It would be a very dangerous move to upend that in any way whatsoever.
STAFF: David, I’m sorry to interrupt but we’ve got to wrap.
QUESTION: Okay. Can I ask one more question on Russia?
MR KIRBY: Yeah, just a quick one.
QUESTION: One thing you didn’t succeed in doing was improving relations with Russia, and Russia is now under a whole bunch of economic sanctions starting with Crimea and going through the hacking. If to improve relations with Russia the next administration were to start easing economic sanctions on Russia, what would be the impact of that?
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, it would depend what – if there was a quid pro quo or not. It would depend on whether or not there’s some agreement as to what Russia will do and how verifiable that is and what the reach of those measures would be. If it were just done unilaterally, I think it would be a very unfortunate move because it would send all the wrong messages.
Now, when you say we were unable to move forward with Russia, we actually did some good things with Russia. We made some progress in certain areas with Russia. Specifically, Russia was a genuine partner and extremely helpful and effective in helping us to get an agreement with Iran with respect to a nuclear weapon, and Russia has assumed major responsibilities which it is performing in order to hold up that agreement, working with Iran on the provision of certain fuel levels that they need for their program, and so forth. In addition, Russia helped remove some of the stockpile in order to make sure that Iran was able to comply with the agreement. We also succeeded in working with Russia very effectively to get all the chemical weapons that are certified under the international chemical weapons protocol out of Syria – during a conflict. First time we’ve ever removed weapons of mass destruction from a country in conflict, during the time of conflict.
So in addition to that, Russia cooperated us most recently in creating the largest ocean marine protected area in the world, ever, with the Ross Marine Protected Area in the Ross Sea in the Antarctic. So – and there are other things where we’ve been able to cooperate with Russia: UN Security Council resolutions, so forth. Yes, there have also been a series of very difficult disagreements – Syria being a principal one – though we, some of us, felt there was a way to even build some cooperation there. There were others who didn’t share that and it fell apart.
The bottom line is that the most disturbing thing of all is Russia’s interference in the American political system, in our democracy, with its cyber activities. And there are, I think, ways in which the new administration, if it moves carefully and bilaterally, not unilaterally – but if Russia does certain things, there is a way for perhaps a new path to be carved out. But it has to be done really thoughtfully and strategically so that we are protecting our interests and we are doing it in a way that is verifiable and mutually beneficial in a way that changes the current dynamic. It’s going to take time. It’s not going to be easy. But I think it’s doable.
QUESTION: Okay, thank you.