Interview With Katty Kay of BBC
Secretary of State
QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, we’re in a moment of extraordinary transition. And as you know, many of America’s allies around the world are watching to see what’s going to happen next. What do you think U.S. foreign policy is going to look like for the next four years?
SECRETARY KERRY: I can’t speculate. I – honestly, I can’t speculate. I know what I hope it will look like. I hope it will continue to be based on American interests, American values, protect the American people, and project the best of our nation in the best ways possible in order to address some very, very serious challenges around the world – climate change, extremism, Daesh. We have to finish what we’ve been very successful at making progress in in Syria, in Iraq. But there are big challenges out there, and the world is going to need to come together, not start moving apart.
QUESTION: But when you say you can’t speculate, is that because the trajectory of the Trump administration’s foreign policy is not clear?
SECRETARY KERRY: Yes, partly. It’s because we don’t really know yet exactly where it’s going to go because there wasn’t exactly that much debate about it during the course of the campaign. So I think there’s a lot of – there are a lot of questions being asked. I certainly do run into that, but I give the same answer: That I think we have to wait and see when people are confirmed and in place, and we see the first decisions that begin to be made.
QUESTION: We’ve already seen some ripples from the new Trump era, even in Britain, when Theresa May criticized your speech on Israel. I’ve covered American politics for 20 years; I don’t think I’ve ever heard a British prime minister be quite so critical of an American foreign secretary. Was she just aligning herself with Donald Trump, do you think, on Israel’s security?
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, you and others will have to speculate on that. What I know is that what I expressed in the speech has been the policy of Great Britain for a long period of time. Britain is, I believe – because Britain voted for and supported the resolution that criticized the increased settlements in the West Bank. And what we did in my speech was lay out a formula for how you can in fact make peace and move forward. I’m very gratified by the support I received for my speech from the members within the Arab world. Turkey, and Qatar, and the UAE, and Saudi Arabia, and Egypt, and Jordan, and others expressed support for the principles that I laid out – which, by the way, are very much aligned with what Great Britain believes would bring about a solution in Middle East peace.
QUESTION: So --
SECRETARY KERRY: So I stand by it. I believe the speech was honest. I think it was very much spoken as a friend of Israel, but also as a friend of the region, and who recognizes that the – it’s heading in a very dangerous direction if we don’t resolve this problem.
QUESTION: So were you surprised by Prime Minister May’s reaction?
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, again, an honest answer is yes, but I’m not going to get into going back and forth about it. We move on.
QUESTION: Let me ask you about Russia. Just Donald Trump’s – about how his intelligence briefing on the Russian hacking – just this morning, Donald Trump said in an interview that he thinks the focus on the Russian hacking of the U.S. election is a witch hunt. What do you make of that?
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, I’m not going to start getting into the sort of day-to-day back and forth. What I know is that we have an extraordinary professional intelligence community. The men and women who work every day to give us information are patriots and hard workers. And some of them sometimes, in many different ways, are doing things in places of great risk in order that we can be informed and make decisions. I think that DNI Clapper could not have spoken more clearly about it. He said that healthy skepticism is a good thing; disparagement is not. And he thought it fell on the side of disparagement. So I think he has spoken for this Administration, and I’ll leave it at that.
QUESTION: Are you concerned, though, by Mr. Trump’s – the appearance of Mr. Trump is siding with Vladimir Putin over your intelligence agencies.
SECRETARY KERRY: Katty, at this point, honestly, my job is not to get involved in the day-to-day back and forth of politics at the moment. I’ve spoken just now to my faith in DNI Clapper and in the intel community on this particular issue. I sometimes have healthy skepticism about one issue or another and we ask questions; that’s our job. But I think that the American people will have to make their own judgments about this back and forth.
QUESTION: Let me ask this a different way. Is there something to be gained from Mr. Trump’s seeming new approach to Vladimir Putin? Could he perhaps achieve things with Russia that your Administration has failed to do by having a more cozy relationship with them?
SECRETARY KERRY: It depends entirely on what kind of agreement you want to reach is, on what you give up in order to get that agreement, and what you get for the agreement. So it really is speculation right now. I don’t know the answer except to say that there are ways in which cooperating with Russia produces – we did. By the way, we did not – we – I found that in my dealings with Foreign Minister Lavrov, who is a professional and a very smart man who represents the interests that he’s been sent to represent, we were able to find common ground on a lot of issues and get things done. We were able to work very effectively on the Iran nuclear agreement. And Russia assumed major responsibilities with respect to that agreement and is helping to make sure that it works. We managed to get the chemical weapons out of Syria. Imagine what would have happened if we had not gotten those out and Daesh swept across Syria and had access to those chemical weapons.
So we in fact have done good things. We’ve worked together on a number of environmental issues, on the Paris Agreement, on the hydrofluorocarbon agreement that we reached in Kigali, on the marine protected area – the largest marine protected area in the world now in the Antarctic, the Ross Sea. Russia came onboard and cooperated in response to specific arguments that I had made and to requests for their support and help.
So there are many other things – UN resolutions, North Korea. So we’ve been able to cooperate with Russia. Very visibly, we have not found that kind of success with respect to the Minsk agreement on Ukraine or the Syria efforts to try to end the war. But I do believe there are opportunities to be able to try to find some common ground. And I wouldn’t – let’s see --
QUESTION: So you would encourage Mr. Trump’s approach to Russia?
SECRETARY KERRY: I would encourage him to engage with Russia and to try to find that common ground, but not at the expense of rolling over and losing the values or principles or interests that we need to protect as we do so. So there’s a – there’s going to be a healthy give and take and balance in all of that. And it can only be measured by whether there is an agreement that actually achieves something that is in our mutual interest, that we can all look at and say, yes, that’s a worthy agreement and something that benefits the United States while keeping faith with our values and our interests.
QUESTION: Let me ask you about Syria. Do you feel the Obama Administration bears any responsibility for the situation in Syria, which deteriorated markedly during your time as Secretary of State?
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, I think that the – going back and making sort of judgments two weeks before we leave about things that might have been done differently or choices that might have been made is not going to serve any purpose at this time. There’s plenty of time for that in the future. Do I think – and I’ve said this before – that it was very, very important for the United States to try to help the opposition and to give them an ability to be able to – we did a lot of that. Historians will have to judge whether enough was done or not.
What I do know is that the United States has been the leading initiator of any number of efforts to try to get ceasefires, to try to encourage a political resolution. We led the effort to put the International Syria Support Group together. We got agreement --
QUESTION: Many of those efforts didn’t work, though.
SECRETARY KERRY: We got agreement, including from the Iranians and Russians, as to the broad framework of a resolution of Syria. We got agreement on what principles we ought to be organizing our efforts around, a united Syria, one that is going to be democratic, that has an election, that protects minorities, that has a transitional process. We agreed on all those things. So we made a lot of progress. What we weren’t able to agree on was how to separate the opposition that we supported from the more violent extremists of al-Nusrah, et cetera. And Russia had one attitude about how you do that, and we had another. And that was a point of disagreement.
But I still think our efforts with respect to refugees have been in the highest traditions of our nations. We’ve done more than any other country to be able to provide support to those people – I think over $6 billion of American taxpayer money has helped support them.
QUESTION: There is nothing that you wish had been done differently by the Obama Administration?
SECRETARY KERRY: Yes, there are things I’ve wished. And I think it’s been common knowledge, and some people have ventured to write about that, but I’m not going to get into those discussions two weeks before we leave. I think there are things that we can be very proud of that we’ve done. We empowered people to be able to fight their fight, and we faced a very complicated set of choices on the ground with respect to the terrorists and with Daesh and the choices of some of the extremists – and, I might add, the choices of some of the proxy nations that were consistently pushing agendas that were not exactly in keeping with what had been agreed on in the International Syria Support Group.
QUESTION: Mr. Kerry, thank you very much.
SECRETARY KERRY: Happy to be with you. Thank you.
QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. Secretary.
SECRETARY KERRY: Thank you.