Secretary of State
QUESTION: Secretary Kerry, welcome to the program.
SECRETARY KERRY: Thank you. Happy to be here.
QUESTION: We have a lot to talk about. The incoming president, your Administration’s legacy. But first and foremost, I want to ask you because here we sit on the very day that Donald Trump gives an interview to a German and a British newspaper. First and foremost, he says that he’s going to give a speedy, new, free and fair trade deal to the UK. Is it possible? Will it happen? And does it sort of beg the question of why President Obama said the UK would be at the back of the queue in a Brexit situation?
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, I think that the difficulty is that nobody knows yet what the rules of the road are going to be between UK and Europe – the EU, put it that way. And so are there going to be 27 different agreements? Are there going to be – will there be some conglomeratized effort, et cetera? And certainly, those are things that ought to be taken into account.
Now, I agree with President Trump that the UK – we’ve said this – has a special relationship with the United States and we would do everything possible – and President Obama said this – in order to move forward. But at the time he said it, we were looking at the TPP, we were looking at the TTIP, and those were very significant trade agreements. Now, that world has changed, obviously, and we all understand that.
So we want the UK to be strong, but I’ll tell you, we have consistently said we want EU to be strong. We need a strong Europe. And the question here is, Christiane, does one diminish the other?
QUESTION: Well —
SECRETARY KERRY: And that is a very serious question, and we have to look at that.
QUESTION: Well, the President-elect actually raised that. He said that it would be a good thing – or I’m paraphrasing – if more countries exited the EU, that Britain had paved the way, and that it was all about identity and everybody wanted their own self-expression. You’re saying no, it wouldn’t be a good thing —
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, we made —
QUESTION: — in terms of American national security.
SECRETARY KERRY: We made that very clear during the course of the discussions about Brexit. Obviously, the British people voted by a small margin, but they voted to Brexit. But we have consistently said whatever shape that takes, we need a strong EU. And by the way, Boris Johnson and before him David Cameron have very clearly stated, and I think the prime minister, current prime minister, has stated, that they want a strong EU.
Now, how do you maintain a strong EU if countries are beginning to shred away from it? And I think there are serious questions about what that does to play in to the current strategy of some countries to try to diminish the role of the EU.
QUESTION: So you’re talking about Russia then?
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, not just – Russia primarily, but others also would be interested in seeing a diminishment of unified presence and position with respect to a lot of issues; for instance, Ukraine, Syria, nuclear – whatever it is. There is a lot of issues on the table, and you have to be really thoughtful about the interconnectedness of all of this.
QUESTION: Well, you say “really thoughtful.” You read the interview. What did you make of the interview in terms of a world view, and what do you make of Europeans who are saying they received this interview with agitation and astonishment? In other words they’re agitated and astonished by some of the positions laid down.
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, I thought, frankly, it was inappropriate for a president-elect of the United States to be stepping in to the politics of other countries in a quite direct manner, and he’ll have to speak to that. As of Friday, he’s responsible for that relationship. But I think we have to be very careful about suggesting that one of the strongest leaders in Europe and most important players with respect to where we are heading —
QUESTION: You’re talking about Angela Merkel, the chancellor of Germany?
SECRETARY KERRY: — made one mistake or another – I don’t think it’s appropriate for us to be commenting on that.
QUESTION: You’re talking about Angela Merkel’s refugee policy, which he called catastrophic.
SECRETARY KERRY: He did call it that, and I think that she was extremely courageous. I don’t think it amounts to that characterization at all. It has had some problems, but everybody’s had some problems with this challenge of how do you respond appropriately as a big nation, as a great nation, as the West, where our values and our principles are important with respect to caring for people who are in distress, who are put into refugee status. We have a great history of that. And we’ve seen what happens when we don’t do that, and so I think she’s been extraordinarily courageous. I think she’s been extraordinarily important to Europe as an entity. And we, the Obama Administration, have valued her leadership enormously.
QUESTION: Let me flip to the other side of the coin, because he spoke almost in the same breath about Angela Merkel and Vladimir Putin. He said, “I will start by trusting them both.” Your CIA chief repeatedly, President Obama repeatedly has urged President-elect Trump not to trust Vladimir Putin, and of course, we have all the hacking and what the intelligence has found out.
In a synopsis, what’s wrong with trying to make a new relationship with Russia? And isn’t he right that it was bad under your Administration; it just was a bad relationship?
SECRETARY KERRY: No, I don’t think that’s correct, in fact. It has had problems and it’s had problems on things that Vladimir Putin has chosen to make a problem – Ukraine, Crimea, Syria. We’ve had problems. But in fact, we’ve also found a way to do exactly what Donald Trump is talking about, to work with Russia on issues where you can work with them. Russia was extremely involved in and supportive of and important to the Iran nuclear agreement. Russia was critical to getting chemical weapons out Syria. We sat down; Sergey Lavrov and I worked an agreement to be able to help get the chemical weapons out, on the instructions of both of our presidents, by the way.
So we cooperated. We cooperated on humanitarian. We cooperated on the environment. We cooperated on the Paris Agreement. We cooperated on the largest marine protected area in the world, which is the Ross Sea.
QUESTION: A lot of those are at risk now under President-elect Trump.
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, I —
QUESTION: You mentioned Iran and you mentioned climate, two of the things he wants —
SECRETARY KERRY: I don’t believe —
QUESTION: You don’t believe it?
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, I mean, his administration is going to have to begin at some point to speak with one voice, because General Mattis in all of his testimony and Mr. Tillerson in his testimony made it clear that the United —
QUESTION: The defense and state nominees.
SECRETARY KERRY: Yes. So I don’t know where they are at this point. I don’t think you do. I don’t think anybody does. But I believe I’ll just speak to the agreement without —
QUESTION: And it’s the first anniversary of the implementation of the Iran agreement.
SECRETARY KERRY: Yes, it is. And the implementation is working and has worked. The Iranians, by virtue of the agreement they made, have gone from 19,000 centrifuges that were enriching nuclear material down to about 5,000. They’ve kept the agreement. They are limiting their enrichment to 3.67 percent. Their stockpile is limited to 300 kilograms down from 12,000 kilograms of enriched material. So they have lived up to the agreement. And the agreement makes it safer for the world not to have a country racing towards a nuclear weapon and have the capacity to do so.
So I think to just say we’re going to move away from that is to beg for and invite the possibility of confrontation and conflict. The world will be more dangerous without this agreement, and it is clear, I think, that reasonable people have come to the conclusion that this agreement has indeed made the region and the world safer because it’s limited a country’s march towards a nuclear weapon.
QUESTION: I want to stay in the Middle East. You did so much shuttle diplomacy. Basically, yet another administration has not brought peace between the Palestinians and the Israelis.
SECRETARY KERRY: Yeah, I —
QUESTION: Donald Trump says this is going to be his priority and that his son-in-law Jared Kushner, who is an Orthodox Jew, will be a great negotiator and make a peace deal.
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, more power to them if they can do that, Christiane. But you have to have a theory of how you’re going to do that and what compromises are going to be made to do it. I assure you —
QUESTION: Were you wrong about the settlements and —
SECRETARY KERRY: I assure you – let me just make this so clear – that when you say another administration has failed to do this – no, no. The leaders of the two countries involved – one country and one entity, the Palestinian Authority – have failed to come to the table and reach agreement. You know the old saying – you can lead a horse to water, you can’t make it drink. Now, we did a lot of leading to a lot of water, but people decided they weren’t ready for one reason or another to move. Now —
QUESTION: And one reason or another is what you described —
SECRETARY KERRY: And that is one of the reasons why we at the United Nations made the decision we made, because we believe that Israel has a major choice and the Palestinians have a major choice. The choice we put to Israel is if you want to be a Jewish state and you want to be a democracy, you cannot be a unitary state. And right now, they’re marching down the road, because of the increased settlements, because of the absence of a legitimate negotiation, towards that possibility. And all we’re trying to do —
QUESTION: So you said —
SECRETARY KERRY: — is speak as a good, good, solid best friend of Israel. And we’ve done more for this government, more for Israel, than any other administration with the Iron Dome and the $38 billion —
QUESTION: Do you think they’re ungrateful? Do you think Prime Minister Netanyahu is ungrateful?
SECRETARY KERRY: No, I’m not characterizing it in any way whatsoever except to say that it – we speak out of a caring and concern for Israel as a democratic and Jewish state, and we also speak out of concern for the Palestinians, who will not be able to satisfy their aspirations ever without the ability to be able to create a state. So both have a huge interest in being able to move this forward, and we wish the administration coming in all the luck in the world if they find a different formula that will actually work. But I will be stunned if the Arab world writ large and the Palestinians in particular – because everybody has said the parties have to arrive at an agreement – I guarantee you the Palestinians are not going to agree to less than a state based on 1967 lines with swaps. They’re just not going to do that.
QUESTION: And finally, you are a man who’s seen war. You were a young Naval officer in the Vietnam War. And you’ve just come back from Vietnam, and you went to the site where you killed somebody. What was that like? Is that right?
SECRETARY KERRY: Well – well, I went by the site.
QUESTION: Where you fought. Sorry.
SECRETARY KERRY: I went by the site. But I was —
QUESTION: Shall I say it again: You went to the site where you were fighting.
SECRETARY KERRY: But I was – I did. And – and when we came back to the dock and the village from which we had left, I was introduced to a man who had been part of the other side, part of the Viet Cong. Not unusual, not remarkable that you’d find somebody who was in the Viet Cong, but quite remarkable to be confronted with somebody who had actually been involved in the fighting that I was involved in and who – we obviously were trying to kill each other back then. And to talk to each other and to listen to him explain how they saw things and to answer questions about that particular incident was quite stunning.
QUESTION: What next for John Kerry?
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, I’m going to continue to be engaged in the public dialogue, but I’m also going to take some time to think and do some writing and do some private sector business. I look forward to being in the private sector.
QUESTION: All right.
SECRETARY KERRY: Thank you.
QUESTION: John Kerry, Secretary of State, thank you so much indeed.
SECRETARY KERRY: Thank you. Thank you so much. Thanks, Christiane. Thank you.