FROM: U.S. STATE DEPARTMENT
Remarks at the Transformational Trends Strategic Forum
Secretary of State
Four Seasons Hotel
December 11, 2013
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, thank you, David, very, very much. Thank you, Foreign Policy Magazine. And thank you, all of you, for not singing. I really appreciate it. (Laughter.)
The – I understand that you’ve had a terrific session today talking about transformational trends with a lot of speakers. I guess Danny Russel was just here, who’s doing a superb job on Asia. And I have just come from the Hill, where I spent a good part of the afternoon with my former senator colleagues briefing them on this first-step agreement that we have secured with Iran and with P5+1. And I’ll say a few words about that in the course of this evening.
I also want to thank, recognize David McKean, who’s the State Department’s Director of Policy Planning. And his office is happily and proudly co-hosting today’s conference. We’re delighted with that. I’m looking over here, I see Ambassador David Thorne, who’s serving as the Counselor in the Department now. And Tom Friedman sitting there, and so I’ve got to be really careful with what I say tonight. (Laughter.)
Thank you very much for giving me an opportunity to talk to you. I have to tell you that at the frightening age of 70 you don’t get an AARP card, you don’t get a Medicare card, you don’t get anything, you don’t get many birthday cards either; you just get a little older. And my staff
asked me what I wanted for my birthday, and I said I want a trip around the world. They said, “Really? Another one?” (Laughter.)
The truth is I’m leaving shortly on another trip, ultimately heading for the next few days back to Vietnam, my first trip there as Secretary of State. But many, many trips, obviously, to try to lift the embargo, normalize relations, and begin the process of the transformation that we’re in today. So I’ll be proud to be back there and see the differences being made.
This conference is rightfully focused on transformation trends. And we do so, obviously, in a week where all the world is celebrating one of those really rare, truly transformational figures: Nelson Mandela. I had the privilege of attending the service, at least most of it, at the National Cathedral today.
Madiba left behind a lot of powerful lessons and a lot of profound words. But one observation of his that has always intrigued me is this: It always seems impossible until it is done. In many ways, his entire life journey seemed impossible. Mandela knew that nothing is impossible – but as President Obama said in Johannesburg just yesterday, “Nothing that he achieved was inevitable.” He didn’t know he would succeed, only that he had a responsibility to act. And he had a vision, a dream, whatever you want to call it. He knew that South Africa had to transform and that it needed agents of transformation.
I think President Obama and I both believe in agents of transformation. It takes leadership, and you have to understand that the greatest risk is not taking a risk at all. As we reflect on his life, we have to make sure that our own work summons his courage and summons his common sense.
Today, the greatest risk the United States faces not – doesn’t come from a rising rival, but it comes from dangers that arise in a world if we fail to lead. We risk creating a vacuum that, believe me, would be all too quickly filled by those with values very much different from our own – by nihilists eager to destroy, who have proven that that is their goal, without any slightest interest or stated intent in providing health care, building schools, developing energy, establishing trade, creating opportunity, expanding rights, or even most importantly perhaps, pursuing peace and stability.
The United States, without a statement of arrogance or chauvinism, still remains the indispensable nation. Why? Because we have an unparalleled ability to transform things and places, people, and the world by convening allies and adversaries alike around a set of values and around a set of principles. And after a decade of war, it has never been more clear that diplomacy can be the transformational tool that shapes the world according to our values.
Now this doesn’t mean – does not mean, I want to emphasize – that America must be the world’s parent or the world’s policeman, not at all. That’s not what the world wants from us, nor is it what we want for the world. The hard work of diplomacy and our hopes for the world have to be informed by humility. We can’t do it alone.
But the truth is America has a singular ability to be able to articulate a vision, to lay down a set of principles that we have actually lived by and practiced and made a difference by in order to galvanize the global community. History is what documents what I just said. History shows that when America musters the courage to tackle the toughest challenges, we do and can inspire our partners around the world to do the same – and to do what seems, at first, to be the impossible.
Last week, which ended with the world learning of Mandela’s death, it began with the world celebrating the progress that we’ve made on another great struggle of the 20th century: the scourge of HIV and AIDS.
Thirty years ago, as the world slowly became aware of a disease that few even understood, and even fewer believed anything could be done about it, and many feared even talking about it. People were uncomfortable with that concept. When I arrived in the Senate, I saw this discomfort that people had with even the discussion. And as recently as 10 years ago, experts said that the crisis had reached a point of no return, and AIDS was considered an automatic death sentence in much of the world.
But the United States didn’t let this pessimism deter us from bringing the world together and using our collective power to establish programs, like PEPFAR, that are turning the trend around and preventing an even greater catastrophe. I know something about that because in 1991, I think it was, Bill Frist as the Majority Leader and I joined forces in bipartisan fashion to serve as co-chairs of the CSIS Task Force on AIDS. And out of that grew an initiative that we put together, which we even got Jesse Helms to support and pass unanimously in the United States Senate. That became PEPFAR.
And since its peak in the last decade, AIDS-related deaths have declined by a third. New HIV infections have declined by 40 percent in Sub-Saharan Africa – the region that’s most heavily affected. And the number of people receiving life-saving HIV treatments has increased 40-fold. The goal that President Obama set of an AIDS-free generation – one you could barely dream about when the program began – is actually within reach today.
This is the combination of hope and hard work that only the United States can inspire to rally the world to take on that kind of complex challenge. That’s an example, and that is the spirit that guides American diplomacy, I believe, under President Obama. That’s the charge that he gave me nearly a year ago now – a little shy, a couple of months. And that vision can prove transformational in the days to come as we confront challenges of peace and prosperity, and even the very future of our planet. And that is not an exaggeration or excessively stated proposition.
There’s a reason that I believe diplomacy should always be our first resort. As many of you know, or most of you know, I’ve worn the uniform of my country and I have seen war. I know what it’s like to be shot at and I know what it’s like to lose friends in that process. And I can tell you point blank that when you have been there, done that, it sharpens your focus on the responsibility of leaders to avoid that if possible – not because you’re a pacifist but because you know the consequences. War is the failure of diplomacy.
In the first decade of this century, we all saw what happens when America favors the force of arms over the force of our diplomacy. In three of today’s most pressing challenges – in Iran, Syria, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict – we saw the dangerous direction that events were heading. But with the careful balance of strength and diplomacy, we have now worked hard to transform those trends to shape a more secure future for our friends and allies, and deliver a hard-won and sustainable peace.
In Iran, the regime was spinning centrifuges faster and faster. In 2003, there were 164 centrifuges. Now, there are 19,000. There was a clear direction in which that program was moving, and Iran was clearly marching closer and closer to a nuclear bomb. The Syrian regime used chemical weapons against its own people, started a civil war that has taken more than a hundred thousand lives, and continues to use starvation as a weapon of war. Right next door, we see a demographic ticking time bomb testing whether Israel can remain both a Jewish and a democratic state. And we see a Palestinian people frustrated in their hopes of realizing their legitimate aspirations of economic opportunity and sovereignty.
In each of these cases, pundits and armchair isolationists said addressing the problem would be too hard, or that we were too late, or that it wasn’t our place, or that diplomacy wasn’t up to the task. But today, we see that American diplomacy, often backed by the strength of our military, in fact gives us the best chance to deliver a more secure future for our friends and allies, one where the people of the region are more free to pursue their common aspirations.
From day one, President Obama realized the danger a nuclear Iran would pose to our national security interests in the region, including our ally Israel. The President has kept his personal commitment to assuring that Iran does not obtain a nuclear weapon and will not obtain a weapon by keeping the credible threat of force on the table while using all of the tools of American diplomacy to pursue a peaceful resolution.
As only the President of the United States can, President Obama brought the world together to impose the most biting sanctions regime in history. Thanks to the President’s leadership, Iran did come to the table. In fact, you can, beyond any reasonable doubt, carry the argument that the Iranian election was profoundly affected by the will of the people to get out from under those sanctions, and that they sent a message directly contrary to what was the original intent of the regime and the people they were backing for president, that they wanted to move in a new direction. And Iran came to the table, and we are negotiating from a position of strength.
So when those same pessimists said that we should accept or contain a nuclear armed Iran, the President actually saw a different future. He knew that if the United States didn’t test Iran, the region would only grow more dangerous, that if Iran indeed was merely contained, or that somehow we threw up our hands and said this can’t be achieved, there would absolutely be to a certainty an arms race in the Gulf states and in the region.
Today, to the contrary, it is clear that diplomacy provides the best path to neutralize this threat. And I am convinced beyond any doubt that our friends in the region absolutely, positively became safer the moment this agreement was inked. And the moment it is implemented, they will truly be able to measure additional safety. And that is because we have ensured, providing the implementation provides – proceeds forward, that Iran’s program will not advance while we negotiate.
As we negotiate, Iran will forfeit its entire stock of 20 percent enriched uranium, and that – that puts it a short step away from weapons grade uranium and bomb-making material. As we negotiate, Iran will be unable to grow its stock of 3.5 percent uranium, or to stockpile centrifuges, or to increase the number of centrifuges that were in operation. As we negotiate, international inspectors will have unprecedented access to Iran’s key facilities, including daily access – which we don’t have today – to Fordow, daily access – which we don’t have today – to Natanz, and regular access to Arak, the heavy water reactor. As we negotiate, construction on the – as we negotiate, during the reprocessing facility at Arak, which could have provided an alternative path to a bomb because the plutonium – that now will not be able to move forward. All components that are not yet installed will not be able to be installed. No fuel rods will be transferred. No fuel will be transferred. No additional fuel will be able to be tested. The nuclear component of that facility will stop dead in its tracks where it is today.
As we negotiate, our Treasury Department will strongly enforce core sanctions architecture, which has deprived Iran of nearly 80 billion to 100 billion in oil revenues since 2012 as well as access to the international banking system. None of that architecture is undone in this first step agreement. It stays in place. As we negotiate, we will continue to be clear – absolutely clear – about the price of noncompliance, or of failing to satisfy the international concerns about the nuclear program in Iran. And guess what? If, in the course of this, Iran does not live up to those agreements, or if in the course of this we have failed to be able to reach agreement, we will immediately have the ability to ratchet up new sanctions and take whatever further steps are needed to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. Nothing has been taken off the table.
The first step that the P5+1 achieved in Geneva, I will tell you, was far from easy. And our task is far from complete. And none of us approach this on the basis somehow of existing trust. It’s not based on trust. Reagan said trust but verify. We say test but verify – test and verify. And that is exactly what we’re setting out to do. And we know the next six months are going to be even harder than this first step, because it’s going to take really tough decisions by Iran in order to absolutely live up to the notion that they’re prepared to prove that their program can only be peaceful. And when we say that, we know there are capacities that have already been built in and that are already part of their capacity today, but what we seek to do in this is expand every conceivable notion of breakout possibility from months to years. That makes Israel and the region and the world safer.
Now, it’s going to take strong military consultations with our partners, including Israel. Yossi Cohen, the national security advisor to Prime Minister Netanyahu, is here in Washington this week, already consulting with us. And we will consult with all of our partners – our European partners, Russia, China, our P5+1 partners, as well as other countries in the world – in order to focus in on what we must achieve at the negotiating table.
We still are convinced – we know that no deal, in the end, is better than a bad deal. A bad deal can lull you into some belief that you achieved something you haven’t while they have a loophole that allows them to do what you don’t want them to do. I assure you every expert in the world will be looking at this. Obviously, our friends and allies will, and we will, with as careful an eye as is humanly possible to make certain that if Iran has this program going forward, it is indeed the peaceful program, and can only be the peaceful program, that they profess it to be.
Now, there is another place in the region where strong, smart diplomacy backed by the threat of force has created a better path. As in Iran, the historic agreement to rid Syria of its chemical weapons was only a first step. But guess what? Against all the naysayers, against all the cynics, against the people who believed that dropping some bombs over the course of whatever period of time was somehow going to – which were calculated to degrade and deter their program, or the use of their program, that somehow that was more intelligent than getting all of the weapons out of the country and destroyed. That’s a logic that I find hard to follow.
What we proved was that diplomacy can be so powerful that it can diffuse the worst weapons of war. And while the President was prepared to use military force and made his decision known to the world, we also knew that that alone would not solve the problem. Force could deter and degrade Syria’s chemical weapons, but we needed to destroy it. That was our goal. And it’s because the President chose the path of diplomacy that today we are on our way to actually completing an historic first time ever complete removal of all weapons of mass destruction of a certain kind from a country. We’re going to rid this region of these heinous weapons.
But we also know that to bring an end to the humanitarian crisis, and to build a foundation for a future in which all Syrians have a say, and we end this conflict, diplomacy is going to have to do a lot more. We’ve also been pushing for Geneva II, which is to implement Geneva I, which is a transitional government, in order to try to bring that stability. And we’re finally at a point where, despite difficulties, despite delays, despite all the hurdles, that conference will take place in January.
There has to be a legitimate transition to a new government. And I haven’t heard anybody – not Putin, not Foreign Minister Lavrov, not any of our fellow foreign ministers in the region – say to us that they believe somehow there is a military solution here. Everybody has adopted and stated – the London 11 – there has to be a political solution. Well, how do you arrive at a political decision? You’ve got to negotiate. You’ve got to have diplomacy.
We knew that if the United States didn’t engage, the dangers in that region would only grow, disintegrate potentially into a complete and total breakup of the state of Syria, compartmentalization, the enclave creation of a failed state. So only as our country can do, we are working to bring opposing forces and international partners to the table. Now, I know again this is not going to be easy, but that doesn’t absolve us of our responsibility. It doesn’t mean you don’t try.
And of course, nowhere in the Middle East has peace eluded diplomats longer than in the sliver of land between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River. I have been focused on that issue for a good 30 years. I’ve heard all the arguments from all the pundits on all sides – the conflict is too frozen, it’s too complicated, they don’t trust each other enough, there’s no way possible that there’s ingredients to try to make peace, it’s a fool’s errand to believe that the future can be better than the past.
Well, President Obama and I reject that cynicism. Countless prime ministers and presidents over the years have made it clear what a two-state solution looks like. That’s not the question. The question is how to get there. Today’s leaders – on both sides – have already made some tough decisions, tough choices, courageous choices, to try to take steps to move in the right direction.
President Obama is committed to this process because he understands that the possibilities of peace are dramatic and worth fighting for: a secure, Jewish, and democratic Israel living alongside a sovereign and independent Palestinian state; an Israel that enjoys peace and normalized relations with 22 Arab nations. That’s what waiting if you can implement a peace, because that’s what’s been promised in the Arab Peace Initiative, which has now been updated to include the possibility of swaps along ‘67 lines, as long as Israel is recognized – and also with 35 Muslim nations – 57 nations in all in one fell swoop.
Imagine what peace would do for trade and for tourism, what it would mean for developing technology and talent, for future generations of Israeli and Palestinian children. Imagine the possibilities of a warm peace with Egypt and other countries, where you can export the technology, help Egypt deal with a $13 billion agriculture deficit, energy deficit. The possibilities are infinite.
And that’s why exercising leadership that comes from our partnerships in the world is so critical, and that’s why we work to bring the parties back to the table. One of the reasons I’m late is I was just on the phone talking to Prime Minister Netanyahu. And I’m leaving tonight, shortly after this speech, to head back over there and then onto Vietnam and the Philippines. And we are going to continue this conversation on both sides, clear-eyed about the challenges but knowing that the status quo is unsustainable.
What you see today, this complacency, this sense of affluence and prosperity, and the lack of the violence that used to characterize it because of the nature of the fenced wall, then the – and the commitment of the Palestinians to a track of nonviolence has changed life. But it’s not going to change it forever if you don’t resolve the final status issues. The status quo is unsustainable, and there is no realistic alternative but two states for two peoples.
If diplomacy, backed by the credible threat of military force, can erase the menace of chemical weapons in Syria, if it can ultimately prevent the menace of nuclear weapons in Iran, if it can pave the way to peace and security between Israelis and Palestinians, if we can fully address these threats near and far without going to war, the region and the world will be far better off, and you, we, together will invite a true transformation in the life of that region. And the United States will gain because of that.
In the 21st century, American diplomacy, however, is not just defined by addressing conflict. The global economy is more interconnected than ever before. And I said to my – at my confirmation hearing that, in my judgment, in the modern-day world of diplomacy, foreign policy, economic policy and foreign policy are really part and parcel of the same thing; they’re one and the same.
So we know that the hard work of diplomacy demands creating shared prosperity. If you don’t deal with a problem of whole countries in large swaths of the world where 60 and 65 percent of the population are under the age of 25 or 30 at least, and 50 percent are under the age of 21, and 40 percent are under the age of 18, and they have no hope for education or jobs or a future, what do you think is going to supplant that vacuum? What’s going to fill it?
At the core of President Obama’s strategic rebalance to Asia is this whole notion of increased prosperity, of shared prosperity. And after the great recession, we saw where the trends were heading. America’s debts were too high, global demand for our products was too low. We all heard many in Congress argue that we should just turn inward, rebuilding at home instead of promoting better economic partnerships abroad.
President Obama always understood that this was a false choice. He understood that building bridges to opportunity requires breaking down barriers to competition and opening up new markets for our products abroad.
And thanks to the President’s leadership, we have signed new trade agreements with Korea, Columbia, Panama, and today we are engaged in two of the largest high-standard trade negotiations in history. The Trans-Pacific Partnership will integrate the most dynamic economic region of the world, comprising 40 percent of global economic activity. And at the same time, the United States is leading the charge to forge the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, which represents another 40 percent of the global economy.
President Obama understood that if America doesn’t speak up for high standards when it comes to labor and trade, globalization will force a race to the bottom rather than a race to the top. And as the largest market on earth, only we have the power to set that standard. We also have a responsibility to ensure that globalization is a force that affirms human dignity, ensuring strong protections for workers and consumers, and especially nowadays the environment.
We must also be mindful, as I said a moment ago, of this challenge of young people. What happened in Tunisia – it was started by a fruit vendor. It wasn’t religious motivation. It wasn’t some kind of ideological extremism. It was a human being, a person who aspired to a life where he could sell his wares without corruption, without being slapped around by a police officer. And he was so frustrated and so despairing that he took his own life in self-immolation. And that ignited a revolution that got rid of a dictator of 30 years of so.
In Tahrir Square, it wasn’t an ounce of Muslim Brotherhood. It wasn’t a religious movement. It was young people with their cell phones, smart phones, and texting and googling and talking to each other and trying to have a change because they knew they didn’t get the education they wanted, didn’t have the jobs they wanted.
And so it was incidentally in Syria, too. That began in the same form and was met with bullets and violence and has now translated into the civil war that it is, and I might add with huge extremist overtures that are threatening in many different ways.
So if we don’t create opportunity, we have multiple examples of how we create instability and how we create the problem of these conflicts that confound us. As more and more young people join the labor market, the world is going to need about a half billion new jobs by 2030.
That’s why it is hugely in the United States’ interest to support young innovators through programs like President Obama’s Global Entrepreneurship Summit, which I had the privilege of speaking at in Malaysia recently. It’s why we invest in the flagship Fulbright program and efforts like 100,000 Strong, which spur greater educational exchange. We’re trying to bring 100,000 young people from Latin America to America and send people from here to there. It’s why in every mission around the world diplomats are forging deeper and more durable links to young people. And through initiatives like SelectUSA, our ambassadors and Commerce Department are working with businesses around the world to create jobs for American workers.
In a time of tighter and tighter budgets, I’ve heard some people try to argue that these somehow are luxuries that we can’t afford. I could not disagree more, and I hope you join me in that. These are not luxuries. This is not something we do because it’s out of the goodness of our heart and it’s altruistic. These are investments that pay off in the opportunities that they create, in the far more dangerous alternatives that they avoid. A good job and a hopeful future is the best antidote to extremism.
And we’ve seen the transformation from aid to trade actually work. Our nation has had a long tradition of helping other nations stand on their own two feet. We did it brilliantly after World War II, George Marshall’s great plan, Harry Truman, which brought Europe back, developed democracies, wrote constitutions, and created wealth. We also know that this is the way to create prosperity and security here at home. Guess what? Today, 11 out of 15 of our biggest trading partners are former recipients of American foreign aid. One of them, South Korea, graduated not so long ago from recipient of aid to donor to other countries. So I just say to you, think of the opportunities awaiting us in Africa, home to seven of the 10 fastest-growing economies in the world. There is no long-term challenge more worthy of our diplomatic energy, however. I can say a lot more about this, incidentally because – I don’t have time tonight, but there’s just so much staring us in the face in terms of these opportunities.
And by the way, those of you who travel have experienced firsthand the infrastructure gap that is growing between the United States and lots of other countries. The quality of airports, quality of train stations, quality of tracks, quality of available infrastructure, the fact that America is a great big gaping hole right in the center of our country where we don’t have a grid, we don’t connect our energy. You could produce clean energy in the four corners down around Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico, and so forth, but we can’t send it anywhere. We have an east coast grid, a west coast grid, a little line up in the north of America, and down south we got the Texas grid all by itself. Huge hole in the middle. So if you produce clean energy in Minnesota by wind power, you can’t send it somewhere. If you produce clean energy in the south by solar power, and you can’t send it to the north when they need it. This doesn’t make sense. And guess what? There’s a huge amount of private capital in the world waiting to invest in revenue-producing infrastructure projects, and we’re not even in the ballgame.
In the end, there’s no more long-term challenge more worthy of our diplomatic energy than the one that might just trump all the others. And it’s not about territory, it’s not about security, it’s not about religion. It is the threat of global climate change. I just read the latest report from the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, who Foreign Policy Magazine had the good sense to recognize as one of this year’s 100 global thinkers. If we continue down the path that we’re on today, scientists predict – not politicians, not radio talk show hosts – scientists, people we once most respected in our society for their knowledge and their body of work and their evidentiary process and their pedagogy for how they produce what they produce – well, they predict today that by the end of this century, the sea will have risen on average by a full meter. I know a meter doesn’t sound like a lot to some people, but if you put it into reality, it’s enough to put large swaths of Miami, Calcutta, Dhaka, Tokyo, and a host of other major cities under water. That would displace millions of people, threaten billions in economic activity and infrastructure. It would also mean longer, more unpredictable monsoon seasons and more extreme weather events. We’ll see more frequent and more intense droughts, which means poor crop yields, ultimately higher food prices, and challenges food security in a world that already has food security challenges.
The scientific consensus has been clear, not for this one year, but for years and years. I remember the first hearings we held in the United States Senate. Al Gore, Tim Wirth, myself, others, we had a series of hearings. It’s been clear for years since then that this is growing in its impact and reality. And it grows only more unanimous with each study – thousands of studies, peer reviewed. Some minimal number of paid for, quote, “peer reviewed” to the contrary. Ninety-seven percent of climate experts on this planet agree that humans are creating climate change, global warming. Climate change is an economic threat. It’s a security threat. You will have climate refugees in the world, you will have climate conflicts in the world as people fight for water, where people fight for food, and they’re dislocated.
A handful of world leaders say we have reached the point of no return. And some members of Congress nevertheless still claim that this is a hoax. Even some of those who believe the science say it’s not America’s responsibility to help lead the charge. Well, we’ve heard this pessimism before. But just as the United States rallied the world to take on the scourge of AIDS, President Obama has imagined a different future, and with his Climate Action Plan is taking as much executive action as he can to try to make a different choice.
The United States has a fundamental responsibility to help address this global crisis, and we are in a unique position to do so in important ways. And our responsibility comes from a simple fact: The United States and China alone represent not quite 50 percent of all the climate – of all of the greenhouse gasses in the world. And if you put 17 to 20 nations together, they represent what is happening to the rest of the world, well over 90-plus percent. So we need to constructively engage in tough negotiations with all the major countries of the world to forge an ambitious and sustainable climate agreement.
And second, we have to help countries coming onto the grid to do so in a way that doesn’t buy into the same old mistakes and the same old process of the past. Right now, we’re seeing this plethora of gas wind up lowering the price of coal, and whole countries are turning accordingly, just driven by price, to go buy the coal and burn it. Nothing could be more damaging to our efforts to deal with climate change. We cannot look at climate change only as a burden. It actually is an incredible opportunity. The energy market that is staring us in the face, my friends, is a $6 trillion market. And it’s going to grow over the next several decades to include about 6 billion to 9 billion users.
Let me put that in perspective. In the 1990s, when every single quintile of American income earner saw their income go up, that was a $1 trillion market with 1 billion users, the high tech market. We’re looking at a $6 trillion market today with 4- to 5 billion users, going up to 6 to 9, because that’s what's going to happen to the population of the planet. And we have technology. We could be leading the charge in this if we were willing to make some tough decisions.
And so listening to the cynics who see this problem as too large, or our solutions as too late, would be absolutely the greatest missed opportunity in the world. As the most innovative economy in the world, what the United States decides to do will determine not just whether the sea is going to continue to rise, but whether the world will rise to meet this challenge at all. I think it’s an understatement to say that none of these challenges I’ve just gone through are easy. Obviously, if they were, they would have been solved some time ago. Although in today’s political world, not even that is a guarantee. But the United States takes these issues on because I think we are moved more by our vision of what is possible than by the pessimism of naysayers.
We’ve had a vision for a better world – for greater peace, for greater prosperity, for a greater future for the planet. That doesn’t mean we’re going to succeed every time or that we can solve every problem in our time. But let me tell you something for certain, that is not an excuse for letting whole states fail, for letting peace pass us by, for letting economic opportunity elude us, or letting our environment fall into further disrepair.
So I will be on this plane a few hours from now. And this weekend, I’ll be in Vietnam for the first time since I think I was there with President Clinton back in around 2000 or so. And in the years after we returned from our combat tours, I will tell you, my friends and I often dreamed of a day when someone would say the word “Vietnam,” and we would think of the country, not a war. I believe that day is here. It’s proof that as painful as the past can be, we can still believe in the possibility of change. Through the hard work of diplomacy, history’s enemies can become partners for a new day. I remind our friends in the West Bank of that every day when I talk to them. In 1967, Jordanians and Israelis were shooting at each other, right across the line from the Old City to the King David Hotel. Today, they are fast, firm partners working together for peace. The challenges now can become opportunities, I believe, for a new age.
We’re not unrealistic about the road ahead of us. We know that the solutions that may or may not be possible are rarely perfect. But I’ll tell you, like all Americans, President Obama believes we can be the authors of our own future. We really can be, despite all the negativity and the conflict we see today in our politics. And as Mandela proved, though it may sometimes seem impossible, when we stay hopeful, when we stay persistent, when we stay true to our deepest values, when we are prepared to stand up and fill the vacuum or to lead, we can transform history. That’s what this is all about, and that’s what we have to go out and do.
Thank you very, very much. (Applause.)