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White Press Office Feed

Saturday, February 21, 2015


02/21/2015 04:31 PM EST
Remarks at Press Availability
John Kerry
Secretary of State
U.S. Embassy London
London, United Kingdom
February 21, 2015

SECRETARY KERRY: Good afternoon, everybody. Appreciate everybody’s patience. Well, good evening, everybody. It’s a pleasure for me to be back in London, and I’m very grateful to my friend Philip Hammond, foreign secretary of the U.K., not just for his hospitality but for his partnership in wrestling with some very difficult issues today.

The United States and the United Kingdom have a long tradition of great cooperation, and frankly, that tradition was reinforced today and it continues. Under President Obama and Prime Minister Cameron’s leadership, our two nations are helping to articulate the path forward in many areas of concern for the global community. And this evening I want to focus on a number of them that we discussed here today.

First, the foreign secretary and I reviewed the progress in degrading and ultimately defeating Daesh. Throughout our history, we have faced significant threats together – genocide, aggression, chaos, dictatorship, the battle against fascism and tyranny. Today we’re asked away to a new campaign against a new kind of enemy. The battlefield is very different and the weapons are different, so the strategies that we employ have to be different too in order to overcome that enemy.

I am confident that based on the choices we are making we will degrade and ultimately defeat Daesh. And in my judgment, there should be no question about that. Working together, we have brought together a coalition of more than 60 countries and it is growing still. We’ve seen progress in Iraq. Daesh was defeated at Kobani. Territory is now being taken back. The Iraqi army is beginning to stand up. Their communications, the communications of Daesh, have been disrupted. Their ability to be able to move in convoys has been disrupted. Their supply lines are being disrupted. The transportation networks they utilized are being disrupted.

And so we have started this great enterprise. We’re engaged and we’re coordinating. But obviously, there is a lot more to be done. We understand that, and that’s what we talked about today. Toward our common goal of unity and action, President Obama hosted a summit in Washington this week that brought together leading figures from local and national governments, from civil society and the private sector, people from all around the world who came together, including a robust U.K. delegation led by Home Secretary Theresa May. We’re very grateful for her contribution .

Our goal with the summit was really very simple: to expand the global conversation, and more importantly to listen to each other, share best practices, learn the lessons where things haven’t worked particularly well if they haven’t, and clarify an action agenda that identifies, shares, and deploys those best practices in preventing and countering violent extremism.

In this effort, frankly, we decided – and I think everybody agreed on this yesterday and the day before – there’s a role for every country. There’s something for everybody to be able to do in this.

Together, we committed to help countries that are at immediate risk to be able to grow stronger and to be able to fight back. And Philip Hammond and I discussed some of the things we could do to accomplish that today.

We also committed to interrupt financial flows so that the terrorist become as bankrupt in financial terms as they are in any kind of ideology or program or morality. We committed to stop the recruitment into the terrorist ranks and to work very hard in order to be able to deprive terrorists of the access that they have to those who are disillusioned or disconnected to their particular countries or societies.

We committed to help areas of the globe that are on the front lines or the ones that are next in line as targets, and particularly those that might be subject to the potential of terrorist infiltration. We also committed to work hard to create greater opportunity of positive role models for young people everywhere, and we committed to teach skills and work to improve the economies of many countries where there is a ready pool for the potential of terrorism in order to reduce the numbers of people who might be attracted to the misguided appeals that have brought, frankly, too many people to the battlefield.

Now, make no mistake: The rise of violent extremism remains a challenge for everyone, and it is particularly a challenge to global rule of law. Foreign Secretary Hammond and I agreed that we believe we have made the right initial choices, that we are on the right path, we are confident about the future, but we’re also realistic about those places where we still need to do more to meet the challenge. The reason we are confident is, frankly, because the terrorists have absolutely nothing positive to offer anyone and because nations are coming together across every boundary, every boundary – the boundaries of territory, the boundaries of creed, of religion, of ideology, of governance – in order to move forward in the name of decency, civility, and reason.

Foreign Secretary Hammond and I also discussed the egregious Russian and separatist violations of the February 12th Minsk agreement in Ukraine which embraced the September agreements and set forth a very clear path for what was needed to be done to be able to put a cease-fire in place and begin to live up to those agreements.

One of the most egregious violations is obviously the assault, the full-scale assault on the city of Debaltseve and the violations of the cease-fire in the resupply of the separatists by Russia. Let me be clear: We know to a certainty what Russia has been providing, and no amount of propaganda is capable of hiding these actions. And for anyone who wants to make gray areas out of black, let’s get very real. The Minsk implementation agreement is not open to interpretation. It’s not vague. It’s not optional. It’s called for a complete cease-fire that was to take effect on the night of February 15th with full OSCE access to the conflict zone, and the pullback of all heavy weapons from the line of contact.

So far, Russia and the separatists are only complying in a few areas selectively, not in Debaltseve, not outside Mariopol, and not in other key strategic areas. And that is simply unacceptable. If this failure continues, make no mistake: There will be further consequences, including consequences that would place added strains on Russia’s already troubled economy. We’re not going to sit back and allow this kind of cynical, craven behavior to continue at the expense of the sovereignty and integrity of another nation. And I am confident that the United States and the United Kingdom and others are prepared to stand up and take the measures necessary to add to the cost of these actions.

Foreign Secretary Hammond and I also discussed the concerns that we share about the continued viability of the Palestinian Authority if they do not receive funds soon. If the Palestinian Authority ceases or were to cease, security cooperation – or even decide to disband as a result of their economic predicament, and that could happen in the near future if they don’t receive additional revenues – then we would be faced with yet another crisis that could also greatly impact the security of both Palestinians and Israelis. And that would have the potential of serious ripple effects elsewhere in the region.

So we’re working hard to try to prevent that from happening, and that’s why we’ve been reaching out to key stakeholders in order to express these concerns but also to try to work together to be able to find a solution to this challenge.

Finally, Foreign Secretary Hammond and I discussed the P5+1 nuclear negotiations with Iran. Our governments remain in lockstep with our international partners on the importance of cutting off Iran’s pathways to the potential of a nuclear weapon. And will travel to Geneva tomorrow to meet with Foreign Minister Zarif to see if we can make progress in these talks. A unified P5+1 has put on the table creative ideas to achieve our objective, and now we will find out whether or not Iran is able to match its words about its willingness to show that its program is fully peaceful with the verifiable actions and verifiable decisions that are necessary to accomplish that goal.

Finally, I meant to say a moment ago we also discussed Syria today. The challenge of the Assad regime, which continues to drop barrel bombs on innocent civilians, the challenge of a country that is continuing to be torn apart by this violence. The jihadis who are attracted to Syria because of Assad’s presence and the extraordinary spillover of impact on Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, the region, as a consequence of the numbers of refugees that continue to be created by this violence.

So it is our hope that with good effort over the course of the next weeks and months, we might even be able to find a way to have a greater impact on finding the negotiated path, which is the only ultimate path which will resolve the question of violence and restore stability and integrity to a potentially unified, secular, and stable Syria.

With that, I would be happy to take some questions.

MS. HARF: Great. The first question is for Rosiland Jordan of Al-Jazeera. I’m going to bring the microphone to you.

QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. Secretary. First on Ukraine, you described in general terms what came out of your discussions with Foreign Minister Hammond. How likely is it, first, that more economic sanctions and travel bans are going to be imposed? How long is the U.S. willing to wait to see whether the Minsk cease-fire of the past week actually is going to take full effect? Why is it realistic to think that even more economic sanctions are going to persuade Vladimir Putin and his government to change course? Their economy has now been rated at junk bond status and they still seem to be intent on spreading their influence using separatists and Russian troops.

And finally on Ukraine, is it time to give the Ukrainian military lethal weapons so that they can better defend their own territory, especially given that there isn’t a NATO commitment to Ukraine’s security?

And then on the Iran nuclear talks --

SECRETARY KERRY: I’ve got to get a pencil here to write all those questions down. (Laughter.) I need a piece of paper, actually. You’ve got a few more questions there than (inaudible).

QUESTION: Regarding the talks, sir –



SECRETARY KERRY: We’re Iran now?

QUESTION: Yes, we’re on Iran. Will the U.S. and Iran actually achieve a political framework for a deal by March 31st? How urgent in your estimation is the sentiment on both sides to achieve this deal? Does the fact that the U.S. Energy Secretary Dr. Moniz and his Iranian counterpart, Dr. Salehi, to discuss the technical issues mean that the really tough stuff is getting worked out and that everyone is getting very close to this deal?

And then we have to look at the prospect of what you and the President have said in the past: “No deal is better than a bad deal.” If there is no deal by March 31st, is the U.S. willing to walk away from the table, leave behind the efforts of the JPOA, and essentially reestablish the status quo regarding Iran’s nuclear program?

SECRETARY KERRY: Okay. So let me begin with the last of the questions with respect to Ukraine and then I’ll deal with the other questions on Ukraine. With respect to lethal weapons, we’ve made it very, very clear that that is a discussion that it taking place in Washington both in the Congress as well as in the Administration. No decision has been made by the President at this point in time, and I think we have to see what happens in the next few days with respect to the events that are taking place now on the ground.

With respect to the events that are taking place now on the ground, I think I’ve spoken to them in the course of my opening comments very, very clearly. But the fact is that yes, sanctions are being considered because there are a number of more serious sanctions that yet remain available to the European Community and the United States and others who are sharing in the implementation of these sanctions.

And they are having an impact; there is no question about it. Now, it may not have yet succeeded in presenting President Putin with a choice that he’s been willing to make, but I am confident that in Russia generally there will be an increasing amount of questioning of the course that he is on should additional sanctions be implemented. And there are some yet very serious sanctions that can be taken which have a profound increased negative impact on the Russian economy.

I have said persistently, as President Obama has, that we’re not seeking to hurt the people of Russia, who regrettably pay a collateral price as a result of these sanctions, and we’ve tried to target them as effectively as possible to be able to have an impact on the decision making of those in government itself. But increasingly, there will be an inevitable broader impact as the sanctions ratchet up.

So in the next few days, I anticipate that President Obama will evaluate the choices that are in front of him and will make his decision as to what the next step will be. But there is serious discussion taking place between us and our European allies as to what those next sanction steps ought to be and when they perhaps ought to be implemented. And I am confident that some additional steps will be taken in response to the breaches of this cease-fire and to the process that had been agreed upon in Minsk.

QUESTION: And regarding the Iranian talks?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, regarding the Iranian talks, the presence of Secretary Ernie Moniz is a reflection of the fact that these talks are very technical, and because we are pushing to try to come to agreement on some very difficult issues, it was deemed necessary and appropriate to be able to have our technical people be able to sit with their technical people at the highest level in order to try to resolve any differences that may exist.

I would not read into it any indication whatsoever that something is about to be decided as a result of that. There are still significant gaps. There is still a distance to travel. And with respect to the end date that you asked about, President Obama has no inclination whatsoever to extend these talks beyond the period that has been set out with a feeling that it is imperative to be able to come to a fundamental political outline and agreement within the time span that we have left. And if that can’t be done, that it would be an indication that fundamental choices are not being made that are essential to doing that.

So our target remains, as the President has said, towards the end of March, and I am absolutely confident that President Obama is fully prepared to stop these talks if he feels that they’re not being met with the kind of productive decision making necessary to prove that a program is, in fact, peaceful.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS. HARF: Great. Our final question is from Nick Childs of the BBC.

QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. Secretary. In view of the Ukraine crisis, the issues of the broader relationship now with Russia, and in particular how NATO as an alliance responds to it, the United Kingdom is one of the few countries within NATO now that currently maintains the 2 percent minimum defense spending level, but at the moment the British Government has no formal commitment to sustain it beyond 2016. With the backdrop of everything that is going on, would you welcome a firmer commitment from the United Kingdom Government to sustain the 2 percent defense spending level into the future, perhaps to encourage others?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, let me just say that I don’t want to inadvertently find myself getting in the way of – in any kind of domestic debate that may be going on with respect to an election that is not too far away. And so I’ll answer it in a way that is straightforward but nevertheless not, I think, different from where we’ve been in the past with respect to this issue.

It is standing policy of NATO, standing policy of the United States, which we have expressed through the years frequently and I have personally expressed recently in Brussels, the importance of all NATO members adhering to the 2 percent level. We’re not looking for some kind of reaffirmation or restatements that go well out into the future or something. What we’re looking for is this year’s budget, and that’s what’s important given what has happened in Ukraine, given the pressures on frontline states and the need to have a shared responsibility in order to meet the overall challenge of sustaining NATO as the vital alliance that it is and has been, and being able to send a message to anybody who were to challenge it that people are prepared to live up to their obligations and not just keep it strong but strengthen it at this particular moment. We’ve engaged in a very significant reassurance plan to a number of countries – the Baltics particularly, Poland, others – who are on the front lines. And I think it’s important for them to know that their fellow members of the NATO alliance are doing their share at the same time.

So we’re very pleased that Great Britain has been and remains a steadfast member and contributor to that alliance, one of the leaders of the alliance, in fact. And we have great respect for the armed force capacity and partnership that Great Britain provides with respect to its military obligations and efforts. And I’m confident that the prime minister and the current government will continue to do that. Thank you.

MS. HARF: Thank you, everyone.

SECRETARY KERRY: Thanks, all. Appreciate it.

QUESTION: Thank you.