REMARKS: Secretary of State John Kerry at a Press Availability at NATO Headquarters

SECRETARY KERRY:  Good afternoon, everybody.  I’m personally very pleased to be back in Brussels, which I have come to understand, as many people in the world have, is a city of remarkable strength and resilience.  And I’m very, very grateful to Secretary-General Stoltenberg and my NATO colleagues for the productive discussions that we’ve been able to have thus far today to lay the groundwork for the alliance summit in Warsaw this July.

Before I say more, though, I want to express my condolences to Egypt and to all other countries impacted by the disappearance earlier this morning of the EgyptAir flight over the Mediterranean.  The United States is providing assistance in the search effort and relevant authorities are doing everything they can to try to find out what the facts are of what happened today.  I have no more knowledge than others at this point with respect to those facts, but we certainly extend our condolences to each and every country that has lost people, and particularly to Egypt, which has made so many efforts in recent months to break out of and away from the last events.  And so no matter what, I think everybody – our thoughts are with them and with all the passengers.

No matter what crisis demands our attention at this moment – and obviously there are many – we are never taking our eye off of the larger picture, which is what NATO and this meeting is really all about.  Nearly 70 years ago, NATO was formed in order to ensure the collective defense of like-minded countries.  And after today’s meetings, I can confirm to you extraordinary unity.  The alliance morale and sense of purpose is very strong, perhaps as strong as it’s ever been.  And the tragic bombings of two months ago in this great capital city simply reinforced the determination of all the partner countries to maintain vigilance within and beyond the borders of each of our nations and to prepare for the possibility of danger in any form, including terrorism, cyber attacks, and hybrid warfare.

Now, we all know that readiness does not just magically appear because you say we’ve got to be ready.  It comes from investing in the right capabilities and in getting ahead of the challenges so that adversaries understand, fully and clearly, that they will never defeat or divide us.  And that is why we are enhancing our forward presence in the east of Europe.  It is why we are projecting stability in the south.  And it is why we are deepening our cooperation with the European Union and the counter-Daesh coalition.

I just reported in my comments to our colleagues a few minutes ago that not since last May – that is a year now – has Daesh moved into territory, taken over a community, and held that community for a period of time.  And we believe that we are making progress with – over 90 percent of the citizens of Tikrit have returned to Tikrit, which was liberated.  And now people are working similarly in Ramadi and in other areas.

To NATO’s south, every alliance member is supportive of the efforts of the International Syria Support Group to solidify a nationwide cessation of hostilities, to secure humanitarian access, and to facilitate a Syrian-led transition of the type that was envisioned by the 2012 Geneva communique.  If implemented, this plan will further isolate Daesh and al-Nusrah and create the basis for the end of a war and a safe return of refugees.  But even if it isn’t fully implemented in the near term, the efforts to eliminate Daesh are growing by the day, with more commitments by more nations that are determined to end this scourge.

Now meanwhile, NATO’s defense capacity-building program is augmenting efforts by the counter-Daesh coalition to assist the Security Forces of Iraq.  The more efficient and effective that the forces of Iraq become, the better able they’re going to be to liberate territory from the terrorists and the more stable Iraq is going to be in the years to come.

At sea, I informed allies that the United States is finalizing plans to send a naval vessel to the Aegean to join NATO’s maritime effort in that region in order to deter illegal migration and human trafficking.  Tonight we will review our ongoing work to strengthen NATO’s eastern flank and to deter aggression.  And a key aspect of our response to the actions – Russia’s actions in Ukraine is to meet the Wales commitments on defense investments and to continue to strengthen our deterrence capabilities through a more robust forward presence and with associated steps that I think have been described to you.  That is why we are contributing $3.4 billion to the European Reassurance Initiative.  NATO has been and has to be ready to and engaged in a willingness to be open to a political dialogue with Russia, but we refrain from a business as usual until Minsk commitments are fully implemented.  That is critical.  And make no mistake, we will not recognize the annexation and the occupation of Crimea.

Now, the United States also remains fully committed to NATO’s open door policy.  And we are pleased that Montenegro is moving forward on its path to joining the alliance.  Montenegro’s accession underscores once again our determination to be able to make membership decisions that are free from outside influences and that underscore our resolve to stand together against any kind of threat that we face in a world that I have just defined of many different kinds of threats, some of them very new.

Tomorrow we will discuss Afghanistan.  And we’re going to review the progress of the Resolute Support mission and the need to continue our financial assistance for Afghan Security Forces and the imperative of planning for a new, flexible, regional presence beyond 2016.  I will reiterate that America’s commitment to maintain 9,800 troops in Afghanistan through most of this year and 5,500 thereafter remains, with 3,400 assigned to NATO responsibilities.

Now obviously, you can tell from the comments I’ve made and others – that others have made that NATO has a full agenda, but we are united both diplomatically and in the security measures that we’re taking.  We are strengthening ourselves to deal with both our present and our future.  And we’re working more cooperatively with partner institutions and with groups than NATO ever has before.  We are looking forward, I think, with full confidence and anticipation for what it will accomplish to the Warsaw Summit in just a few weeks.  And that is the purpose of our meeting here today, is to prepare and make sure that that summit has the ingredients of success that it needs to have at this critical moment.

So with that, I would be delighted to answer a couple questions.

MR TONER:  Great.  Our first question goes to Lesley Wroughton from Reuters.

QUESTION:  Hi, Mr. Secretary.  You said you have no knowledge what might have caused the crash of Egypt Air.  But if it was terrorism, what do you think the response should be?  Did the U.S. intelligence agencies detect anything – a sign of a bomb or a terrorist connection – with regard to this plane?

You said there was unity among the alliance today.  What do you think the – should NATO play a larger role in the fight against ISIS?  What can it do?

And then just quickly on Libya, we’ve been hearing for months that NATO has a mandate to support the new government in Tripoli.  Given those – these discussions today and those in Vienna, do you think NATO should have a bigger role in that?

SECRETARY KERRY:  So with respect to the airplane, Lesley, I think I said – and I’m not going to speculate at this point in time – I just don’t have the information on which to base this, and I don’t think the experts have the information yet on which to base this.  And nothing does more harm to people or countries than to start speculating ahead of time, so I’m – I don’t want to do that.

With respect to NATO and Syria and NATO and Libya, the answer is yes, in both places NATO has an ability to be able to help.  It’s what I call a complementary role.  It’s not the essential role or the front role, but it’s a complementary role, where NATO has particular expertise and capacity for training.  NATO has a particular ability to be able to do some work with respect to resource allocation, transfer, deployment in order to help with the process of stabilization in the aftermath of a community being liberated.

In addition, NATO has the capacity to be able to provide intelligence, whether it’s through overflight or insight or other ways.  There are assets that NATO has developed and capacities NATO has developed to be able to plus-up the effort in order to locate terrorists, track terrorists, define who is a terrorist in operations on the ground, and help inform the battle commanders.

And with respect to Libya, there’s also an issue – and with respect to, obviously, the outgrowth of Syria, NATO can play a maritime role in terms of assisting Operation Sophia and others in order to prevent illegal migration, illegal human trafficking from taking place.

So there are – there’s a varied menu of things that NATO has the ability to do, and I think there was, to the best of my knowledge, quite, I think, a unanimous sense in the discussions we had today that that can help us, with proper definition, proper limits.  Obviously there are certain things NATO should not be doing, and nobody here was suggesting that there is a NATO forward combat role.  But there is a complementary support kind of role that NATO can play in order to augment the resources and the focus, the visibility, and the interpretation of what is happening in the region, as well as particularly to empower those people who are on the ground to be able to engage in the fight that they have chosen to be engaged in.

And I think we are all unanimous in our commitment to help those who are committed to fight radical, extreme violence in the world, whether it comes from Daesh or Boko Haram or al-Qaida.  This is a fight that all of us are committed to win, and NATO needs to be part of that, because it is helping to defend this region that is suffering the consequences not just in the events that happened here in Brussels with bombs going off or the attacks that have taken place in Paris or attacks in Ankara or attacks in many other places, but also the flow of foreign fighters and the incredible impact on countries, and the humanitarian catastrophe that we see unfolding with massive numbers of migrants, refugees who are seeking a new life in one place or another.

That’s a challenge that everybody has to face, and it would be a remarkable statement for the NATO alliance, with all of the affected countries that are engaged in this battle, to have this asset and this capacity just sitting on the sidelines in a fight that so many people need to be engaged in – but again, in appropriate ways, with appropriate limits, with an appropriate set of standards and interpretations.

MR TONER:  Good.  Our second question goes to Marija Jovicevic from Pobjeda newspaper.

QUESTION:  Thank you.  Today is important day for Montenegro.  It shows that that open door policy works.  What does this means for Montenegro alliance and other aspirants?

SECRETARY KERRY:  I can’t hear you.  I’m sorry.

QUESTION:  Okay.  Again, maybe louder.  Today is important day for Montenegro.  It shows that the open door policy works.  What does this mean for Montenegro aliens and other aspirants?

SECRETARY KERRY:  Well, Montenegro has worked extremely hard to get where it is.  And Montenegro has had to meet certain standards.  Montenegro has had to work over a number of years now in order to ready itself for the responsibilities that it wants to assume.  And it also has to meet certain standards with respect to democracy, the participation of its people, and the support of its people.

So these decisions are not made lightly, but what it means is that NATO is going to look at a particular country with care, with precision.  It’s going to have to measure the meeting of tests that have been put in place over a period of time, and that NATO will not be influenced by some kind of outside event or series of lobbying efforts or other things, but on the measure of the criteria for membership NATO will make its decision appropriately.  And it means that the open door policy actually has meaning; that it is open; and that countries that, in fact, work hard to meet the standard have an opportunity to be able to find membership.

MR TONER:  Last question goes to Carol Morello from The Washington Post.

QUESTION:  Mr. Secretary – oh, thank you.  Both France and Egypt have made proposals aimed at restarting Middle East peace talks, suggesting a certain impatience, even exasperation, at the U.S. failure to get Israelis and Palestinians back to the negotiating table.  And the French have just announced that they’re going to hold a conference on June 3rd and that you will attend.

So the question is, in your opinion, is there any realistic scenario – either by the French, the Egyptians, or any other out there – in which peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians could resume before the end of this year?  And what will it take?

SECRETARY KERRY:  Well, certainly, you can’t – let me underscore something.  I mean, you used the word “failure.”  I have to sort of – it’s not the failure of the United States or any other country to bring people back to the table.  It’s the failure of those countries themselves to make a decision to come back to the table.  Now, we work together on these things.  This is not just a U.S. enterprise; it never has been.  We play a very significant role, yes, because we have a very special and close relationship and have through the years with Israel.  And everybody in the world understands that.  When I was in the United States Senate, I’m proud to say I had a 100 percent voting record for the state of Israel because I thought it was worthy and appropriate.  And we supported Israel because Israel was under attack and countries were at war, and that’s been a history for a long period of time.

But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t also be a powerful force working for peace.  President Obama committed enormous energy to this effort for years.  Beginning before I became the Secretary of State, he was engaged in working on the issue.  Senator George Mitchell was appointed as a special envoy, and there was a long process of effort to try to make something happen.  It didn’t.  I then engaged, and there was a process of trying to make something happen.  And then events intervened that broke that apart, despite the fact that we actually made significant progress during that period of time.

Now, the parties have to make the decision to come back to the table.  But it is not inappropriate for countries, all of whom actually care about both parties and care about peace, to want to try to come together in an effort to find if there is a pathway to be helpful.  In the end, the parties have to negotiate.  You can’t impose it on people, and we’re not seeking to do that.  I never sought to do that.  What we are seeking to do is help encourage the parties to be able to see a way forward so that they can understand that peace is indeed a possibility.

And I know that the French have the concept of a conference, which we welcome.  We are talking with them about exactly how it might work, what shape it might take, what the outcomes might be.  And the foreign minister Jean-Marc Ayrault and I met today, and I certainly intend to be helpful and cooperative with the French in a cooperative way that makes sense for the parties in order to encourage them to come to the table.  Likewise, the Egyptians are very important to this process, and I certainly welcome President al-Sisi’s comments about being willing to be helpful and work the process.

So all of this, it seems to me, is positive – people working effectively to try to encourage the parties to come to the table and negotiate.  But in the end, as I said, the parties themselves have to make the decision to actually negotiate, and in that, clearly, there will have to be some compromise.  Without compromise, it’s not possible.  I’m not saying compromise your security or compromise on a fundamental kind of objective, but you’ve got to compromise in what the other people also need in order to be able to bring it together.  And in the end, you reach an agreement if your needs are met.  That is the challenge.

And so I will work with the French.  I’ll work with Egyptians.  I will work with the Arab community.  I’ll work with the global community in good faith in an effort to see if we can find a way to help the parties see their way to come back and ultimately see their way to a final status agreement that meets the needs of the parties, the needs of the region, and provides for peace and stability.  It’s an enormously high priority.  President Obama remains deeply committed to it, and so do I.

QUESTION:  Can you confirm you’re going on the 3rd?

SECRETARY KERRY:  I can confirm – I don’t know if the 3rd is the date that he has set precisely, but I told him that I will be there.

MR TONER:  Thank you.