Secretary of State John Kerry Press Availability at NATO

SECRETARY KERRY:  Well, good morning, everybody.  It’s a pleasure to be back in Brussels and I’m delighted to be here with Secretary-General Stoltenberg and all of my colleagues from across NATO, where, once again, we have come together to affirm our common defense commitment, to affirm our commitment to the solidarity of the alliance, and also to the goal of a Europe that is whole and free and at peace.

Today, we took another step towards the full integration of Europe and towards the common defense by inviting Montenegro into the alliance and solidifying its place in the Euro-Atlantic community of security and of values and by reaffirming also the open-door policy of NATO.  My government looks forward to working with Montenegro’s leadership in the months ahead leading up to the Warsaw summit in July on the accession process itself.

Now, it is no secret that NATO faces a series of security challenges from all directions – from the Syrian civil war and the influx of migrants, refugees; to the vile threat that is posed by Daesh, which has been more immediate in this city, in Paris, and in other places; to the still unsettled conflict in Ukraine.  So as a result, NATO has to be able to respond to each of these dangers and to more, which is why it matters so much that our alliance continues to speak with a single voice.

Since this alliance was formed more than six decades ago, a lot of people have tried to divide us.  But our meetings over the last two days made clear once again our unity and our resolve remain strong.  And just as we have for nearly 70 years, NATO allies will stand together to meet any challenge to our collective security.

On Syria and on Daesh, every alliance member expressed clear backing for the efforts of the International Syria Support Group in order to facilitate Syrian-led negotiations for a ceasefire and for political transition in keeping with the Geneva communiques, and also in order to isolate and defeat the terrorists.  Nothing would do more to cut the legs from beneath Daesh than success in de-escalating the war in Syria, and bringing closer the day when refugees from that battered land can return to their homes, to their communities.

Yesterday, I also called on every NATO ally to step up its support for the fight against Daesh, striking at the organization’s core in Syria and Iraq, strangling its effort to set up networks elsewhere, and defending our ally Turkey and other countries in the region – Jordan and Lebanon particularly.  I was very gratified that a number of allies are already bringing more to this battle or are planning to increase their contributions.  And yesterday, we also reaffirmed our commitment to maintain a persistent presence on NATO’s eastern edge, deploying forces on land, sea, and air to provide assurance, as we have called it – nothing that is offensive, but defensive in order to strengthen people’s sense of security.  I am gratified to see the alliance standing 28 for 28 in this mission.

On Ukraine, I reinforced President Obama’s call at the G20 summit for Russia to fully implement the Minsk commitments, including the withdrawal of heavy weapons, elections in Donbass under Ukraine’s constitution and under the monitoring of the OSCE, removal of all foreign fighters, release of hostages, and restoration of Ukrainian control over its side of the international border.  It is very clear – and President Obama made this very clear to President Putin in our personal meeting with him in Paris just two days ago – that if Moscow wants relief from sanctions, as we have said previously, it’s there for the getting if you simply live up to the promises that have been made.  Implement Minsk and this can be achieved.

On Afghanistan, alliance ministers discussed the progress of the Resolute Support Mission and the need for increased investment and long-term backing for Afghan security forces.  And we discussed the significant steps that the Afghan forces have taken to assume responsibility themselves for the security operations of Afghanistan, and notwithstanding, a several-day propaganda initiative in Kunduz.  They fought back valiantly, retook the city, and they are continuing to expand their capacity and to broaden their abilities on a national basis.  We also talked about the importance of maintaining a productive across-the-board partnership with the government in Kabul and the citizens of that country.

On the urgent task of deterring and meeting threats, allies must fulfill commitments that are made at the NATO summit in Wales, most notably through the Readiness Action Plan and the pledge to restore and to work to restore the budgets of the NATO countries to the standard of 2 percent of GDP.  This ministerial saw progress towards these goals, but I have to say that work still remains to be done in order to keep everybody on the right trajectory.

Last, the United States affirmed our strong support for NATO’s ongoing efforts to strengthen its own capacity to combat hybrid warfare, terrorism, and cyber threats, and to do this in close collaboration with the EU.  Now, as you can tell, there was obviously a lot on the agenda over the last couple of days, and there is still – there are more challenges, needless to say, that will demand our collective attention and our action.

I leave NATO today, however, confident that as allies, we will continue to meet these challenges together.  I thought there was great unanimity, a strong sense of mutual purpose, and everybody seized by the importance of making it clear to the citizens of each of our countries that we know what we have to do, and we are going to do it.  And that is a commitment that I felt was restated by every single minister there and in every single meeting.  There was a clarity of purpose and a determination that we are going to defeat the efforts by these nihilistic, semi-criminal – not semi, completely criminal and totally abhorrent activities that are challenging civil life itself.

Finally, let me just add that I came to Brussels from Paris, where we kicked off a remarkable gathering of global leaders.  I don’t think I can ever remember a time when more than 150 leaders of nations, heads of state have come together in one place for the purpose of furthering an issue of concern to all of them.  The COP-21 climate negotiations are critical.  They represent one of the great security challenges of the world as well as environmental challenges, as well as energy challenges, as well as health challenges, as well as moral obligations.  And these talks, I thought, got off to an encouraging start.  They will be difficult, and over the past couple of days, the United States has announced a package of initiatives to complement an agreement and to continue demonstrating our commitment to working with our international partners, including the most vulnerable among us, in order to address the global threat of climate change.

We announced a contribution of $51 million to the Least Developed Countries Fund, which is part of a nearly 250 million donation from a combined 11 countries.  We announced 30 million in contributions to the regional risk insurance funds.  We joined 19 countries in committing to double our own clean energy R&D budget in the next five years.  That will take us up to $10 billion of R&D.  That’s a very, very significant effort.  And alongside the 25 major investors led by Bill Gates, who pledged billions of dollars in private capital for clean energy innovations, nothing stands to provide as much opportunity, as much possibility for addressing climate change rapidly and successfully than to have breakthroughs on the energy frontier.  And I believe that the private sector and our innovators and entrepreneurs have a very special capacity and a very special obligation – and they have accepted it – to help make the difference in this effort.

Also, there is an initiative led by India and announced by Prime Minister Modi, which we welcome and joined into, in which we joined a hundred other countries in a new international solar alliance in order to expand the use and development of solar energy in every corner of the globe.  And I’m pleased to say that in the United States in the last years, we have increased our use of solar energy by 20 times and increased our use to wind energy by three times.  And we continue to be committed to move down that path of transition.

The fact is that the world has made a remarkable amount of progress over the past year alone.  When I first went to China two years ago, we engaged in negotiations, and a year ago, President Obama was able to stand up with President Xi and announce that together, we were going to encourage countries to announce their intended national determined contributions, their reductions and emissions.  I don’t think any of us were certain that we would see 183 commitments, 184 commitments, and to that effect before the negotiations even began.

But that is where we are.  More than 180 nations representing more than 90 percent of global emissions have come forward with their individual reduction targets.  So the message is crystal-clear:  The world is ready to act on climate change, even if individual politicians or individual parties in certain places are unwilling to do so.  The world is ready and the world demands that we act.

So the stage is set for genuinely productive negotiations.  Our team is on the ground there now.  I’m in touch with them daily.  And I will return to Paris next Sunday in order to continue to push through the end of it for an inclusive, durable, transparent agreement that will meet the moment and put all of us on the path towards a safer and more sustainable future.

So with that, I thank you, and I’m delighted to take a few questions.

MR KIRBY:  Our first question today will come from Arshad Mohammed from Reuters.

QUESTION:  Secretary Kerry, my question is about the fight against Islamic State both in Syria and Iraq.  Leaving aside the British parliamentary vote today and the German commitments yesterday, what tangible commitments did you get from other NATO partners to fight Islamic State in Syria?

And on Iraq, Prime Minister Abadi issued a fairly ambiguous statement yesterday about the planned U.S. Special Ops deployment, saying he didn’t see a need for ground troops, he would have to approve any deployments.  Was he fully consulted about this?  Would he have to approve movements of the Special Operations forces in Iraq?  And can you live with those kinds of constraints?

SECRETARY KERRY:  Well, the answer – let me take the first part first.  We’re very pleased with the efforts by Prime Minister Cameron to go to the parliament and to ask for the right for Great Britain to join us in striking against ISIL in Syria.  This is a very important step.  We applaud his leadership on it and I hope that the parliament will vote to grant that because it is important for the world to join together in this initiative, and we welcome Germany’s efforts.  I just met with Foreign Minister Steinmeier who has just left here to go back to Berlin in order to speak to this issue in the Bundestag later today.  And we welcome Germany’s efforts to contribute to this.

Other nations are indeed stepping up and considering exactly what they will do.  There are a number of countries, and I need to let them have the space to go back and speak to their parliaments and talk with their leadership.  But they are committed to be helpful in various different ways.  We have asked for the participation of special forces of people to provide police training; people to provide ammo, military assistance; people can provide enablers – there are various ways in which countries can contribute.  They don’t have to necessarily be troops engaged in kinetic action.  There are medical facilities, there are other assets that could be deployed, there is intelligence gathering, there is all kinds of support structures necessary to this kind of endeavor, whether it’s flying refueling or flying defensive.  There are many things that countries can do.  And a number of countries will leave here today prepared to go back to consult with their governments, and we will be in touch with them on a military-to-military basis as well as diplomatic basis in order to secure additional help in this effort.

What I was impressed by, and in fact, moved by was the absolute broad-based understanding that Daesh represents not a threat just to Syria or to Jordan or to Turkey, Lebanon, but Daesh is now a proven reality and a threat throughout the world.  Because any one person has the ability with the – with certain instructions, if they’re prepared to go die, to unfortunately do great harm in that process.  And we’ve seen that in many different places.  So we are all engaged in this effort.  Countries can help us with traveler information, with exchange of information, and other kinds of security efforts and initiatives with respect to public events and security, travel, migration, and so forth.  So we are anticipating that there will be a very constructive response to this, and over the days ahead.

With respect to Iraq, the Government of Iraq was of course briefed in advance of Secretary Carter’s announcement.  And we will continue to work very, very closely with our Iraqi partners on exactly who would be deployed, where they would be deployed, what kinds of missions people would undertake, how they would support Iraqi efforts to degrade and destroy ISIL.  We have full and total respect and work with, for Prime Minister Abadi’s leadership.  We work very closely with him.  And we strongly support his efforts to restore Iraq’s sovereignty and territorial integrity against ISIL attacks, and I can assure you that as the plans are developed, it will be in full consultation and with the full consent of the Iraqi Government.  And I have no doubt that this announcement should be viewed entirely in the context of what we have announced a year ago.  It’s the same mission – not a different one – but we need to provide greater assistance in ways that meet with the Iraqis’ both consent and needs.

MR KIRBY:  Our second question comes from Heidi Jensen from Jyllands-Posten.

QUESTION:  Thank you, Mr. Secretary.  President Obama has encouraged Turkey to close its border to Syria.  What exactly is the consequences if that doesn’t happen, and what kind of benefits – how would that benefit ISIL?  Also, President Obama has expressed hope that Russia will see the need for regime change in Syria.  Do you —

SECRETARY KERRY:  I’m sorry.  What was the second part?

QUESTION:  Obama has expressed hope for a need of regime – that Russia will see the need for regime change in Syria.  Do you expect to reach an agreement in Vienna on Assad’s departure?  Thank you.

SECRETARY KERRY:  So we had a discussion, a very full and constructive discussion, with President Erdogan on the subject of the border.  And President Erdogan is completely committed to and ready to proceed with Turkish forces and in cooperation with others to help guarantee that the remaining portion of the border is sealed.  There’s been an effort underway for now two years, a year and a half, to close much of the border.  There’s a 98-kilometer section of the border remaining to be closed.  And we had complete agreement – without any need to discuss consequences – but a complete agreement on how we need to move now to close that component of the border.  And President Erdogan is committed to doing that.

So we will work together.  We are going to have the appropriate consultations between our militaries in order to do that.  And it’s as much in the interest of Turkey to close off the movement of illegally transported oil, or to close off the passage of foreign fighters in one direction or another, and I’m confident Turkey understands how important it’s going to be.  So we’re going to work with them to determine how a combination of air and the coalition and Turkish forces and opposition forces on the ground can join together in order to secure that territory, and I’m confident it will happen.

With respect to regime change, as you have put it, let me try to clarify precisely what we are trying to do, because “regime change” has these ominous overtones to it.  What we are seeking is a political solution to the conflict in Syria.  And in the Vienna communiques, as well as in the Geneva communique, we have reaffirmed – all of us, all the countries involved – that it is imperative to maintain the structures of government.  We don’t want the army to implode or the health or education entity or other serious delivery systems of the current government to fall apart, because that, as we all learned in the experience of Iraq, is disastrous in terms of maintaining order, delivery of services, and sustaining a legitimate governance.

There is one person who, because of choices that have been made over the last few years, because of the bombing by barrel bombs of his own citizens, because of the gassing of his own people, because of a strategy that involves starvation and torture – because of these kinds of things that have happened, and the fact that almost three-quarters of the country has voted already with their feet by leaving the country or being displaced in the country, there is a strong perception among everybody in the region – with one or two exceptions – and most people in the world that Assad himself does not have the legitimacy to be able to heal the country, to reunite the country, to have a reconciliation.  And therefore, there is a strong commitment by the majority of the people at the table – though, obviously, Iran and Russia have a different view – that Assad could not, even if you wanted him to, be a part of the future because you cannot end the war while he is there.

Now, Russia has signed on, as has Iran, to this International Syrian Support Group communique which states unequivocally that we want a united Syria, a secular Syria, a Syria that protects the minority rights of everybody, a Syria that has the ability to choose its own future through Syrians.  And what we’re doing now is encouraging the Saudi conference as a means of convening Syrian opposition to pick their leaders, their negotiators, to go to the table to negotiate this transition with Assad and his government.  Now, it has to be by mutual consent, and our hope and prayer is that indeed, Russia and Iran will stay committed to this concept of a transition that re-legitimizes governance in Syria in a way that can bring about a ceasefire and in a way that can bring an end to the conflict.

That is not regime change; that is Assad change.  It is Assad who needs to cooperate in putting together this transitional effort which can be embraced by everybody – a tall order, we understand – but which re-legitimizes a process by which the Syrian people themselves can vote for the future leadership of Syria in an open, free, fair, transparent, accountable election, run, according to the communique, to the highest standards of any election and supervised by the United Nations.  That’s what countries have signed up to, and we need to stay at the table, continue to push that process, and put this to the test.  If one cannot achieve that transition, let me be clear:  The war will not end.

So our task is enormous, but it’s achievable if the countries at the table will all stay focused on the fundamental principles which they have agreed to and seek to actually implement them, and that will be the test.

MR KIRBY:  Our final question today will be from Brad Klapper, Associated Press.

QUESTION:  Thank you.  Several NATO members have proposed deeper coordination with Russia against ISIL or spoken about it.  How can you do that at the same time NATO is augmenting defenses across Europe and in Turkey to shield against the potential for Russian aggression or provocative action?  Just now, as you talked about Montenegro’s future accession, Russia is threatening retaliation.  How do you reconcile these two things?

SECRETARY KERRY:  NATO is a defensive alliance that has existed for 70 years.  For the entire time that conflict existed in the context of the Cold War, NATO was there.  And countries have chosen of their own free will to want to join NATO to be part of a Europe that is whole and free and at peace.  NATO is not a threat to anybody.  It’s not an offensive organization.  It’s a defensive alliance.  It is meant to simply provide security.  And I don’t think – it’s not focused on Russia, per se, or anybody else.  It is a generic, broad-based security alliance, and the fact is that countries have to do certain things in order to meet very high standards to even be eligible to be able to be invited to join.  They have to move towards democracy, they have to engage in broad-based reforms that provide rule of law, their public has to support it, there has to be – a whole series of very open and transparent and accountable standards have to be met to permit this.

So I would say to Russia and to any other country that worries or thinks about this:  This is not focused on them specifically; it’s focused on the potential of defense against anybody or anything that is a threat, including ISIL, including the challenge of how we meet migration and other standards.  And that is what is it about, and it would be a great mistake to react adversely to a country that has been working for 10 years – this is not new, nobody sprung this out of the blue sky here, it’s not something sudden.  It’s been worked at, it’s been planned on, it’s been laid out over a period of time, and as I said, it is a defensive structure which provides stability and security to people.  And we hope Russia will complete its mission that it has agreed to under the Minsk agreement of fully performing its restoration of the full sovereignty of Ukraine, recognition for the border – the international border – and help the separate – not help the separatists – use all of their obvious influence and capacity to get the separatists to do what is necessary to withdraw the heavy equipment, allow the OSCE to come in, and simply monitor a ceasefire and try to help build security for the entire region.

One final thing on this:  I have consistently said President Obama’s policy is not to view Europe and Russia and the Caucasus and the ’stans and other parts of the region as a zero-sum game.  We’re not asking anybody to make a choice between one or the other.  We’ve said to President Putin and to Russia nobody should be having to force to look in one direction only, look at – in 360 degrees.  And we should be trading and building agreements for security that work in a 360-degree band, and we are fully prepared to work with Russia or any other country that wants to work according to the international standards.  We welcome Russia’s engagement in the Syria process.  We think Russia can be obviously – as long as they’re focused on Daesh and as long as they are genuine in wanting to be part of implementing Geneva, they can be an extremely constructive and important player in reaching a solution to this current crisis.  And I think the world would welcome that kind of cooperative effort.

MR KIRBY:  Thank you, everybody.

SECRETARY KERRY:  Thank you very much.