Remarks by Secretary of State John Kerry
May 2, 2016
So thank you also for taking time out of your busy schedule to meet with all of us, as once again the eyes of the world are on Geneva. At this critical juncture in the Syria peace talks, I’m reminded of what you said in Davos back in January: that if we stay at it, if we stay serious, if we’re willing to work in good faith to resolve problems, not create them, then we can make progress. If anyone can drive progress on Syria, it’s you, Mr. Secretary. And we’re so grateful for your passion and your steadfast commitment to ultimately resolving the terrible crisis.
On behalf of my colleagues – Ambassador Punke, Ambassador Harper, Ambassador Wood – I can assure you that supporting the Syria teams that you and President Obama have sent here to Geneva to engage with the task forces will remain our top priority.
So with that, ladies and gentlemen, please join me in extending a warm welcome to our Secretary of State, John Kerry. (Applause.)
SECRETARY KERRY: Thank you. It’s not that you aren’t my favorite mission, but I have this memory of leaving here in a C-17 in a hospital bed. (Laughter.) And I kind of said, “Whoa. Do I really want” – no. You almost killed me last time I was here. (Laughter.)
Actually, not true at all. I – it’s just the way the flow, the ebb and the flow of diplomacy and the process works. But this is one of my favorite cities. We love coming here. We were talking just today about how we can get a meeting moved from Vienna to here. And don’t whisper that out publicly anywhere (Laughter.) But I very much like coming here, and I’m delighted to see our three ambassadors here from the sister/brother organizations – the WTO, the Human Rights Commission, and of course, Conference on Disarmament. And I’m thrilled to be here with Pamela and all of you who are part of the mission here.
I was reading up on this, and I learned that you guys support somehow some 5,000 official visits a year here, which is just staggering. And that is because this is sort of the capital of diplomacy – because the UN is here, because these other organizations are here. And the issues that you represent are all front and center on the table. The WTO, we just won an important – we’ve been winning, actually, pretty regularly. So people who have trade – I don’t think we’ve lost, actually, one of our – no, we haven’t lost.
And what people don’t realize is the – trade is changing the face of the world, obviously. We’ve just done the TPP. We’re struggling now, working hard. We had a very productive weekend over the weekend, the week in New York, working on the TTIP. There are still some key things, but we’ve made enough progress to sort of get the final documents somewhere in the next month, so we’re moving.
Obviously, human rights, there is no more important challenge to all of us on a global basis than what we see happening in Syria – a hospital being blown up, for God’s sakes; doctor – doctors, plural, being killed, let alone the innocent civilians every single day. You look at what’s happening to the diminishing of freedom in various countries where these despots/authoritarian figures grab power and won’t let go of it, and put in jail their opponents and quash every NGO and every legitimate effort for growth. I mean, all the things that we fought for all of the last century are, many of them, under siege in various places.
Constitutions of countries in Africa where people decide, “Oh, I’m indispensable to the long-term future.” I mean, the President of the United States – year-in, year-out the most powerful person in the world – gives up power when the Constitution says to give up power. But in some of these countries that are barely hanging on by the seat of their pants and their people are poor as poor as poor can be, and they barely have food to live off of let alone electricity to feed a home – to fuel a home, if they even have a home – human rights is unbelievably important agenda for us. China quashing dissent, Russia obviously – enormous challenges. So you run the list. There has probably not been a time in recent memory where our participation and efforts on human rights was as important as they are today, and as represented by as many different kinds of conflicts as they are represented today.
And obviously, disarmament. We just had a nuclear summit in Washington, D.C., attended by people from all over the world, major leaders – President Xi sitting there for hours, we had Prime Minister Modi sitting there for hours. I mean, amazing participation. And out of it came some really solid and serious thoughts about how we can continue to reduce the threat that comes from weapons of mass destruction writ large, but obviously nuclear specific. And so we continue on that.
So the efforts here in this city and then, of course, the mission, which represents us in every which way, on a global basis to this city with respect to everything we do in terms of diplomacy – I can’t say thank you enough to all of you.
In fact, I want to make a presentation, if I can, and maybe you would – there we are. We have a special award that I want to make, which is what I’m allowed to do. Otherwise, you’d be getting a million bucks, all of you. (Laughter.) It’s the best – but seriously, you supported us so many different ways for two years, two years-plus almost, in one of the longest, most intensive and most important negotiations we’ve had internationally in years. And as the P5+1 struggled here with the initial agreement which we carved out right up on the hill, the hotel – what’s that hotel called?
SECRETARY KERRY: Intercontinental – and where we also, by the way, carved out the chemical weapons agreement that I got with Lavrov and Russia, that we got all the chemical weapons out of Syria. Imagine if we hadn’t succeeded in doing that, where we’d be today, with Daesh holding a significant portion of the territory of Syria. They would have those chemical weapons, believe me, and we’d have a different situation on our hands. We’d have American troops on the ground for sure, having to fight to get those back quickly in very dangerous circumstances.
In addition, you supported us as we were in Montreux and Lausanne, and up until the last three weeks’ mad dash to the finish, which was complicated and difficult in Vienna, this was center stage and the central location of all of our negotiating efforts on Iran for a good year and a half or more.
So I wanted to present what is known as the Superior Honor Award to the ambassador but to all of you, really, for exceptional and tireless support to me, Energy Secretary Moniz, Under Secretary Sherman, and the entire U.S. negotiating team from 2013 to 2015, resulting in the Joint Plan of Action which – I won’t read it all, but which ultimately led to the conclusion of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, which has eliminated a nuclear weapon potential from a country, one of the first times in modern times that we’ve been able to do that through this kind of negotiation. So to all of you in the mission, this is your award. Thank you very, very much for doing this. Madam Ambassador, thank you so much. Appreciate it. (Applause.)
So generally, let me just say to everybody that with nine months left in this Administration – you may have heard the President joking a little bit about some of it the other day. (Laughter.) I will not, since I see there’s some press here, go further. (Laughter.) But I’m surely tempted to, believe me. (Laughter.) As an old candidate, my juices are flowing and (inaudible). (Laughter.) Got a few things I want to say. (Laughter.)
Anyway, but let me just thank all of you. For the next nine months, we’re not letting up for a moment. This is not a downhill coast out the door. We’re going to use every single day to advance the agenda that we have, which is enormous. We are working on trying to get Yemen (inaudible), and I think we can get there. I met with the foreign minister of Saudi Arabia today and we talked about it and we’re moving on that. We’re trying to get Libya standing up and we’re trying to push back against some bad actors who keep getting in the way of that. We likewise are full-throat focused on Syria. That’s a major part of what I talked about today.
I think we have – I just talked to Lavrov; that’s why I’m a little late for you, and I apologize. I was upstairs talking to him, and we’ve agreed to get a meeting together by this Thursday to deal with some politics. We’ve got a meeting standing up a stronger center here in Geneva that will work on the enforcement of the cessation, and I think we’re recalibrating and reinstituting this cessation. And so I feel like in the next 24 hours to 48 hours, we can get something out there that really puts this back together again with a greater level of adherence for a period of time.
Now, I say “for a period of time” because if we don’t get progress at the table, I have no doubt that Assad is going to try to put this to the test and probably break the – do something to sort of – because the last thing he wants, frankly, is a solution, because he knows the solution will not include him. It just can’t. I don’t know how you put Syria back together with him.
So that’s the road we’re tracking. It’s as tough a negotiation as you have because you sit in there wanting to hold on, and the other guys don’t want to be responsible for being seen as throwing him out (inaudible), and so you’ve got to kind of work the process here that tries to solve this problem.
So that’s where we are and there are a lot of other issues – North Korea, South China Sea, major challenges on counterterrorism. We’re working with countries all through Africa to try to help them strengthen their capacity to fight back, whether it’s Somalia or Kenya or Nigeria. Particularly we’re working hard to go after Boko Haram. So we have as full an agenda as any State Department, any group of diplomats have ever had, literally. I point out to people, Henry Kissinger has said to me the world we’re dealing with today is nothing like the world that he had to deal with, which he says was so much simpler than what we face because it was bipolar, it was Soviet Union versus the West, da-da da-da, we were the strongest economy, we could make decisions that were bad and still win because it wasn’t as competitive, it wasn’t as challenging. Today there’s no leeway, there’s no letup, and it’s a far more competitive marketplace with a far smaller planet. It obviously hasn’t changed size, but it’s smaller – believe me – in every which way.
So you all are dealing with that. You’re the front lines of this effort. And for those of you who are local employees, would you all raise your hands? How many people here are local? Thank you so much because there is no way for us to manage without your incredible knowledge and your willingness sometimes to put up with abuse directed at Americans, and we like that – the fact that you’re putting up with it, not that you get it. (Laughter.) And I just want to say to all of you, I love you dearly. You’re great. I’m proud to be able to serve as Secretary, and we will have your back because I know you have ours, and we’re doing work that every day I think we can say to our kids and to future generations we are proud to be doing because we’re trying to make the world a better place – safer, more prosperous, stable – and we above all are fighting particularly in these entities to give everybody a fair shot at prosperity, a future without violence, and with their rights – their rights as human beings fully protected.
So be proud of that. I’m proud of you and so is President Obama. Thank you very, very much. (Applause.)