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Press Availability at NATO Headquarters

Press Availability at NATO Headquarters

Press Availability
John Kerry
Secretary of State
Brussels, Belgium
June 25, 2014

SECRETARY KERRY: Good afternoon, everybody. Excuse me. As you know, this is the last foreign ministers gathering before NATO’s next Heads of State Summit in September. Excuse me, let me just get a little water here. (Laughter.) I’ve got the travel whatever. So today, we had a chance to take stock of the strong measures that have been taken in order to provide reassurance to our eastern allies on the land, on sea, and air, and we’ve taken measures that demonstrate that our Article 5 commitment is absolutely rock solid. We also affirmed NATO’s open door policy as well as the vital importance of having strong, capable partners.

Today we spent a significant amount of time in our discussions focused on Ukraine and our allies’ sustained support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and the right of its people to determine their own future. The Ukrainian Government has recently taken a series of important steps to forge a more inclusive society for all Ukrainians, no matter what language they speak or what region the country they live in or what their ethnic background may be. And after a free and fair election, the Ukrainian people celebrated a peaceful transfer of power earlier this month and are now implementing a ceasefire and a peace plan which offers constitutional reform, broad decentralization of power, and local autonomy to Ukraine’s regions and communities.

The United States commends the Ukrainian Government for reaching out to separatists and to the Russian Government. And now we believe it is critical for President Putin to prove by his actions, not just his words, that he is indeed fully committed to peace. It is critical for him to stop the flow of weapons and fighters across the border, to call publicly for the separatists to lay down their arms, to pull Russian forces and equipment back, and to help get OSCE hostages released.

Until Russia fully makes that kind of commitment to the peace process and to the stability of Ukraine, the United States and Europe are compelled to continue to prepare greater costs, including tough economic sanctions, with the hopes that they will not have to be used. But that is dependent on the choices that Russia and its president make in the next days and weeks.

As Secretary General Rasmussen has said, Russia’s recent moves in Ukraine served as a wakeup call. As our economies begin to grow again, a strong NATO requires defense spending by all, and President Obama is committed that the United States will do its part, and he has asked Congress for an additional $1 billion for defense spending in Europe.

As we head to the Wales summit, every ally spending less than 2 percent of their GDP needs to dig deeper and make a concrete commitment to do more. And all you have to do is look at a map in order to understand why – Ukraine, Iraq, Syria – all threats to peace and to security, and they surround the region.

On the minds of all of us today also is the situation in Iraq. Earlier this week, I traveled to Baghdad and Erbil at the request of President Obama, and while here I briefed my fellow foreign ministers on the conversations that I had with Iraq leaders. Iraq is obviously facing an extraordinary security challenge and a set of political challenges and choices. The United States is also working to support Iraq in its fight against ISIL. We need to remember that ISIL is a terrorist army that threatens not only Iraq, but threatens every country in the region which is opposed to it, and Europe and the United States.

Succeeding in this fight is going to require Iraqis to come together, finally, in order to form an inclusive government. And in every meeting with leaders of each of Iraq’s main communities, I stressed the importance, the urgency of them coming together to do just that.

President Obama has also asked me to travel to Saudi Arabia on Friday in order to meet with His Majesty King Abdullah and to discuss regional issues, including the situation in Iraq and how we can counter the shared threat that is posed by ISIL, as well to discuss our support for the moderate opposition in Syria. None of us need to be reminded that a faraway threat can have tragic consequences at home in the most unexpected way at the most unexpected moment.

Just a few months ago right here in Brussels, a man who had recently returned from fighting in Syria shot three people at a local museum. NATO allies in the entire international community must remain focused on combatting the growth of extremism. With the Wales summit in September, our alliance has the chance to become far more adaptable in how we meet emerging threats and far more capable in how we build the capacity of our countries to be able to not only respond to them but, more importantly, to preempt them.

One of the first tests of NATO’s ability to forge stronger, more capable partners will be resolute support – NATO’s post-2014 train, advise, and assist mission with the people of Afghanistan. And today we discussed our coordinated efforts to wind down our combat presence in Afghanistan while continuing our commitment to combatting terrorism and preserving the gains made by the people of Afghanistan. NATO, significantly, has succeeded as an alliance for more than six decades now because it has always recognized that security threats of the future will not always look like the security threats that you face today, and certainly not like those of the past.

Remarkably, this gathering that is now discussing Afghanistan – 50 nations – has come together and stayed together for 12 years. At a time when people doubt the ability of multilateral efforts to make a difference, the meeting here today stands in stark testimony to the contrary. It does make a difference. It has made a difference. And at the Wales conference – summit, I am confident that NATO will demonstrate strength at home in its unity and in meeting, in new ways, many of the 21st century challenges that we face today.

So I’d be happy to take some questions.

MS. PSAKI: The first question will be from Anne Gearan of The Washington Post.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, you said a moment ago that Russian President Putin will be judged by his actions, not his words, on Ukraine. He did call this week for the rescinding of the invasion powers for Ukraine, and that was acted on today. Is that enough, in your view, to at least start the conversation about what the West might do in response – specifically, not taking the sectoral sanctions step? Is there anything really practical that you want to see Putin do in the next couple of days before the EU meets on Friday to continue that conversation? The things you outlined are much more long term. What do you want to see him do in the next like 36 hours that would change that conversation on Friday?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, first of all, we are not announcing a new round of sanctions today, but we are going to continue to take steps to prepare in the event that the circumstances on the ground warrant those sanctions. And so we’re coordinating with our European partners in order to prepare for that.

Now, we are delighted that President Putin put to the Duma the retraction of that law which empowered Russia to take action in Ukraine. That’s important. It’s a great step. But it could be reversed in 10 minutes, and everyone knows that. The greatest difference will be made by the president publicly calling for the separatists to lay down their arms, by President Putin engaging his diplomatic service actively in the effort to help empty buildings, helping to get people to disarm, helping to convene the meetings that need to take place in order to negotiate and to move forward.

There are concrete actions – moving forces out, not allowing tanks and rocket launchers to actually cross the border. There are many concrete things that would make a difference, and we intend to work as cooperatively as possible. These aren’t – what we’re trying to do is make a set of concrete suggestions that really make the difference to what is happening on the ground. Yesterday, a helicopter – a Ukrainian helicopter was shot down and nine Ukrainian soldiers were killed. And it was shot down with a Russian weapon, with a MANPAD RPG capacity that took that helicopter out. And so it is – there are concrete steps, and we are prepared to work very, very closely with Russia in an effort to implement those steps.

And likewise, Ukraine also can take steps in a mutual way, and they’re prepared to do that. President Poroshenko obviously has done so by unilaterally putting in place a ceasefire and by taking great political heat himself in doing so. Now’s the time for this moment to really come together, and that is why the allies are talking about preparing sanctions – not implementing them today, but preparing them in the event that this effort were to fail.

MS. PSAKI: The next question is from Erik Eenlo from Baltic News Service.

QUESTION: Yes. This readiness action plan that NATO is preparing – is that something that addresses the Russian arms buildup and increasing number of military provocations in the Baltic Sea region?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, it certainly – that is part of it. But it’s also much broader than that. It’s an effort to recognize that we’re living in a different world. The type of threats that existed in the past are not what played out in Crimea, where you had soldiers who were hiding behind masks and without any identification on them, and a massive public relations campaign simultaneously denying the reality of what everybody was seeing on the ground; where you had this incredible capacity for deception, for denial, which was both a surrogate effort of a government and a linkage to activists, terrorists, and others.

That’s a new animal in a sense, and I think we’re seeing with ISIL crossing from Syria and moving rapidly into Iraq a similar kind of hybrid new form of effort, which is going to require people to think through strategically intelligence gathering, preparations, response, response times, nature of response. And that’s what the NATO alliance has always done effectively, and that’s what the – a lot of today’s discussion focused on, is how do you have not just permanent basing in certain places, but permanent vigilance and permanent capacity to be ahead of the curve. And that’s really the – that’s what readiness really means, and that will be a lot of the focus of the Wales summit.

MS. PSAKI: The final question is from James Rosen of Fox News.

QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. Secretary. I wanted to ask about two different facets of the Iraq crisis, if I may. First, I presume you saw the comments that Prime Minister al-Maliki made in his weekly address, in which he spoke of a “national salvation government,” quote unquote, as a coup against constitutional processes in Iraq and one in which he declared his refusal to participate. I wonder what you make of those comments, whether you regard them as helpful or not to the task of government formation in Iraq, and whether it is still the professed position of the United States Government that the Obama Administration is utterly disinterested in the question of whether al-Maliki stays or goes.

And the second facet of the crisis I’d like to ask you about is this: I wonder if the disclosure that Iran has been secretly flying drones over Iraq – from an airfield in Baghdad, no less – and has been secretly shipping literally tons of military equipment to the central government in Baghdad serves effectively to complicate the United States’ own evolving military operations and diplomatic mission in Iraq, and whether in fact it represents a widening of the war there.

SECRETARY KERRY: So let me take each question. With respect to the prime minister’s remarks about a so-called salvation government, that is not something that I discussed with him. That is not something that was on the table in the context of our meetings while we were there. In fact, there was no discussion that I had with any of the leaders there regarding a so-called salvation government. And I’ve heard reports about it, but I’m not sure exactly what it is that he rejected or spoke to.

What I do know is that in the prime minister’s remarks today he did follow through on the commitments that he made in our discussions. He clearly committed to completing the electoral process, he committed to meeting on the 1st of Julyand having the Council of Representatives come together, and he committed to moving forward with the constitutional processes of government formation. And that is precisely what the United States was encouraging. He also called on all Iraqis to put aside their differences to unite in their efforts against terrorism. That is also what we had discussions about.

So what he said today with respect to the things we talked about was entirely in line with the conversations that I had with him when I was there. And the constitutional process that we’ve urged all Iraqis to commit to at this time, we believe is critical to the ability to form a government.

Now, Iraqis will decide that. And the United States is not disinterested in what happens in a future leadership, but the United States is not going to engage in the process of suggesting to Iraqis who that ought to be. It’s up to Iraqis to make those decisions. And we have stated clearly that we have an interest in a government that can unite Iraqis that, like Grand Ayatollah Sistani said, will not repeat the mistakes of the past and go backwards but can actually bring people together. It’s up to Iraqis to decide who has the ability to do that and who represents that future.

With respect to Iran and its intentions and role in Iraq, frankly, you should best direct that question to Iran and to the Government of Iraq. But from our point of view, we’ve made it clear to everyone in the region that we don’t need anything to take place that might exacerbate the sectarian divisions that are already at a heightened level of tension. And so it’s very important that nothing take place that contributes to the extremism or could act as a flash point with respect to the sectarian divide. And --

QUESTION: Has the war been widened?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, widened from what? Widened from five minutes ago, an hour ago, yesterday? It’s been widened, obviously, in the last days with the reports of IRGC personnel, of some people from Iran being engaged in Iraq, with perhaps even some Syrian activities therein. And that’s one of the reasons why government formation is so urgent so that the leaders of Iraq can begin to make decisions necessary to protect Iraq without outside forces moving to fill a vacuum.

And again, President Obama is very, very clear that our priority is that government formation, and we’re going to take every step we can over the next days. We had conversations about it here. There are people here who will be encouraging that to take place. I know William Hague, the foreign secretary of Great Britain, will be traveling there. He will be having conversations. This is a multiple allied interest in having a unity government that can move Iraq to the future and pull it back from this precipice. And all of us remain hopeful that in the next days that can happen.

Thank you all.

ENDS

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