Interview
John Kerry
Secretary of State
Washington, DC
March 18, 2014


QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, thanks for the time. I want to begin – as we talk about your budget, no more issue, obviously, is more timely than what’s going on in Ukraine right now. And you have today seen the developments with Vladimir Putin officially recognizing Crimea as part of Russia. Do you believe, after spending some time with Sergey Lavrov, that anything we are doing is truly resonating with the Russians right now?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, I think the Russians are concerned about what may come. It’s not that the first tranche of sanctions were calculated to be the be-all and end-all. But there’s a quick way to get to that if they continue down this road, and it’s our hope that Russia will opt for a different way of resolving their concerns and interests in Ukraine. We know they have interests. We respect that. We understand that. But you don’t assert those interests in a unilateral fashion at the end of a gun and with tanks and trucks and troops. That’s not the way to do it.

QUESTION: As far as the criticism from people like your old colleague, from Senator John McCain, who thought that this would only encourage Vladimir Putin, because he called these moves timid – he said you couldn’t do anything weaker.

SECRETARY KERRY: What John doesn’t know is the substance of the private conversations we’ve had and the warnings that have been delivered and the realities that are on the table. Those often work just as well. Not everything has to be a high-pitched, trill message on television. Sometimes you can send one quietly from president to president and it has a lot of meaning.

QUESTION: Also, regarding the budget, you testified that we cannot calculate the cost of inaction. In other words, sometimes being proactive can save us a lot in the long run. Do you believe that there was some sort of inaction with this case that’s been --

SECRETARY KERRY: No. No. I don’t think that’s the case here. This is something that is a reflection of Russian aspiration. It’s a reflection of a lot of things that were going on between Europe and Russia in terms of the European Association Agreement and the perception by Russia that Europe was trying to drive a wedge, that the West was trying to drive a wedge. And I think that for a long period of time, Russians have chafed at the transfer by Khrushchev of Crimea to Ukraine. For centuries it was part of Russia. So there’s a strong Russian connection here that Putin has chosen to assert – I think in the wrong way. I think there are other ways to have asserted it and had significant autonomy. So I think that what he’s done is he’s isolated Russia, put them in a damaged position, even though he may be occupying Crimea, and he’s not exactly playing a winning hand in the long haul in my judgment.

QUESTION: Is this indicative of a larger problem, though, right now of our standing in the world? Critics – there was a New York Times editorial yesterday that talked about America appearing weak, and that perhaps we’re not being respected or taken seriously enough by other world leaders. Is there – was there a culture that was established years ago that’s catching up with us?

SECRETARY KERRY: No, I don’t believe so. If there was anything, we’ve been fighting a number of wars in various parts of the world for quite some time now – obviously Iraq, Afghanistan. And I think there are a lot of people who question: What’s the end product of each of those? What’s happened to that? And there’s a sense that the world is going through a very, very different period of time right now. Forces have been unleashed in countries with lots of young people with huge aspirations. They’re the ones who threw out the Egyptian President Mubarak. They’re the ones who threw out the Tunisian president. They’re the ones who went up against Assad. People are yearning for something new and for opportunity for real prosperity, for a chance to live like they see other people living. That’s what motivated – that’s what the people in Ukraine told me.

So that’s pushing a lot of buttons in a lot of different places. And some leaders are choosing to respond to that my ginning up nationalism and creating a sort of alternative theory for their people. I don’t think it’s going to last very long because I don’t think it’s very effective.

QUESTION: Is that for example with the deputy foreign minister calling the President’s decree something that appeared to be written by a jokester? I mean, is that the kind of defiance that you ignore because it’s rhetoric?

SECRETARY KERRY: I think – I mean, it’s just silly. The reality is that this message was clear, they understand what it means. They may have a face of bravado and scorn, but the truth is there are consequences to what they’re doing and they’re going to feel them. And the fact is they know that, and no matter what kind of brave face they put on, they’re going to try to find a way, ultimately, I believe, to find a different direction or there will be much more significant consequences, which I think they can understand are deadly serious.

MS. PSAKI: Last question.

QUESTION: In your testimony last week, you said, “There is no way we can eliminate all risks,” which is good logic, of course. But at the same time, if you had to pinpoint something to one that at this moment is keeping you awake more than any other at night, what is our greatest risk?

SECRETARY KERRY: No, I’m not going to pin down one location or anything like that. But generally speaking, radical extreme Islam, which is a hijacking of real Islam – the legitimate Islam is a beautiful, wonderful religion. But the radical folks totally distort and pervert it to their uses, and they are creating a panoply of terrorist groups in various parts of the world that are a serious challenge to all law enforcement, to all stability, and to peace-loving people. And I think that you always worry about what weapon they might’ve gotten ahold of, what target they may try to set. They don’t have anything positive to offer. They don’t talk about a great education plan for their countries or opportunities for their kids to all get jobs. They just talk about shutting down modernity, closing the door to the future, and telling you you’ve got to live the way they live, one standard and one rule. And that is completely contrary, obviously, to our way of life, to the way of life of people around the planet who have chosen a different road, and that’s a serious conflict.

QUESTION: Thank you so much.