In Focus | World Economic Forum 2014

Full text of John Kerry’s speech to the World Economic Forum

US Secretary of State outlines role US diplomacy can play in addressing some of the most pressing foreign policy challenges the world faces today

  • Transcript
  • Published: 15:18 January 25, 2014
  • Gulf News

John Kerry
  • Image Credit: AP
  • US Secretary of State John Kerry, gestures as he speaks at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Friday, Jan. 24, 2014.

It’s an enormous pleasure for me to be back in Davos and to have this opportunity to be able to share some thoughts with all of you about American foreign policy. I have had the privilege of being here many times over the past 20 years. I always appreciate the diversity of thought and the thirst for new ideas that really characterises this forum. It’s safe to say that Davos pushes the limits of thinking, tries hard to find the new thinking, and that’s really what makes this forum so special. I congratulate you on many, many years of putting together a really remarkable venue for everybody.

Today, I want to share our latest thinking with respect to the role that US diplomacy can play in addressing some of the most pressing foreign policy challenges that we face in an obviously extraordinarily complex, very different world from the world of the last century.

I must say I am perplexed by claims that I occasionally hear that somehow America is disengaging from the world, this myth that we are pulling back or giving up or standing down. In fact, I want to make it clear today that nothing could be further from the truth. This misperception, and in some case, a driven narrative, appears to be based on the simplistic assumption that our only tool of influence is our military, and that if we don’t have a huge troop presence somewhere or we aren’t brandishing an immediate threat of force, we are somehow absent from the arena. I think the only person more surprised than I am by the myth of this disengagement is the Air Force pilot who flies the Secretary of State’s plane.

Obviously, our engagement isn’t measured in frequent flier miles — though it would be pretty nice if I got a few, as a matter of fact — but it is really measured — and I think serious students of foreign policy understand this — it is measured by the breadth of our global commitments, their depth, especially our commitments to our allies in every corner of the world. It is measured by the degree of difficulty of the crises and the conflicts that we choose to confront, and it is measured ultimately by the results that we are able to achieve.

Critical role

Far from disengaging, America is proud to be more engaged than ever, and, I believe, is playing as critical a role, perhaps as critical as ever, in pursuit of peace, prosperity, and stability in various parts of the world.

Right here in Europe, we are working with our partners to press the Government of Ukraine to forgo violence, to address the concerns of peaceful protesters, to foster dialogue, promote the freedom of assembly and expression. And I literally just received messages before walking in here of the efforts of our diplomats on the ground working with President Yanukovych to try to achieve calm and help move in this direction in the next days. We will stand with the people of Ukraine.

We’re also making progress towards finalising the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, which would link the world’s largest market, the EU, with the world’s single largest economy, the United States, raising standards and creating jobs on both sides of the Atlantic.

In the Asia Pacific region, we are negotiating the Trans Pacific Partnership, which will similarly encourage a race to the top, not the bottom, as it unifies 40 per cent of the world’s economy. The United States is working extremely closely with China and our allies in the region in order to address North Korea’s reckless nuclear programme, and also on diplomatic priorities like disaster relief and development. I was recently in the Philippines, and in a few weeks, I will be back in Asia, my fifth trip as Secretary of State within a year. We are working with our Asean partners to discourage escalatory steps and conflict in the South China Sea. And this is a critical part of the President’s rebalance to Asia.

Intense engagement

Across Africa, the home to seven of the world’s 10 fastest-growing economies, we are investing heavily in both development and trade. And in the Great Lakes region, we just recently helped end an armed rebellion, demobilising the M23 armed group. And just yesterday, thanks to our diplomatic intense engagement on the ground, we have helped to achieve a ceasefire in South Sudan. And I can tell you that almost every day during the so-called Christmas break, I was on the phone to either President Kiir or to former Vice President Riek Machar or to the prime minister of Ethiopia or President Museveni of Uganda as we worked diligently to try to move towards peace.

Closer to home, we just completed a US-Canada-Mexico summit in Washington last week in preparation for our leaders who will focus on increased cooperation in our hemisphere, a North American effort for renewed entrepreneurship, renewable energy, and educational exchanges.

So after a decade that was perhaps uniquely, and in many people’s view, unfortunately, excessively defined foremost by force and our use of force, we are entering an era of American diplomatic engagement that is as broad and as deep as any at any time in our history. And such are the responsibilities of a global power.

Middle East

The most bewildering version of this disengagement myth is about a supposed retreat by the United States from the Middle East. Now, my response to that suggestion is simple: You cannot find another country — not one country — that is as proactively engaged, that is partnering with so many Middle Eastern countries as constructively as we are on so many high-stake fronts. And I want to emphasise that last point: partnering. We have no pretense about solving these problems alone. Nor is anyone suggesting, least of all me, that the United States can solve every one of the region’s problems or that every one of them can be a priority at the same time.

But as President Obama made clear last fall at the United Nations, the United States of America will continue to invest significant effort in the Middle East because we have enduring interests in the region, and we have enduring friendships with countries that rely on us for their security in a volatile neighbourhood. We will defend our partners and our allies as necessary, and we will continue to ensure the free flow of energy, dismantle terrorist networks, and we will not tolerate the proliferation of nuclear weapons.

Now in reality, all three of these challenges and the relationships that surround them and accomplishing all of these goals requires, in President Obama’s words, for the United States to “be engaged in the region for the long haul”.

From security cooperation with our Gulf partners like Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, with whom we are both discussing longer-term security framework for the region, as well as to helping countries in transition like Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Yemen, to countering Al Qaida and its affiliates, to ensuring stability for the world’s shipping lanes and energy supply, there is no shortage of the places where we are engaged in the Middle East.

So the question isn’t whether we’re leaving. The question is how we are leading. Today, we believe that there are initiatives that, taken together, have the potential to reshape the Middle East and could even help create the foundations of a new order.

Iran

First, the agreement that we reached with Iran. As of this week, Iran’s nuclear weapons programme is being rolled back in important ways. On Monday, Iran took a series of steps that the world has long demanded, including reducing its stockpile of 20 per cent enriched uranium, disabling the infrastructure for its production, and allowing unprecedented transparency and monitoring to guarantee Iran is complying with the agreement.

They will have to reduce their 20 per cent to zero, and they do not have and will not have the capacity for reconversion. They will have to reduce it to forms that are not suitable for making weapons. Iran must also halt enrichment above 5 per cent and it will not be permitted to grow the current stockpile of 3.5 per cent enriched uranium. Iran cannot increase the number of centrifuges that are in operation, and it cannot install or use any next-generation centrifuges to enrich uranium. And while we negotiate a final agreement over these next months, Iran will not be permitted to take any steps to commission the Arak plutonium reactor.

Now clearly, there are good reasons to ask tough questions of Iran going forward — and believe me, we will — and good reasons to require that the promises Iran made are promises kept. Remember — we certainly haven’t forgotten — there is a reason that world has placed sanctions on Iran. There’s a reason why they exist in the first place. And there’s a reason why the core architecture of those sanctions remains in place. And that is why this effort is grounded not in trusting, not in words, but in testing. And that is why now inspectors can be at Fordow every day.

That wasn’t the case before the agreement we struck. Inspectors can now also be at Natanz every day. That’s also new, thanks to the agreement we struck. And inspectors will visit Arak plutonium plant every month, and they are under an obligation to deliver the plans for that plant to us.

Absolute guarantee

Taken altogether, these elements will increase the amount of time that it would take for Iran to break out and build a bomb — the breakout time, as we call it — and it will increase our ability to be able to detect it and to prevent it. And all of this will, to an absolute guarantee beyond any reasonable doubt, make Israel safer than it was the day before we entered this agreement, make the region safer than it was the day before we entered this agreement, and make the world safer than it was.

Now yesterday, President Rouhani stood here and he said that Iran is eager to engage with the world, and hopefully. But Iran knows what it must do to make that happen. He told you that Iran has no intention of building a nuclear weapon. Well, while the message is welcome, my friends, the words themselves are meaningless unless actions are taken to give them meaning. Starting now, Iran has the opportunity to prove these words beyond all doubt to the world.

Now, let’s be clear: If you are serious about a peaceful programme, it is not hard to prove to the world that your programme is peaceful. For sure, a country with a peaceful nuclear programme does not need to build enrichment facilities in the cover of darkness in the depth of a mountain. It doesn’t need a heavy water reactor designed to produce weapons-grade plutonium, like the one at Arak. It has no reason to fear intrusive monitoring and verification. And it should have no problem resolving outstanding issues with the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Reasonable standard

This is true for every country in the world with an exclusively peaceful nuclear programme. And it is the tough but reasonable standard to which Iran must also be held.

So we welcome this week’s historic step. But now the hard part begins, six months of intensive negotiations with the goal of resolving all the international community’s concerns about Iran’s nuclear programme. I want to say that the P5+1 has acted in unity, in great cooperation, and we welcome the international community’s efforts that has characterised this initiative.

So Iran must meet this test. If it does, the Middle East will be a safer place, free from the fear of a nuclear arms race. And diplomatic engagement, my friends, backed by sanctions and other options, will have proved its worth.

Syria

The second challenge is Syria, where an enormous, almost unimaginable human tragedy is unfolding before our eyes. Just this week, we have seen the terrible new evidence of torture at the hands of the Assad regime. But this week we also saw the Syrian regime and the opposition sit at the same table in the same room — or separate tables but in the same room — for the first time since the war began. They were joined by more than 40 countries and institutions who have assented to the Geneva communique, which clearly outlines how this conflict must conclude: With the creation of a transitional government with full executive authority by mutual consent.

Let me tell you in simple terms why that means Bashar Al Assad cannot be part of that future. It is simple. It is first because of the extraordinary havoc that he has wreaked on his own country, on his own people; a man who has killed university students and doctors with Scud missiles; a man who has gassed his own people in the dead of night — families sleeping, women, children, grandparents; a man who has unleashed extraordinary force of artillery and barrel bombs against civilians against the laws of warfare. Assad will never have or be able to earn back the legitimacy to bring that country back together.

Opposition

That’s number one. But number two, because of those things that he has done, because of 130,000 people who have been killed, the opposition will never stop fighting while he is there. And so if your objective is to have peace, this one man must step aside in favour of peace and of his nation. You can never achieve stability until he is gone. And finally, any transitional government formed by mutual consent by definition will not include Al Assad because the opposition will never consent to permit him to be there.

The United States is engaged in this difficult endeavour because we know that the longer the fighting continues, the greater the risk that Syria’s sectarian divisions will spiral out of control. We know there are people who wish that American young men and women who were on the ground fighting for them — there are people who would love to see America fight the war for them. But that is not the choice.

The choice is first diplomacy in order to avoid the devastating results that could result in the disintegration of the Syrian state, and the instability that could spread across the entire region. We are engaged because the number of refugees pouring into Jordan — I see our friend Nasser Judeh, the foreign minister here — into Lebanon, and Turkey is destabilising and it’s unsustainable.

We are engaged because, while we are proud to be the largest contributor to the humanitarian assistance to deal with those refugees, the ultimate solution can only come when we stop the supply of refugees, when we stop the fighting. And that can’t happen soon enough because Al Assad continues to kill and displace innocent Syrians, and in doing so has become the world’s greatest single individual magnet for jihad and terror.

Absent a political solution, we know where this leads: more refugees, more terrorists, more extremism, more brutality from the regime, more suffering for the Syrian people. And we do not believe that we or anyone should tolerate one man’s brutal effort to cling to power. We must instead empower all of the Syrian people.

Unified state

That is why the United States and our partners who sat around that table this week will continue to fight for a pluralistic, inclusive Syria where all minorities are protected, where all rights are protected, and where Syria can come together to be once again the secular and unified state that it was, represented by a government of the people’s choice where all minorities are protected.

Now, we believe this vision is achievable, and we will continue to work closely with our partners for a new Syria that can exist peacefully as a sovereign, independent, and democratic state where Syrians will be able to able have their voices heard without fear of retribution, imprisonment, or even death.

Now obviously, we know this isn’t going to be easy. In fact, it’s obviously very, very hard. It’s already hard. But we’ve already seen in Syria what forceful diplomacy is able to achieve. As we speak, a man who, the day before he agreed to do it, denied he even had the weapons, is now removing all the chemical weapons from that country. As we speak, the international community is on its way to completely removing all of Syria’s chemical weapons, an unprecedented undertaking that is making the region and the world safer and is setting an example on a global basis.

We are convinced that if the Syrian people are to have the chance to rebuild their country and if millions of Syrian refugees are to have the chance to return home, it is ultimately diplomacy that will make it possible. There is no military solution to the problem of Syria.

Israel and Palestine

And that brings me to the most intractable of all conflicts: the struggle to make peace between Israelis and Palestinians. Every time I meet my foreign counterparts, anywhere in the world — when they visit me in Washington or when I travel to their countries — I am not kidding you when I tell you that invariably the first issue that they ask me about is the challenge of Middle East peace. It may seem improbable to you, but I’m telling you it’s absolutely true. From Asia to Latin America to Africa, all through Europe, this question lingers. This intractable conflict has confounded administration after administration, prime minister after prime minister, leaders, and peacemakers. And they always ask this about the Middle East even before they complain about what we’re doing or not doing, ironically.

Despite this global interest, my friends, people still ask me — I’m astonished by it — why, with all the troubles in the world, and in the Middle East in particular, why is the Obama Administration so focused on trying to forge Israeli-Palestinian peace? And obviously, I’ve had that question directed at me in personal and in other ways. Well, the reason that we are so devoted to trying to find a solution is really very simple: Because the benefits of success and the dangers of failure are enormous for the United States, for the world, for the region, and most importantly, for the Israeli and Palestinian people. After all the years expended on this, the last thing we need is a failure that will make certain additional conflict.

Status quo

There are some people who assert this may be the last shot. I don’t know the answer to that. I don’t want to find out the hard way. But I want you to consider what happens if talks fail. For Israel, the demographic dynamic will make it impossible to preserve its future as a democratic, Jewish state. Israel’s current relative security and prosperity doesn’t change the fact that the status quo cannot be sustained if Israel’s democratic future is in fact to be secured. Today’s status quo, my friends, I promise you will not last forever.

President Abbas is committed to negotiation and to nonviolence. But failure will only embolden extremists and empower hardliners at the expense of the moderates who have been committed to a nonviolent track to try to find peace. And what would happen in the West Bank without that commitment to nonviolence?

The Israeli and Palestinian members of Breaking the Impasse initiative who are here today know well what is at stake. Israel’s economic juggernaut is a wonder to behold. Prime Minister Netanyahu was able to talk to you about it here today. But a deteriorating security environment and the growing isolation that could come with it could put that prosperity at risk.

Meanwhile, if this fails, Palestinians will be no closer to the sovereignty that they seek, no closer to their ability to be the masters of their own fate, no closer to their ability to grow their own economy, no closer to resolving the refugee problem that has been allowed to fester for decades. And if they fail to achieve statehood now, there is no guarantee another opportunity will follow anytime soon.

Downward spiral

This issue cannot be resolved at the United Nations. It can only be resolved between the parties. If peace fails, the region risks another destabilising crisis. One unilateral act from one side or the other will beget another, and yet another, and another, until we have fallen yet again into a dangerous downward spiral at a time where there’s already too much danger in the region.

And you know what’s interesting? We often spend so much time talking about what both parties stand to lose without peace that we actually sometimes forget to talk enough about what they stand to gain from peace. I believe that the fact that peace is possible, especially in a region with so much tension and turmoil, ought to motivate people.

Palestinians stand to gain, above all else, an independent, viable, contiguous state, their own place among the community of nations. Imagine this time next year here in Davos if Palestinian businessmen and government leaders from the state of Palestine are able to pitch the world’s largest investors a host of projects from the Palestinian Economic Initiative. And imagine if they could be invited to participate in building a new state with new jobs, new infrastructure, and a new life free from occupation.

And for Israel, the benefits of peace are enormous as well, perhaps even more significant. For starters, no nation on earth stands to gain so many new economic partners so quickly as Israel does, because 20 additional members — nations of the Arab League and 35 Muslim countries stand ready under the Arab Peace Initiative to all recognise Israel and normalise relations the moment a peace agreement is reached.

As Shaikh Abdullah Bin Zayed Al Nahyan said at a meeting of the foreign ministers of the Arab League, which we held in Paris a few months ago, he said to his minister colleagues — completely spontaneously, unexpected from me, he said, “You know what? After peace, Israel will enjoy greater economic benefit from relations with the Gulf than it now enjoys with Europe.” That’s the foreign minister of the United Arab Emirates.

Just imagine what that would mean for commerce and trade. Stanley Fischer, the former governor of the Bank of Israel who President Obama has nominated to serve on our own Federal Reserve Board, said that a peace agreement with the Palestinians could boost Israel’s GDP by as much as 6 per cent a year.

Invigorate a region

And together, the Jewish state of Israel and the Arab state of Palestine can develop into an international hub for technology, for trade, tourism — tourism, unbelievable tourism, the holy sites of the world, of the major three religions. This would invigorate a region. It is long past time that the people of this great and ancient part of the world became known for what they can create, not for the conflicts that they can perpetrate. It is long past time that Jerusalem — the crucible of the world’s three great monotheistic religions — becomes known not as the object of constant struggle, but as the golden city of peace and unity, embodying the aspirations of Israelis and Palestinians alike.

The truth is that after decades of struggling with this conflict, we all know what the endgame looks like: an independent state for Palestinians wherever they may be; security arrangements for Israel that leave it more secure, not less; a full, phased, final withdrawal of the Israeli army; a just and agreed solution to the Palestinian refugee problem; an end to the conflict and all claims; and mutual recognition of the nation-state of the Palestinian people and the nation-state of the Jewish people.

That is our destination. And the real challenge is not what is it; it’s just how to get there — how to get the leaders and the body politic of both places to make the courageous decisions necessary to embrace what would be fair and what would work. That’s why I am working with President Abbas and with Prime Minister Netanyahu to achieve a framework for the negotiations that will define the endgame and all the core issues, and provide guidelines for the negotiators in their efforts to achieve a final-status peace agreement.

Real peace

I have watched over 30 years in the United States Senate. I was on the lawn in Washington when the great handshake took place. I’ve watched Annapolis and Wye and Madrid and Oslo and all of these efforts, but always we’ve left out the endgame. Always, people have had to wonder when or if the real peace could be achieved.

One of the biggest challenges in reaching this agreement, I will tell you, my friends, is security. The Palestinians need to know that at the end of the day, their territory is going to be free of Israeli troops, that occupation ends; but the Israelis rightfully will not withdraw unless they know that the West Bank will not become a new Gaza. And nobody can blame any leader of Israel for being concerned about that reality. We have been working hard on addressing this challenge. President Obama’s approach begins with America’s steadfast commitment to Israel’s security. He knows and I know that there cannot be peace unless Israel’s security and its needs are met.

We have put the full range of resources of the US Government behind this effort in an unprecedented way. For the past nine months, a team led by General John Allen — a four-star general and one of the most respected minds in the US military — has been engaged in a comprehensive security dialogue with our Israeli and Palestinian counterparts.

Based on his efforts, we are confident that, together with Israel, working with Jordan, working with the Palestinians, working with us, all of us together can create a security structure that meets the highest standards anywhere in the world. And by developing a layered defence that includes significantly strengthening the fences on both sides of the border, by deploying state-of-the-art technology, with a comprehensive programme of rigorous testing, we can make the border safe for any type of conventional or unconventional threat, from individual terrorists or a conventional armed force. We are well aware that technology alone is not the answer, but we also know that it can play a key role in helping to secure the Jordanian border, just like Iron Dome has played a key role in securing Israel’s southern communities.

Security is a priority because we understand that Israel has to be strong to make peace, but we also believe that peace will make Israel stronger. We are convinced that the greatest security of all will actually come from a two-state solution that brings Israel the lasting peace and secure borders that they deserve, and brings Palestinians the freedom and the dignity that they deserve.

Painful compromises

As committed as we are, it is ultimately up to the Israelis and the Palestinians to reach an agreement on how to end this conflict. Make no mistake: this will require difficult political decisions and painful compromises on both sides. These are emotional issues, many embedded in age-old narratives. At the end of the day, it is up to Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Abbas to recognise what the world has recognised: that peace is in the best interests of their people. But that makes it no less true that at every level, everybody has a role to play. The Arab League and the European Union have already shown how they can pave the way for peace, and they have been unbelievably cooperative, and we’re grateful for their help. I thank King Abdullah of Jordan and Nasser Judeh and the extraordinary efforts of Jordan to help move this; the Arab League Nabeel Al Araby, and Khalid Atiyah, the leader of the Arab League Follow-On Committee that is working month to month to stay current and to be engaged in this.

Many states have made contributions to the Palestinian economy, including a micro-infrastructure initiative that is making a difference to people’s everyday lives. Many companies, including some of you here, have invested in both Israel and the Palestinian territories, and you’ve shown the difference that the private sector can make in this endeavour. And all of you can make a positive contribution by dismissing, please, the all-too-easy scepticism by seeing the possibilities and by building the momentum for peace.

Courageous steps

Successful diplomacy, like the conversations here at Davos, demands the kind of cooperation that has to come from many stakeholders. As Klaus Schwab says, in an interconnected world, all challenges must be addressed on the basis of togetherness. That is true, whether you’re talking about this peace effort or about what we must achieve in Syria, or about what we must ensure in Iran. Intensive, creative, strong diplomacy requires cooperation, and that is exactly why the United States is so engaged in the Middle East and around the world, and why we will stay so.

As our friends and partners take courageous steps forward, they can be assured that President Obama and his Administration will remain engaged for the long haul. But we will also confront these challenges with the urgency that they deserve. We dare not, and I assure you, we will not miss this moment.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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