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Secretary Kerry and Secretary Hagel Question and Answer at the Munich Security Conference


Location: Munich, DE

AMBASSADOR WOLFGANG ISCHINGER: Thank you very much, Mr. Secretary. We have not a lot of time, so we'll call on a few questions. I have a huge number of cards, and I apologize -- I have to apologize to most of those who have written down their questions. We can literally take two or three or maximum of four, depending on the length of the answers.

Let me start with a question of my own, which I'd like to address -- (laughter) -- to Secretary Kerry. We had a very interesting panel discussion yesterday between Tzipi Livni and Saeb Erekat, who were both sitting right here in the first row with Martin Indyk, on the situation as where we are right now. How optimistic are you that you can actually nail this down? Question one.

And if I may add one to you, Mr. Secretary of Defense, a couple of years ago, one of your predecessors, Bob Gates, gave a pretty strong valedictorian speech admonishing us, European allies, to do more, because if we didn't do more, we would be not as useful as your allies as we should be. Now, are you today as unhappy as Bob Gates was with us? Maybe we start with the secretary of state.

SECRETARY OF STATE JOHN KERRY: Well, Mr. Ambassador, I am willing to take risks, but I'm not willing to hang myself here. (Laughter.) So I'm not going to tell you how optimistic I am. I'm going to tell you that I'm hopeful.

I believe in the possibility or I wouldn't pursue this. President Obama believes in the possibility. I don't think we're being quixotic and I'm a little surprised by some of the articles that tend to write about an obsession or fanatical effort to try to achieve this, et cetera. We're just working hard. We're working hard because the consequences of failure are unacceptable.

I mean, I want you all to think about it. Ask yourselves the simple question -- what happens if we can't find a way forward? Is Fatah going to be stronger? Will Abu Mazen be strengthened? Will this man who has been committed to a peaceful process for these last years be able to hold on if it fails? What is the argument for holding on? Are we going to then see militancy? Will we then see violence? Will we then see transformation? What comes afterwards? Nobody can answer that question with any kind of comfort.

By the same token, for our friends, I see good Minister Tzipi Livni here, who has been absolutely spectacular in this process, committed to it. Prime Minister Netanyahu has taken very tough decisions to move this down the road, very tough decisions, as has President Abbas, who had the right to go to the United Nations and has foresworn it, in an effort to try to keep at the table and keep the process moving.

For Israel, the stakes are also enormously high. Do they want a failure that then begs whatever may come in the form of a response from disappointed Palestinians and the Arab community? What happens to the Arab peace initiative if this fails? Does it disappear? What happens for Israel's capacity to be the Israel it is today, a democratic state with the particular special Jewish character that is a central part of the narrative and of the future? What happens to that, when you have a bi-national structure and people demanding rights on different terms?

So I think if you, and I'm only just scratching the surface in talking about the possibilities. And I've learned not to go too deep in them, because it gets misinterpreted that I'm somehow suggesting, "Do this or else," or something. I'm not.

We all have a powerful, powerful interest in resolving this conflict. Everywhere I go in the world, wherever I go, I promise you, no exaggeration, the Far East, Africa, Latin America, one of the first questions out of the mouths of the foreign minister or prime minister or president is, "Can't you guys do something to help bring an end to this conflict between Palestinians and Israelis?"

Indonesia, people care about it, because it's become either in some places an excuse or in other places an organizing principle for efforts that can be very troubling in certain places. I believe that, and you see for Israel, there's an increasing de-legitimization campaign that has been building up. People are very sensitive to it. There are talk of boycotts and other kinds of things. Are we all going to be better with all of that?

So I'm not going to sit here and give you a measure of optimism, but I will give you a full measure of commitment. President Obama and I, and our administration are as committed to this as anything we're engaged in, because we think it can be a game-changer for the region. And as Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed said -- he's here somewhere -- to a Paris meeting of the Arab League the other day, spontaneously, he said, you know, if peace is made, Israel will do more business with the gulf states and the Middle East than it does with Europe today.

This is the difference of six percent GDP per year to Israel, not to mention that today's status quo absolutely to a certainty, I promise you 100 percent, cannot be maintained. It's not sustainable. It's illusionary. There's a momentary prosperity. There's a momentary peace. Last year, not one Israeli was killed by a Palestinian from the West Bank. This year, unfortunately, there's been an uptick in some violence. But the fact is, the status quo will change if there is failure. So everybody has a stake in trying to find the pathway to success.

And final comment I would say, Mr. Ambassador, is after all of these years, after Wye, after Madrid, after Oslo, after Taba, after Camp David, after everything that has gone on, I doubt there's anyone sitting here who doesn't actually know pretty much what a final status agreement actually looks like. The question is, how do you get there?

That's political courage, political strength, and that's what we have to try to summon in the next days. And I'd just tell you, I am hopeful, and we will keep working at it. And we have great partners of good faith to work with. And I'm appreciative for that.

AMB. ISCHINGER: Thank you very much. Thank you. (Applause.)

SECRETARY OF DEFENSE CHUCK HAGEL: Ambassador, thank you. Let me just add a couple of sentences to what Secretary Kerry said. First, I enthusiastically support what Secretary Kerry is doing.

We all know, there is risk in everything. There is risk in status quo. The risk is always there in anything, in complicated areas of the world. But I believe there's far more risk in letting this slide.

I noted in my comments that, not in the context of this particular issue, but overall, on security issues, it's going to continue to take, as the world is very instructive on this point and the history has been particularly instructive, committed leadership and vision to address any big challenge.

And as much risk and uncertainty that is in this one, I do strongly applaud and support what John's doing here. It's clearly in everyone's interest.

As to your question, Secretary Gates may have said it a little differently than I did, but essentially I said the same thing as Secretary Gates did. This is a partnership. Partnerships mean partnership. Everybody has to participate. Everyone has to contribute. Everybody has a role to play, because not only is something new today with restrained resources in everyone's budgets -- I get that -- the realities of what we're each dealing with in our own respective countries, own respective political dynamics and dimensions.

But if your nation's security is not worth an investment, is not worth leadership and fighting for that investment, then you've got the wrong leadership or -- again, history's been instructive on this point -- then the future of that country is in some peril. It's going to take some courage and vision and strong leadership to make this point clear to all of our constituents, and the Europeans must play their role, as well. Thank you.

AMB. ISCHINGER: Thank you very much. Among the many questions that were handed to me, there are two that are almost identical. And I'm going to take these two together. The first one is from Lord Powell from the U.K. And they're both on TTIP now, and they're both addressed to both of you as former senators. And I read the first question from Charles Powell.

TTIP is, indeed, vital, as Secretary Kerry says. Is it achievable now that the Senate majority leader intends to deny the president fast-track trade promotion authority?
And the other question is from an American, Charles Kupchan, from Georgetown University. Professor Kupchan raises the following question. TTIP is, quote, "the next big thing," unquote, for the Atlantic relationship. As former senators, please discuss the prospects for congressional support, especially in light of Senator Reid's recent comments.

So this is exactly the same question. I don't know which one of you wants to take that one.

SEC. KERRY: Well, I don't -- look, I respect Harry Reid, worked with him for a long time. Obviously, our colleagues are here, you know, Lindsey Graham and John McCain, and former Senator Joe Lieberman, and I think all of us have learned to interpret a comment on one day in the United States Senate as not necessarily what might be the situation in a matter of months or in some period of time.

Let's get TTIP done, put it in its context, then we wage the fight. And I'm not at all convinced that what we've heard is going to -- you know, I just think that there's a lot of room here still, so I wouldn't let it deter us one iota, not one iota. I've heard plenty of statements in the Senate on one day that are categorical, and we've wound up finding accommodation and a way to find our way forward. So this should not be a deterrent. And I hope nobody will let it stand in the way.

On the merits, this is a major initiative for us, for Europe, for the relationship with the world. And when you combine it with the TPP, it really has a capacity to achieve what the WTO has not been able to succeed in, and it could have a profound impact on jump-starting the economies for all of us. It's worth millions of jobs, and in the end, jobs are a very powerful political persuasion.

SEC. HAGEL: This TPP is clearly in the self-interests of both sides of the Atlantic, clearly. And I would suspect that our senators here this morning would have a better sense of this than two former senators, but this is a good example of what I was referring to in my remarks about, let's be smart and let's be wise and let's be collaborative and use all of the opportunities and mechanisms that we have to enhance each other, culturally, trade, commerce, exchanges.

We all know that a secure economic base, a dynamic, strong economy is the anchor of any nation's freedom. Without the money, within the resources, your options become very limited, very quickly. So I would hope that this would get done by the United States Senate. It's clearly in everyone's interest. Thank you.

AMB. ISCHINGER: Thank you very much. I have one concluding question, because we've already run out of time for a while. This is from Joe Joffe, who both of you know. His question is the following. And I read it. The U.S. keeps going through cycles of withdrawal. Is this another one? And if so, who is going to mind the store? Question addressed, again, to both of you.

SEC. KERRY: Well, I think -- look, I think everything I said in my comments make it clear -- and I said it at Davos -- we're not withdrawing from anything, folks, except we're drawing down our troops in Afghanistan, because that's an agreed-upon approach with ISAF, some 50 nations, and because it is time for the full transition to the Afghan armed forces and the Afghan people.

We -- you know, so that's a planned process, but it is also contemplating maintaining a presence for the purpose of continuing to train, equip and advise the Afghan armed forces and to maintain a platform to do counterterrorism. So we're hardly withdrawing. We're transitioning.

Even as we do that, right now, we have just finished helping to conclude a cease-fire in the Sudan. I spent most of the Christmas break on the phone with President Kiir, former Vice President Riek Machar, with the foreign minister -- the prime minister of Ethiopia, the president of Uganda. That's not disengagement.

In the Great Lakes, we have a special envoy who has just succeeded in working with Mary Robinson of the U.N. and with President Kabila and Paul Kagame, and we have succeeded in disarming the M23, creating a structure by which we will now be able to begin doing development and helping those nations to stabilize.

We're working in the Central African Republic. We're working to help the French in Mali. We are deeply engaged in Iran negotiations. For some two years, we have been working. I began that work as a United States senator, to begin to open up that opportunity of a dialogue. We have an interim, first step agreement, not an interim agreement, a first step to lead to final conclusion. We are working with Geneva II, with Russia. That came from diplomacy and cooperation. And we are trying to press for a transition.

I think we need to do more. John McCain, Lindsey Graham and I are talking. There are powerful feelings for why we believe Assad needs to feel even more sense of urgency to come to the table. We're deeply involved there. We're deeply involved in the Middle East peace process. We're involved with the Emirates, with the Saudi Arabians, and others, working with respect to Egypt and Egypt's transition.

We're rebalancing with Asia. We're working on North Korea. I will be in China in two weeks, working on the North Korean issue, working with Korea, Japan, reunification. You name the issue. South China Sea. I can't think of a place in the world that we are retreating, not one. And I believe we are engaged in a profoundly proactive and visionary way to try to give life to this partnership in ways that make a difference.
We're working in Libya. We're working together with our friends from Italy, Great Britain, and France to stabilize and work with Prime Minister Zeidan to build a legitimate security force. We're deeply engaged in that training and otherwise.
So as I think -- I mean, there isn't a part of the world that I can think of. We're working on Cyprus quietly. You're not hearing about it. We're working on Nagorno-Karabakh, the Caucasus. We have an extraordinary amount of diplomatic reach at this particular moment, including in Latin America, and most recently, I just concluded a summit with the foreign minister of Mexico and the foreign minister of Canada, leading up to a summit between the president and the prime minister, which will further cement the North American hemispheric interests and our work on the TPP and the TTIP.

So I think this narrative, which has, frankly, been pushed by some people who have an interest in trying to suggest that the United States is somehow on a different track, I would tell you, it is flat wrong, and it is belied by every single fact of what we were doing everywhere in the world.

SEC. HAGEL: I would just add, Ambassador -- (applause) -- that we have just heard the secretary of state of the United States inventory some of the things we're doing, some of the places we've been. I have never seen a full inventory of exactly what we're doing everywhere, but I would venture to say, the United States is more present, doing more things in more places today than maybe ever before.

How we're doing it is differently. And as what I talked about, what John talked about, capacity-building for our partners, working closer with our partners, being able to do more as we are more creative with these initiatives. So we're not going anywhere.
And I would just add this. As in my comment, I've been secretary of defense almost a year. I have had three major trips to Asia Pacific. I have had countless trips to Europe. I've had a number of trips to the Middle East, Afghanistan. He's the traveler; I'm not. But when you have a secretary of defense dealing with the things that we're dealing with in the Pentagon, with budget restraints and force posture reductions and so on, and still we in DOD are doing the kinds of things we're doing with our combatant commanders to assist our diplomatic effort, which I talked about, we're doing a lot of things, all over the world.

And if that narrative is not getting out there, then maybe that's our fault. But I hope no one will leave here with any kind of misunderstanding that somehow we're withdrawing from the world or we're doing limited work. It's just the opposite. Thank you.

SEC. KERRY: Mr. Ambassador, could I just add to that, important areas? We just concluded a security -- a high-level strategic dialogue with Pakistan. And I've just concluded, as you know, two months ago, a negotiation with President Karzai for a bilateral security agreement, which we're waiting for a signature for. But we continue our anti-terror initiatives not just there, but in Yemen, in many other parts of the world, and particularly now we are focusing in on Syria with our increasing numbers of extremists.

And so I think you'll be hearing and seeing more of this over the course of the next weeks and months. But I think Chuck may be right. I think we need to be more assertive about what we are doing.

AMB. ISCHINGER: Thank you very much. Thank you, also, both of you, for deciding to show up here jointly, together. I can't think of a better demonstration of the commitment of the Obama administration to keep the transatlantic link, keep the transatlantic relationship strong and alive. So thank you for that strong message here today.

Let's give this -- these two gentlemen a hand. Thank you very much. (Applause.)

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