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SECRETARY KERRY: Afternoon, everybody. Thanks for being here. Obviously, the last few days have been fairly intensive set of discussions, and we’ve covered a lot of ground, so I thought it was important to try to bring everybody up to speed on the road journeyed and the road ahead.
Before I do, though, I want to address, for a moment, the tragic events that have taken place over the course of the last 24 hours that have hit our friends in Australia and in Pakistan.
The news of the brazen murder of more than 120 innocent students in Peshawar is devastating. And as a father, I know exactly how hard it is when you send kids out of house into the world, to school or anywhere, and particularly in today’s world. Mothers and fathers send their kids to school to learn and to be safe and to dream and to find opportunity. And particularly at this military school in Pakistan, they sent their kids there with the hope and dreams of serving their country. Instead, today they are gone, wiped away by Taliban assassins who serve a dark and almost medieval vision, and the opposite of everything that those mothers and fathers wanted for their children.
The images are absolutely gut-wrenching: young children carried away in ambulances, a teacher burned alive in front of the students, a house of learning turned into a house of unspeakable horror. And Prime Minister Sharif said, “These are my children. It is my loss.” Well, this morning, wherever you live, wherever you are, those are our children, and this is the world’s loss. This act of terror angers and shakes all people of conscience, and we condemn it in the strongest terms possible. The perpetrators must be brought to justice. And we pledge our full support to the people of Pakistan in this difficult hour and we will help them in any way that we possibly can.
Likewise, our friends in Sydney are also especially on our minds. The United States, obviously, in recent memory, has come face to face with horrific violence on our own soil, and we have seen our citizens held hostage and murdered in faraway places for the most nihilistic, devastatingly negative purposes. So we know in a very personal way what our ally Australia is going through at this very moment. And we grieve with Australia and with the families of all those terrorized, injured, and killed.
And even though we’re at opposite ends of the globe, the United States and Australia are united not just in an alliance, but we are deeply united by our values and our friendship and our years of cooperation together. Our countries and our people are strong. And Australian law enforcement and security forces are about as good as it gets. I spoke this morning with Foreign Minister Julie Bishop and told her that the United States stands ready to provide whatever appropriate assistance we can as Australian authorities determine the facts of the case, assist the victims, and hold accountable anyone and everyone responsible for this act of terror.
The attacks in Peshawar and Sydney underscore that threats locally are also threats globally. In today’s world, next door is everywhere. And that’s why the United States is engaged in more places with more partners on more issues than ever before, and we are committed with all those allies and partners to standing up to extremism and to the extremists themselves.
And make no mistake, we are just as committed to finding ways to help solve the challenges of the Middle East and of other places of extremism and of terrorist activity because we know too well that while it’s difficult work, it’s also the only course that has any possibility of taking us towards stability, towards prosperity, towards a future. And so we will remain committed to this effort.
Over the past few days, I’ve had very candid and constructive conversations with Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov, Secretary of State of the Holy See Cardinal Parolin, with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu yesterday in Rome, with EU High Representative Mogherini, and with my counterparts from Jordan, Egypt, the United Kingdom, France, and Germany. And I will do the same today, the same kinds of conversations today, with Palestinian leaders who are here in London, with the Arab League Secretary-General Elaraby and his delegation who have come on behalf of the Arab League.
Now obviously, a focus of these conversations has been our deep concern about the situation on the ground in Israel and in the West Bank and the mounting calls from the international community to pursue diplomatic measures to try to address it. I want to be very clear: This isn’t the time to detail private conversations or speculate on a UN Security Council resolution that hasn’t even been tabled, no matter what pronouncements are made publicly about it. Many of us share a deep sense of urgency about this, given the constant threat of escalation and the dangers of a downward spiral of violence.
But we’re also very mindful that we have to carefully calibrate any steps that are taken for this difficult moment in the region. We all understand the challenges that are presented by this conflict. We all understand that there are pent-up frustrations on both sides and they run deep. We all know the risk of escalation. It’s constant and it’s real. And that is why it is imperative to lower the temperature, end the tension, so that we have an opportunity to find a path that Israelis and Palestinians both want so desperately, which is a path that leads out of the current predicament and actually provides people with an opportunity to touch, to feel, to see and know that there really is a prospect for genuine peace.
They want – everybody that I have talked to keeps talking to me – all the leaders on both sides keep talking to me about how they want a safe and secure future, and obviously, more hope for their people. All of the reasons that we engaged so intensely one year ago, a little more than that, and all the reasons that Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Abbas were willing to engage – those reasons are even more compelling today. The status quo is unsustainable for both parties and for the region.
And no people should have to endure a barrage of rockets in the thousands or the threat of a terrorist jumping out of a tunnel armed with a tranquilizer, drugs, and handcuffs in order to snatch them out of the night and drag them back into another place where they can hold them hostage. No one should have to endure either of those things. But the Israelis saw that firsthand during the course of the Gaza conflict. And likewise, no community should have to endure the loss of thousands of its citizens, including hundreds of women and children, as the Palestinians experienced during the same conflict, during – due to the choices that Hamas made that led them nowhere.
The ongoing unrest of the last weeks has brought new tensions to all sides. And earlier this month, two Israelis were stabbed as they shopped for groceries in the West Bank. Two more were axed to death while praying. And we were all devastated and shocked by the acid attack against an Israeli family last week. Palestinians have mourned the death of a Palestinian official, Ziad Abu Ein, and they have suffered indefensible price tag attacks, so-called price tag attacks, including the recent burning of a mosque near Ramallah.
The cycle of violence leads to more violence and to nowhere. Peace is the only prospect, and people need to fight for it. Getting to a better place is obviously not easy, but the alternative is more of the violence and the suffering that no people anywhere should have to accept as the daily fare of their lives, as the price of being born Israeli or Palestinian. And we are focused – we, the United States, and our allies and our friends in Europe and in the Arab community are all focused on a different path. Our friends are focused on a path that could lead to a different future, and we will never hesitate to fight to go down that path.
And that is why the United States and our partners will remain deeply engaged not just with the Israelis and the Palestinians, but on the other conflict – conflicts, plural, that dominated our discussions during the course of this week.
In Syria and Iraq, a historically broad coalition composed of countries from five continents is taking on Daesh, a vicious terrorist organization whose sheer evil clearly knows no bounds. And I engaged in a conversation with Foreign Minister Lavrov regarding the need for a political settlement, which he also agrees is the only solution, as do others in the region and all of our European allies.
And in Ukraine, the international community continues to stand up for the principle that a nation has the right to determine its own future, that no matter how powerful and aggressive its neighbor, its borders should be sovereign and should be integral and respected.
Now obviously, there is no shortage, therefore, of challenges, and I’ve only scratched the surface in those that I’ve listed. There is, of course, Libya, Somali, and the Sahel, the Maghreb and Yemen and Afghanistan, and you can run a longer list, yes. And we are engaged in all of those places trying to find a better path forward.
But even as we look down this difficult road that’s before us and consider the complicated choices that we face, we simply cannot lose sight of the fact that that hard road leads to a better place. I’m convinced of that. The United States recognizes the deeply felt aspiration for peace shared by the vast majority of Israelis and Palestinians, and we will continue to work with our friends and partners to find a path to the goal that we all share for a more peaceful and stable region.
So with that, I’d be happy to take some questions. And I don’t know who’s up or —
MS. HARF: Yeah. Our first – is it on? Oh, yes. Our first question’s from Nicole Gaouette of Bloomberg, and the mike will come to you.
QUESTION: Thanks for giving us this time, Mr. Secretary. In the past, the U.S. has simply blocked resolutions at the UN that it feels threaten or undermine Israel. This time, you’ve made this trip to Europe to discuss various proposals with your counterparts. Can you tell us what has changed that’s led you to do this? And mindful of your concern about discussing details about resolutions, could you tell us what the U.S. would like to see or would need to see in a resolution to support it?
And finally, given the challenges that the U.S. has faced in trying to broker a Mideast peace deal over these many years, is it time for the process to become more of a multilateral affair? Thank you.
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, let me answer the last first. It’s always been a multilateral affair. There were always countries that are involved in it, but the United States clearly has a unique role to play as a result of our longtime friendship and relationship with Israel, and the role that we have played historically with respect to Camp David, Oslo and so forth. In the end, though, this isn’t up to the international community or others. This has to be decided by the parties. The parties have to want this more than anybody outside, and the parties have to make key decisions that can lead to the resolution.
Now, coming back to the first part of the questions, right now, what we’re trying to do is have a constructive conversation with everybody to find the best way to go forward in order to create the climate; the atmosphere; the political space, if you will, to be able to go back to negotiations and resolve this politically. Now, clearly, in the beginning of an election and in the middle of an election, it’s very difficult and complicated because we believe very deeply that nobody should somehow interfere or do something that might be perceived of as interfering in the course of that election, and we want to find the most constructive way of doing something that therefore will not have unintended consequences, but also can stem the violence.
It’s a particularly sensitive moment because we understand the frustrations of Palestinians. We understand the frustrations of the Palestinian Authority and President Abbas and those who are pushing hard, because they don’t see another course at this moment. So the key is to try to find out whether or not there are other options, other ways, other courses; could something be done that helps to respect the process that the Israelis are about to undergo, simultaneously respecting the needs of the region to de-escalate the tensions and avoid confrontation?
That’s what we hope to achieve, that’s what these discussions are all about, and we will continue to have these discussions this afternoon and on into the next days. But we’ve made no determinations other than that about any – about language, approaches, specific resolutions, any of that. We haven’t made any determinations.
MS. HARF: Great. And the final question is from Jo Biddle of AFP. Please wait for the mike.
QUESTION: Thank you very much, Mr. Secretary. If I could just ask you to turn our attention to Russia, today, the ruble is falling and crashing to unprecedented lows against the dollar. Was this what the United States and the European sanctions were intended to do – weaken the ruble and thereby weaken Putin and hope he changes course in Ukraine? And now that the Russian people are facing real economic hardship, is it the right time for more sanctions in order to try to force a de-escalation in Ukraine, or should Moscow be given some breathing space in order to prevent an economic meltdown which could have an effect on the global economy?
And just turning back to what you mentioned – and you talked about the Taliban, the attack in Peshawar today, and the hostage-taking in the cafe in Sydney yesterday – what is your assessment of the rising threat level from Islamic extremism around the world? Is it now, would you agree, at one of its highest levels ever, despite the United States efforts to try and counterattack this? And how could governments around the world protect their people from what seems to be a growing trend towards lone wolf attacks? Thank you.
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, obviously, everybody has taken note of what has happened with respect to the ruble in the last days and the pressures on it, and it goes without saying that the purpose of the European-U.S.-et al effort with respect to sanctions was to make it clear to Russia, to President Putin, that there are costs attached to the unilateral annexation of Crimea and the continued support for separatists within Ukraine and the violation of Ukraine’s territorial sovereignty and integrity, and the sanctions set out to do that. I don’t think that what is happening is just related to the sanctions. I think it is much broader, more complicated than that. It has to do with other issues with respect to the Russian economy, and oil prices, obviously, have also played a significant role in this. So there are a lot of combined factors, but the sanctions were clearly intended to invite President Putin to make a different set of choices.
Now, these sanctions could have been lifted months ago. These sanctions could be lifted in a matter of weeks or days, depending on the choices that President Putin takes. And we have been crystal clear – when I say “we,” the European community and the United States and others joined together have been crystal clear that their sole purpose here is to restore the international norm with respect to behavior between nations with respect for borders and respect for sovereignty and respect for the rights of people to determine their future not at the barrel of a gun, but through the ballot box.
Let me say that Russia has made constructive moves in the last days and there are some indications that whether it is the line of control negotiation or the calm that is, in fact, in place in a number of places, the withdrawal of certain people, there are signs of constructive choices. And that can only be helpful, hopefully. And our hope is that in the days ahead we can get a clear, defined path by all parties, where everybody understands what each is doing and living up to agreements and in moving to de-escalate this situation. That has always been our goal. And I’m confident that as rapidly as that can happen, you will see Europe and the United States respond with respect to the sanctions that are in place today.
We do not want the people of Russia to be hurt here. This is not our goal. None of what we are doing is targeted specifically against the people. But yes, collaterally, of course, they are caught up in the choices that their government makes and it does have an impact. We understand that. But that’s not the goal or purpose.
QUESTION: Please, on the (inaudible) on the fight against the Islamists?
SECRETARY KERRY: Oh, on the fight against extremism, is the threat – no, I’m not going to say – the threat is what the threat is. There’s always been a threat of lone wolves, from the day that those terrorists drove their airplanes into the World Trade Center and crashed in Pennsylvania, and crashed into the Pentagon, we’ve had warnings of lone wolf activities. We’ve had warnings of sleeper cells. We’ve had warnings. And there have been many, many attempts over the course of the last years. The New York attempt for a bombing in Times Square, the Christmas bomber on an airplane, and so forth. But because of great work between our countries and terrific intelligence sharing, we were able to prevent those things from happening.
But it’s always very difficult. If somebody decides they want to die, it’s very hard to prevent every situation from occurring. So I’m not going to categorize on the scale, but everybody knows that Daesh is busy using the internet to proselytize, to entice, to lie, to put out propaganda, to try to influence minds of people who may be influenceable. And so that does present a threat, and people, unfortunately, everywhere need to be sort of aware of their surroundings, more alert than we’d like to be or want to be in the context of everyday life, but that’s where we are right now.
But as I said last week, we are making progress in the initial stages of halting Daesh’s progress in Iraq, of beginning to change their behavior, of attacking their command and control, of attacking their facilities and denying them supplies, of beginning to cut off financing, beginning to reduce the flow of foreign fighters, and so we have to be tough and courageous and stay the course here. And I’m confident that people are prepared to do that, and I know that our friends in Pakistan and in Australia are tough and strong and prepared to stay the course. So it’s very unfortunate when this happens, but it is done precisely for the kind of effect that it gets, which is questions at a press conference and fears that are spread in various parts of the world.
MS. HARF: Thank you, everyone.
SECRETARY KERRY: Thank you all very much. Appreciate it.