Interview With Andrea Mitchell of NBC
Secretary of State
December 28, 2016
QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, thank you for joining us. This is a very important moment.
SECRETARY KERRY: Happy to be here. Thank you.
QUESTION: An unusual speech. First of all, Donald Trump, the president-elect, tweeted today, in part, that he was very much disagreeing with this policy. He tweeted, “We cannot continue to let Israel be treated with…total disdain and disrespect.” He went on to say that this will all change on January 20th. Prime Minister Netanyahu tweeted in response that, “President-elect Trump, thank you for your warm friendship and your clear-cut support for Israel.” Netanyahu has called your proposals and the vote shameful, and he has said that it was a coordinated, orchestrated attempt by you, you and this Administration.
SECRETARY KERRY: You’re going back now to the vote.
QUESTION: To the resolution.
SECRETARY KERRY: The resolution. Yeah. Well, I made it very clear today exactly what the background is to that, Andrea. We are proud of the vote we cast because it was the right vote because we are defending Israel and defending the two-state solution and the possibility of peace against what I described today, which is a very comprehensive effort that is moving Israeli settlers into the West Bank, increasingly making the possibility of two states very difficult if not impossible.
And that, unfortunately, puts Israel at risk. It puts the region at risk. So we also demonstrated how the Obama Administration has provided the greatest level of support consistently and higher levels of funding, more weapons systems, more support, and more international fora when Israel is being attacked than at any time previously. We have consistently defended Israel and we believe we’re doing that now.
QUESTION: How difficult is it for you to operate in this atmosphere where the president-elect is communicating directly with Prime Minister Netanyahu?
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, I’m not going to – look, I’m going to let others —
QUESTION: But also that has an impact because he had a direct impact. He called Egypt’s president. As a result of his call, of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s call, Egypt pulled down that resolution. That is part of the reason why you were then accused of orchestrated – orchestrating other sponsors of it.
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, Andrea, Egypt voted for the resolution, as did Russia, China, France, Britain – all. We are the only ones who abstained and we abstained because there were things in the resolution that we didn’t necessarily agree with, but we didn’t think they rose to the level of previous resolutions. Now, we made it clear to the Palestinians and to the Egyptians, who drafted and introduced this resolution, that if it was more balanced, if they dealt with it – we’ve always said consistently that we want balance —
QUESTION: But you did not orchestrate it? You did not sponsor it? You did not push it?
SECRETARY KERRY: No, we —
QUESTION: You did not recruit them as an alternative to bring it up to the UN?
SECRETARY KERRY: We recruited nobody as an alternative. Those four countries that ultimately brought it to the floor did so absolutely on their own. I had no communication with those four countries in the course of that process, and I don’t know – I mean, I think it’s – it kind of makes a statement, if you will, that they decided to go ahead no matter what.
But look, that’s all – that’s all just distracting – purposely I think – from the real issue, which is the policy that is being pursued, that if you have more and more settlements being built in the area that is supposed to be the future Palestine, it makes it harder and harder to have that future Palestine, and certainly one that is contiguous and viable, as resolution after resolution has supported.
QUESTION: While you were speaking, we got word that Israel had gone ahead with at least one new settlement approval in East Jerusalem on Palestinian – understood to be Palestinian territory. Could you possibly be making it worse by making the speech now?
SECRETARY KERRY: I wouldn’t – no, I —
QUESTION: Are you pushing Netanyahu into moving to the right because of his own domestic politics?
SECRETARY KERRY: I don’t believe – I think what we’re doing is trying to put our experience and the lessons we have learned on the table in as constructive a way as possible in order to get people to stop and think about where this is going. And if we didn’t do that, Andrea, if we sat silent, I guarantee you the policy would simply continue, because we’ve seen it over the last eight years just continue, even when there’s been a conversation about it or an effort to try to move the government in a different direction.
So I think that’s really – again, the reason the United States voted the way we did in the UN is because it was in keeping with our values of our support and policy for a two-state solution, our support for democracy, our support for an Israel that can be secure. And we don’t believe that going towards one states with increased settlers is going to reduce the level of tension and potential violence in the region.
QUESTION: How much was Donald Trump’s choice of an ambassador to Israel, someone who has been described as to the right of Netanyahu, who is so pro-settlement – how much is that behind your thinking in —
SECRETARY KERRY: None. I mean, I haven’t even —
QUESTION: — making your speech?
SECRETARY KERRY: I haven’t considered it.
QUESTION: Well, how disappointed are you?
SECRETARY KERRY: It’s not for me —
QUESTION: With all the work that you have done —
SECRETARY KERRY: It’s not my job to comment on nominees of a new president. I will respect the process. The Senate has to have hearings on it. The Senate will ask its own set of questions. It’s just not my role to get involved in that or make comments about it.
QUESTION: If, with all the work that you have put into this and with your firm, passionate belief in the two-state solution, which goes back at least 37 years, what is the prospect for a two-state solution if the stated proposals of Donald Trump and Prime Minister Netanyahu and the other members of his coalition in particular – if those policies proceed, what is the possibility for a two-state solution?
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, again, I’ve learned through the years that there’s a distinction between comments made pre-governing and then what you see and what you decide to do when you are governing. So let’s wait and see where this goes. I’m not going to start rebutting hypotheticals here.
What we laid out today was a very constructive, pro-Israel, pro-region, pro-Palestinian, pro-the communities’ ability to try to make peace. I mean, why are people fighting peace? What is suddenly in the air that people want to go down a road which is so obviously confrontational?
For years, Republican and Democrat administrations alike have invested in two states – for years. Look at the effort Bill Clinton put into this, President Clinton; look at the effort that – way back when with President Carter at Camp David. This has been going on and on. And now it’s time for people to ask: Why is it going on and on? What is it that is preventing this? And right now, what is preventing it is a coalition that seems determined to build in the West Bank, to take over the West Bank as I described today, for the exclusive use of Israel, except for some minor proportions that may be left.
And that is something that we have to look at very, very carefully, because that – it’s impossible – as I said today, the Arab world will not make peace with Israel separate from a peace between Israel and the Palestinians unless there is a stunning reversal that would, I think, not sit well in the Arab street whatsoever. I don’t see that happening from any conversation that I have had, and I’ve probably had more conversations with more Arab leaders than any secretary in recent memory regarding this.
QUESTION: Well, George Mitchell was the negotiator for this Administration in the first term and he said that the abstention, failing to block that vote, was a mistake.
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, that’s his judgment. He’s entitled to his judgment. We have a different point of view on that and I’ve expressed it as clearly as I know how today.
QUESTION: Donald Trump has made his views very clear on this. He keeps saying shameful, January 20th things are going to change. He’s also weighed in on Twitter on China, on not returning the China – China not returning the drone, on Taiwan, as you know, on nuclear weapons. How difficult is it to be the Secretary of State in charge of foreign policy reporting, of course, to the President, when the president-elect is weighing in on so many different issues?
SECRETARY KERRY: Look, we’re three weeks away from the transition. At this point, we’re obviously winding down, so to speak, though I’m going to be going to the last day or so. But I think there are limits to what the Administration can undertake at this point in time. We understand that. But I’m not going to get into a debate with the president-elect on Twitter or whatever. It’s just not – I’m not going to do that. There’s plenty of time afterwards when they are governing —
QUESTION: Is it confusing – is it confusing allies and adversaries?
SECRETARY KERRY: I think it’s having some impact, obviously, on allies who are questioning they know what’s going on. But they have their own policies. They’re not going to be swayed and intimidated by a tweet. They’re going to pursue their interests and their own values, and that’s what diplomacy is all about.
So I think that it’s going to be very difficult to be talking about the expansion of a nuclear program and not wind up with some difficulties with Russia and their perception of what that’s going to mean for them or what it means in terms of proliferation in other regions. I think leaders are going to sit back and wait to see exactly what is produced, not as a matter of politics pre-being sworn in but as a matter of policies once you are governing. And I am not going to debate with either hypotheticals or current-day politics. I’m going to stay out of that.
QUESTION: What’s the downside of moving the embassy to Jerusalem?
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, the whole world knows that that has profound, profound questions of sovereignty and would have a huge impact on the Arab world’s perception of jurisdiction and sovereignty over religious sites and the status quo that I talked about today.
QUESTION: Could there be violence?
SECRETARY KERRY: Again, I’m not going to get into predicting violence or – I think everybody can make their own judgments about what acts are incitement and what are not and what will create tension and what will not. I think for the moment, Andrea, I’d really like to focus on what we were saying today. What we were saying today is it is possible to make peace. It is possible to take steps on the ground that would have a profound impact on changing the dynamics.
I think Prime Minister Netanyahu has the ability to be able to do some of that. My hope is that he will choose to do those things. And I think that if Israel continues its policy of settlements, I think it’s going to get very, very difficult on an international scale and perhaps even potentially in the region because of the reality that is dawning on people about what is happening to the possibilities of peace.