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Kerry discusses Syria, climate change, Iran and more in China

BEIJING – During his swing through the far east, Secretary of State John Kerry was in Beijing, China to discuss world developments with Chinese officials. The following is his press conference, held Friday, February 14th:

unnamed-1SECRETARY KERRY: I know you all have been waiting a while, so my apologies. Our meetings ran a little longer than anticipated, and you’re patient, and I appreciate it very, very much.It’s a pleasure for me to be back in Beijing, and particularly tonight with the Festival of the Lanterns and the start of the Lunar New Year, the Year of the Horse. And the Lunar New Year always, here and in other parts of this region, is an exciting time, a time of renewal, as it is for everybody, and a profound sense of optimism, I think, as we heard from the leadership throughout the day.

It’s an auspicious time to visit, and I want to thank all of the leadership of China – the president – President Xi Jinping and the premier, the state councilor, and the foreign minister – for their generous welcome, and for the in-depth and serious conversations that we had today on almost every subject of concern between the United States and China and the region.

I want to emphasize that President Obama and the United States take our role in the Asia Pacific very seriously. As President Obama and I have made clear on any number of occasions, we are committed to strengthening our enduring presence in this dynamic region, and to working with our partners in order to promote long term stability and prosperity. And I think everybody knows that the United States has been a Pacific nation for almost all of our history, throughout the 1800s, 1900s, and now into the 21st century. And our partnership with China is critical to our effort to provide for that stability and prosperity.

As the world’s two largest economies, we really have a particular role, a particular set of responsibilities that we can exercise, and together, if we exercise them in concert with one another, we have an opportunity to make real progress, and also to send important signals to people throughout the world – people who are watching China rise and wonder where it is headed, and people who watch the United States continue to exercise its leadership and to press for the expression of our values and our interests to be met according to the rule of law and according to the highest international standards.

Our partnership with China we view as one of great potential. It is one that is continuing to be defined, and we are convinced that both regional and global challenges that we face, China and the United States, when they can act together in concert with common purpose, have the opportunity to be able to make a significant difference.

As President Obama and President Xi made clear at Sunnylands last year, they are committed to building an historic bilateral relationship based on two most critical elements: one, practical cooperation, and two, constructive management of differences – and there are differences, and we were honest about that today.

In our meetings, we had an opportunity to discuss particularly some key issues, and I’ll just review those very quickly for you. First of all, we spoke about the commitment that the United States and China share to achieve a denuclearized North Korea, as well as the special role that China can play in helping to make that goal a reality. We agree, along with our international partners, that the DPRK must take meaningful, concrete, and irreversible steps towards verifiable denuclearization, and it needs to begin now. I’m pleased that at every level in all of our conversations today, China could not have more forcefully reiterated its commitment to that goal, its interests in achieving that goal, and its concerns about the risks of not achieving that goal – in terms of what it might mean, in terms of stability on the Peninsula, as well as the potential for an arms race in the region. I encourage the Chinese to use every tool at their disposal, all of the means of persuasion that they have, building on the depths of their long and historic and cultural and common history that has brought them together – though while not allies, they have a relationship.

We also discussed – excuse me – we also discussed climate change and clean energy. And this is another area where we are already cooperating closely and where we are looking for even more cooperation. The United States and China, unhappily, are the two largest emitters of greenhouse gasses on the planet, and they contribute together as a result to the fact of climate change. Together, the United States and China account for some 40 percent of the carbon pollution that is released into the atmosphere. It is imperative for us to work together in order to ensure that an ambitious international climate agreement that the united – the UN Climate Summit in 2015 can be achieved. So we talked about that today.

On my last visit to Beijing, last April, we took an important step forward when we came together to launch the climate change working group. That is working, and they are engaged, but there’s a lot more work to do as the science that has been pouring in over the course of the last year tells us every single day, and as the facts on the ground with droughts, fires, and disasters, and acidification of the ocean, and other things happening at an increased pace, it is more urgent that we join together to respond to this problem.

So we need to implement the initiatives that the climate change working group has already identified, but we need to do more than that. We need to see if working together we could identify any further steps that we may be able to take, specifically with respect to arrival at meaningful targets with respect to the 2015 climate change conference that will take place in Paris in December of next year.

In addition, it’s also important that we make good on the promise that was made at Sunnylands last year when our presidents agreed to face down the hydrofluorocarbons – or HFCs, as they’re called. And HFCs are some of the most potent climate pollutants in the world. And if we follow through on all of the fronts that are available to us, we have an opportunity to make real progress in the fight against climate change.

In addition, today, we spoke about our shared interest in preventing Iran from ever acquiring a nuclear weapon. Our close cooperation, which we agreed will absolutely continue, will go a long way towards helping to make the P5+1 negotiations continue. There are many areas where we are able to cooperate closely. But it’s equally important for us to acknowledge areas where our governments disagree and where, most importantly, we need to take steps in order to manage those disagreements appropriately and constructively.

In that spirit today, we did discuss – had a frank discussion about some human rights challenges and the role of rule of law and the free flow of information in a robust, civil society; the challenges of the cyber world that we live in today; the economic challenges; and I emphasized that respect for human rights and for the exchange of information in a free manner contributes to the strength of a society in a country.

Recent arrests of peaceful advocates for reform run counter, in our judgment, to all of our best interests and the ability to make long term progress. I emphasized today that the United States remains concerned about these situations here in China, human rights situations – especially with respect to the Tibetan and the Uighur areas.

I also expressed our concern about the need to try to establish a calmer, more rule-of-law-based, less confrontational regime with respect to the South China Sea, and the issues with respect to both the South China Sea and the East China Sea. And this includes the question of how an ADIZ might or might not come about. We certainly expressed the view that it’s important for us to cooperate on these kinds of things, to have notice, to work through these things, and to try to do them in a way that can achieve a common understanding of the direction that we’re moving in, and hopefully a common acceptance of the steps that are or are not being taken. Certainly, with respect to the South China Sea, it’s important to resolve these differences in a peaceful, non-confrontational way that honors the law of the sea and honors the rule of law itself. And we encourage steps by everybody – not just China, by all parties – to avoid any kind of provocation or confrontation and to work through the legal tools available.

I think it’s important that the same approach of rule of law clarify whatever claims are being made by any party. That’s why we have – the United States, though not yet ratified, lives by and will follow the rules of the Law of the Sea, and we hope others and everybody else chooses to do so, too.

I also shared our interests in China and ASEAN making rapid strides in negotiating the code of conduct, and I think China’s ready and wanting to try to achieve that goal. That would help reduce tensions that stem from the territorial and maritime disputes, and in the meantime, it’s very important that everybody build crisis management tools and refrain from coercive or unilateral measures to assert whatever claims any country in the region may have.

Finally, on Syria, which we also discussed, I stressed the importance of China’s support in the United Nations for the Security Council efforts to help deal with the planet’s greatest humanitarian crisis today. The Syrian people have gone without humanitarian aid for so long that there are people starving to death – children, women. There have been horrendously graphic pictures of both torture and starvation that have indicated the craven depravity that is the hallmark of what is happening in Syria today. And the Syrian people deserve to have the international community stand up and fight for them, since they are not in a position, most of them, to be able to fight for themselves. It is important for the Security Council to speak to this. And I underscored today that no country should stand in the way of increased humanitarian access for the Syrian people, and we are going to continue to press for that.

Our cooperation, frankly, on issues of enormous importance in the world should not go unnoticed. China and the United States are cooperating on big-ticket items. We’ve worked together in the P5+1 on Iran. We’ve worked together on Afghanistan. We have worked together on Syria. We are working together on other issues like South Sudan and the prevention of violence there. And we appreciate enormously the Chinese efforts with respect to those kinds of initiatives. Not many people know that that kind of cooperative effort is underway.

I think today we agreed that it is important for us, as the two most powerful economies in the world, to look for the opportunities to be able to work together and try to cooperate, to try to manage the differences, but most importantly to engage in a practical cooperation that can have an influence on other countries in the world that wonder where these two great powers are headed. And I found today constructive. I thought the tone was excellent. It was frank. There were some differences, needless to say, but they were managed and handled exactly as they should be, in an appropriate exchange and an appropriate kind of discussion. And my hope is that today, particularly with respect to the climate that we discussed, where were are going to work again some more tonight, and even tomorrow morning I have a meeting and I hope out of that will come further definition to the steps that we want to take, and also with respect to North Korea, where we both had thoughts about how to proceed, and I think we both are taking them under advisement. And I will certainly report back to President Obama on what may or may not prove to provide a road ahead. And that is certainly our hope.

So I look forward to the rest of my meetings and to continuing our work with our Chinese partners on these many issues. And I look forward to taking some questions.

MS. PSAKI: The first question will be from Arshad Mohammed of Reuters.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, did you make any tangible headway in getting specific assurances from China that they would actually pursue their maritime claims in line with international law or that they would actually submit them to some kind of international or diplomatic process, such as actually starting negotiations on an ASEAN code of conduct? Or did you not actually get assurances on any of those?

And you’ve made reference to discussing the importance of cooperating on declaring ADIZ. Did you specifically warn China against unilaterally establishing a second ADIZ in the South China Sea? And did you specifically say, as a senior NSC official recently said, that if China did so it – the United States could alter its military posture in the region?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, I’m not going to go into all of the specifics of the conversation, except to say that yes, we did discuss this specific road ahead with respect to resolving these claims in the South China Sea. And the Chinese have made clear that they believe they need to be resolved in a peaceful and legal manner, and that they need to be resolved according to international law and that process.

And I think they believe they have a strong claim, a claim based on history and based on fact. They’re prepared to submit it, and – but I think they complained about some of the provocations that they feel others are engaged in. And that is why I’ve said all parties need to refrain from that. Particularly with respect to some of the islands and shoals, they feel there have been very specific actions taken in order to sort of push the issue of sovereignty on the sea itself or by creating some construction or other kinds of things.

So the bottom line is there was a very specific statement with respect to the importance of rule of law in resolving this and the importance of legal standards and precedent and history being taken into account to appropriately make judgments about it.

With respect to the ADIZ, we have, indeed, made clear our feelings about any sort of unilateral announcements. And I reiterated that again today. And I think hopefully that whatever falls in the future will be done in an open, transparent, accountable way that is inclusive of those who may or may not be concerned about that kind of action. But we’ve made it very clear that a unilateral, unannounced, unprocessed initiative like that can be very challenging to certain people in the region and therefore to regional stability. And we urge our friends in China to adhere to the highest standards of notice, engagement, involvement, information sharing, in order to reduce any possibilities of misinterpretation in those kinds of things.

MS. PSAKI: The next question will be from Paul Richter.

QUESTION: Just to make clear on the DPRK issue, you said that the Chinese voiced their commitment to taking action on this. Did you receive a specific commitment from China to do more to try to prevent North Korean provocations?

On a second issue, President Obama last Friday said that, because of his frustration about the lack of a solution to the Syrian war, that the Administration is reviewing, once again, the options to do more on Syria. I wonder if you could address that. Is the Administration thinking about doing more than providing humanitarian aid and perhaps non-lethal assistance? Have options been presented to senior officials?

SECRETARY KERRY: What was the first part of the question?



QUESTION: Did you receive a specific —

SECRETARY KERRY: Yeah. On the DPRK, China could not have been more emphatic or made it more clear that they will not allow a nuclear program over the long run, that they believe deeply in denuclearization, that denuclearization must occur, that they are committed to doing their part to help make it happen, and that they also will not allow instability and war to break out in the region. They believe it has to be done in a political negotiation and through diplomacy. That is their preference.

But they made it very clear that if the North doesn’t comply and come to the table and be serious about talks and stop its program and live up to an agreed-upon set of standards with respect to the current activities that are threatening the people, that they’re prepared to take additional steps in order to make sure that their policy is implemented. And when I say “their policy,” their shared policy together with the other participants of the Six Party group and those in the region. And there is a very firm commitment to achieving that.

Now what we’re talking about are some of the specifics of how you do that. And they put some ideas on the table, and we put some ideas on the table. And both of us are taking those under evaluation. I will report back to the President those things that the Chinese thought might be helpful, and they are taking under advisement – I shared with each leader at each level our thoughts about what must be done and what we need in order to proceed forward. And they have agreed to take that under advisement. And we will continue this dialogue in the days ahead in a very serious way with a great sense of the urgency of time and purpose.

With respect to Syria, the President is always considering the options. This is not a one-time thing. But I think it is fair to say that because of the increase of the humanitarian crisis, because of the unwillingness of the Assad regime to engage fully in Geneva I talks – which is the sole purpose of Geneva II, to implement Geneva I. And Geneva I makes it clear that you have to have a transition government with full executive authority arrived at by mutual consent. Those are the terms.

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has stood up beside me in Moscow, in Paris, in Geneva, and elsewhere – not beside me in Geneva, but said in Geneva that is the purpose of our doing Geneva II. There is no question about what this is about. And any efforts to try to be revisionists or walk back or step away from that, frankly, is not keeping word or keeping faith with the words that have been spoken and the intent of this conference.

So it is clear that the crisis of Syria is growing, not diminishing. There’s been a 50 percent increase in the number of external refugees. There’s a 33 percent increase in the number of internally displaced people since last October, when the presidential statement was passed at the United Nations. Almost nothing positive with respect to those refugees or the internal displacement has happened. In fact – what am I saying? – it’s gotten worse, dramatically worse, since the UN issued a presidential statement, which was all that could be achieved because of the opposition of certain countries.

So now we’re back at the United Nations because the situation demands that the civilized world stand up and fight for those people who are the victims day to day of violence that comes from barrel bombs dropped from helicopters and from Scud missiles fired on innocent civilians and starvation and siege that is being laid to over 200,000, 250,000 people trapped in places where they can’t get food. This is grotesque. And the world needs to take note and figure out what the appropriate response is.

President Obama said at his press conference with President Hollande of France that he is deeply concerned about it and deeply concerned about the fact that at Geneva the talks are not producing the kind of discussion of transition government that they are supposed to. And so he is, indeed – he’s asked all of us to think about various options that may or may not exist. The answer to the question have they been presented, no, they have not. But that evaluation by necessity, given the circumstances, is taking place at this time. And when these options are right and when the President calls for it, there will undoubtedly be some discussion about them.

MS. PSAKI: Thank you, everyone.

SECRETARY KERRY: Thank you all very much. Thanks. Appreciate it.

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