Let me say that I’m very pleased to be back in Brussels and to be here working alongside my 27 fellow allied foreign ministers to prepare for the NATO summit in Wales that will take place in September of next year. 2014 is really going to be a pivotal time for NATO and for a transformation that is taking place with respect to NATO engagement and responsibilities. It will be a pivotal time for our alliance and for the transatlantic relationship.
We will mark a number of very important anniversaries in the U.S.-European relationship next year: 100 years since Sarajevo and the outbreak of World War I; 70 years since Normandy; 25 years since the Berlin Wall fell; and 15, 10, and 5 years since NATO’s post-Cold War enlargements. As our nation honors those anniversaries and comes together for both the EU and the NATO summits, we have to take every single opportunity in order to renew our commitment to the transatlantic relationship and to cement NATO’s role as the transatlantic core of a global security community.
The Secretary General has outlined three key areas for the South Wales summit: first, the way forward in Afghanistan; second, the capabilities that NATO will need to continue as the most successful political and security alliance that the world has ever seen; and third, NATO’s critical partnerships with countries from outside of the alliance.
Today, we discussed and we will discuss at much greater length tomorrow the tremendous progress that has been made in transitioning to full Afghan leadership in providing for that country’s security. We will also address the importance of maintaining a strong commitment to Afghanistan even after we end the NATO combat mission next year. The United States is committed to do its part in contributing to the new mission to train, advise, and assist Afghan security forces after 2014.
As that combat mission comes to a close, we must keep or make certain that we keep NATO finely tuned to be able to invest in the capabilities, the exercises, and the training that will enable all of our nations to be able to address the challenges of the future.
One lesson that we can certainly draw from NATO’s history, and that is the value of helping to support local security forces, particularly as a means of stabilizing post-conflict situations. We now need to institutionalize this ability to be able to train, and we need to do what we can to help countries that need and want our support in that training exercise.
Today, we also spoke about how we can energize existing partnership frameworks like the ones that exist in the countries of the Mediterranean and the Gulf, and how we can deepen cooperation with our key operational partners, those most capable are willing to deploy with us when and if needed. Both of these objectives will be critical parts of protecting our ability to deploy whenever and wherever needed.
We also recognized that the security threats of the future are not going to look like the security threats that we face today in many respects. I joined Minister Paet in signing a U.S.-Estonian Cyber Partnership Statement earlier today, and that commits both of us to do even more together in order to combat this real and growing security concern within the cyber sphere.
When NATO was established more than 60 years ago, President Truman remarked, “If there is anything inevitable, if there is anything unconquerable in the world today, it is the will of the people of all nations for freedom and peace.” Since then, NATO has played an absolutely essential role in supporting that will around the globe. As we build on today’s discussions and focus on our partnerships, our capabilities, and our enduring commitment to Afghanistan, I personally have every confidence that NATO will continue to protect freedom, continue to try to push for and bring about peace, and it will do so for decades to come.
So I thank you very much for being here and I’d be delighted to answer any questions.
MS. PSAKI: The first question will be from Michael Gordon of the New York Times.
QUESTION: Sir, the former commander of NATO and American forces in Afghanistan, General John Allen, a man whom you’ve asked to help with the Middle East peace process, wrote last week in an op-ed article that it was a mistake to insist that President Karzai sign a BSA this year. And his basic argument was that the United States should not let one man – a departing president, no less – stand in the way of an agreement. As he wrote, “The United States should stay patient. It can say to Mr. Karzai if you want to reinforce Afghan democracy by letting your successor sign this security deal, we can live with that.”
Given all the sacrifices and the stakes involved, why is it – why shouldn’t the United States wait till after the next election, which is in April, for the agreement to be signed? What is the real deadline? And the NATO Secretary General just told us that he himself is not setting an exact date.
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, I’m not going to get into – I don’t think I’ve ever spoken with respect to a hard, fixed specific date except that the President of the United States has urged him to sign it by a period of time – urged him. I don’t think he set an ultimatum.
But the reason, Michael, is very clear. I mean, we’re not – this is not fooling around. This is serious business. There are over 50 nations who are engaged here through NATO in trying to help Afghanistan. And those nations have budget cycles. Those nations have planning requirements. Those nations have equipment requirements. They have deployment requirements. And all of those things are best managed with planning.
So what we are asking for is the optimum, which is to try to manage this transition in Afghanistan. And it is interesting that the vast majority of people in Afghanistan – the Loya Jirga, which President Karzai himself made the decision to go to – came out with a judgment that this ought to be signed so that it would optimize the opportunities for this transition in Afghanistan.
Now, can you maybe muddle through? Can you do other things? That’s not the issue here. The issue is: How do you get the best transition possible? How do you do the best planning possible? How do you lay the best groundwork possible? How do you give confidence to people in Afghanistan? How do you give confidence to the military that is in the midst of training? How do you give confidence to all those people running for office next year who are looking for some certainty as to what the basis and foundation of that election might be about?
And I think that it is important for the agreement to try to move forward. Now, it doesn’t have to be – his minister of defense can sign it, the government can sign it, somebody can accept responsibility for this. But I think it is important for planning purposes, for people who have been extraordinarily patient, who are trying to allocate major amounts of money to sustaining this effort in Afghanistan, to have knowledge of where they’re going.
We negotiated this agreement. I personally negotiated it with him and we came to a conclusion, and the President agreed and stood up and said this is what we’re going to do, we’re going to send it to the Loya Jirga, and if they approve, then we’ll send it to parliament and go forward. Now, I don’t believe in renegotiating unilaterally, and I don’t believe in and I don’t think President Obama appreciates, the amount of sacrifice that has been made by our troops, by the American people to contribute to the future of Afghanistan, that this somehow is being left in doubt at this critical moment. And I think all of our colleagues here today voiced a desire for their planning purposes and for the confidence that comes with the knowledge that we are moving in the same direction, that they all voiced hope that this can be done sooner, not later. And I think that’s what we need to aim for is sooner, not later, because that is what is best for Afghanistan.
MS. PSAKI: The next question will be from Ana Pisonero from Europa Press.
QUESTION: Secretary General, what more – what can NATO do to influence events on the ground in Ukraine? I mean, would the U.S. support maybe a more radical change of doing EU sanctions or something against Ukraine, or is this not something that we should think about at this time and just give space to both parties?
SECRETARY KERRY: I think NATO has done what it has done today, which is make a statement about it, but I don’t think NATO has a role. NATO is a defense alliance. It’s a national – it’s a security alliance. And NATO has spoken out, out of its concern, but it does not have a role, does not play a role, and is not contemplating a role. This is really something that the people of the Ukraine need to work out with their leadership, and the leadership needs to listen to the people and work out with the people.
Clearly, there is a very powerful evidence of people who would like to be associated with Europe and who had high hopes for their aspirations to be fulfilled through that association. And we stand with the vast majority of the Ukrainians who want to see this future for their country, and we commend the EU for keeping the door open to that. But that is not a NATO piece of business, beyond the statement that it has issued today.
MS. PSAKI: The final question is from Elise Labott of CNN.
QUESTION: Thank you. Mr. Secretary, if I could just follow up on that, I mean, NATO is a defense alliance, but the U.S. gives a lot of money to Ukraine; it does have a lot of influence. So what can the U.S. do in particular? And to add to that, Russia has been taking a lot of heavy-handed tactics to stop this – people who have greater desires for economic integration with Europe. For months, they’ve taken a number of punitive measures to discourage East European nations from forming trade agreements with the EU, such as in Moldova where you’re visiting. So why aren’t you speaking out more forceful on this?
And while I have you, on the issue of detained Americans, we have several serious cases pending right now. The case of Merrill Newman – can you discuss what’s being done to bring him home? Today is also the fourth anniversary of Alan Gross’s detainment in Cuba. He says his nation has abandoned him. What do you say to that?
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, let me speak first of all to Ukraine. Europe and Europe’s friends all decline to engage in a rather overt, and we think, inappropriate bidding war with respect to the choice that might or might not be made. And that choice, obviously, is distinguishable between a choice made by the leadership versus the choice that is being made by the people. And that’s why people in unbelievable numbers are demonstrating across the Ukraine, because Mr. Yanukovych has obviously made a personal decision, and the people don’t agree with that decision.
We, like our European friends, believe that the people of Ukraine ought to have the right to be able to express themselves freely, without violence, and that the leadership in the Ukraine ought to listen to them. And there’s some evidence that in the last 24 hours that leadership has responded by saying that the door may, in fact, remain open and that they may relook at this issue. I don’t know.
I do know that we feel very strongly that they ought to make their own choice. They ought to be able to decide who they want to affiliate with, without a bidding war either in personal terms or in national terms, but rather based on the benefits that are available to them and the life that comes with it and the rights and benefits that they would like to be able to reach out to.
And I think that we’ve spoken out very, very clearly that we’re closely monitoring the situation on the ground. Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland will be going there tomorrow and she will be joining other ministers who will be there for meetings. I personally will be going to Moldova in order to support that country’s European choice. And I look forward to visiting Ukraine when it, too, gets back on the path of European integration and economic responsibility. And we’ve spoken out very clearly about our desire to see the people of Ukraine be able to have their aspirations met by their own leadership in peaceful ways, without violence, which has no place in a modern European state.
That said, with respect to the number of American citizens who are being held in different places, we have been deeply involved in discussions on every one of those citizens. And we have been engaged behind the scenes – which is often the way these issues are best managed – in every single case in order to try to secure the safety of those people, and in order ultimately to be able to secure their release. And that is true of each of the individuals that you have listed.
In the case of Mr. Gross, we’ve had any number of initiatives and outreaches over the last several years and engagement with a number of different individuals who have traveled to Cuba, met with people individually there and elsewhere. And we are currently engaged in some discussions regarding that, which I’m not at liberty to go into in any kind of detail.
But the bottom line is that we have raised these issues not just in Korea – North Korea, not just in Cuba, but also with respect to a number of Americans who are held in Iran. And I have personally raised those names and those individuals with my counterpart as well as in other ways. And we are hopeful that in each case, at some point we will be able to win their freedom and have them rejoined with their families.
One day is too long to be in captivity, and one day for any American citizen is more than any American wants to see somebody endure. This has been too long in every case, and we will do everything we can and continue to. But these things are often best resolved in quiet diplomacy, under the radar screen, behind the scenes, and that is exactly what we have been pursuing. And when, in fact, we secure their release, the track record of those outreaches and those initiatives will speak for themselves as to how much effort and energy has been put into trying to secure their release. And God willing, we will get that done sooner rather than later, we hope.
MS. PSAKI: Thanks, everyone.
SECRETARY KERRY: Thank you.