QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, I can’t believe we’re talking about Russia again. Here we go. What is their agenda? How do we stop them?
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, nobody quite knows what their full agenda is. What we’ve made clear is that the steps they’ve taken in Crimea are a violation of international law, a violation of their own agreement they made in 1994 in the Budapest agreement to protect Ukraine and its security, and finally, a violation of the constitution of Ukraine. Now, they’ve made that choice. We’ve taken some actions to send a signal that we take it seriously, and if it continues further, we will take more actions.
QUESTION: Well, what are the sanctions going to do? What do you hope they do?
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, we hope the sanctions send a message that there’s a cost attached to this – these choices. Our preference, obviously, is to protect the people of Ukraine by protecting their constitution and their integrity of their land and their sovereignty. And we feel that what Russia has chosen to do is a breach of that sovereignty, and therefore it merits a response.
QUESTION: Syria, the Embassy today. What happened there?
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, the Embassy of Syria, first of all, is not doing what an embassy is supposed to do, which is consular work and activities. They’re not engaging in that. So there’s fundamentally no purpose in being here. But beyond that, we believe Assad and his regime have lost any kind of legitimacy in terms of governance, and if they’re not doing what their embassies are supposed to do locally, there’s no reason to have it open, period.
QUESTION: Let’s talk about Middle East talk. You’ve been around the talks, you’ve been around the table for decades and decades. Give me the top three issues to get Middle East – to have peace that will be sustainable.
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, both sides need to recognize the other side’s needs within the limits of propriety and what’s appropriate to their security needs and their needs to define their state. Now, I believe that both leaders have taken great risks, both leaders are serious about trying to get peace, both leaders have deep concerns about their people. And hopefully, we can find a meeting of the minds as to how to proceed forward, because it would benefit not just the country of Israel and the people of Palestine who hope to have a state, but it would benefit the entire region to be able to make this issue an issue of history rather than of the present.
QUESTION: Let’s talk about the budget. Should we be concerned about the budget? Our military budget’s coming in. They want to cut military. So now diplomacy? This is not the time to cut diplomacy, is it?
SECRETARY KERRY: We don’t believe so. No, I believe – I mean, look. We are part of the national security apparatus of America. Just as we need a strong military, and I believe we do, we also need a strong diplomatic corps, we need a strong development component, we need to be able to reach countries and have an impact with them. And that is critical to providing for the security of every American.
Wherever you are in the world, having a strong America, frankly, makes a difference to our ability to be able to lead and to live up to the international legal standards and to live up to the values and principles and interests of the United States. We need to have a presence abroad to be able to do that.
We intercept terrorist acts before they take place. We save lives here in America by virtue of the treaties or the agreements that we can reach. We make the world safer by reducing nuclear weapons. We have a program to try to deal with – a major program that has grown up through the years to save lives for those afflicted with AIDS. We’ve saved over five million children in the last years. We’ve done an extraordinary job on behalf of Americans with only one penny of the entire dollar of the budget going to all the things that I just talked about and many, many more.
QUESTION: What about the economy, let’s say, for our state of Maryland? How would we suffer if the cuts come to the State Department?
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, I’ll tell you how they suffer. If we don’t have the personnel to be able to go out and marry a country’s request for a proposal for a particular type of business, if we can’t get one of America’s businesses to be the ones to fill the job – sell our planes if we’re Boeing, put our smartphones in if we’re Verizon or AT&T or whoever it is – if we can’t be the ones to have our drugs be able to be sold in a particular country that we manufacture here because we don’t have a trade agreement – all those things need to be negotiated. They need to be worked through. You need to have a person who works on finding the company, bringing the company, marrying the company to a country’s needs. I can give you examples of a couple of companies in New Jersey that are making hundreds of millions of dollars because they got a job in another country building bridges or building their communication system, and that means jobs here at home.
QUESTION: One final question: The Malaysia – the airline. Is that a concern at the State Department about what’s going on and where it is?
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, of course it is, because we represent – we’re responsible for all the Americans traveling abroad, and we want to know that Americans are able to travel abroad safely. And so it’s an enormous concern of ours what happened. We don’t have any inside knowledge. I can’t tell you anything about it. But we are anxious to make sure that every – we issued 12 million passports last year. Those are 12 million people who might have been on that plane – one of them, two of them, ten of them – so we are concerned about safety, security, security in airports, travel, travel practices. It affects us inevitably.
QUESTION: Very good.