Remarks by Secretary of State Kerry with Australian Foreign Minister Bob Carr After Their Meeting

Washington, DC–(ENEWSPF)–March 18, 2013.

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, good morning, everyone. It’s a great pleasure for me to welcome somebody I met previously as Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, and we got to know each other, and I’m happy to welcome him back, Foreign Minister Bob Carr. I’m grateful for the chance that we had just now to discuss a broad array of issues regarding the United States and our friends in Australia.

I don’t think there’s a relationship that we have that is more united, collaborative, and strong than our friendship with Australia. I mentioned to the Foreign Minister that years ago, when I served in Vietnam – and that is a long time ago now – there was Australia by our side. And we could not have had a better friend then; we couldn’t have a better friend today. This is a critical alliance, and our relationship, I think, is stronger than ever.

One of the reasons that our relationship is so strong is that Australia is a vital partner in the United States efforts, begun by President Obama several years ago, to strengthen our reengagement in the Asia Pacific region. And we know that much of the history of the 21st century is going to be defined by the strength of that relationship. The United States intends to play a major role, and President Obama could not have made that more clear.

The Administration has focused on strengthening stability and security, opening markets, and promoting economic growth and supporting a rules-based order that will allow countries throughout the region not just to prosper, but everybody raises their game, raises the standards of competition and of economic behavior. And it is vital in the years ahead that we remain focused on Asia, and we will.

The Foreign Minister and I discussed what we are doing to advance our goals in that region. We’re dealing with a wide range of issues, from promoting maritime security to supporting democratic development, and also supporting the development of human rights in places such as Burma, the Pacific Islands, and empowering regional institutions, like ASEAN, APEC, and the East Asia Summit.

We also discussed the implementation of our force posture with Australia, and thanks to this effort, American Marines are operating with their Australian counterparts to enhance regional security and to build capacity to be able to respond to natural disasters and crises. To that end, another company of American Marines will be rotating through next month for their normal rotational deployment. And this has now reached a sort of normal course of business status, and we appreciate that.

I also want to say how appreciative we are that Australia is now serving on the UN Security Council. We believe that their membership on the council will allow for an even closer working relationship, and particularly for collaboration on pressing global issues, including Syria, the Middle East peace process, and North Korea particularly.

I also expressed our gratitude for Australia’s ongoing commitment to our mission in Afghanistan. We are working very, very closely with our Australian allies and others in order to assure a smooth economic and security transition that honors what our two nations have been committed to all along, and that is a free and a sovereign Afghanistan.

With respect to the economic relationship, I’d just say quickly that we both agree on the need to break down barriers between trade and to promote much greater commerce across the region, lifting the standards, the rules, the economic rules of the road, if you will. Our bilateral trade and investment is currently flourishing. We’re working very closely on the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and that will create a great deal more economic trade opportunity throughout the region.

We’re also implementing our Defense Trade Cooperation Treaty, and that will keep both of our countries safer with new and innovative defense technologies.

So, one final comment: We both share a hope and an expectation that we will increase the energy security dialogue between the United States and Australia, and that’s an opportunity for stakeholders in both of our countries to come together and explore new ideas for clean energy, renewable energy production, for modernization of our energy infrastructures, and efforts to combat climate change. So we really hope that very soon, we’re going to have a date where we can announce our specific efforts to kick off this collaboration.

So once again, Foreign Minister, thank you so much for joining us here in Washington today. Thank you for this extraordinary collaboration, and we look forward to working with you and, if it’s possible, creating even stronger ties between our countries. Thank you.

FOREIGN MINISTER CARR: Thank you very much, Secretary Kerry. I congratulate you on your appointment of Secretary of State. I’ve admired your leadership over many years. I met you briefly January 2001 in Davos, where we spoke about – back then, we spoke about climate change. But it was an honor to meet you in April in your role as chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. And I appreciate your observation that Australia and the United States share so much.

I told you in our meeting that I was struck in September in the General Assembly by President Obama’s marvelous speech defending freedom of speech at a time when the Arab world was agitated over a disgraceful video that mocked the religion of Islam. President Obama addressed those concerns but spoke about America’s resolve on a core value, which is that people ought to be able to speak their minds. And I thought then how closely we cleave to one another when it comes to core values.

And those shared values are the basis, along with shared interests, of the Australian-American relationship. We discussed – and I value those discussions very, very deeply – the challenge to the world order of the behavior of North Korea. We spoke about the, by contrast, happy narrative of Myanmar’s advance towards democracy, even with the challenges on human rights that remain to be addressed, during a week that the President of Myanmar will be in Australia. We spoke about Australia’s immediate region. Shared views on the development of Southeast Asia. We spoke about the Pacific. Shared views about the Pacific. We discussed Syria, with a view to Australia’s membership and the decisions, the assuasion it can deliver as a member of the Security Council.

And we spoke about a shared passion, which is the environment of the world’s oceans. Australia, Mr. Secretary, will back any initiative you want to bring to the front of the world community when it comes to saving the oceans of the world. We will back those initiatives in the face of the challenge of acidification, over-fishing, depletion, the dead zones in the world’s oceans. You can count on Australia as your first ally when it comes to protecting the environment of the world’s oceans.

We spoke about the Middle East. I applaud the fact that you as Secretary of State are committing yourself, with your President, to the Middle East peace process. American leadership is required to end the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians. And it’s greatly to your credit, and to the credit of your President, that you’re making this such a high priority in the second term of the Obama Administration. And we will support that any way we can.

I conclude with this point about the Middle East, and it links the Middle East with Asia. Asia will shortly consume 90 percent of the energy exported from the Persian Gulf. The region to Australia’s north has got a great stake in American leadership in delivering a Middle East at peace, able to provide the world with the energy it needs.

Thank you.

SECRETARY KERRY: Thank you very much, Bob. Appreciate it.

MS. NULAND: We’ll take two today. We’ll start with CNN, Elise Labott.

QUESTION: Thank you. Thank you, Mr. Secretary. I’d like to ask you about Syria. This week, discussions are intensifying among European Union members on lifting the arms embargo. Specifically, Britain and France are pushing for lifting the arms embargo and they’re hoping that the U.S. will support them. Given that the rebels are telling us that the U.S. is already training members of the Syrian rebel military in Jordan and other places, can you say whether you support a more robust arming of the rebels to strengthen moderate – the moderate forces there, or are you already moving in that direction?

And just picking up on the Minister’s comments about Middle East peace, today Prime Minister Netanyahu said he was extending a hand towards peace, with his new government, towards the Palestinians and was ready to make unprecedented, historic compromises. Do you think that this indicates a climate where progress can be made and for you to take advantage of that?

SECRTARY KERRY: And who is prepared to do the compromise?

QUESTION: Prime Minister Netanyahu.

SECRETARY KERRY: Yeah. Well, let me say, first of all, with respect to Syria, we have consistently said, and I say again, the longer the bloodshed goes on, the greater the prospect that the institutions of the state of Syria implode, and therefore, the greater the danger is to the region and the world that chemical weapons fall into the hands of really bad actors. We do not want that to happen. We also don’t want the fragmentation and destruction of the state. Those state institutions are critical to the stability of the state, to its future, and the region.

So as long as President Assad continues to attack his own people with SCUDs, with aircraft, with tanks, there is an imbalance in this which is creating more and more refugees pouring into Jordan, pouring into Lebanon, pouring into Turkey. And that is becoming a global catastrophe.

So we do not stand – President Obama has made it clear that the United States does not stand in the way of other countries that have made a decision to provide arms, whether it’s France or Britain or others. He believes that we need to change President Assad’s calculation. Right now, President Assad is receiving help from the Iranians, he is receiving help from al Qaida-related – some elements, he’s receiving help from Hezbollah, and obviously some help is coming in through the Russians. If he believes he can shoot it out, Syrians and the region have a problem, and the world has a problem.

So President Obama’s effort is to try to change that calculation, but leave the door open for the possibility of the Geneva Communique to take hold, which requires the selection of individuals acceptable to both sides, which clearly means not Assad, who will form a provisional transitional government with full executive authority. The Russians have signed onto that, the United States, the global community. That’s the road forward. But you have to have a President Assad who is willing to appoint that independent entity. And as of this moment, he is not.

So that’s the effort in Syria. It’s to try to change the calculation. And President Obama is evaluating and will continue to evaluate any additional options available in order to make that happen.

With respect to the Middle East peace process, the President, as you know, is leaving – I’m leaving tonight. He is leaving tomorrow. He will be meeting with the new government. I think we both want to join in congratulating the people of Israel on their selection of a new government, the formation of that government. And the President is really going to listen to the members of this new government and to hear personally from Prime Minister Netanyahu what he thinks the road ahead is. We hope that those words of the Prime Minister and others become a reality. Nothing could be more important to the future of the Middle East, to stability, to the removal of a major recruitment tool and organizing argument for people throughout the region who are extremists, than the ongoing confrontation and absence of peace between Palestinians and Israelis.

So the President understands the importance of it. The question is: Are the parties to this conflict prepared – both of them – to come to the table and negotiate in good faith and with urgency in order to try to resolve this? And once those conversations have taken place, the President will be in a position to evaluate that road forward. We obviously, after all of these years, approach this with continued hopes, but also with a sense of the reality of the difficulties that lie in the way and the need to renew our efforts.

FOREIGN MINISTER CARR: Again, we welcome American leadership, the leadership of the President and the leadership of the Secretary of State, on the Middle East. The only way we’re going to advance this great goal, this noble goal of an historic settlement between Israelis and Palestinians, is with American leadership. America, however, has needed an opening, a readiness, on the part of both those parties. I believe we’re at an historic moment where there is something of a convergence produced by the thinking in Ramallah and the result of the recent Israeli election. I welcome the words of president – Prime Minister Netanyahu and I welcome the recent statements by the Palestinians, and I would urge both sides to move to negotiations without preconditions and allow through a peace, the genius of Israelis and the genius of Palestinians to flourish in a cooperative, collaborative relationship.

MS. NULAND: Last one today. Paul Maley, The Australian.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, you made some remarks at your confirmation hearing which suggested that you were perhaps not as wedded to the rebalance as your predecessor. Is that the case? Are you as wedded to the pivot, or the rebalance, as your predecessor? And if so, how will the sequester affect America’s ability to commit resources to Asia?

And Senator Carr, just on a domestic point, does the Prime Minister enjoy your unqualified support, or has she, in fact, lost your confidence, as domestic media reports suggest?

SECRETARY KERRY: Wow, I don’t know if you want to take that one first or second? (Laughter.)

FOREIGN MINISTER CARR: Well, I might dispose of that one first. The Prime Minister has my unqualified support. I wish I’d been asked about – to comment on that article before it appeared. She has my support, and I think the media’s in a frenzy of speculation and of speculation feeding on itself that generates these stories.

SECRETARY KERRY: As to the question of my commitment, our commitment to the rebalance, consider me equally as married to, if not more married, than my predecessor. But I think that the word pivot, I think, implied a departure from somewhere else. And I don’t think that our rebalance and our engagement has to be at the expense of anybody else. I think it can be with other people, which is what we view in the power of the TTIP. The Transatlantic Investment and Trade Partnership, which has excited the imagination of Europe as President Obama believes it should, is a huge opportunity for us to bring to the table with the TPP, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a major allocation of rules of the road and the economic behavior of the world which can have a profound impact on other countries.

So I think we’re not rebalancing at the expense of important relationships in Europe and the Mideast and elsewhere, but we are rebalancing. And we are going to continue the commitment and we will continue the relationships. Jack – the Secretary of Treasury leaves today to go to China. I will be going to China and to South Korea and Japan about a week later or so, a couple of weeks. And we will – we’re already planning for the APEC meeting in Brunei. And I intend to visit some other countries out there in the course of that period of time.

So as I said at the beginning here, this relationship is on the move. The 21st century will be defined largely by the kind of economic partnership and security partnership that comes out of that, even as we maintain our current commitment and relationship in other parts of the world.

FOREIGN MINISTER CARR: I’ve got to say that after our discussions, which canvassed developments in Asia, I believe, Australia believes, that this Secretary of State is as deeply committed to American engagement with East Asia as was his predecessor. We believe that John Kerry is no different from Hillary Clinton in the depth of his commitment to engagement with the region to Australia’s north, and we welcome that.

SECRETARY KERRY: Can I just add one thing for background, because I want people to begin to understand it a little bit? My first initiative when I was in the United States Senate was involvement in the Philippines. And I became deeply involved in the transition that brought Cory Aquino to power and ended a dictatorship. And subsequently, I spent 10 years of my life working with Senator McCain to normalize relations with Vietnam, lift the embargo, and move to a new relationship. I helped negotiate the tribunals with the UN that took place in Cambodia. I’ve had numerous visits to the region and consider myself to have spent a significant portion of my career in engagement in that part of the world. So I intend to continue that as Secretary in the ways that we’ve discussed today. We’re going to continue to move forward.

Thank you all very, very much. Appreciate it.