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The Atlantic Council of the United State 

Remarks by Senator John Kerry (D-MA)

Welcome and Moderator:
Frederick Kempe,
President and CEO,
The Atlantic Council 

Location: Washington, D.C.

Date: Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Transcript by
Federal News Service
Washington, D.C. 

FRED KEMPE: If you could all – if you – if you could take your seats, please, everyone; we have limited time with Senator Kerry.

Good afternoon and welcome. It’s a – it’s an enormous pleasure to welcome the founders, the highest-level friends of Brent, the most important supporters of the Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security at the Atlantic Council for a very important and meaningful day. I would say this is one of the most important days in the 50-year history of the Atlantic Council, and that includes its founding moment with Dean Acheson, Christian Herter, Henry Cabot Lodge, Lucius Clay, the people who brought this Atlantic Council together in the first place. It’s a huge honor for us that Senator Kerry has taken some time to us started today.

I’m going to keep my comments very short right now. I’m not going to – I’m not going to acknowledge all the famous people here who are in the audience, all the people (who ?) have supported this moment; we’ve got two more events today where that will be done. But I just don’t want to take the time – (laughter) – I don’t want to take the time – I don’t want to take the time from Senator Kerry.

I will say one thing, Senator Kerry. Establishing a center in the name of somebody is difficult. In any case, establishing in the name of someone who’s humble and never wants anything ever named for him ever anywhere – (laughter) – is an arduous task. The only way you get a selfless person, a humble person like Brent Scowcroft to have a name – a center named for him is appealing to the larger cause, appealing to the – to the fact that this was actually necessary, this was actually very useful for the Atlantic Council to capture what he stands for, what his legacy is, and how do we carry this into the future, not only for the trans-Atlantic community, but for us partners around the world.

Now, I’m not going to introduce you; I’m going to pass that to the chairman-designate of the Atlantic Council, General Jim Jones. Senator Hagel, the chairman of the Atlantic Council, sends his regrets; he’s just been called to the White House. There still are some things that are more important than the Atlantic Council. (Laughter.) So General Jim Jones, please come – please come to introduce Senator Kerry. (Applause.)

GENERAL JAMES L. JONES (RET.): Thank you very much. And I’ll be curious as to why the senator was called to the White House. (That’s ?) very – (laughter) – very interesting. Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. And welcome to this very important kickoff event for a very special day in the Atlantic Council, as Fred just pointed out.

Today we have the opportunity to pay tribute to one of the great statesmen in American history and one of the legends of the Atlantic Council’s rich 50-year-old history, General Brent Scowcroft. We gather for today’s activities to celebrate his distinguished career, and next year’s launch of the Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security at the Atlantic Council.

I’m delighted that we are able to open the day’s activities with this unique opportunity to engage Senator John Kerry – Senator, welcome – for 45 minutes or so of his time. So I will be extremely brief.

I would now – as Fred just pointed, Senator Hagel was going to do the introduction, and I’m happy to fill in for him, but he did ask me to pass along his regards to you, Senator Hagel (sic), and – to General Scowcroft, and regrets not being able to be here, obviously.

Senator Kerry needs no introduction to this audience or to the Atlantic Council. As chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, he is one of the most influential and effective lawmakers in the United States Senate today. In that crucial position, he has played an extraordinary important in shaping U.S. policy on the most critical foreign policy issues of our time, most notably policy on Afghanistan and Pakistan, for which I benefited greatly during my time as national security adviser.

He just returned from a very important trip to Egypt, where he met with senior officials, including the Muslim Brotherhood that is likely to govern the country from 2012 and beyond. His expertise and engagement on these two crucial parts of the world will make for a fascinating discussion over lunch. For his distinguished record of leadership through his more than a quarter of a century in the Senate, he was awarded the Atlantic Council’s Global Citizen Award this September in New York City with Christine Lagarde and the late Rafik Hariri, whose son Bahaa is with us today.

I’m delighted to have Senator Kerry with us today. I look forward to his remarks and to your questions to him. And thank you so much, Senator, for your leadership, for being with us today, and for all of your recent engagements with the Atlantic Council. Senator John Kerry. (Applause.)

SENATOR JOHN KERRY (D-MA): Jim, thank you very, very much. I’m honored to be introduced by you and privileged to claim your friendship. And I appreciated your enormous many courtesies to me when you were serving in the White House, and we continued to bump into each other in many, many places and things. And I thank you for your continued service and your extraordinary service preceding.

General, a great privilege to be here with you. And I see you are well attended to on either side here. (Laughter.) You’re got the European axis over here and the Middle East over there and – (laughter) – some deal coming out of this, I hope. I don’t know. (Laughter.) But we could well use it.

Mr. Ambassadors, it’s great to see you both here. And Nigel (sp), thank you for your tremendous representation of your country here. We are going to miss you and hope we’ll continue to cross paths in many different in the days ahead. But I know everybody here salutes you and thanks you for that service.

And I’m delighted to be here in the presence of the Hariri family. I – often, I – my wife and I have a walk; we go up and around through Georgetown, so we go by the Hariri building all the time and have enjoyed, in my visits to Lebanon, your brother’s stewardship there under extraordinarily difficult circumstances. And we’re all hopeful that things will continue to move in the right direction.

Thank you, also, everybody for the Atlantic Council’s honor earlier, which I enormously regretted not being able to be at to receive in person because of the schedule of the Senate, which nowadays is without any rhyme or reason whatsoever. And it just is very, very difficult to schedule things. I’m sure you’re all finding that, so I apologize. And the reason I need to run back up there is, we are – we have our caucus, and Senator Baucus’ mother passed away, regrettably; he is still in Montana, and I have to stand in for him to explain what we may or may not do on my new expertise as a result of the supercommittee, which is the “doc fix” and health care and so forth, so that’s why I have to run back. And I apologize for that.

But it’s an honor, honestly. I really was happy to accept the privilege of coming here, to share a few words with you about a person that you all have long ago recognized for his remarkable leadership, and even more so have committed to help support this terrific idea of the Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security within the walls of the Atlantic Council. And given Brent’s extraordinary journey with so many presidents, with so many different administrations in such a bipartisan way, and the remarkable counsel that he has offered in all of that period, I can’t think of anything more appropriate, though he, obviously, we all know, will probably never acknowledge that it’s even named after him. (Laughter.) But it’s very, very special to be able to find somebody in today’s world who represents this kind of standard of public service and of bipartisanship. I sat in my chair wistfully listening to Fred talk about Henry Cabot Lodge and Dean Rusk and these other folks, and Brent – Republicans who, you know, made me sit there and salivate for that kind of presence and partnership today, which we just – honestly, we just don’t have, and it’s very unfortunate. And we have to try to find our way forward notwithstanding that.

But Brent – I think what you’re celebrating is not just the fact of his journey and the way in which he has served so many presidents in such critical periods, but I think you’re celebrating a methodology, a way of behaving, a stature and a kind of presence, if you will, on the scene, that speaks to the needs of this moment, that calls on all of us to try to find a way to listen to each other more effectively and a way to talk across party lines and find not the ideological barrier that’s so easy to set up to stop something from happening, but rather to find the commonality of interests that allows us to get something done – not to gridlock it, but rather achieve something great for our nation.

And that is always how I have seen this man act. When I was working on the normalization of relationship with Vietnam, we just would never have made progress if President George Herbert Walker Bush and Brent Scowcroft at his side and General Vessey at their side hadn’t all decided this was an issue in our national interest. There were plenty of ways to have hidden behind the political landmines that lay in that path, believe me. But Brent never saw those; he only saw the interest strategically of our literally ending a war that, in its own way, was still going on in our country.

And I like to think that, together, we actually ultimately made peace in that part of the world and, as a result, have a created a buffer to China’s interests and a presence in commerce as well as in emerging values – not yet, obviously, where they need to be in many ways, but emerging that has now seen – who would’ve thought of this, Harlan; who would’ve thought that American ships would be returning for visits, one with the name of McCain on them to Cam Ranh Bay. That’s where we are as a result of the kinds of efforts that culminated with President Clinton, who had every reason also to dock it for all the obvious reasons, but who braved the potential storm and saw it through and actually normalized the relations and then visited Vietnam as the sitting president of the United States in the year 2000. Those journeys are the kinds of things that I think you’re honoring in creating this center.

Brent has – (chuckles) – you know, we invited him to come and testify on START treaty. And, in characteristic humility, Brent opened his testimony, saying, you know, I’m really not an expert on arms control at all. (Laughter.) And then he proceeded to talk about how he’d been involved in every agreement, from SALT I to START II – (laughter) – putting the lie to his own humility, but nevertheless doing so in a way that was so graceful and so appropriate.

I have to also call to everybody’s mind the fact that this is a man who has specialized in tectonic plate historic transitions; the fall of the Soviet empire, something we wanted and worked for and espoused for 30, 40 years, but which came with such suddenness that it needed skilled management. And again, Brent, in his role as security adviser, provided that management. And the SEED Act is a classic example of a way in which they saw the economic potential, they saw the need to provide jobs and stability and they immediately engaged in a way that created a peaceful transition where there could’ve been who knows what. And today, we have democracies. Today, we have members of NATO. Today, we have countries that are contributing not only to the march of democracies, but the march of the marketplace. And I think he presided over the reunification of Germany; he provided (sic) over the denuclearization of former Soviet states and presided over this extraordinary transition. So we have a lot to learn from that kind of stewardship of our diplomatic interests.

And I just say very quickly that the reason that this is so important is that we are now engaged in three of the most significant transitions that we could have imagined. And their outcome is still very much in question. The first transition, obviously, is the one out of two wars, Iraq and Afghanistan. And both will require enormous calibration and sensitivity to the need to honor the sacrifice made by so many soldiers, to honor the strategic interests that are at risk in those places, but at the same time, to recognize the limits of our ability to fully determine that outcome and, therefore, the need to build a very significant coalition of interested parties, ranging from all of the “stans” to the near neighbors, Pakistan with all of its complications, and India, and the complications of the India-Pakistan relationship, and, of course, even Iran.

And I happen to believe that there are real possibilities with respect to Iran, notwithstanding the very difficult place we find ourself (sic) in today. And I think it’s imperative that we pursue thoughtfully what those may be to avoid what could be a(n) extraordinarily dangerous moment in the near months here, and we need to be clear about that. So that is one transition. And whether or not and how we manage the Afghanistan peace could determine whether Afghanistan is, in fact, a place of stability and of importance to the region and to its neighbors, or whether there will be a war, even in our absence.

Second transition is the one with respect to China and the Far East. And that is why the president has put troops in Darwin. That is why we have the trans-Pacific trade agreement. That is why he was at East Asian (sic) Summit. That is why Secretary Clinton has written about and we have articulated a shift in some focus, not away from Europe, but really there in addition to.

And one thing I want to say to everybody – and I feel this particularly as chairman of Foreign Relations Committee – a lot of countries are wondering whether we’re going to back off or whether the United States is going to diminish its role. I am convinced that we will not and should not and do not have to, and that we will get through this economic transitional moment for ourselves, but that the 1 percent or less that we put into our foreign interests is a pittance compared to what we ought to be putting into it and to what we need to balance in terms of any of the interests of our budget measured against health care, other things that we can do a much better job on.

So our foreign interests do not need to pay the price of our current fiscal dilemma, and I intend to make that argument as powerfully as I can over the course of these next months, that it is even more imperative, given the nature of globalization and the competitiveness marketplace we’re operating in, that we be engaged that we continue to play the role we have played. And I think the Atlantic Council can play a critical role in helping us to achieve that.

The final transition is the stunning transformation, yet undefined fully, that is taking place in the Middle East, the greatest upheaval since the fall of the Ottoman Empire. And so we obviously are working our way through that. And it will provide us with a challenging confrontation between values and interests, which is what makes up foreign policy. Sometimes your interests will supersede your values, and sometimes your values will supersede your interests, and sometimes you have the permission to do one or the other.

I think that we’ve learned some lessons in these past years. I certainly have. There was a rush to have an election in the West Bank, which both Israel and the Palestinians were telling us we should not rush to have. And we insisted on it, and when the outcome was contrary to our presumptions and/or wishes, we walked away from it. Not a great approach, folks, to any aspect of how we ought to be dealing with that part of the world.

And in Egypt the people made their choice before we added our voices, but it obviously had an enormously disruptive impact on relationships in the region and has raised serious doubts about directions. And that movement, whether it’s Tunisia or Libya or Egypt, is still very much up for grabs.

I did just come back from Egypt on the weekend. I met with the military council, I met with the prime minister – the temporary, you know, government, and met with the Brotherhood, and I met with the Freedom Party and other civilians at large, and came away convinced of this: that nobody is doing enough to help this outcome be what it should be. And in fact some are making mischief. And it is imperative that the global community recognize that Egypt is a quarter of the Arab world, and it is spared the great divide of Shia and Sunni but nevertheless has this challenge of the Brotherhood and of Salafists, who were surprisingly strong in the election.

And unless there is an economic commitment, economic vision, I don’t know how any government is going to solve this problem. They need to move to the IMF negotiation, and I urge that. They need to come to an IMF agreement, but they also need to find the global community prepared to bring investment back. They have to deal with security in the streets as rapidly as they can in order to bring tourism back. And they desperately need to guarantee rights – the rights of minorities, the rights of speech, the rights of assembly, all of those rights that are going to be so critical to their constitutional process.

I will say that what was encouraging to me was the fact that the Brotherhood at least is saying the right things, and is expressing their desire to embrace all of those rights and recognize the reality of the marketplace and to move in the right direction. The proof will be in the pudding. The test will not be in words but in actions. But it is far better to start off with them espousing those principles and begin to work in that way towards that. How we do that will depend on how effectively we put the Brent Scowcroft principles to practice, build a bipartisan consensus in our own country and manage a transition.

And so all of those three transitions I just talked about can benefit enormously from what you all are engaged in here. And I thank you very much. I understand that Fred wants me to take a few questions, but I think I’ve won my bet. I bet Mitt Romney $10,000 I would – (laughter) – end in under 10, 15 minutes. I’m here. Anyway.

MR. : (Chuckles.) (Inaudible) – you are. (Applause.) Thank you.

MR. KEMPE: Let me quote you back to you. You are celebrating a methodology, a way of being, a certain stature, a way of listening to each other more effectively, finding a community of interests that allows us to get something done.

I – what a wonderful to start this day. In some ways, you take us back to the founding moment, because Senator Kerry, a Democrat now – at 4:30 we’ll have four national security advisers – two have served Democratic presidents, General Jones and Zbigniew Brzezinksi; two have supported Republican presidents, Kissinger and Scowcroft – talking about where the world is going – and then tonight a Republican, Bob Gates, talking about the future and toasting – and I hope roasting – General Scowcroft. (Laughter.)

Let me just ask one thing, and then open up. My question is: What kind of a model are we right now to the Middle East and North Africa in its transitions, and is that a problem? You’re talking about a polarized situation here. We see the eurozone with perhaps the most dramatic problems Europe has faced since the creation of the Coal and Steel Community. How big of a role does this play in a transition in the Middle East and North Africa?

SEN. KERRY: A serious role. It’s a – it’s a problem. And I’ve talked to Secretary Clinton about it; she and I both agreed that in our meetings with leaders in other countries, they’re looking at us more skeptically. And when we say something to them, in many cases, it may not have very much meaning. It’s very hard to sit there and say, you ought to do it this way, when we’re not able to do it this way.

And I’ll tell you, I tried this so hard with my colleagues on the supercommittee. And I’d hate to say it – I don’t want to sound a partisan note – I’m not saying this in a partisan way. But I have to tell you, folks, (that is ?) was just a pure political calculation in what happened here. And for whatever reason, the Republican Party has been transformed into a party that – that’s base is so intense about this tax issue, characterized significantly by Grover Norquist and the pledge and all of that, that it’s frozen, locked into place. I mean, look at every presidential candidate.

And I think it’s going to be very, very difficult to offer the kind of visionary program the nation needs when you’re locked into that position, personally. But it makes it exceedingly hard for us to do the things we need to do. And I tried to argue with my colleagues. All of them said, oh my god, you know, this is a great moment for u;, we’ve got to, you know, come to agreement, we need to send a message to the world, the United States has its act together.

And above all, we could have made ourselves the financial haven of the planet. Had we made that decision, think of the role of investment that – (inaudible) – safe money in America. And the only thing that saves us is that the 1.2 trillion (dollars) is an automatic cut that takes place next year, so the markets are discounting to some degree and figuring something will happen.

But the calculation was this: that there were people who believed their party is going to win the presidency and the Senate, and then they’ll do everything they want in their own bill on reconciliation, and Katy bar the door. That’s a hell of a bet to take. And the second part of it was the pledge, and the fear of the tea party and people, and being primaried, and the amount of money you have to raise in American politics today to survive, and people were restrained by that. So I think it has a profound impact, and we need to get our act together.

Now, there’s nothing like an election to concentrate the mind of people in public life, and elected public life. And I think this will be the centerpiece of the election. And I’d rather, far rather, far rather have President Barack Obama’s hand to play in that than theirs. And I believe the president has found his footing on it; I think he’s, you know, increasingly sounding the clarity of where America is.

Overwhelmingly, 68 (percent), 70 percent of America knows we have to have some revenue to solve this problem. Also, we need to do entitlements. We understand that, but let me be clear to all of you: We put every sacred cow of entitlements on the table. And I can prove it in paper, actual written proposals: means testing, co-pay, you know – I mean, stuff that – I had 3,000 people demonstrating outside my office in Boston. Not one of them ever had anybody demonstrate against them, because they never put anything on the table that – until Toomey put the 350 billion (dollars).

When Toomey did that in the end, I offered them to take that deal. We said, we’ll take your 350 (billion dollars). Just delay the Bush tax cut until the election, and let the tax committees have an expedited procedure – expedited procedure; we’ll give you that next December with a 34 percent rate on individual tax and a 25 percent rate on corporate tax, and we’ll deal with territoriality, and American business can take off and will be competitive across the world – guaranteed vote next December, expedited procedure, 25 percent, 34 percent. They turned it down, because we didn’t make the Bush tax cuts permanent.

So that’s where we’re stuck, and I’ll take that hand out to the country any day – I intend to, between now and next November.

MR. KEMPE: The – thank you, Senator Kerry. We’ve got – we’ve just got a few minutes left. Maybe I’ll just scoop up one or two questions. And also, please start eating or the hotel organizers of this will really start getting terribly nervous. Please. (Laughter.) And even though there’s a camera going, this was organized as off-the-record event. We’re doing this really for the Atlantic Council time capsule.

Q: Senator, I –

SEN. KERRY: When I see it on YouTube tonight, I’ll – (laughter).

MR. KEMPE: Right. We will ask your permission for that. (Chuckles.)

Q: Senator, I have a question that most of you and your colleagues hate to answer because it requires a one-word answer. I would ask this: China, friend or foe? And you can’t go in between.

MR. KEMPE: (Chuckles.)

SEN. KERRY: Well, I’m not going to do that. (Laughter.) Because it’s not a foe, and it’s not yet fully the friend that we want it to be. It’s sort of in between, and that’s just a reality. I think the worst thing we could do is make it a foe. And if you – if you move in the wrong way on that, that could happen. I don’t want – in my judgment, they are a complicated partner in a number of efforts, and adversaries on some other interests, but not a foe. And I think the last thing we want to do is make them one.

MR. KEMPE: I know we’ve promised you to get out of here at a sharp time, so let me end with a trans-Atlantic question. How concerned are you, as you look at the eurozone crises, as you look at the solutions that are being put forward by Germany and others, and how does that affect the way you look at the trans-Atlantic community’s role in our global future?

SEN. KERRY: Well the – obviously the euro community is critical to our economy, critical to us in so many different ways. It is the number-one purchasing power in the world – number one, ahead of China, Japan, the United States, and China. And clearly we need to pay attention to that.

I am very, very concerned about it. I think the marketplace today you see is not buying into this notion of the treaty changes as sufficient, because it’s undelivered and in some cases may be undeliverable. And so quickly the focus has already turned to Italy and Spain, and what can they really do to meet the debt? And they need about 300 billion euros or plus in the next few months in debt (float ?). That’s going to be the real test here, folks, as much as anything.

I think it is exceedingly difficult – and this has always been the complication of this arrangement – and Britain has understood it from the beginning, obviously, as have some other countries in Europe who never joined up. I mean, you look at the Swiss franc today, and you see where it is and why it is – and it’s because of this fundamental confrontation with the fiscal realities of some of these countries, and their historical and cultural facts with respect to how their economies work and how – what the relationship is with government.

If that doesn’t profoundly change in some of those countries, I don’t know how you make it work. I’d love it to work; I just don’t know how you make it work without the central bank ability and without a common fiscal set of rules. So I think – you know, we’ve all read that perhaps Angela Merkel has a strategy here. Perhaps she’s working everybody to the point where they do come on board at the last minute to something that isn’t marketable today politically. Perhaps, I say. But to do what they need to do would probably cost each German citizen about 80,000 euro. And they’re not prepared to do that.

So anybody’s question mark, but I think we all need to be deeply, deeply concerned about it, and it will affect America in profound ways, on our economy as well as on other interests that we have.

Thank – again, Brent, thank you. Salute you, my friend, and congratulations. (Applause.)

MR. : Thank you – (inaudible) – really appreciate it.


MR. KEMPE: Now just enjoy your table conversations and your meals. I just want to say one thing about Senator Kerry coming here. I can’t tell you how busy it is for him right now, how impossible it is to come here, and he really wanted to do it for General Scowcroft. He’s been terribly active with the Atlantic Council, not just that we gave him this award in New York, but we’ve worked together with him, his staff, his team on many things. He’s been – he’s co-chaired a report, a groundbreaking report on Pakistan for us with Senator Hagel.

So it’s just terrific, the fact that we have the Saudi ambassador here, the British ambassador here, the Finnish ambassador here – I want to thank you all for coming. Former prime minister of Pakistan – I think this points to a new role we’re taking on toward the Middle East and toward that part of the world. And I also want to thank all the founders that are here for the Scowcroft Center, and we’ll have a more official thanks of all of you later on. Thanks so much. (Applause.)


MR. KEMPE: So the Mandarin Oriental – some of you are getting ready to leave; I just wanted to say we’re very excited, we hope most of you can make it to the Mandarin Oriental at 4:30. I think we’ve got a real treat, sort of an appetizer for the main course at – of the dinner tonight, and that is General Jones, Dr. Brzezinski, Dr. Kissinger and General Scowcroft discussing world affairs. And so please join us for that. That’ll be a wonderful time, and we’ll run until when, Roseanne (sp)?

MS. : (Off mic) – Quarter to six.

MS. : (Off mic) – Six o’clock.

MS. : (Off mic) – 4:30 to 6:00.

MR. KEMPE: Quarter to six.

MS. : (Off mic) – 4:30 to 6:00.

MR. KEMPE: From 4:30 to 6:00, and then the reception starts at 6:00, and then the dinner is at 7:00, and we’ve got lots of surprises for you at the dinner. (Chuckles.)

(Off-side conversation.)


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