QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. Secretary.
SECRETARY KERRY: My pleasure.
QUESTION: Let’s start with alleged Russian hacking. Former CIA Director Leon Panetta said this morning that President Obama should have taken action last summer when it first became evident that the Russians were trying to hack the U.S. election. He said it was an attack on our country. Why didn’t you take action?
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, the President did take action by, in fact, making it public and authorizing the process where it would be credible in being made public through the Department of Homeland Security and the Director of National Intelligence. And he reserved the right at that point in time to take action that he felt was appropriate when it was appropriate.
QUESTION: But it didn’t stop – it didn’t deter them.
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, it did – it diminished. And the question is – you can argue on the fringes of whether – when it did what. I think the important thing is that the American people were made aware of what was happening, and that is the President’s first choice of what he thought he ought to do.
QUESTION: When did the Administration first know that the Russians were hacking into the election?
SECRETARY KERRY: I don’t remember the first – the exact precise date. It was somewhere in the early – I just don’t even remember. I want to be very careful on that.
QUESTION: Was there anything that you personally did to deliver a message to the Russians?
SECRETARY KERRY: Yes.
QUESTION: How was that received?
SECRETARY KERRY: It was received with clarity. And the President also – I was with the President in China when he did a one-on-one meeting with President Putin precisely with the purpose of having a discussion about this.
QUESTION: And what was Putin’s response?
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, I wasn’t – I mean, I know from the President that he made it crystal clear. I have the one side of the conversation from the President, but I don’t know exactly what the President said.
QUESTION: Secretary Panetta said that this was an attack on our country. Do you believe it was an act of war?
SECRETARY KERRY: It’s an attack on our country. It’s a hostile act – there’s no question about that – with profound implications, and that’s why the President has taken the actions that he’s taken and reserved the right with respect to others that he may not know about and that the public may not know about. But I do think that it’s a serious, serious event with very hostile intention and there are consequences.
QUESTION: Director Brennan said that it had happened before, that this election was not the first time. Are you aware of previous elections that the Russians tried to hack into of —
SECRETARY KERRY: Only by virtue of the reporting that I’ve read. Nothing on a personal level, no.
QUESTION: And you’ve worked a lot with Sergey Lavrov. Is Russian reset possible with Vladimir Putin at the helm in Russia?
SECRETARY KERRY: I think, again, what I have found is that we were able to cooperate on a number of issues of importance to the United States where we got good results. We managed to cooperate on getting the chemical weapons out of Syria. We had serious cooperation from Russia and engagement on the Iran nuclear agreement negotiation. And Russia undertook major responsibilities, which it is carrying out today, in order to help make that agreement work. We have had cooperation from Russia with respect to North Korea and the resolutions to ratchet up sanctions and have an impact on North Korea’s missile activity. We had cooperation from Russia on a number of environmental agreements that we worked on globally internationally – The Paris Agreement, the Kigali Agreement on HFCs, the airlines’ agreement. We had Russia cooperate with respect to the marine protected area – the Ross Sea – which they responded particularly to my engagements with them to try to get them to change their position and to be helpful. So yes, there are things that we were able to make happen.
We were not able to reach satisfaction with respect to the Minsk process on Ukraine. Obviously, Syria has remained a bone of contention in trying to work for the agreement there.
So I believe there are ways to have a dialogue and you’ve got to do it with eyes wide open, with recognition of what some of the limitations are. There are things we’ve done that Russia objects to and one needs to understand those in certain ways in order to try to have some sense of what the possibilities are. But Russia clearly has a different world outlook, a different view with respect to what the West and what we are trying to achieve, and that creates some obvious tension which is difficult to work through. It’s in the interest of the United States of America and Russia to try to find ways to more effectively work through those differences. And I hope the next administration will be able to do that.
QUESTION: So, in effect, could Trump’s friendlier approach to Russia – in fact, could it be the answer to better relations?
SECRETARY KERRY: Not if it’s just giving them what they want and walking away and lifting sanctions and not achieving something. It’s a question of what you’re getting for whatever you do. What is the agreement? What is the deal, as the president-elect likes to look at things and talk about? So if there is an agreement and it’s verifiable, enforceable, and we’re achieving something beneficial out of it, then that’s what diplomacy is about. And my hope will be that my successor, when confirmed, will be able to begin working on that. And I think it’s in the interest of the United States to find a way to be able to reduce some of these tensions and find a way to achieve the mutuality necessary to move forward in constructive ways.
QUESTION: Can the Trump Administration tear up the Iran deal?
SECRETARY KERRY: Not unilaterally. Could they get in the way of its proper enforcement and implementation? There are things they could choose to do that could make it more difficult for sure. But there’s a process for it. But I think China, Russia, France, Germany, Great Britain would have an awful lot to say about how they would respond to that and what they would choose to do as a result.
So I think that one has to remember this is a multilateral agreement. It’s not just the United States and Iran. It is six other countries plus Iran, and that’s pretty important.
QUESTION: What are the dangers of tearing up the Iran deal?
SECRETARY KERRY: That you would move very quickly to a place of serious conflict. We would lose enormous credibility in the world, and that the Middle East could become a far more dangerous place than it already is dangerous, and you could rapidly move to the very place we were before where Iran is then choosing to pursue its own course, and we would be trying to respond to that without the credibility that we had previously because we had, in fact, worked out the agreement.
QUESTION: You’ve received quite a bit of criticism for the speech you gave in the wake of the UN vote on Israeli settlements.
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, that’s one way to look at it. I look at it that I’ve received a lot of support from people who understand that I put out a realistic assessment of where we are and where we need to go. And I was very gratified by the people who saw that this was a very important moment for us think about the road ahead.
QUESTION: But some of the criticism focused on the Israeli homes in East Jerusalem. And your critics say that it’s the first time in 35 years that the U.S. Government has said that those Israeli settler homes in East Jerusalem are illegal. Is that – was that what you were intending to say? Is that U.S. policy at this point?
SECRETARY KERRY: What we have said is that the settlements, unilaterally decided upon – unilaterally, without even consultation or consent from a party that is still hoping for a state – is an obstacle to peace, because it is unilaterally deciding where borders may be and what is in Israel and what is not. It needs to be resolved in the context of a peace process.
Now, this is not a new policy. We didn’t suddenly change American policy. Not at all. Other administrations, Republican and Democrat alike, have all opposed the settlements – any settlement that is built in the area that is considered to be occupied territory after the War of 1967. So we simply restated the policy after years now of trying to emphasize to the current government the importance of doing this in a way that leaves open the possibility of two states. So we stand by the decision that we made. It was not, by the way, a change of American policy. It was consistent with all American policy expressed through administrations over many, many years now, many decades.
QUESTION: But are those Jewish homes in East Jerusalem illegal?
SECRETARY KERRY: That – we have declared that – we have reaffirmed, let me say, the position of the United States is and has been historically that settlements built outside of 1967 lines, even though we contemplate swapping territory in the settlement – we certainly – that that land is in fact disputed and, therefore, building there unilaterally is – it doesn’t have legal validity. That is correct. But we have also said to Israel and to Israelis that we contemplate swaps, that those areas could become part of Israel, accepted by everybody including the Palestinians and the Arab world if they will sit down and negotiate with the Palestinians and arrive at this in a mutually agreeable way that has legal binding force going forward. And we were ready to try to support Israel in every respect. We have supported Israel in every respect possible to try to get that agreement so that the most amount of Israelis possible will be contained within Israel and you can have a neighbor with whom you are at peace.
QUESTION: And last question: Do you think that the Russian hacking cost Hillary Clinton the election?
SECRETARY KERRY: I’m not going to – I just don’t have the ability to speculate on that at this point. It requires a lot of input that I’m not party to at this point in time. And the intel community – the intelligence community has not made judgments with respect to that. So I think for the moment I’m going to stay away from those kinds of judgments.
QUESTION: Would you consider a run in 2020?
SECRETARY KERRY: I’m not planning elected office, but I’m not ruling out any possibilities for what I might or might not do in the future. I just don’t know.
QUESTION: Thank you very much, Mr. Secretary.
SECRETARY KERRY: Thank you. Good to be with you.
Source: U.S. State Department.