QUESTION: I want to start with Russia, and I know you said you have talked to your counterparts about the hacking. Did you say to them that you knew it went to the highest levels in the Russian Government?
SECRETARY KERRY: In every way possible, the Russians were informed about our knowledge and displeasure about what was happening.
QUESTION: Again, did they realize you knew that it was at the highest levels of the Russian Government?
SECRETARY KERRY: As I said, the President of the United States had a direct conversation with President Putin regarding this, and made it crystal clear that it was – that we knew what was happening and they had to stop.
QUESTION: You’ve heard some people talk about this as an act of war. Do you think a cyber attack is an act of war?
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, it’s certainly a hostile attack. I mean, it’s certainly a hostile activity. Whether it’s – how you respond is subject to a number of different various – variations of choice, and the President has chosen. Some have been made public and some will not be made public – some of the responses. But it’s serious and it’s deadly serious business when people start engaging in ways that interfere with another country at its fundamental basis, its democracy, its freedom of choice, its electoral process, and it’s a hostile act of major proportions.
QUESTION: And when you say that, when – some say it’s an act of war, some say – and you say it’s a hostile act, what should be the consequences of that? How do you define what a cyber attack even is? Do we really have clarity on what that is?
SECRETARY KERRY: Yes, I think we have increasing clarity. We know that it takes various forms and shapes, Martha. I mean, it downloads huge amounts of information, it steals corporate secrets, it engages in political warfare in the fashion that we saw when they are releasing to WikiLeaks negative information on one candidate and withholding information on another – or of another party. It has ability to interfere with our infrastructure, with our defense system, with our national security in the most profound ways. So yeah, it’s serious business, about as serious as it gets. And it’s increasingly becoming a concern in the corporate world, as well as in all of our security establishment and governance.
QUESTION: And one of the things we’ve heard – and I know you don’t want to get into politics, but President-elect Trump has said that the DNC wasn’t prepared for this, they didn’t have the right systems in place. Is that true? Should the DNC have done more? Should the U.S. have —
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, I’m not going to get in – I mean, I’m – that’s not my bailiwick and I’m not going to get into the details of what they should have or shouldn’t have done. I don’t know all the details of what they had undertaken. But I don’t think that’s particularly relevant, frankly, to this discussion. We know what Russia was doing and did with respect to interference in our electoral process, and the President of the United States made it clear to the president of Russia that he knew, that we took it seriously, and we made it clear publicly that we would take action at the time and choosing of the President. We’ve taken some of that, made it public, and there are other things that are available to the President that he may or may not have done that he’s chosen to do privately.
QUESTION: Do you think it changed the outcome of the election?
SECRETARY KERRY: Again, I’m not – I just can’t get into that speculation. And the Intelligence Community did not get into that and draw those conclusions publicly, so I think it’s – I’m not going to comment on that.
QUESTION: Comments about the Intelligence Community, you know there have been doubts – the president-elect has doubts about intelligence on Russia. What effect does that have on —
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, I think DNI Clapper spoke to that very effectively yesterday. I mean, he made it clear that healthy skepticism is one thing, disparagement is another, and I’ll let his words stand.
QUESTION: So you agree with him?
SECRETARY KERRY: I’ll let his words stand. I think he spoke for this Administration.
QUESTION: And going forward, the relationship with Russia, we’ve heard some reports that the Russians were cheering when President-elect Trump was elected. What concerns do you have about the relationship in the future with Russia?
SECRETARY KERRY: I think that Russia needs to decide what kind of country it really wants to be and what kind of global international partner and/or leader or participant in multilateral affairs – how it wants to do it.
It seems to me that the Russian people, I think to some degree, are the victims of choices being made where enormous amounts of money are being spent on these military excursions that Russia is making while sectors of their economy are hurting. And I think, ultimately, these are choices President Putin has to make, but from my point of view, Russia has been at times very cooperative and at times extraordinarily disruptive, and we ought to try to find the pathway to a more cooperative, more stable, and predictable kind of relationship if that is possible. There are some people who say it is not possible and never will be. There are others who believe that it may be possible to find some sort of modus vivendi, a way of living together.
I found that when we had a common objective, we were able to cooperate. We cooperated on the Iran nuclear agreement, we cooperated on getting chemical weapons out of Syria, we cooperated on the environmental approach in Paris, we cooperated on a number of environmental initiatives – the hydrofluorocarbons. We cooperated in the airline industry reductions, we cooperated on the marine-protected area of the Antarctic – the largest marine-protected area in the world.
But we have not been able to find the solution to solving the problem of Ukraine and getting the Minsk agreement fully implemented. We have not been able to find the successful formula yet to be able —
SECRETARY KERRY: — to deal with Syria.
QUESTION: And I want to go back to Syria and I know you discussed this in your press conference yesterday. But the redline and the fact that there were no – the President promised enormous consequences if Syria crossed that redline. I know that chemical weapons were eliminated from Syria —
SECRETARY KERRY: Right.
QUESTION: — but should there have been greater consequences? Is that an enormous consequence?
SECRETARY KERRY: The consequence of the bombing was intended – or the potential bombing, the announced bombing was to tell Assad this is unacceptable behavior, don’t do it, and you need to live by the chemical weapons treaty.
Without dropping a bomb, the President got the best result possible, which was eliminating those chemical weapons from being used at all – getting them out of the country altogether in the middle of a conflict in a way, ultimately, Martha, that prevented an unforeseen event from becoming an absolute catastrophe, and that is when Daesh started moving across Syria. Imagine if those chemical weapons had still been there and Daesh had gotten ahold of —
QUESTION: But no greater punishment. There should have been no greater punishment. That’s the —
SECRETARY KERRY: But there’s —
QUESTION: — enormous consequences.
SECRETARY KERRY: There is room for greater punishment. The bombing was intended not to quote, “just punish,” it was intended to deter, it was intended to try to change behavior. The behavior changed for the most part. Not completely, because a new chemical weapon was introduced, which is chlorine being mixed with other ingredients which creates a different kind of weapon. It’s not on the same list of chemical weapons and those things that had to be removed at that time, so there has been a continued bad behavior and there have been some discussions within the Administration about the ways to respond to that.
But bottom line: The immediate objective was to eliminate the threat of this weapon of mass destruction being used in Syria at that time and it did that. And it prevented that from falling into the hands of Daesh. At this moment, if those weapons hadn’t been removed, imagine what would be happening in the Middle East with Daesh with those weapons in their control. So the President actually got a better outcome than he would have gotten if he had gone through the proposal with respect to the use of force. That doesn’t – but the President, by the way, never retracted his readiness to use the force, but once he got the better result, the need to do it was obviated.
QUESTION: Do you think during the years that you would have been able to accomplish more through a greater degree of the threat of force for the military? Were you always on the same page with the military?
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, again, Martha, I’m still serving, we have two more weeks. I’m not going to go backwards. I’ve avoided that for the most part over the course of the last four years and I think it’s a mistake to start now. But over a period of time, there’s plenty of time for history to look back at what the debates were about and what the choices were.
Suffice it to say that I think we were able to get a lot done with respect to Syria. We were not able ultimately to get to Geneva yet to affect the full measure of a negotiation that’s going to be essential to actually ending the war. There is no military solution to this – to the ending of the war. You will not have peace in Syria. You may have taken over Aleppo, you may have new territory you take over, but there will still be bombs bursting, there will still be suicide vests, there will still be unrest. And you will not have peace until you have a political solution, and when you get it, it will be built around the structure that we put in place through the Geneva process and through the International Syria Support Group.
QUESTION: Two quick things: The tweets that you’ve been seeing from the president-elect, and obviously, those pertaining to foreign policy, whether they’re in Taiwan, whether they’re in Russia, whether they’re intel, what effect do you think that has?
SECRETARY KERRY: I’m not going to speculate. Honestly, I don’t make announcements of foreign policy by tweet, Twitter. I don’t think that 140 characters allow you to adequately deal with the complexity of many of the choices that we make, and I think we really need to hopefully move to a different way of communicating wherever this administration is going to go. But it’s up to them to make that decision and I don’t want to get into a back-and-forth on it.
QUESTION: Do you see any way to get Mexico to pay for a wall?
SECRETARY KERRY: No.
QUESTION: Absolutely no way? No tariffs, no anything —
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, they’ve said they’re not going to pay for it. I mean, I suppose you can create something and make a pretense that it’s them doing it. I don’t know, but I – but they aren’t —
QUESTION: But that would just be pretense?
SECRETARY KERRY: They’re not going to voluntarily pony up and pay for something that they disagree with. Now, I said “voluntarily.” Let’s wait and see what other choices are made, but I really think that Mexico has to speak for itself on that one.
QUESTION: Just one final thing on the ambassadorships that they have – that the incoming administration has asked that they – I know it’s normal that you give up your post with a new president, but there’s – this is unusual in some ways, because there’s no extensions granted?
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, there haven’t been any extensions granted. That’s accurate. It is normal procedure for the incoming administration, whatever it is, to ask for resignations of political appointees. That’s a standard fare. And everybody serves at the pleasure of the president of the United States. So we were instructed a month or so ago, two months ago, to submit our own resignations, which I did also, effective 12 noon on January 20th. We submitted those to the White House, so that’s pretty standard fare. I certainly think on the issue of extensions, it’s something that’s discretionary to the incoming administration and each case would have to be measured on its own merits.
QUESTION: Thank you.
SECRETARY KERRY: Thank you.
QUESTION: And I know you’re going to continue in public service.
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, I’m going to do a bunch of things, I think, but we’ll see.
SECRETARY KERRY: But definitely I’m continuing with public service.
QUESTION: Great, thank you.
SECRETARY KERRY: Nice, good to see you.
QUESTION: Good to see you too.
Source: U.S. State Department.