Remarks at Youth Connect: Addis Ababa Featured by BBC's Hardtalk

By US Department of State
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Remarks at Youth Connect: Addis Ababa Featured by BBC's Hardtalk

WASHINGTON, May 29, 2013/African Press Organization (APO)/ -- Remarks

John Kerry

Secretary of State

University of Addis Ababa

Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

May 26, 2013

MS. BADWI: Hello. I am Zenab Badwi. Welcome to this Hardtalk Special, coming to you from the University of Addis Ababa with the U.S. Secretary of State, John Kerry. As the African Union celebrates 50 years, many are hoping that this golden jubilee will mark a new golden era for Africa. We have invited an audience of young Africans to put their questions on U.S. foreign policy to John Kerry, and we also have questions from you, the BBC audience worldwide. (Applause.)

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, welcome to this Hardtalk Special.

SECRETARY KERRY: Thank you very much. (Applause.)

MS. BADWI: Secretary of State, it's a big world out there, isn't it? And you have many pressing demands, objectives, and goals. But when you look around the world, just highlight for us briefly what your main areas of concern are.

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, thank you, Zenab. First of all, thank you to the University of Addis Ababa, and thank you, all of you, for taking part in this. And thank you very much to the foreign minister, Foreign Minister Tedros from Ethiopia, for joining us. We really appreciate it. And thank you for hosting this and doing this.

I think, for anybody looking at the world today, as we measure the challenges, and all of you, as young folks getting out of the university, or some of you I just met already out and working, the greatest concern has to be the lack of a fulfillment by governments in many countries of the aspirations of people, particularly the creation of jobs and the educational opportunities that are needed for this new, modern world. We're living in a very different age, and you know it better than anybody. There are instant communications, more information than people can process. And so, if you look at what happened in Tunisia, for instance, that was a fruit vendor who was tired of corruption, tired of being told, "You can't sell your food here," or, "You have to pay the police officer," and he felt oppressed and so, so frustrated, that he took his own life in a horrible way in front of the police station. That ignited an explosion that 10 years ago never would have removed the leader of a country.

In Egypt that was not a revolution that was moved by Islamism or any ideology. It was young people. It was you, people who came to the Square and tweeted each other and texted each other and emailed and brought people, and in this world of some connectedness were really looking for an opportunity for their lives. And it was only afterwards that the most organized entity in the country, which was the Muslim Brotherhood, was able to win an election.

So, what I see in Africa, what I see around the world, are explosive numbers of young people. In Africa, you will have 100 million young people who need to go to school in the next 12 years. That is a huge challenge. And over the next 35 years, Africa will become 40 percent of the entire world's workforce. We need to provide jobs. We need to develop.

Now, don't look at this and say, "Oh, my gosh, we can't do this." There is a world of things to do out there, houses to build, hospitals to build, health care to deliver, transportation systems to create, other people to educate, universities to build. There is work to be done. The question is, are leaders, are governments going to put that work in front of people, and make the right choices for where the money goes and how they educate and how they build the structure for the future. That's what's being discussed at the African Union, it's really what's being discussed everywhere.

Tonight I will be in Amman, Jordan, at the World Economic Forum, where we will talk about economic development for the West Bank, for the Sahel, for the Maghreb, for all of these regions. And I think, when you look at extremism, radical, violent extremism, it's filling the void that is being left by the absence of adequate governance in a number of places.

Now, not everywhere. Some places are doing amazing things. And that's -- in Ethiopia you're doing amazing things. You are growing. You are educating people. You are moving towards this new future. In many other countries in Africa -- 6 of the 10 fastest-growing countries in the world are in Africa.

So, we're looking at this explosive opportunity. And, frankly, you all are going to define -- you can define, if you choose to -- how we respond to this. (Applause.)

MS. BADWI: So that's how you see the situation in Africa. And I'm sure everybody would agree that the issue of youth unemployment is a problem not only here in Ethiopia, but all over Africa. I think the figure is something like 10 million jobs every year have to be found for Africans.

But, Secretary of State, again, just giving us an overview of your foreign policy priorities when you look around the world, just highlight some of the key areas and regions of concern.

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, some of them are forced on us, Zenab. I mean, obviously, President Obama wants to focus on youth leadership. He has created the Young African Leaders Initiative. And Michelle Obama and President Obama have reached out to young people to help mobilize them in these efforts. But the real objective is to build capacity, to build capacity for governing, capacity for health care, capacity for education, so that we can address these needs. And the United States is, first and foremost, trying to establish stability in places. You can't do this without stability.

So, in Afghanistan, for instance, or in Pakistan, or in different places, you have these insurgencies, people blowing people up. But with what objective? Just to take over? Do they talk about schools? Do they talk about education? Do they talk about health care? Do they have an agenda? No. Their agenda is to take power and to tell people, "You have to live this way." And President Obama and I share the belief that the values of human rights and of freedom and of choice and opportunity are universal values. Everybody aspires to that. So our objectives are addressed in these concerns.

Now, we are forced to deal with a certain number of crises. When Kim Jong-un starts to threaten missiles and suggests that we might have a nuclear confrontation, we are obliged to try to reduce that tension and deal with that. When a leader like Assad refuses to listen to the people of his country, and decides to kill them and destroy his country simply to hold on to power, then we have to try to come in with other countries. We are not alone. All of the major countries of the Gulf and of the Arab world, as well as the European countries, as well as Russia, China, others, are saying, "We want a peaceful settlement." And so we want stability, and we are trying to build that stability.

In the Middle East, we have a conflict that is the granddaddy or grandma of all conflicts. It's been around for a long time: Palestine and Israel. Everybody knows what the divide is. Everybody knows what the issues are. The question is can we get over that divide. The Palestinians deserve a state. Israel deserves to be secure and know that people won't be firing rockets in it, sending their children into bunkers.

So, we know what we have to try to do, and it -- I think the United States is both blessed and challenged to be in a position to try to help move people towards this stability and peace and these opportunities, and that's what we're trying to do.

MS. BADWI: Thank you very much for that overview, Secretary of State. Now I am sure that there are people who are going to want to bite on what the Secretary of State has said and put some points to him.

QUESTION: Secretary of State, when I hear that the United States wants to talk to the Taliban. And I think we should not talk to the Taliban. It is pure nonsense.

SECRETARY KERRY: It's a good question. Did everybody hear it? It's about the United -- well, the United States wants to talk to the Taliban, and he thinks that's nonsense, that you shouldn't talk to terrorists.

Years ago, people thought that the United States shouldn't talk to China because of Mao Zedong and Communism. But Henry Kissinger and Richard Nixon thought otherwise, and today we work with China. The United Nations, China is joining us in trying to prevent Iran from having a nuclear weapon.

So you can't work things if you're not willing to explore the possibilities that people will change their view and express something different. The requirement for the Taliban to come to the table was that they agree that they will not engage in violence against other people and violence against other countries, they won't engage in terrorism, that they will not threaten the Afghanistan constitution, and so forth. So, if they meet those standards, we believe we should sit down and explore. You don't give up anything until you say, "Yes."

MS. BADWI: Secretary of State, we've also had on our social media so many questions, hundreds and hundreds of questions that people have put to you from all over the world, you know, from BBC Persia, BBC Arabic, from the Russia services.

So just picking up on that point that you just had there, one question from Afghanistan itself has said, "What has the U.S. gained in the past 10 years of military presence in Afghanistan regarding al-Qaida and Taliban? Is your mission accomplished? If so, what have you achieved?" Perhaps just stress that, because it's linked to that. Briefly.

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, it's a great question. That's a great question. We went to Afghanistan to destroy the threat of al-Qaida coming from Afghanistan and Pakistan. They attacked us and killed more than 3,000 people in an absolutely unexpected, totally motivated-by-them attack against the United States. That was Usama bin Ladin. We went to Afghanistan to hold them accountable for that act. And the answer is yes, we have achieved that mission. We have destroyed the fundamental capacity of al-Qaida. There still remains a few. There still is some threat. We are still continuing. But we have hugely reduced the ability of al-Qaida to threaten our homeland.

Now, some of them have moved to the Arabian Peninsula, to Mali, to other places. But people are taking them on there.

MS. BADWI: Okay. I want to just keep some coherence to this. Has anybody else got a point linked to this region, or terrorism, or so on? You have, in the gray jersey. Could you put that there? Yeah. Just to give it a bit of coherence, so that we stay with one topic, yeah.

QUESTION: Okay, thank you. My question is the drone strikes are killing more innocent peoples than the terrorist acts. So we are fighting terrorism with terrorism. So how long this madness continues? Thank you.

MS. BADWI: Well, I will just take a couple more, with all respect, Secretary of State.

QUESTION: My question is with regards to U.S.'s foreign policy to redeem America's reputation of addressing human rights concerns all over the world by outgoing previous administration's sole concerned for security because U.S. is usually accused of a double standard when it comes to its partners on war on terror. So what do you say about that?

MS. BADWI: Yeah, go ahead.

QUESTION: All right, thank you very much. I know that the U.S. war on terror has led to the relocation of terrorist movement in Africa, specific with respect to the case in Mali. And I would like to know. What is the U.S. going to do in order to help these countries to rebuild or build their capacity to resist against this movement?

MS. BADWI: Okay, thank you very much. Secretary of State, there, a clutch of questions relating to terror.

First of all, the question about the use of U.S. drones in countries like Yemen, Pakistan, and so on. In fact, we had a great deal on social media raising concerns: counter-productive, kill innocent people, and harden anti-U.S. sentiment.

SECRETARY KERRY: Let me be very clear with everybody here. You said that they're killing more civilians. The answer is no, they are not. First of all, there have been very few drone strikes in this last year. Why? Because we have been so successful in rooting out al-Qaida in Pakistan.

Secondly, the only people that we fire a drone at are confirmed terrorist targets at the highest level after a great deal of vetting that takes a long period of time. We don't just fire a drone at somebody and think they're a terrorist. Sometimes it takes a year to build the authority to know that we are correct. We do not fire when we know there are children or collateral— we just don't do it. We have absolutely not shot at very high-level targets that we don't -- when we see that there will be collateral damage. And I will tell you that the extremists who put bombs in those mosques and blow up 100-some people never engage in the kind of clear discretion that we have exhibited in this program.

Now, I know there is a lot of mythology about this program. That's why the President went public this week in an unprecedented effort to create a policy. And we have shifted the policy out of the intelligence community into the Defense Department, where it is totally accountable. And that's what we want, is accountability. You will never see that kind of accountability from terrorists who blow up in the streets, attack people -- so I ask you to be very careful in comparing that.

When I came in as Secretary of State, I wanted to review this program because as -- in my tenure, I wanted to make sure that I knew what the standards were, and what we were doing. And I will tell you -- and I think people know my reputation over 29 years in the Senate -- I am an advocate for candor and openness and for accountability. And I am convinced that we have one of the strictest, most accountable, and fairest programs. Our preference is to capture somebody; we much prefer to get the information and to know what we can do. But sometimes, like with Usama bin Ladin, or others, it just doesn't happen that way.

MS. BADWI: Secretary, just briefly on the helping the fight against terror in countries like Mali and so on --

SECRETARY KERRY: We are helping Mali. And we're very sensitive to this movement of terrorism. But I will say this to you. Please don't just ask, "What are you doing?" Ask, "What are you doing?" You need to help. Everybody needs to help. This is where we need to build the governance, build the capacity that has the ability to resist this. It shouldn't be the responsibility of the United States, way across the ocean, to have to come over here and say, "We have to do this." We need to build the internal capacity, and people here have to want to fight for their definition of the future of their country.

Now, we are helping in Mali. Mali will have an election. Mali has assistance from the French and from us. And we will continue to do that. But all of you are really the best antidotes to this, to speak out as young people against this violence.

MS. BADWI: Secretary of State, we had on social media from all over the world, as I said, and this issue of terror was a very, very big one. And people are saying it's not just foreign policy; you've got to look at your own domestic terror threat, as much as anything else.

SECRETARY KERRY: Absolutely. And we do. Bottom line is we know the threat comes from within, as well as without. And we are spending enormous amounts of money building our own capacity, and we are working very hard, internally. Some of it is homegrown; some of it is not. In Syria there are 2,000-plus foreign fighters, and they come from Europe, they come from -- a couple of them from America, a couple of them from Great Britain, and many of them from the Middle East, from Yemen and from other places. So we all have a part in this.

And that is why something -- I mean to come back quickly -- the Young African Leaders Initiative gives all of you an opportunity, and other fora give you an opportunity to make your voices heard and present a different alternative.

MS. BADWI: Okay, the Secretary has just raised Syria. Anybody got a question on Syria?

QUESTION: Thank you. The international community interfered in Libya, based on the grounds of responsibility to protect, and that was very swift. But now, I mean, you are not doing anything to protect the civilians in Syria.

So, the reason why I'm raising this question is more people -- I think the recent estimate is around 70,000 Syrians died since the conflict started in Syria, and you are doing nothing. But you did very fast and very quick reaction to the Libyans. So --

MS. BADWI: Okay.

QUESTION: -- we just think it's a double standard.

MS. BADWI: Okay. So there was international military intervention in Libya, but not in Syria, and it sounds like you're saying that there should be one. Yes?

QUESTION: Thank you for giving me this chance. I want to ask Mr. Secretary to -- of the State about issue of Syria. It is known the -- that there was popular uprising in Libya, and that the Europeans and American directly mobilized in order to help the Syrian opposition party and their people. As a result, Muammar Qadhafi was captured and sentenced to death. The same action broke out in Syria and the Syrian Opposition Party with the support of the people, starting fighting the oppressive government. But (inaudible) not supported, did not (inaudible) to the people, and then many people estimated around 70,000 --

MS. BADWI: Secretary of State, we had a great deal on Syria throughout our social media. Do you think that you're listening to the voice of the Syrian people and their true desires? Echoing what we've just heard, how many more lives must be lost before the United States and the UN intervenes? You acted fast in Libya. Has the U.S. verified assets, claims -- apparently, well, we've heard reports of rebels using chemical weapons in the crisis. That's putting it slightly the other way around, because most people, of course, have suggested that it's Assad's forces that have used chemical weapons.

So, picking up, I think, some of those points and those on the --

SECRETARY KERRY: Let me answer very quickly. In Libya, I thought we had to help with respect to Libya, because the leader of the country stood up and said, "We are going to go into Benghazi, and we are going to go house to house, and we are going to kill you like dogs." And I thought the international community had an obligation, knowing what was happening and going to happen, to try to make a difference. And we were able to because you had a different situation in Libya. You didn't have the kind of sectarian divide -- though you had tribal -- but not sectarian divide that you have in the more complicated situation in Iran -- in Syria, because you had Hezbollah coming from Lebanon, you have Iran involved, you have Russia sending support. It's a very much more complex and different situation from Libya.

Now, Libya, we did -- I think it was important. And we've given the Libyan people an opportunity to make a choice. They have a government. They have chosen. They had the ability to be able to have elections. They can move to the future that they want.

Now, on Syria, you have a much more complicated situation. Assad is just trying to cling to power. He was given an opportunity to bring people in and make a reform, to have an election, to let people choose. Instead, he chose to use scud missiles, artillery, airplanes with bombs. And there is some evidence raising the question of whether he has used gas against his own people. That is a war crime. That is a violation of international law, if he has done that.

MS. BADWI: And do you think he has used it? Do you think he has the famous red line that --

SECRETARY KERRY: We have evidence, but it's an intelligence community assessment. Assessments are not evidence that you're prepared to take to the world, which is why the President has said he is going to deliberately and carefully examine this case. But he has made it clear if that determination winds up in the affirmative, then he will believe that has crossed the line. And he has a number of different options of what he would then do.

The point I'm making is that Syria, because of all these other complications, we need to -- you have Israel next door, you have the question of Russians sending weapons that go to Hezbollah that threatens Syria -- that threaten Israel. So it's a much more complex equation.

But make no mistake. We are on the side of the Syrian people, and the opposition, writ large, is representative of the Syrian people. And Assad has decided that he is going to do what his father did. His father killed 20,000-plus people in Homs and held on to power. He has a very powerful secret police, a very powerful system of spying on people, arresting people, torturing people, killing people, putting them in jail. I don't think the world should stand by and allow somebody to violate matters of conscience and standards of morality the way he has.

MS. BADWI: All right --

SECRETARY KERRY: And universally, within this region. I met last night with President Morsy of Egypt. He believes Assad must go. Also there is the Turkish prime minister, Prime Minister Erdogan. I used to be a friend of his. So do all of the Gulf States and others in the community. So -- and the Europeans. So we believe that we are moving in a thoughtful, sensible way to try to get a negotiation to see if we can implement a peaceful resolution. But we will support the opposition as we go along, if that is not possible.

MS. BADWI: Okay, we have that question about supporting the opposition. In fact, again we received, through social media, "U.S. could at least arm the opposition groups, or at least help impose a no-fly zone over Syria." Turkey has signaled its readiness. Are they some of the options that are actively under consideration? We've seen that vote in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee saying, "We'd like to make the move to arming some groups in Syria."

SECRETARY KERRY: There was a vote there, and it will be considered, I'm sure, by the Senate. And that's important. Our constitutional process works better when the Congress of the United States is engaged in this kind of decision. So we welcome the Congress being ready to debate this. And the President has a lot of options on the table.

MS. BADWI: Like?

SECRETARY KERRY: I'm not going to discuss what they are.

MS. BADWI: Okay.

SECRETARY KERRY: He has a lot of options on the table. They've not been taken off. And we will have to see whether or not our work with the Russians can produce a legitimate dialogue that brings peace.

MS. BADWI: Audience now, please. Yes.

QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. Secretary. In light of the growing influence from countries like China and Brazil, do you think there should be new strategy in U.S. diplomacy helping progress and democratization in Africa and elsewhere in the developing world.

MS. BADWI: We're going to get (inaudible). Carry on, yeah.

QUESTION: Okay, thank you. I would like to ask how the economic crisis is affecting your overall foreign policy in general, especially towards Africa.

MS. BADWI: Okay. That's slightly related to the China one. Give the microphone to the lady behind you.

QUESTION: Thank you, Secretary of State. I want to know what would you like to do in your legacy for Africa, if it will be after your legacy, and what is your personal aspiration for womens in Africa.

MS. BADWI: Okay, Secretary of State, there were just quite a few there. Perhaps you can touch on the first one which was a very straightforward point, the fact that China and countries like Brazil are gaining more influence not only economically but also politically at the expense of the United States. I mean --

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, you're very perceptive. You're right. I have no argument with you. China and Brazil have frankly been investing more in Africa than we have. That has to change. President Obama is coming to Africa next month. He's looking forward to visit. I think he's going to Tanzania and Senegal and South Africa at the beginning. I'm here now. We are going to be more engaged here. We need to be. And as I said, I'm not kidding you when I say to you there's a huge future that is going to be written here and we obviously want to continue the relationship that we have.

But I'm concerned, though, that some of the involvement of some countries here is not as transparent as the United States is, and some of it can, in fact, undermine democracy depending on how it is done.

MS. BADWI: Are you talking about China?

SECRETARY KERRY: I'm talking about some countries – (laughter). And I think we need to be involved. We need to be thoughtful about how – what kind of standards are we living up to, because you don't want to lose your sovereignty or lose opportunities depending on how that happens.

MS. BADWI: Secretary of State, we had a question about your legacy for Africa, but perhaps just give us a final thought on when people look at as Secretary of State, are we going to be able to say there's such a thing as a Kerry doctrine for Africa and anywhere else?

SECRETARY KERRY: I'm not trying to declare doctrines or get into legacies. It's not my legacy. It's a question of your legacy. What's your legacy for Africa? I'm here to try to help. President Obama wants to try to help. And maybe our legacy will be what we do to try to help.

I think what we've done with PEPFAR – I was proud. I wrote that legislation. I wrote the first AIDS legislation back in the '90s with Senator Bill Frist. It was bipartisan. And that became PEPFAR, and now we've saved millions of lives and we have a generation of people that will be free from AIDS because of it. That's a legacy for everybody.

And what we need to do is continue to do these things. I hope it will be that President Obama and his Administration stepped up our efforts in Africa, that we helped to educate and provide job opportunities for young people, that we worked with young people so the next generation will feel the United States of America helped to define the future of Africa. But you are the ones who will make it happen.

MS. BADWI: All right, got to leave it there. Thank you to all those questions we got on social media and of course through our audience here at the University of Addis Ababa. And thank you indeed, Secretary of State John Kerry for coming. (Applause.)