Remarks by Secretary of State John Kerry And German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier (March 11)

SECRETARY KERRY:  Well, good evening, everybody.  It’s a distinct pleasure for me to welcome someone who’s become a really good friend in the course of our diplomatic travels, Frank-Walter Steinmeier of Germany, a man who may spend as many hours as I do in the air, moving around.

We saw each other, literally, just about a week ago in Paris, where we met with our British counterpart, the British foreign secretary, and Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius of France.  And there we had a long discussion about a number of issues, most importantly about the Iran negotiations.  As everybody knows, this is a P5+1 negotiating process.  Our critical partners in this effort are every member – Russia, China, Germany, France, Great Britain – and we are united in our position, all of us, that it is critical to be able to have accountability and certainty with respect to the peaceful nature of Iran’s nuclear program.

We spoke at length in Paris about the areas where we are still witnessing gaps, and we hope very much that over the course of the next days, we can close those gaps.  But Germany has been an indispensable partner in this process.  The German scientists, German nuclear experts have spent significant time analyzing proposals, helping us to understand options, and have really contributed significantly to our ability to be at a critical moment in these negotiations.  And I think we would agree, both of us, that now it is inherent in – it’s really important that Iran make fundamental choices, as we are making fundamental choices, in order to try to prove to the world as effectively as possible that there will be no path to a nuclear weapon and that the world can be certain of the activities that Iran is engaged in.

In many ways – I don’t know if you’ve seen – there’ve been some articles recently that have been written about the indispensable role that Germany is playing in many different areas, and I want to second that.  I agree.  Germany is Europe’s chief facilitating officer, to quote one of those articles, and German-French leadership has been essential with respect to the effort to try to create a Minsk agreement that has meaning.  I personally admire and respect the efforts that Chancellor Merkel made together with President Hollande to take a risk for peace, to take a risk to go to Minsk when nobody knew with certainty what the outcome would be, and to make their best effort to give some diplomatic energy to the effort to bring about peace.

We all have still some outstanding questions regarding that process – all of us, including Germany.  We all insist that the withdrawal of heavy weapons needs to take place on both parts, and we all insist that it is critical that Russia cease its support for violations of the integrity of Ukraine and its sovereignty.  And it is vital to the ability to be able to guarantee a Europe that is whole and peaceful and free to be able to make certain that this Minsk agreement is, in fact, implemented.

Just today, Frank, we announced an additional round of sanctions with respect to Ukraine on a number of different individuals, on a number of entities, bank, and also on some Yanukovych associates.  And so we are all anxious to get to a day when this is de-escalated and when we can see a different prospect for minimizing the possibilities of confrontation.

Finally, let me just say that Germany’s leadership and partnership with respect to Afghanistan has also been critical.  As we look at the issue of continued engagement with President Ghani and Afghanistan and the efforts to try to sustain the troop training program that is taking place, Germany is also playing a key role in that.  So it is with pleasure that I welcome my counterpart from Germany here.  I look forward to reciprocating.  We spent a wonderful evening in Berlin, where we had an opportunity to talk into the late hours.  I’m afraid it’s already late for our traveling friends – (laughter) – so we’ll have to arrange a different scenario here, but it’s really a pleasure to have you here, Frank.  Thank you.

FOREIGN MINISTER STEINMEIER:  (Via interpreter.)  Thank you, John, for inviting me to Washington.  Thank you very much indeed for the time that you are devoting to me at the end of a very long day that you’ve already put behind yourself.  I remember our last and latest meeting.  We met only at the end of last week in Paris, and I think in the days preceding that weekend, we met at least every week, if not even more often than that, be it in Berlin, Munich, Vienna, Geneva, Brussels, London, or in many other places on this earth.  It’s simply necessary in times like these, where we are confronting with a great number of different crises and have to tackle these crises.

But let me also be very clear I have very fond memories of your last visit to Berlin, because we not only had a political exchange, it was also a visit that came about because we celebrated a particular anniversary: the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.  And we talked to those people who put their lives at risk in order to bring down the Wall or to climb over the Wall at the time where it was still standing in order to get into the western part of Berlin, and many of them gave their lives in that attempt.  We spoke with young people during your visit who haven’t had any experience of the Wall because they were born after the Wall came down.  And for me, too, that was a very moving experience, a moving day, the day where you came to Berlin to celebrate with us.

That is a day that reminded us of the great values that both our countries stand up for and for which we are willing to stand up and fight for.  I’ve back – I’ve been back in office for roughly a year now, and I’m in a position to look back to, let pass and review the many crises that we’re confronted with, be it Libya or Syria; be it Iraq or African countries, African conflicts.  Afghanistan – our job is not quite done yet there.  A new mission has begun.  All of that illustrates that we need to be in close touch, need to exchange views and coordinate actions, need to talk to each other – not only on occasions like your visit to Berlin or my visit today here in Washington.  We’re in regular contact, in touch, be it on the phone or be it directly, trying to coordinate our actions and the next steps.

That is a good thing, and we will keep up that practice, especially with an eye to the two major conflicts in which both our countries are engaged, trying to develop solutions – Ukraine, that is; Iraq, on the other hand – Iran, on the other hand.  The negotiations that took place in Minsk on the 12th of February – this Minsk package, as we call it – and I made that point more than once – may not be perfect, but it may – it is probably the only, perhaps even the last possibility, given the process of escalation, to reduce the level of violence, to initiate a process of de-escalation, and to make sure that the number of casualties we’ve seen on a daily basis is being brought down.

Today, we’re at a point where it’s far too early to pat our shoulders and take pride in what we have achieved.  Both of us are far from being happy or satisfied with what we have been able to achieve so far.  We have to keep up the pressure on the conflict parties.  On the way to Washington, I once again used the opportunity to talk to Sergei Lavrov on the phone in order to make it very clear that wherever the ceasefire is violated, both sides have to try to make sure that the daily violations of the ceasefire come to an end, so as to allow us to enter another stage in the process of implementing the Minsk agreements.  To begin that is to prepare the ground for a political settlement.  First steps have been taken, but much still needs to be done, especially with an eye to the urgently-required economic stabilization of the country.  The country is under enormous pressure.  The decisions of the IMF can serve as a first step of providing help and assistance here.

Now, as far as Iran is concerned – and John Kerry made the point earlier – we used the opportunity last week in Paris to talk to our European partners, France and Great Britain, and to harmonize a common approach which hopefully will take us into the final round of negotiations in the search for a solution.  For more than a decade, that conflict has been with us.  I have been involved with – in this process in different positions, in different functions – as the foreign minister during my first stint; now again.  Thus, I may be permitted to say that for the very first time in those 10 years, I’m under the impression that negotiations in the last year have been of a serious nature.  Progress has been visible.  But again, both of us are convinced that not all impediments have been cleared away, and thus everyone is called upon to continue to – Iran is called upon to continue to negotiate in a spirit – in a serious spirit.  And we ask and urge Iran to show and express its readiness to enter into a compromise.

This is not a choice between a good or a bad deal.  It’s very clear what we want to see.  We want to be very clear in that what we want to see is that it is made impossible for Iran to acquire a nuclear bomb.  It has to be made clear – unequivocally clear.  It has to be something that can be reviewed, and we want to see that achieved on a long-term basis.  Thank you very much.

SECRETARY KERRY:  I also forgot to mention that we are providing some $75 million to Ukraine immediately in nonlethal military assistance, including vehicles, MRAPs[1], and so forth.  And I’m sure one of the things we’ll discuss tonight is what further assistance might or might not be necessary going forward.  So also, vielen dank.