2015-09-23 06:00:00

Exclusive: Kerry speaks with Vatican Radio on Pope’s US trip

(Vatican Radio) In an exclusive interview with Vatican Radio on the occasion of Pope Francis’ visit to the United States, Secretary of State John Kerry touched on relations with Cuba, the migration crisis, poverty, and the environment.

“I am deeply pleased by the overlap of U.S. foreign policy priorities on many issues and the good work of the Holy See,” Kerry said.

Listen to Christopher Wells' report:

During the interview, which was exchanged via email with Vatican Radio’s Paolo Mastrolilli, the Secretary of State lauded the Pope’s role in renewing ties between the US and Cuba.

Kerry also addressed the crises in the Middle East which have led to the flooding of refugees into Europe. He noted the “ongoing cooperation and dialogue” with the Holy See and other nations in helping those affected, and in bringing an end to the conflict Syria which has contributed to the migrant crisis.

Also discussed was the collaboration between the Holy See and the US in responding to the Pope’s appeal to “put the economy at the service of peoples.”

Finally, with the Holy Father having recently published his encyclical on the environment, Laudato Sì, the Secretary of State spoke on the importance of global participation in the upcoming UN climate summit to be held in Paris.

Pope Francis arrived Tuesday afternoon in Washington, DC, beginning his first visit to the US as Pope. Over the course of his 22-28 Sept to the country, he is scheduled to visit the White House, the US Congress, and the United Nations in New York City and lead the culminating celebrations of the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia.


Please see below for the full transcript of Vatican Radio’s interview with US Secretary of State, John Kerry:

Q:  The United States and the Holy See have been working together with success on several issues of common interest, from Cuba to the Middle East. Why is the visit by Pope Francis important, do you see now the possibility to lift the embargo against Cuba, and what are the next peace initiatives the United States and the Holy See could work on together in the future?

Kerry: I am deeply pleased by the overlap of U.S. foreign policy priorities on many issues and the good work of the Holy See.

I am grateful for His Holiness’ role in our renewed ties with Cuba.  He was instrumental in encouraging talks that led to the U.S.-Cuba rapprochement, and we will continue to seek his support as we proceed with our bilateral relationship.

We will continue to cooperate with the Holy See to address this and future refugee crises, the instability prompted by climate change, and areas such as interreligious dialogue, spurring development, promoting human rights, and preventing trafficking in persons.

Q:  In the Mediterranean Sea there is a migration crisis going on, you just spoke about it in Congress. Do you think Europe and the United States should do more to accept refugees?

We greatly regret the tragic loss of life in the Mediterranean.  The practice by smugglers and traffickers of packing vulnerable people onto dangerous boats is deplorable.

This is an area of ongoing cooperation and dialogue between the United States, the Holy See, and others in the region.  Migration and immigration lie at the heart of our shared priorities of human rights and collective well-being of the world’s most vulnerable and marginalized populations.

The migration crisis in Europe is going to require cooperation with all the countries of European along with the rest of the international community in order to ensure that people are safe; that they are treated with shared humanity; and that we ultimately have to deal with the source of the problem, which is the ongoing crisis in Syria.

We understand the huge challenges that European states are facing and welcome continuing efforts to seek a comprehensive, coordinated response.  Any approach to the crisis should focus on saving and protecting lives, ensuring the human rights of all migrants and refugees are respected, and promoting orderly and humane migration policies.

The United States has provided over $4.1 billion in humanitarian assistance since the start of the Syrian crisis – more than any other single donor – to help address dire humanitarian conditions faced by 7.6 million displaced people inside Syria and over 4 million Syrian refugees in the region, particularly in Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan, Iraq, and Egypt.

We have also set up a working group to coordinate the State Department’s responses to the European migration and refugee crisis, and to make sure we are prepared for any future similar crises in other parts of the world.

By increasing support to humanitarian assistance and protection efforts in Syria and neighboring countries, fewer refugees will decide to move on and they will be able to return home more easily when the conflict ends.

The United States has decided to increase significantly the number of Syrian refugees the United States will accept next year.  We expect to admit at least 10,000 Syrian refugees next year.

Admitting more Syrian refugees to the United States is only part of the solution, but I believe this policy decision is consistent with our moral responsibility to do more.

Q:  Many refugees are coming from Syria. Can the current strategy of air strikes and training the opposition achieve the goals of defeating ISIS, and giving Syria a better government, without risking a military confrontation with Russia that is sending military help to Asad?

The war in Syria is a security and humanitarian crisis.

We work closely with Coalition of over 60 partners to achieve our common objectives of degrading and ultimately defeating ISIL and ending the underlying conflict through a political transition in Syria away from President Assad.

The brutality of the Assad regime – which Russia supports – has fed the growth of extremism. This is contrary to Russia's own stated goal for more international action against ISIL.

I expressed to Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov U.S. concerns about Russian military support for the Assad regime.  These actions could further escalate the conflict, lead to greater loss of innocent life, increase refugee flows, and risk confrontation with the counter-ISIL Coalition operating in Syria.

But it is also important that we talk to the Russians to try to avoid misunderstandings and deconflict the actions of our forces.

Q:  Poverty and economic inequality are an increasing problem worldwide. How can the United States and the Holy See work together to "put the economy at the service of peoples," as Pope Francis said recently?

Many around the world are inspired by His Holiness’ focus on helping the marginalized and disadvantaged.  The United States and the Holy See share the conviction that all people have equal dignity and worth, and that we must strive to help each person reach his or her full potential in life.

As a part of President Obama’s Policy Directive on Global Development, we are developing new and strengthening existing diverse partnerships – including among religiously-affiliated organizations and institutions -- and thinking innovatively about how to address common interest in achieving inclusive economic growth and address common challenges such as threats to global security, prosperity, and environmental sustainability.

We are encouraged by the successes seen under the Millennium Development Goals, including a dramatic drop in the share of the world’s people living in extreme poverty.

We are equally encouraged by the successful conclusion of negotiations on an ambitious, inclusive Post-2015 Development Agenda, which marks a pivotal moment of international consensus on a common vision of a better world that provides opportunities for the most vulnerable and puts our planet on a sustainable path.

In the coming week, we look forward to participating in the United Nations Summit for the adoption of the Post-2015 Development Agenda and setting the course for sustained development progress for people around the globe for decades to come.

Q:  The Encyclical Letter Laudato Si’ of the Holy Father addresses the care of our common home. The United Nations Climate Change Conference will be held in Paris at the end of the year, however French President Hollandewarned that the talks could fail, especially if the issue of financing for emerging nations is not resolved. What is still missing in order to achieve a global agreement on climate change in Paris?

Reaching an ambitious, durable agreement at the UN climate conference in Paris would be a historic step forward in the fight against climate change.  A fair agreement – one that that applies to all countries, focuses both on reducing greenhouse gas emissions and building resilience, includes strong accountability measures, and ensures ongoing financial and technical assistance to those in need – is within our reach.  And concluding such an agreement would send a clear and necessary signal to markets and civil society that the nations of the world are tackling climate change and that there is no going back.

The global community needs to seize this opportunity.  We have the chance to truly embark on a path toward a low-carbon, sustainable, global economy – and if we miss that chance, the consequences will extend to every nation on Earth.

The good news is we know what a final agreement will need to look like.  To start, it will need to reduce emissions as effectively as possible.  The first step is for countries to come forward with strong, timely national targets.  And the agreement will also need to include solid accountability measures so everyone can see how countries are doing in implementing their targets.

Additionally, we need to elevate the importance of adaptation. Countries need to do sound adaptation planning and to implement those plans in order to build resilience to the impacts of climate change.

Moreover, the agreement needs to be fair to all and relevant to a dynamic and evolving world.

Lastly, the outcome needs to ensure strong, ongoing financial assistance, especially aimed at supporting the adaptation efforts of the most vulnerable, like small islands and African states, building on the robust measures taken in recent years.

Obviously, no one thinks achieving an agreement in Paris will be easy, but if we are smart – and if each of our nations is committed to not just repeating our respective positions, but to actually finding common ground and to respecting the concerns and imperatives of others – I have no doubt that we can get there.

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