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Davos 2016: John Kerry, Remarks at the World Economic Forum

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Remarks
John Kerry
Secretary of State
Davos, Switzerland
January 22, 2016

SECRETARY KERRY: Klaus, thank you very, very much. Hello, everybody. Good morning to you. Klaus, first of all, thank you for your very warm, generous introduction. I especially want to thank you for your superb leadership of the World Economic Forum for many years. As you’ve said, it’s been my honor to come here.

This may have been the hardest trip of all. I was looking up at the mountain, fresh snow, and I saw those beautiful powder tracks carved up there, and I could – none of them were done by me. (Laughter.) I felt – I feel somewhat deprived.

And a moment ago I had the luxury in the room out there of meeting your panelists for the last session, those of you who were here for it. I was very gratified to meet the grand mufti and the ayatollah. We had a great conversation for a few minutes, one that I want to follow up on. And I think that, for sure, we need more and more conversations like that. More and more people need to see that the Sunni-Shia divide is being exploited and Islam itself is being hijacked. So a great privilege to talk with both of those courageous spokespeople for the true Islam and for reconciliation and peace.

I want to tell you that it is genuinely good to be back in Davos. I’ve been here a long time. I’ll just share a really quick personal story. I came here – my dad was in the Foreign Service, and he was serving in Berlin shortly after the war. And he was a legal adviser to the high commissioner of Germany, and I was at school, and he dragged me here at age 11 and took me up – I’d never been on skis, and he took me up to do the Parsenn on day one. And I want you to know I went down the entire mountain on my rear end. But it was a hell of a lot of fun.

Folks, we have so much on our minds as we come here today. So I’m going to jump right in. I’m going to ask all of you to think back to the most indelible images of last year – the body of a tiny boy lying face-down in the sand, masked figures wielding knives over kneeling prisoners in orange jumpsuits, a teenager clinging desperately to the outside of a packed bus, urban neighborhoods reduced by war to cinders and rubble, the Jordanian pilot burned alive in a cage.

➢ Between 1990 and 2015, the rate of child mortality fell by over one-half. Life expectancy and the number of boys and girls attending primary school in developing countries has increased dramatically.
➢ In 2001 there were less than a million kids going to school in Afghanistan, and all of them were boys. Today there are almost 8 million kids going to school, and about 40 to 45 percent of them are girls – change.

I can’t think of a time in my life – and I grew up in the shadow of World War II – where I have seen so much atrocity, live, thrown at us so relentlessly. Headlines bear grim stories of savage terrorist crimes, populations racked by sectarian violence, social media marred by eruptions of hate, and millions of refugees risking everything to cross dangerous waters to reach freedom, to reach for a better life.

Now, engaged as we are in some parts of the world in a daily struggle with terror and conflict, with people who want to blow themselves up, people who care not about life here today but about something they’ve been told about the future, people who kill innocent people simply to destroy, shock.

So living as we do with those images, it’s understandable that some people wonder whether we are now trapped in some irreversible decline, whether we are, in fact, forced to accept a new normal – a new normal that is far less than any of us anticipate or want. And certainly if this were true, let me tell you, the best-intentioned efforts of any secretary of state or foreign minister or president or prime minister would all be lost in vain. We could just spend our time rearranging the deck chairs all we want in our global Titanic, which still would go down.

But I do not believe that this is where we find ourselves. We are not living a new normal, and we don’t have to. We are not the prisoners of a pre-determined future. To me, the frustrations that we feel are definitely not the sign of a weakness. In fact, I believe that our commitment to address the challenges that we face is in fact the most reassuring strength. People don’t fly to Davos to celebrate the status quo; none of you are here for that. You’ve come here to change the world for the better and to define the future.

Now, obviously that is not to say that we don’t face real and immediate challenges. Of course we do. When has any generation not been tested? This moment is particularly defined by narrow tribalism, by aggressive nationalism, and even by medieval thinking that reminds us of a distant and bloody past. And we feel the anguish of the displaced and the international homeless. And from all of this and more, I believe that everyone here – and I’ve felt this just in the two days I’ve been here, the conversations I’ve had; that’s what Davos provides, an opportunity to really put your fingers on the pulse of the world, and that pulse tells me that everyone here senses a call to action, and, in fact, welcomes our shared duty to respond.

But I don’t believe that the road ahead should be defined by the Cassandras, who see only turmoil and challenge. Frankly, they are missing much of the positive change occurring in the world. I know media automatically, because of the competition of the media and the 24/7 nature of the media, finds a self-selecting audience to a certain degree and does it by exploiting some of the worst of what we see. Good stories just don’t sell as bad as the conflict.

But the fact is change is occurring in our world for the better, and it is occurring faster, moving faster than perhaps ever before. Between 1990 and 2015, the rate of child mortality fell by over one-half. Life expectancy and the number of boys and girls attending primary school in developing countries has increased dramatically.

In 2001 there were less than a million kids going to school in Afghanistan, and all of them were boys. Today there are almost 8 million kids going to school, and about 40 to 45 percent of them are girls – change.

More than two-and-a-half billion people have gained access to clean water in the last years, and the number of people living in extreme poverty has declined by more than one-half.

Success stories like these are really just the tip of the iceberg. Measure it. It wasn’t so long ago that we saw a rapidly growing nuclear program that Klaus referred to in which Iran was only months away from having enough weapons-grade uranium to build 10 to 12 bombs. We were on the cusp of confrontation – believe me. I can’t tell you how many leaders, when I traveled through certain areas, said, “You have to bomb it. That’s the way you will solve this problem.”

Now, because of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action whose implementation we formally certified this past weekend, Iran’s path to building a bomb has been closed off, and an additional source of danger in the Middle East has been removed.

Believe me, President Obama understood that he would be criticized by some for reaching out to Iran. But he also knew that we were on a collision course, and Iran itself was on a collision course with the international community that in all likelihood, without diplomacy, would have ended in war.

Two years ago, when our formal negotiations began, Iran’s nuclear activities had already grown from a few hundred centrifuges in the years 2000 to more than 19,000. Iran was ready to commission – almost, months away from commissioning – a heavy water reactor that was able to produce enough weapons-grade plutonium for a bomb or two a year. And Iran already had a large and rapidly growing stockpile of enriched uranium. Experts told us that Iran could, if it chose to, obtain all of the fissile material that it would need for a nuclear weapon in as little as two months.

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