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

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Now, the private sector, civil society, religious organizations will also be called on to help integrate refugees into host communities socially, academically, and through access to employment. And I know we know how to do this in a way that protects the security of our countries.

Across the globe, my friends – you don’t hear about it every day. You don’t read about it every day. But every day, I can tell you our diplomats – myself and others – are deeply involved in trying to bring peace, together with regional organizations, and trying to do so in troubled lands.

We’re working with countries to help stand up a government in Libya. Just before Christmas, we held a ministerial in Rome. We brought Libyans there. They agreed to sign the makings of a new government. And now we are working together to try to find a way to stand it up in Tripoli and bring people together and begin to move forward and take on Daesh in Libya.

We’re trying to end the war in Colombia. I appointed a special envoy to the task, and we are welcoming President Santos to Washington in two weeks to celebrate 15 years of our relationship under Plan Colombia, and we are working to help end the fight with FARC that is one of the longest-running conflicts on the planet.

We’re working to encourage a thawing of relations between India and Pakistan. It wasn’t an accident that Prime Minister Modi and Prime Minister Sharif began discussions. And earlier this week here at Davos, Vice President Biden and I met with Ukrainian President Poroshenko to help ensure full implementation of the Minsk agreements. And I believe that with effort and with bona fide, legitimate intent to solve the problem on both sides, it is possible in these next months to find those Minsk agreements implemented and to get to a place where sanctions can be appropriately, because of the full implementation, removed.

  • Under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, every single one of Iran’s pathways to a bomb is blocked – its uranium pathway, its plutonium pathway, its covert pathway – blocked

Even in lands at peace, my friends, reconciliation is still an imperative, and we are working at it. That is why we’re supporting the best chance in decades to achieve a settlement in Cyprus. I was there recently; met with both leaders, had dinner with both of them together. Others are engaged in trying to encourage this process.

We are able to welcome something that we’ve encouraged and supported for a long time in addition to that – a resolution between Japan and South Korea to end the sensitivity of the legacy of World War II.

So ladies and gentlemen, the world is not witnessing global gridlock. We are not frozen in a nightmare that we can’t wake up from. The facts and the lessons are clear: If we stay at it, if we stay serious, if we’re willing to work in good faith to resolve problems, not create them, then we can make progress. And what I find really exciting about this moment is that we are staring at extraordinary opportunities everywhere we look in the world, if we make the right choices. Like our boldest predecessors who overcame depression, fascism, global wars, we can turn this story into the story that we want if we show that we have the same fierce determination to succeed.

And succeeding will require that we tell the truth and take on and stand up to and try to resolve three interrelated challenges, not in order of priority – but first, the demand for good governance; second, the critical need to provide young people around the world growing at an extraordinary pace to provide them with the economic and social opportunity that they deserve and want; and third, to win the campaign against the great exploiters and liars and criminals who literally steal a great religion, to win the campaign against violent extremism.

So start for a moment – and I’ll run through them quickly – with the challenge of governance.

  • Last year, travel btw Cuba and United States citizens to deepen the ties between our people increased by more than 50 percent over the previous year and the Government of Cuba signed its first cellular telephone roaming agreement with a United States company that will help Cubans connect to the world and access information

  • At this time last year experts were predicting that the Ebola virus was going to kill a million people or more by Christmas of last year. Again, President Obama led an effort at the United Nations to bring people together. And together with partners around the world – France, Great Britain particularly, but China, Japan, others all joined in – we built a broad coalition of actors to educate the public, isolate the stricken, and stop the spread of the virus – spelling the difference between life and death for hundreds of thousands of people.

We have to acknowledge in all quarters of leadership that the plagues of violent extremism, greed, lust for power, sectarian exploitation often find their nourishment where governments are fragile and leaders are incompetent or dishonest. And that is why the quality of governance is no longer just a domestic concern. And I say to all of you who are businesspeople who engage in the politics of one country or another and support people in them, you need to demand accountability from those potential leaders or existing leaders. In Ukraine, under the previous regime, official venality and greed triggered an international crisis.

In Syria, Assad was unwilling to respond to the legitimate concerns of young people who came out in the streets to demonstrate for opportunity, for jobs, for education. And when their parents were upset that they had been met with thugs, the parents went out and demonstrated on behalf of their kids and they were met with guns and bullets. Assad turned on his own people with a brutality delivered the largest humanitarian disaster of our times, literally employing the long-forbidden weapon of mass destruction – gas – outlawed in World War I, employing it against his own people. In Libya and Yemen, the absence of effective governance fueled regional strife. In Burundi, disrespect for the constitution has spawned an outbreak of violence. In far too many countries, just plain rank corruption has generated such powerful headwinds that local economies have to expend all of their energy just to tread water.

Now, obviously, corruption’s not a new problem. Every nation has faced it at one time or another in its development. America’s own Founding Fathers knew the threat of corruption all too well, warning of the dangers that it posed to democratic governance. But today, corruption has grown at an alarming pace and threatens global growth, global stability, and indeed the global future.

And when Prime Minister Abadi, who I met with yesterday – and we talked about the reform effort in Iraq – when he took office in Iraq over a year ago, he found the government payroll weighted down with 50,000 soldiers who didn’t even exist. That meant $380 million of dishonest public officials that got that money instead of it going to build the kind of inclusive and capable security forces that Iraq desperately needed.

When Nigeria’s President Buhari took office last spring, he inherited a military that was under-paid, underfed, and unable to protect the Nigerian people from Boko Haram. And one reason is that much of the military budget was finding its way into the pockets of the generals. And just this week, we saw reports that more than 50 people in Nigeria, including former government officials, stole $9 billion from the treasury.

Still in the United States, my friends, we continue to prosecute corruption and we live with a pay-to-play campaign finance system that should not be wished on any other country in the world. I used to be a prosecutor and I know how hard it is to hold people in positions of public responsibility accountable. But I also know how important it is.

The fact is there is nothing – absolutely nothing more demoralizing, more destructive, more disempowering to any citizen than the belief that the system is rigged against them and that people in positions of power are – to use a diplomatic term of art– crooks who are stealing the future of their own people; and by the way, depositing their ill-gotten gains in ostensibly legitimate financial institutions around the world.

Corruption is a social danger because it feeds organized crime, it destroys nation-states, it imperils opportunities particularly for women and girls, it facilitates environmental degradation, contributes to human trafficking, and undermines whole communities. It destroys the future.

Corruption is a radicalizer because it destroys faith in legitimate authority. It opens up a vacuum which allows the predators to move in. And no one knows that better than the violent extremist groups, who regularly use corruption as a recruitment tool.

Corruption is an opportunity destroyer because it discourages honest and accountable investment; it makes businesses more expensive to operate; it drives up the cost of public services for local taxpayers; and it turns a nation’s entire budget into a feeding trough for the privileged few.

And that is why it is imperative that the business community of the world starts to demand a different standard of behavior, that we deepen the fight against corruption, making it a first-order, national security priority.

It’s why we are now providing technical assistance to more than 25 countries to build online business registration sites, which helps to reduce red tape and opportunities for graft – for the bribery necessary to get the permit, to get the local zoning, to get the land, to get the go-ahead. It’s why we’re expanding our law enforcement programs that send judges overseas to share best practices. And it’s why the U.S. Department of Justice has successfully returned $143 million since 2004 and is litigating now more than a billion dollars’ worth of stolen assets.

It’s why we are working with businesses to spur reform and civil society groups whose investigative work on the ground is vital to strong law enforcement and justice. And it’s why we are developing stronger intelligence on kleptocrats and their networks on those who were using targeted economic sanctions and visa restrictions to deny bad actors the profits from graft.

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