Columns

Kerry: Obama, Trump Had 'Good Conversation' About Parts of Iran Deal That 'Should be Held Onto'

At his last ministerial in Brussels as secretary of State today, John Kerry told reporters that he’s putting faith in people like President-elect Trump’s pick for Defense secretary, retired Gen. James Mattis, to impress upon the incoming administration the importance of the NATO alliance and other policy matters.

Kerry also indicated that he thinks voices such as that of President Obama and a certain former VP are getting through to Trump and may affect his policymaking.

Kerry said NATO members “bear a huge responsibility to push back against waves of authoritarianism, extreme nationalism, and gross violations of national sovereignty and against threats to security and fundamental human rights.”

“It’s no secret that there are powerful forces of discontent swirling around the globe today to which the transatlantic community is also far from immune. These forces test our resilience, they test our purpose, they test our unity, they test our steadfastness of commitment, and the sustainability of our democratic ideals,” Kerry said. “But I make the point today and I made the point to my colleagues that the change of an administration in the United States will not change the unwavering commitment of the United States to these ideals or to our NATO obligations.”

“Let me share with you what I told my colleagues more specifically: The United States commitment to NATO and to Article 5 transcends politics. This alliance has enjoyed political support beyond political parties and beyond one branch of government or another, and across our vast land, the United States, I can tell you we remain committed to those principles.”

Kerry later admitted that nobody’s “in a position to give an absolute, 100 percent guarantee” on what the next administration would do on a host of issues “because not all of the people have been chosen who are going to implement the policy or affect the policy and influence it, and because those decisions are going to be made over a period of time around a table with a lot of debate and discussion.”

“But I am confident in the people I see thus far with respect to — I mean, somebody like General Mattis is a first-rate soldier, a great, qualified general. He understands. He’s been here, he knows this place, he understands these things,” he added. “And I am quite confident that they will remain committed to the fundamental, core components of the transatlantic alliance and America’s partnership with NATO and with the EU. I have no doubt about that.”

Mattis previously served as NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander Transformation at the time he led United States Joint Forces Command. He was commander of United States Central Command before his 2013 retirement.

“Now, whether there’s a twist about pressure on funding or how they begin to engage, that’s going to be their choice and I’m not going to second-guess it now in a blank. I mean, the list for people to replace me is growing, not diminishing,” he noted. “So I can’t begin to guess and I’m not going to try to guess. So let’s see where we are, but I believe in the end common sense will prevail.”

Kerry said that’s already being reflected in discussions among GOPs about scaling down the previously promised border wall as well as Trump meeting with former Vice President Al Gore this week to talk climate change.

“I believe as information is gathered, that thoughtful, fact-based decisions have the ability to be made, and I’m going to believe in that — hopefully that’s what’s happened until I see otherwise,” he said.

Kerry added that Obama and Trump “had a good conversation” Monday about the Iran nuclear agreement and “there was a sense in that conversation, without violating any of it, that there were aspects of it that are constructive and positive and worthwhile and maybe should be held onto.”

“It’s human and I understand the anxiety, but let’s not get all churned up over things that haven’t happened and appointments that haven’t been made. My hope is that facts and science and common sense and our mutual interests are going to be well thought through and measured in ways that will produce good decisions for the interests not just of our country, but of our alliance, of our partnerships, of our friendships, of our allies, and I’m going to continue to believe that that will happen,” he said. “But I think that there is every indication that there’s an openness, at least at this point in time.”

The Trump transition team didn’t provide information on the call with Obama, but they have confirmed that Obama and Trump regularly speak.

The secretary of State said that, when he becomes a private citizen, he won’t “shy away” from engagement “on those things that I think matter enormously.”