Secretary of State John Kerry Talks Foreign Policy at Event

UPDATED: October 14, 2015, at 2:34 a.m.

Secretary of State John F. Kerry spoke on a vast array of foreign policy issues at a discussion sponsored by the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs on Tuesday night.

In a packed ballroom at the Charles Hotel hosting hundreds of attendees, the event was moderated by Harvard Kennedy School professor Graham T. Allison, director of the Belfer Center. {shortcode-51c26f6ac79a6af188ebb42a4ba9bf2912b45239}

The wide-ranging discussion featured Kerry reflecting on topics like the recent nuclear deal with Iran and prospects for environmental cooperation with China. Throughout the event, however, Kerry emphasized that the U.S. increasingly finds itself in a complex and interconnected world to which it has to react.

“I can’t think of a time where the United States of America has been leading in as many places simultaneously, engaged in as many life and death challenges around the world,” Kerry said.


Speaking about U.S. involvement in the Middle East, Kerry said that he refuses to give up on finding a solution to the conflict and strongly condemned the notion that Americans can be isolated from or unconcerned about the developments in the area. He specifically pointed to the conflict in Syria and the activity of radical militant group ISIS as having broad-reaching effects. {shortcode-0bd7e13dfa5614107b120d46d9a8e4ea1fccd958}

“For all of you who sit in the United States and say, ‘Well I don’t need to worry about that, it doesn’t affect me,’ you’re wrong,” Kerry said. “Because if it does explode, we will inherit that. We may need to send young Americans, men and women, to the region as a consequence for not having done things to solve it otherwise.”

Speaking on the recent spate of violence in the Israeli-Palestinian area, Kerry expressed concern that the ultimate American goal of achieving a two-state solution is facing more challenges.

“What’s happening is that, unless we get going, a two-state solution will conceivably be out of the question. There’s been a massive increase in settlements over the course of the past years, and now you have this violence, and there’s this frustration that’s going,” Kerry said. “What always perplexes me is that we’ve been through countless negotiations, and most people have a very good sense of what has to be done, but it’s a question of having the courage and making the judgments to go there.”

Overall, Kerry said the biggest, long-term challenge for the U.S. is religious extremism and its influence on young people particularly in countries with fragile and corrupt governance, such as several countries in the Middle East and North Africa.

“The problem of religious, radical extremism is the challenge of our generation, and we’re going to need to do a lot more to help countries help themselves,” Kerry said. “If we don’t do a better job of taking our values and our interests and marrying them and engaging with the rest of the world to give greater capacity to international multilateral efforts, it’s going to come back to haunt people."

—Staff writer Michael S. Avi-Yonah can be reached at