WASHINGTON – Secretary of State Kerry hashed out the administration’s foreign policy priorities of its final year to an auditorium full of military officers Wednesday at the National Defense University at Fort McNair.
Kerry announced the release of 10 U.S. sailors early Wednesday. Their detention by Iran sparked a political firestorm shortly before the president’s State of the Union address Tuesday night.
Two U.S. Navy vessels were detained late Tuesday after crossing Iranian territorial waters. Iran’s Revolutionary Guard issued a statement saying the American sailors were released after investigations showed the ships entering Iranian territory was not a purposeful act.
“I want to underscore how pleased I am that our sailors were safely returned into United States hands this morning,” Kerry said as he thanked the Iranian authorities for their cooperation and quick response in resolving the situation.
“I think we can all imagine how a similar situation might have played out three or four years ago,” Kerry said. “It is clear that today this kind of issue was able to be peacefully resolved, and officially resolved.”
Kerry went to the school that provides masters’ degrees to members of all the military services to talk about the administration’s foreign policy achievements and goals. He spoke to an audience of just over 700 military officials.
“In this extraordinarily complicated time, the demand for United States leadership … particularly from what the president appropriately called the most powerful nation in the world, is as high as it’s ever been,” Kerry said.
Kerry outlined the administration’s key focus areas for 2016, after what he called “a year of turbulence and tragedy.”
“A top priority is the conflict in Syria,” Kerry said, “with the refugee crisis it has spawned, and the violent extremism to which it has contributed.”
Kerry detailed recent progress with mobilizing a 65-nation coalition, which has been activated for only a little over a year.
“We knew success was not going to be measured in a matter of weeks and months. It would be measured in years, as it was with al-Qaida,” Kerry said. “But in the end, mark my words … Daesh will be defeated.”
Daesh is the Arabic acronym for the Islamic State group.
Kerry said the U.S. provided a record $4.5 billion in humanitarian aid to displaced refugees in Syria and Iraq as a response to the Islamic State group. The administration also did more to strengthen the defense capabilities of nearby ally nations.
Kerry touted the accomplishments of the past two years, including the nuclear agreement with Iran.
“I can assure you, we will continue to monitor implementation of this agreement closely,” Kerry said. “Yes, existential challenges are at stake here. We will ensure that the specter of a nuclear armed Iran is removed as a threat to the Middle East security and global peace.”
Also on the list of Kerry’s accomplishments in the past 12 months was climate change, including the plan devised at the Paris Climate Summit.
“The agreement sends an unmistakable message to governments and the private sector alike,” Kerry said. “That’s the power of this agreement.”
As the Obama administration moves into its final 372 days, Kerry offered a reminder that the U.S. doesn’t have the luxury of slowing down.
“The rest of the world does not pause for the United States election cycle,” Kerry said.
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