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Kerry Jokes at Davos: Trump Presidency May Last Only Year or Two

Secretary of State John Kerry

January 19, 2017

Secretary of State John Kerry, in one of his final public appearances before stepping down, jokingly suggested Tuesday that the Trump administration may only last a year or two.

Some of his audience at the World Economic Forum in Davos – which this year has many attendees absorbed with the looming inauguration of President-elect Donald Trump – appeared to enjoy the comment, laughing and clapping.

Referring to the prospect that the Trump administration may walk away from the Iran nuclear deal, Kerry said that doing so would harm American credibility, “and it will hurt for the endurance of a year, two years, whatever, while the administration is there.”

As audience members began to laugh, Kerry smiled.

Event moderator, Tom Friedman of the New York Times, then joshed that members of the audience “have dirty minds.”

Kerry in turn joked, “I told you I was going to be active [after leaving the State Department]. I didn’t say how active.”

(Earlier Kerry had said that after he steps down on Friday, “given the issues that are on the table and the challenges we face globally, I intend to be extremely active and involved and continue to press in the same direction that we’ve been pressing in.”)

The comments on the Iran nuclear deal came after Friedman told Kerry that he and many others at Davos were deeply concerned that important U.S. policies and achievements may be overturned within days.

“There are a lot of people here, Mr. Secretary – myself included – who are walking around with a pit in their stomach, a fear that so many of the things you just articulated and achieved could be reversed in a week,” Friedman said.

Kerry replied that he thought that unlikely. “I don’t believe they will be. I just don’t believe that,” he said.

Citing the Iran agreement, Kerry said that were the U.S. to declare that it would not pursue it, its negotiating partners in the P5+1 group – the U.S., Britain, France, Russia, China and Germany – would press on, undeterred.

“If the United States were to decide suddenly and say, ‘hey, we’re not going to pursue this’ and so forth, I’ll bet you – I haven’t talked to all of them, but I’ll bet you that our friends and allies who negotiated this with us will get together, and that Russia, China, Germany, France, and Britain will say, ‘You know what? This is a good deal. We’re going to keep it.’”

The U.S. will “have made ourselves the odd person out,” Kerry said. “We’ll have injured our own credibility in conceivably, irreparable way.”

He quickly corrected himself, saying that “irreparable” was too dramatic a term to use.

“But we will have done great injury to ourselves,” he said, “and it will hurt for the endurance of a year, two years, whatever, while the administration is there.”

Elsewhere in the conversation with Friedman, Kerry extolled a range of Obama administration accomplishments, including economic achievements at home after the 2008 global financial crisis, bringing China onboard to strengthen sanctions against North Korea, the Iran nuclear deal, the Paris climate agreement, and the fight against AIDS and Ebola in Africa.

“I would submit to everybody here – and I’ll defend this anywhere in the world – the United States of America has been more engaged on more issues – with more crises simultaneously and with greater outcomes and consequence to that engagement on a global basis – than at any time in American history.”

The Trump administration would benefit from its predecessor’s successes, he suggested.

“I think the new administration, frankly, is coming to power with the wind at their back,” Kerry said, “because of the strength of our economy and because of the role that we’ve played being engaged with countries in sound diplomacy over the course of the last eight years – and four for me.”