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Kerry: Obama 'Will Go Down in History' for 'Highest Standards of Transparency and Accountability'

8:21 AM, May 23, 2014 • By JERYL BIER
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The same day President Obama held a press conference about the growing scandal at the Department of Veterans Affairs, Secretary of State John Kerry faced the press in Mexico at a joint appearance with Mexican foreign secretary Jose Antonio Meade. Kerry was in the country to discuss trade, economic growth, higher education, and security cooperation, but a reporter asked Kerry some pointed questions about President Obama and his policies and actions regarding surveillance and deportation.  Kerry responded with unequivocal support for the president, beginning, "Well, I believe President Obama will go down in history as the president who has held himself and his administration accountable to the highest standards of transparency and accountability."

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In answering the reporter's assertion that President Obama would be "going into history as the president that has deported the most migrants," Kerry said the Obama administration's relationship with the Mexican government has been "productive on cross-border issues, on immigration issues, extradition issues, deportation issues," but that things wouldn't "change overnight." (Secretary Meade added later that the two countries need a "more structured dialogue so we can talk about migration, security in a framework of the right of migrants.")

Apparently in response to the reporter's statements about "spying" and "wired" phone calls, Kerry suggested, "everybody here knows President Obama didn’t order [what was happening] because he was in the Senate – and not even in the Senate – when much of this was put in place." Kerry invoked privacy standards that he had authored with Senator McCain that he said influenced new rules that President Obama had recently established, and said that the president would be "measured as having taken the most extraordinary steps of any president in our history in order to try to put that [security and protection and prevention versus privacy] relationship back in balance." Kerry placed President Obama at the top of the list of all presidents for transparency in this regard, saying, "No President, I think, in our history has laid open as willingly for everybody to judge what we are doing as a guideline or as a standard by which we are going to try to balance this equity between security and protection and prevention versus privacy and respect for the rights of all of our citizens."

Kerry closed his remarks with the assurance that "the people of the United States and the people of Mexico should be pleased with the direction that we’re moving in. It’s open, it’s transparent, it’s accountable, and it’s productive. And I think we’re headed in the right direction."

A complete transcript (via the State Department) of the exchange between Secretary Kerry and the reporter is as follows:

QUESTION: (Via interpreter) This is a question for Secretary Kerry. When President Pena came into office, the level that he would have with the United States was questionable, especially in terms of unity. After one year and a half, what do you think about the relationship of this administration with the United States? 

You said that the United States doesn’t have any interest in Venezuela, only to foster dialogue. But how can you explain that in Mexico, we learned some time ago that U.S. operatives was spying the candidate Pena Nieto. And recently, we found out that many of the telephone calls are wired. How can you explain this to the Mexican population in terms of migration? Is it true that President Obama has – it is true that President Obama has been fostering the reform, but it seems that he’s going into history as the president that has deported the most migrants. I know that this is something related to Congress, but I don’t know what is the position of President Obama and how he wants to go into history.

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, I believe President Obama will go down in history as the president who has held himself and his Administration accountable to the highest standards of transparency and accountability. The President has personally committed his Administration, which it has accomplished, to take an in-depth analysis of precisely what was happening, which everybody here knows President Obama didn’t order because he was in the Senate – and not even in the Senate – when much of this was put in place. 

And President Obama has ordered a process of accountability and transparency, and has been willing to lay it out for the world to see and understand that process of accountability. He gave a speech recently in which he set up new standards by which he believed the United States ought to behave, and I will tell you, because I was the author in the United States Senate with Senator John McCain of privacy with respect to the Internet and other uses, that we both believe very, very powerfully in the right of people to privacy (inaudible). 

Now at the same time, the President of the United States has a fundamental responsibility to protect our people and to help protect people in the rest of the world who are potentially targeted by vicious extremists, terrorists in various parts of the world. The fact is that we have, because of our capable intelligence-gathering, been able to thwart many plots which would’ve resulted in the loss of civilian lives in one attack or another. There’s a delicate balance, and President Obama has worked very, very hard to achieve that balance. No President, I think, in our history has laid open as willingly for everybody to judge what we are doing as a guideline or as a standard by which we are going to try to balance this equity between security and protection and prevention versus privacy and respect for the rights of all of our citizens. And I think the President will actually be measured as having taken the most extraordinary steps of any president in our history in order to try to put that relationship back in balance.

Now, with respect to the relationship with President Pena Nieto and Mexico, I am convinced that our relationship is as strong and as vital as it has been. It is as productive on cross-border issues, on immigration issues, extradition issues, deportation issues; on our mutual interests in the economy; on our mutual interests of innovation, research, education that we’ve just been talking about – I don’t think we’ve ever had as in-depth and as repeated a series of meetings in an effort to make sure we’re on track. Now, does everything change overnight? No. I wish it did in lots of respects. But we are on track, with the agenda that we have set and the relationship that has been created, to deal with any bumps in the road, to work through difficulties of border police or policing or military, other kinds of things. 

We’re working cooperatively. That’s what’s important. And we have made tremendous gains in the actual cooperation day to day in those endeavors. So I think the people of the United States and the people of Mexico should be pleased with the direction that we’re moving in. It’s open, it’s transparent, it’s accountable, and it’s productive. And I think we’re headed in the right direction. 

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