Secretary of State John Kerry speaks at Indiana University

Secretary of State John Kerry
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Secretary of State John Kerry took the stage at Indiana University Thursday as the United States implements two new peace initiatives in two very different conflicts in two different parts of the world.  

Kerry said keeping troops in Afghanistan is essential to protecting U.S. interests and implementing reforms in the beleaguered country.

Kerry made the remarks at Indiana University during an event to mark the opening of the new building for IU's School of Global and International Studies.

President Barack Obama announced a change of strategy in Afghanistan Thursday. Instead of going down to an embassy-only presence there at the end of 2016, the United States will now maintain 5,500 troops in the war-torn country. 

Kerry said Obama's decision was "designed to insure our fundamental interests in that country and in that region are protected. It is important for us as Americans for us to understand what happens if you don’t have government spaces anywhere and the vacuum is filled by extremists."

Kerry pointed to improvements in Afghanistan, including eight million children now enrolled in school - about half of them girls. Under the Taliban, education was forbidden to girls and schools were frequently targets for attacks. Kerry also referenced strong growth in the delivery of health care in Afghanistan.

In the Middle East, Kerry plans to meet with Israeli and Palestinian leaders trying to quiet the increasing violence.  

"We will continue to support Israel’s right to defend its existence. It is critically important, though, that calm is restored as soon as possible," Kerry said.

Kerry said U.S. leadership was fundamental in bringing together seven nations on the nuclear deal with Iran, which has come under criticism from Republicans. Kerry said Iran has held up to its obligations, and said the deal does not have an expiration date.

"We will know if they cheat," he said.

Kerry also discussed a number of other issues, including climate change, which was a hot topic at the Democratic debate Tuesday night.

Kerry said the world is coming together in consensus to fight climate change. He added that to question science is an excuse, "and there is no time left for excuses." He pointed to American cooperation with China regarding greenhouse gas emissions as an example of progress.

On foreign trade, Kerry said most Americans view it as an opportunity, not a threat, and added that Indiana companies and workers have a lot to gain from the new international trade agreement, the Transpacific Pact.  More than 4,600 Indiana companies export to TPP countries.

Kerry also discussed the civil war in Syria and the multinational war on terrorism.

"Because these terrorists are so depraved, they give new meaning to the word evil," Kerry said.

Kerry collected numerous standing ovations. Many in the crowd left feeling more optimistic.

"We are trying to get things done and make the world a better place," said Jamie Zega, IU student.

Others left encouraged but skeptical.

"It is always encouraging to hear the words. What remains to be seen is whether the Obama administration in the coming year can make additional progress," said Dr. Jamsheed Choksy, Department of Central Eurasian Studies at IU.

Secretary Kerry is an avid cyclist, although he recently took a nasty spill. University administrators, tongue in cheek, made the secretary of state an honorary member of the IU Cycling team.