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Transcript: Secretary Kerry Interview with ABC This Week Before Departing for Geneva
March 1, 2015

Interview With Martha Raddatz of ABC This Week


John Kerry
Secretary of State
Washington, DC
March 1, 2015

QUESTION: Secretary Kerry, thanks for joining us.

SECRETARY KERRY: Glad to be with you. Thank you.

QUESTION: Secretary, I have seen this threat firsthand over the last month in this region, walking along the Syrian border this weekend, and the situation really seems bleak. In fact, The New York Times described it this way: “The reports are like something out of a distant era of ancient conquest – entire villages emptied, with hundreds taken prisoner, others kept as slaves, the destruction of irreplaceable works of art, a rampage reminiscent of Tamerlane or Genghis Khan.” And these were actions by ISIS just this week.

So do you stand by your recent comments that we’re on the road to beating ISIS?

SECRETARY KERRY: What I said was we’re on the road to success, and that begins in Iraq, and yes, I stand by it. We are growing in the capacity on the ground, Martha. Each time the Iraqis have now gone forward in an offensive effort together with allies, the coalition, we have routed ISIL. And the fact is that in Iraq, they have gained back a fixed, significant percentage of the area that ISIL was controlling.

Now Syria is a different matter. Syria is a bigger challenge. We will need people on the ground. It will not be American forces, but we are working on that. There’s training and equipping of the opposition that begins this month. Arab countries in the region are stepping up their efforts. I have meetings this week with all of the GCC. I’ll be meeting with King Salman of Saudi Arabia. There’s a great deal of energy and effort being put into this, and I am confident that over time we will beat, we will indeed degrade and ultimately destroy ISIL, yes.

QUESTION: Let me read you a few comments from this week. A top FBI official testified we’re losing the battle in countering ISIS online. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper says this has been the most lethal year for global terrorism and the latest figures show more foreign fighters have joined ISIS in the past six months than have been killed.

You said this week to Congress that we’re living in a period of less daily threat to Americans, with fewer violent deaths than any time in the last century. Can you understand why the American people just aren’t feeling that?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, I understand. Of course, I understand it, Martha, because people are thinking about the day-to-day vision of what is happening on the ground in Syria, in Libya, where 21 Coptic Christians had their heads cut off, where a soldier is burned and a pilot in a cage, where American journalists have been beheaded publicly. We understand that. But I still stand by what I said, which is in large terms, compared to the last century, there are, in fact, fewer people dying of the means that you look at, by state war, violence, health, et cetera.

But that’s not what’s important. What’s important right now is what James Clapper said. There is an uptick in the level of terrorism and specific incidents of people being killed, and that threat is very, very real. Nobody is trying to minimize it. President Obama has put together a coalition of countries that have come together. We’re all super focused on this. And we are focused on the internet cyberspace battle also. We have a center that is being stood up in Abu Dhabi.



QUESTION: Mr. Secretary?


QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, I want to move forward to Mosul. And I know your efforts by setting up these internet.

In Mosul, it is a hugely important city, second largest city. When will the Iraqis be ready to retake Mosul? Will it happen this spring? Will it happen in the fall?

SECRETARY KERRY: Martha, contrary to what was in the newspaper earlier sometime, I think, in the week, we’re not going to advertise when that will happen. It will happen, but we’re not going to talk about the strategy. We’re not going to lay out the plans.

The Iraqis are working hard to come up to speed. There’s a lot of effort being put into this. And we will do it when the moment is right and when we know we can proceed forward with the confidence that we want.

QUESTION: I just want to say, Mr. Secretary, it wasn’t just in the newspapers. It was Central Command that said it would probably be this spring. I want to turn to Israel and Iran.

SECRETARY KERRY: Yes, but that’s, as I think you’ve seen, Martha —

QUESTION: You are headed overseas, as you said.

SECRETARY KERRY: As I think you’ve seen, that has been contradicted and I think walked back. And there are a number of different options out there, so nobody should count on what they’ve read or what they’ve seen. This will happen when we are ready. It will happen on the coalition’s schedule, and it will happen when there is confidence that it will be successful.

QUESTION: But maybe this year?

SECRETARY KERRY: I’m not going to get into timetables. It will happen.

QUESTION: Okay, let’s move back then to Israel and Iran. You’re headed over for further negotiations. While you’re gone, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will be addressing Congress. Susan Rice said it was destructive to U.S.-Israeli relations. Do you agree with that?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, look, we’re not – the prime minister of Israel is welcome to speak in the United States, obviously. And we have a closer relationship with Israel right now in terms of security than at any time in history. I was reviewing the record the other day. We have intervened on Israel’s behalf, in the last two years, more than several hundred – a couple of hundred times in over 75 different fora in order to protect Israel. I talk to the prime minister regularly, including yesterday. We are not – we don’t want to see this turned into some great political football.

Obviously, it was odd, if not unique, that we learned of it from the Speaker of the House and that the Administration was not included in this process. But the Administration is not seeking to politicize this. We want to recognize the main goal here is to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon. And on that, Israel and the United States agree.

And the testimony, in fact, to the efficiency with which we’ve been able to pursue that is the interim agreement that is in place today. Israel is safer today because of the interim agreement that we created. The 20 percent enriched uranium has been reduced to 0. We have stopped the centrifuge production. We are inspecting inside of their facilities. We have stopped the Arak plutonium reactor in its tracks.

Israel is safer today and that is the standard that we will apply to any agreement going forward. It is to guarantee that we will know that Iran cannot develop a nuclear weapon under the procedure that we’re putting in place.

QUESTION: Secretary Kerry, one of Iran’s vice presidents said today that Netanyahu’s speech actually serves Iran’s interests. I was recently in Iran and there were a lot of people who wanted this agreement. Does Netanyahu’s action actually help Iran?

SECRETARY KERRY: Yeah, I’m just not going to play the game of walking into a debate about Iranian propaganda with respect to this visit. As I said, the prime minister is welcome in the United States at any time. We have an – we have an unparalleled close security relationship with Israel and we will continue to.

President Obama has done more to ensure the security of Israel by the creation of Iron Dome, by the development of weapons that are specifically calculated to be able to deal with Iran’s nuclear weapon problem. And the president has pledged that they will not get a nuclear weapon.

Now, I guarantee you, we have said again and again, no deal is better than a bad deal. We’re not going to make a bad deal. But remember, Martha, there were many people who opposed the interim agreement and said that was terrible. The fact is, the interim agreement has been adhered to. It has been inspected. We have proven that we have slowed Iran’s, even set back its nuclear program. And we are going to continue now to the next step to see – I can’t promise you we can. But we are going to test whether or not diplomacy can prevent this weapon from being created, so you don’t have to return to additional measures, including the possibility of a military confrontation.

Our hope is diplomacy can work. And I believe, given our success on the interim agreement, I believe we deserve the benefit of the doubt to find out whether or not we can get a similarly good agreement with respect to the future. It is better to do this by diplomacy than to have to do a strategy militarily, which you would have to repeat over and over again and which I think everybody believes ought to be after you have exhausted all the diplomatic remedies.

QUESTION: Secretary Kerry, just a final question, and very quickly, if you will. I want to turn to Russia and the murder of one of Putin’s most outspoken critics. Do you have any intelligence, does the U.S. have any intelligence or suspicions who may be responsible for that murder?

SECRETARY KERRY: No, we have none and we wouldn’t comment anyway, Martha. But we don’t have any. And the bottom line is that we hope there will be a thorough, transparent, real investigation, not just of who actually fired the shots, but who, if anyone, may have ordered or instructed this or been behind this. Four men jumping out of a car – I think it was four – in the middle of Moscow in daylight is not sort of a common affair.

And so our hearts go out to the Russian people. This was a man who was deeply committed to a better relationship with the world. As deputy prime minister, he worked hard to improve the relationship with the United States. He was known as an activist, as engaged and engaging. And we are enormously saddened to hear of his murder and we hope the authorities will join the world in producing the credible, transparent investigation necessary to find out who was behind this and who did it.

QUESTION: Thanks very much for joining us, Mr. Secretary.


QUESTION: And have a good trip.

SECRETARY KERRY: Thank you so much. It’s good to be with you.