Interview With Jill Dougherty of CNN

John Kerry
Secretary of State
Doha, Qatar
March 5, 2013

QUESTION: Thank you very much, Secretary Kerry, for being with us, talking with CNN on this first international trip.


QUESTION: I want to start with Syria. The concern, worry by the Administration really has been that if you send arms to the Syrian opposition, they would be diverted into the hands of extremists. Now, Monday you said there’s a very clear ability now in the Syrian opposition to make certain that what goes to the moderate, legitimate opposition is, in fact, getting to them. So if that’s the case, then what is the problem? I mean, if it’s getting through --

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, they are getting weapons, Jill. But let me – look, let me begin at the beginning here. The United States, through President Obama’s leadership, began by pulling together a set of sanctions that have had an impact on Assad’s ability to be able to get money to fuel his war machine. Then the President, through Secretary Clinton’s efforts, worked very hard to pull together the Syrian opposition, to identify them, to sort of know who they are, know who we’re dealing with, and then to help them to be able to speak with a unified voice.

Now the President, through his leadership, has instructed me to have this meeting in Rome, pull together the international community to ratchet up the engagement there. Some countries have chosen to do lethal, and other countries have chosen to do other kinds of aid. You have to look at this holistically, and in the whole it is having a major impact.

Now, in the next weeks and months, our hope is that this ratcheting up can avoid the level of killing and provide a window of opportunity for President Assad and the Russians and Iranians and others to get a negotiation that actually saves lives and provides a transitional government.

QUESTION: So does that mean that the U.S. has no intention of providing any type of lethal aid? You’ll let everybody else do it?

SECRETARY KERRY: The President always has options and always has the right to adjust the policy as he goes forward. At the moment, this is the calibration that the President believes is correct, to try to give the opportunity for a diplomatic solution. But the President has made it clear, as has every other country at the table, that we will not allow President Assad to slaughter his people and to continue to rain SCUDs on innocent women and children and to literally destroy his country in the effort simply to hold onto power.

Now, I will go back and report to the President what I’ve learned in all of these many meetings. I’ve been to nine countries and had a chance to meet with some 40 of my counterparts from both NATO and countries. And that’s provided me exactly the kind of insight that the President wanted me to get in coming out here. So we will continue to push for a diplomatic solution, with obviously lots of other options available.

QUESTION: Okay. Moving onto Iran, in an interview with Fareed Zakaria, the – an Iranian official said that they are willing to sit down with the United States, one-on-one, if the United States stops threatening Iran. And specifically, he thought that the comments by Vice President Biden were very bad. He thought that yours were much better, by the way. Is it – would you be willing, you yourself be willing, to sit down with the Iranians?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, I’m willing to do what the President instructs me to do, and the President calls that shot. But he has already made it crystal clear, going back several years, that the President is prepared to engage with Iran. He prefers a diplomatic solution to any kind of military option. And he has said that he is prepared to engage in bilateral conversation. So that option is open.

QUESTION: But would you temper the language? They think that it’s too harsh.

SECRETARY KERRY: I think it’s important – look, the Iranian people historically have an amazing history, great contributions to civilization. They’re far older than the United States of America. They have been a central player in the history of the region for a long time. And the people of the country, I’m convinced, would like to have peace with the United States. We hope the regime, the people who are running the country, will see this moment of opportunity.

We’re prepared to meet in mutual respect, in good faith, in an effort to try to sit down and resolve the way to prove what they say they are doing. They say they have a peaceful program. They say all they want is a peaceful program. There are lots of other countries that have peaceful programs and prove it to the world. This should not be complicated, and we’re looking for the way to do that.

QUESTION: Okay. Moving onto North Korea and Dennis Rodman. He’s not a diplomat, as we know very well. It was a bit of a circus. But would it be valuable, on any level, to talk with him, find out what his impressions were? After all, he’s met with Kim Jong-un.

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, as I said earlier, I have great respect for Dennis Rodman as a basketball player, and as a diplomat he was a great basketball player. I think that this issue is an issue that needs to be dealt with government to government. The President has always indicated a preparedness to work through the diplomatic process and to try to have a resolution also to this issue on a peaceful basis. That’s his preference.

But North Korea keeps choosing to make belligerent and reckless moves that threaten the region, their neighbors, and now directly the United States of America. So it’s very easy for Kim Jong-un to prove his good intent here also. Just don’t fire the next missile, don’t have the next test. Say you’re ready to talk and invite those talks, and people would be prepared to engage in that conversation, I’m convinced.

QUESTION: One last question on working with President Obama. They say that he had a team of rivals in his first administration. Now some people are saying it’s kind of “group think,” many people who are kind of on the same page on the issues. How do you think – realistically, how do you plan to try to exert your influence on the formation of international policy?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, I’m very honored and privileged to be asked to do this job by the President. And to be able to carry the banner for our country around the world and to assert our interests and fight for our interests and fight for our nation’s prosperity and security is a tremendous honor. And in doing it, the President asked me not to come on to be a “yes” person. He asked me to come on to share my views, my thinking, my years of experience.

And I don't think the President appreciates just “yes” people. I think he is a man who has a very highly developed intellect and looks for answers to tough issues in a very inquisitive, Socratic way. And he looks for every point of view he can, and then he makes the tough decisions. So my job is to tell him the truth and to tell him what I see and to give him the best advice that I can. And I’m confident that everybody else on his staff works to do exactly that. And the President, in the end, makes the tough calls.

QUESTION: Did you see anything, learn anything, on this trip that changed your mind, that was different from what you expected?

SECRETARY KERRY: Absolutely. I’ve never made a trip – even when I was a senator over those 29 years and as a chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, I’ve never made a trip where I don’t learn things. I learn things in almost every meeting. If you don’t, you better stop and think about what you’re doing. But yeah, I learned a lot.

I need to digest it. As I said, I’ve been to about – I’ve been to nine countries. I’ve met almost 40 of my counterparts, many of whom came to Rome, and many of whom were here in the Gulf. And there’s a great interest in peace. There was a great interest in resolving these differences and in seeing fewer people caught up in ideology and fewer people seeing their opportunities diverted by extremism and so forth. And I think there’s a way for us to work more together.

I know the President is deeply concerned about this, which is why he’s going to travel to the region in a few weeks. And we’re going to work as hard as we can to try to resolve some of these significant crises and challenges.

QUESTION: If there’s no government in Israel, will he go?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, that’s the President’s decision. I honestly don’t know the answer to that. But the – we’ll have to see what that decision is. It’s really between he and Prime Minister Netanyahu.

QUESTION: Okay. Well, thank you very much, Secretary Kerry.


PRN: 2013/T1-28