Interview With Margaret Brennan of CBS

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

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, thank you for making time.

SECRETARY KERRY: Great pleasure. Thank you.

QUESTION: You said there’s a finite amount of time left for talks with Iran. Are they running out the clock?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, they’re running the clock. I’m not going to speculate today as to when it runs out. But clearly, this is not a – this is just not an indefinite period of negotiations, and we are not going to negotiate for the sake of negotiations. They have to be productive, and that’s the test.

QUESTION: Well, the Supreme Leader said he’s not going to negotiate with a gun to his head, and he meant sanctions there. Is the U.S. willing to lessen the pressure to expedite the diplomacy?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, I’m not going to get into specifics of a negotiation, but clearly if Iran steps up in good faith and is prepared to take steps to prove that their program is peaceful, I’m confident President Obama will meet them in an appropriate way in order to get where we want to go, which is to a peaceful resolution of this problem.

QUESTION: Have they demonstrated good faith so far?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, right now you have the P5+1 talks that are taking place, and as of yet, there has been no agreement with respect to any measure. So that’s why the clock is ticking.

QUESTION: March 11th marks six months since the fatal attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi. Is the U.S. any closer to finding the attackers?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, I spoke directly with FBI Director Bob Mueller a number of – just when I came into office, immediately, because I wanted to know the answer to that question. And he was literally on the eve of traveling to Tripoli in order to do the work the FBI is doing to track those folks. So I need to get rebriefed as to exactly where they are, but they are indeed continuing a very rigorous effort. They are determined to bring the perpetrators to justice, and President Obama has said very clearly that they will be brought to justice, and I think we’re doing everything possible to do it.

QUESTION: You mentioned progress during your confirmation hearings on that front. Are you --

SECRETARY KERRY: That was based on the conversation that I’d had with the FBI director. They’re working it. There are some difficulties just internally in the country in terms of access and different – the security situation, but they’re working under very difficult circumstances, and it is not on the back burner. It’s actively being worked.

QUESTION: You personally met Bashar al-Assad in 2010. Are you willing to engage in direct diplomacy now?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, we are engaged, in a sense, in direct diplomacy with the international community through the Geneva meetings and the communique that came out of Geneva with the Russians and many other countries agreeing that we need a peaceful solution, and the peaceful solution comes with a transitional government that has full executive authority by mutual consent on both sides.

QUESTION: Even though you’ve said Assad has lost his legitimacy, you think you can still engage him?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, in terms of his appointing somebody to be part of a transitional government, that’s what the international community has embraced. And President Khatib of the supreme – of the Syrian opposition very courageously stood up and said he was prepared to engage in a negotiation. So now we need the people named who are prepared to come to that transitional government, and that’s the peaceful out.

What we’ve also made clear is we’re not going to let up the effort to hold President Assad accountable for his random killing of Syrian citizens, for sending SCUDs to destroy hospitals, and shoot women and children in places where he knows they will be at the time they shoot. He is literally destroying his country in the effort to hold onto power. And so this is a vital moment to try to get him to realize he either comes to the table to negotiate, or the opposition is going to get greater and greater support, and ultimately he will have to make that decision.

QUESTION: Well, the Syrian rebel commander that the U.S. is giving aid to spoke to CBS, and he told us that his fighters could take Damascus in a month if they’re given missiles and tanks. Why not give them what they’re asking for?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, again, President Obama has gone through a series of steps here in order to try to seek a peaceful resolution and reduce the killing. And I think everybody would like to see less killing, not more. And the President has worked hard to help shape the Syrian opposition so that it has a unified voice. We are providing extraordinary humanitarian assistance. The President has now ratcheted up the kind of aid that he is giving and who he’s giving it to, now directly to the Syrian opposition and to the Syrian military, though nonlethal.

QUESTION: But they say they have one tenth the amount of ammunition that they need. They need missiles. They need to be able to battle a professional military. Why not help them to speed up the process, to hasten the fall of Assad.

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, countries are helping them, and right now they’re moving on the battlefield. I think that there are a lot of countries doing a lot of different things right now. And I will go back and report to the President what I heard in Rome and here in the Gulf, and the President obviously always has additional options on the table.

But right now, he and I think we feel that this step hopefully will send the right message. Our objective is to try to reduce the killing, not increase it; to hopefully avoid chaos, not guarantee it. And so measured steps are being taken in an effort to try to find the Russians and the Iranians and others to see this opportunity for a transitional government according to the Geneva process. But obviously, if that doesn’t work, every other option is available.

QUESTION: Every other option is available, and you’ve said the opposition is increasingly able to get support through to the moderates on the ground. What would it take for you to take that next step?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, it’s not me. This is a matter –

QUESTION: For the United States, so you as a representative of the United States.

SECRETARY KERRY: -- of the United States. It’s a matter of the President, and there has to be, obviously, a process by which that decision might or might not be made. I’m going to go back and report to the President the things I’ve heard.

QUESTION: Will you recommend to him that more aid be given?

SECRETARY KERRY: I’m not going to discuss what I might or might not recommend to the President before I see the President and then probably not even afterwards, but I think that – I think a lot is happening, and I think the President is acutely aware of what the stakes are. He’s made the decision to ratchet up the assistance. I think it’s already had some impact. I’ve noticed a lot of flurry of the Foreign Minister of Syria rushing to Tehran, other public comments. I think we need to proceed thoughtfully and carefully as the President has decided to. And as I said, we will consult with the Congress and with each other when we get back.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, thank you for your time.

SECRETARY KERRY: Thank you very much.

PRN: 2013/T01-27