Interview With Andrea Mitchell of NBC
Secretary of State
QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, thank you very much for doing this interview. You have just come on this long trip; you’ve met with the Syrian rebels. The Saudi Foreign Minister, standing next to you, said that the Assad regime is a vicious killing machine. Why is the United States not joining other countries around the world in arming the rebels?
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, Andrea, the President has put in place a policy that is extremely forward-leaning with other countries. Other countries, as you know, are arming the Syrians. The President has put in place sanctions. The President has led an effort to try to pull together the Syrian opposition, identify it, clarify it, get it unified to speak with one voice. And now, the President has raised the American engagement to the level of giving directly to the Syrian opposition and the Syrian military. Others --
QUESTION: Nonlethal aid.
SECRETARY KERRY: That’s right, and others are providing lethal aid. And I think what we achieved in Rome was to raise the focus and the energy of all of these countries that came together, each of whom are contributing in different ways. And we are committed, together with that community, and hopefully the rest of the world, to ending the violence. The President prefers, as I do and everybody does, to try to have a diplomatic resolution of this. And that’s why he instructed me to meet with Foreign Minister Lavrov, and we are working to try to achieve that.
QUESTION: Yet at the same time, more than 70,000 people are dead, now 1 million refugees, which is --
SECRETARY KERRY: Well --
QUESTION: -- a huge burden on our allies in the region. What would it take for you to be persuaded that the opposition leaders could keep any aid or weapons away from the Islamic extremists? You’ve said that you have some confidence that they know where the aid is going. So if they can persuade you, would you reconsider?
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, that’s not the issue. I think – look, the President has committed the United States of America, on behalf of the good values of all Americans, to be the largest humanitarian support of any country to this question of refugees. And I think America can be very proud of that. We are helping in Turkey, we are helping in Jordan. And the President is also, I think, determined to make sure that the United States does its part going forward to help to find a diplomatic resolution.
We don’t want this killing. If President Assad could quickly decide to come to the table and negotiate --
QUESTION: But he is not, sir, with all due respect.
SECRETARY KERRY: I agree.
QUESTION: There’s no sign that he is going to, and Russia and Iran, as you’ve pointed out, continue to arm Assad. So is the stalemate going to continue? It’s already been two years.
SECRETARY KERRY: Obviously, Andrea, we hope not, and the President is the person who initiated this meeting in Rome through me. We had the meeting in Rome. It came about because of the President’s leadership and insistence on trying to unify and send a stronger message. I think now, there is a much more coordinated effort for those who are arming. That’s taking place. And I think over the next weeks, we have agreed to stay in very close contact, all of these foreign ministers, all of these countries. And when I get back, I’ll report to the President on precisely what I heard, and I’m convinced that we will continue to press the diplomatic solution. That’s the best – (audio break.)
This is not an infinite process. It’s finite. Our preference, President Obama’s preference, clearly stated, is to ask the Iranians to come to the table in good faith, in mutual respect, and do what they say they’re doing, which is --
QUESTION: Can we trust them?
SECRETARY KERRY: -- which is prove – no, this is not a matter of trust, Andrea. You remember Gorbachev and “Trust but verify.” This is a matter of creating an agreement, if it’s possible, where it is verifiable as to what they are doing, so that everybody – the international community, the United Nations, Israel, our friends, our allies – all can come together and know what is happening. If that can’t happen, then obviously there are other choices available to the President, and he has taken nothing off the table.
QUESTION: Military choices?
SECRETARY KERRY: He has taken nothing off the table.
QUESTION: North Korea, speaking of military, there seems to be some movement towards agreement with China on sanctions, UN sanctions against the North for their nuclear test. Is it helpful when someone as high-profile as Dennis Rodman goes to Pyongyang and calls Kim Jong-un a great friend, his best friend, a nice guy? Doesn’t that undercut pressure from the West?
SECRETARY KERRY: You know what? Dennis Rodman was a great basketball player, and as a diplomat, he was a great basketball player, and that’s where we’ll leave it.
QUESTION: And as a diplomat, you have been a senator for decades, you’ve been your own boss. What’s it like to coordinate, and as some have suggested in the past regarding Secretary Clinton, take instructions on foreign policy from people in the White House who frankly don’t have as much experience as you? This was a problem with your predecessor.
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, don’t – there’s lots of experience in the White House. Please don’t diminish that, number one. And number two, I’m delighted to work for this President, with the President and his advisors. It’s a great team. And the President has a terrific vision, and that’s what I came over here to try to reinforce, is this – to really cement a community of action around common values, common economic interests, common security interests.
And in Europe, we did that, and in Rome, we made it clear how we will join together with respect to Syria. And in Egypt, we worked hard to try to help a new democracy in the throes of a post-revolution find its economic footing. And here in the Mideast and in the Gulf states, I have found an extraordinarily strong set of relationships and a renewed interest in peace in the Middle East and in other security issues.
So this has been, I think – look, working with the President is an honor. I’m privileged that he asked me to do this job. There is nothing as challenging or, frankly, as rewarding as getting up every day and being able to represent your nation to other countries. Our values, the opportunities that we bring to so many places, really, for such a small investment, is exciting to work for. So I’m feeling very excited.
QUESTION: Thank you very much, sir.
SECRETARY KERRY: Thank you.
QUESTION: Thank you.