Interview With Nicole Gaouette of Bloomberg
Secretary of State
QUESTION: Let me dive right in because there’s not much time.
SECRETARY KERRY: Okay.
QUESTION: I wanted to ask you about the Syrian opposition. They’ve expressed some frustration with the aid offer from Rome, saying that what they really want is weapons and the like, and not food.
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, they’re getting – there’s a lot of weapons coming in.
QUESTION: Actually --
SECRETARY KERRY: Oh, sorry. Okay.
QUESTION: That’s fine. Your allies have also pushed for the U.S. to take a greater role in the region. And given what the Syrians and your allies are asking for, given that we’ve seen active conflict spilling over into Iraq with the shooting of these soldiers, why isn’t the U.S. playing the greater leadership role that your allies and the Syrians are asking for?
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, I don’t agree with the premise of your question, which is based on the notion and you say, “Why aren’t they playing a greater role?” They’re playing a very significant role. The President has initiated from the beginning the leadership role in putting the sanctions in place --
QUESTION: They’re being asked to do more than --
SECRETARY KERRY: The President – I will get to that. The President has led an effort together with a number of other countries, but led an effort that Secretary Clinton was very active and moving around, trying to speak with the opposition, identify them, bring them together, help them unify, get them recognized. And for a period of time, nobody knew who they were or what they were capable of or what they stood for or what they were going to do. All of that has come together with significant input from the United States of America, and now the President has sent me to Rome in an effort to ratchet it up yet another notch.
Now, I understand the impatience of the Syrian opposition. I know it’s frustrating because they think that, plunk, and you just have this weapon or that weapon and it’s over. But the fact is that the President believes that this has to be done in a way that doesn’t create more killing before it gives an opportunity to be able to try to make a choice for a peaceful resolution. And Geneva was specifically about that peaceful resolution. So by ratcheting it up in Rome, but doing so in a measured and thoughtful way, the President is saying to President Assad: Look, we’re ratcheting up and we’re committed, but you have an opportunity here to be able to make a choice to have a peaceful outcome.
QUESTION: So --
SECRETARY KERRY: And other nations – other nations have already made a decision to provide lethal assistance, and it is going in, a lot of it. And so I don’t think that the United States’ choice at this point is dispositive one way or the other. I think the President is trying to see if we can have this transitional government put in place and reduce the killing and reduce the destruction. More weapons means more destruction and more killing.
QUESTION: I remember your answer --
SECRETARY KERRY: So hopefully that opportunity can be taken. Now, if it isn’t taken, there are lots of options that are available, and none of them are off the table.
QUESTION: Okay. Let me just follow up with another question, then. I do remember your answer about the need to look at this comprehensively, but how do you address the concerns of those in the United States who worry that the Administration’s stance right now is going to long-term undermine U.S. interests and influence not just in Syria but in the region?
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, again, I --
QUESTION: This is about perception here --
SECRETARY KERRY: Sure it’s about perception here.
QUESTION: -- and you do see Arab frustration (inaudible) --
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, that’s precisely -- -
QUESTION: -- about wanting more of the U.S.
SECRETARY KERRY: I beg your pardon?
QUESTION: About wanting more of a U.S. presence and role. So --
SECRETARY KERRY: More – yes, but is it a role in Syria or in the region?
QUESTION: Well, mostly in – it’s – I’m talking about Syria.
SECRETARY KERRY: I heard you say the region.
QUESTION: But how do you address those concerns in the U.S., people who worry about an erosion of U.S. influence there?
SECRETARY KERRY: I think that Rome came about because the United States called it. I called and talked to President Khatib personally. I don’t think we’re finished at all in terms of aiding the opposition. We’re the biggest humanitarian donor. We are deeply involved in helping the Jordanians and others be able to deal with that crisis. We’re helping with respect to the camps in Turkey. The United States – maybe we need to do more to make sure people know exactly what we’re doing, but we are doing a lot.
And I think it is fair to want to make certain that the people of the region understand our commitment to the people. That’s why I’ve been very outspoken in these last days with great clarity about what we care about and what we’re fighting for.
QUESTION: Okay. I’d like to slip in just one Egypt question. President Morsy got from the U.S., from you, $250 million. What exactly did you get in return?
SECRETARY KERRY: No, the President got – well, okay, if you add the other number.
QUESTION: The 60 --
SECRETARY KERRY: That had been previously – that was from last year. What happened is it was held up.
SECRETARY KERRY: And that got released. But that’s not new money.
QUESTION: No, it was at your discretion, though, is my understanding. And I’m just wondering if he made specific commitments, and if so, what they were.
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, I’m not going to go into every specific commitment that a president of a country makes in a private conversation. But he does know and he did agree that I could say publicly that he has agreed to get the IMF agreement done as rapidly as possible. Now, other money has been made contingent upon that happening.
SECRETARY KERRY: And the fact is – and people in Congress know that as well as people there. So that’s appropriate and that’s the way it ought to be. We have to get that agreement. And the reason is not impunitive or anything. It’s simply that more won’t help do anything. No amount of public money is going to make a difference if the IMF agreement isn’t in place and the marketplace doesn’t get an agreement – or excuse me, an understanding that Egypt is moving towards a kind of stability that makes investment acceptable. If that doesn’t happen, Egypt is going to face a very severe economic crisis and probably with it a political – political difficulties.
So our purpose is to try to help avoid that. It’s not – it’s serious money, but in the measure of their problem it’s a very small amount of money. And our hope is that it is a good-faith gesture that says to them: Look, we’re serious; we’re not just talking and we’re prepared to try to help, but you’ve got to help us to help you. And that’s essentially where it is. And every leader in this region echoed that, that Egypt needs to make those fundamental choices. They’re all in reserve and holding back because of their sense that if the reforms don’t come and the IMF isn’t there, there’s nothing any of them are going to be able to do to make this difference.
So the stakes are very high in that, and we had a very direct, honest conversation about that part of it but also even bringing the opposition in and being more – finding a way to have politics that are more inclusive in doing that so that there’s a level of stability that can invite tourists back to the country and businesspeople back. Absent that, this is going to be an ongoing problem. And things like the Gaza peace process and the security of the Sinai and ongoing military and intelligence relationships, the rights of people and women – I mean, I raised with him very directly what’s happening to women in the streets and what’s happening with the police. Things like that are all very, very important, and we need to know that we’re moving in the right direction before the American people are asked to do more.
QUESTION: Okay. I really appreciate the time.
SECRETARY KERRY: Thank you. Appreciate it.