Interview With Chris Wallace of FOX News Sunday
Secretary of State
QUESTION: Joining us now to discuss the President’s stunning turnaround on Syria is Secretary of State John Kerry. Mr. Secretary, welcome back to Fox News Sunday.
SECRETARY KERRY: Thank you. Great to be with you, Chris.
QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, you made the case for military action in the strongest possible terms on Friday. If the situation is so dire, if Bashar al-Assad is such a thug, why is the President waiting until Congress comes back nine days from now to debate this? Why not call them into session tomorrow and begin this debate and get an approval to act?
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, Chris, the case hasn’t changed and the case doesn’t change at all. The rationale for the military response the President has requested is as powerful today and will be as powerful if not more powerful each day. The fact is that yesterday we have now learned that hair and blood samples that have come to us from east Damascus from individuals who were engaged as first responders in east Damascus, I can report to you today they have tested positive for signatures of sarin. So this case is going to build stronger and stronger, and the President believes that the United States of America, for a decision like this, is stronger when you have the time to be able to have the support of the United States Congress and obviously the support of the American people through them.
So I think that America is stronger here. That’s the President’s belief. I think people should be celebrating that the President is, in fact, not moving unilaterally, that he’s honoring the request that he heard from many people in Congress to consult and to be engaged with them, and I think realizing that the Assad regime is already on the defensive. They are being significantly impacted by the potential of these strikes. We do not lose anything, we actually gain, and what we gain is the legitimacy of the full-throated response of the Congress of the United States and the President acting together after our democratic process has worked properly.
QUESTION: But Mr. Secretary, this isn’t CSI, this isn’t a civics lesson. People’s lives are at stake, as I don’t have to tell you, on the ground in Syria. In your remarks on Friday, you said that this matters and it matters beyond the borders of Syria. Take a look:
“It is about whether Iran, which itself has been a victim of chemical weapons attacks, will now feel emboldened, in the absence of action, to obtain nuclear weapons. It is about Hezbollah, and North Korea.”
Mr. Secretary, what message are we sending to Iran and Hezbollah and North Korea when the President announces he thinks we should take military action but he’s going to wait nine days for Congress to come back before he takes any action, and then he goes off and plays a round of golf? What message does that send to the rebels on the ground whose lives are in danger and to our enemies who are watching?
SECRETARY KERRY: I think, actually, North Korea and Iran ought to take note that the United States of America has the confidence in its democratic process to be able to ask all of the American people to join in an action that could have profound implications with respect to Iran. The fact is that if we act and if we act in concert, then Iran will know that this nation is capable of speaking with one voice on something like this, and that has serious, profound implications, I think, with respect to the potential of a confrontation over their nuclear program. That is one of the things that is at stake here. I said that. You just quoted it. That and America’s willingness to enforce the international norm on chemical weapons.
I think we are stronger and the President believes we’re stronger when the Congress of the United States joins in this. I mean, Congress can’t have it both ways; you can’t sit there and say, well, you’ve got to consult with us and we ought to honor the constitutional process and Congress has the right to make its voice heard in these decisions, and the President is giving them that opportunity, and I think you should welcome it, Chris, and the Congress and the country should welcome this.
QUESTION: But Mr. --
SECRETARY KERRY: It’s a healthy debate, it’s an important debate, and we do not lose anything militarily in the meantime. If Assad were to decide --
QUESTION: The refugees on the ground lose something, sir. They lose the possibility that they’re going to get killed in the meantime. Let me just, if I may, follow up. Ronald Reagan didn’t think he needed congressional approval to go after Qadhafi in Libya. Bill Clinton didn’t think that he needed approval to go after Kosovo or to go after al-Qaida. This President seems to think he needs political cover.
SECRETARY KERRY: Actually – actually, Chris, at the very instant the planes were in the air on Kosovo, there was a vote in the House of Representatives and the vote didn’t carry. So the truth is the President would have loved to have had the support from Congress. The fact is that our country is much stronger when we act together. I’m amazed that you would argue against the Congress of the United States weighing in when, in fact, already Assad is on the defensive, he’s moving assets around, he’s hunkering down, he’s taking a response to the potential of a strike. And the fact is that this strike can have impact when it needs to with the support of the Congress of the United States.
Now, if the Assad regime --
QUESTION: Well, but --
SECRETARY KERRY: Let me just finish. If the Assad regime were to be foolish enough to attack yet again and do something in the meantime, of course, the President of the United States knows he has the power to do this and I assume the President would move very, very rapidly. But he feels we are stronger in getting the United States as a whole to gel around this policy, to understand it better, and to know what the strategy is and why the United States needs to do this.
QUESTION: What if Congress refuses to authorize action? What happens then?
SECRETARY KERRY: I don’t believe that’s going to happen. I think the stakes of upholding the international standard of behavior that has been in place since 1925 after World War I that only Adolf Hitler and Saddam Hussein have breached that in time of war since then, and now Assad joins them. I think to contemplate that the Congress of the United States would turn its back on Israel, on Jordan, on Turkey, on our allies in the region, turn its back on the innocent Syrian people who’ve been slaughtered by this gas and those who yet may be subject to an attack if we don’t stand up to this, I can’t contemplate that the Congress would turn its back on all of that responsibility and the fact that would have, in fact, granted impunity to a ruthless dictator to continue to gas his people. Those are the stakes --
QUESTION: Mr. Secretary --
SECRETARY KERRY: -- and I don’t believe the Congress will do that.
QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, you make it sound as if this was always the plan, but the fact is on Friday when you made your speech, you made a powerful call for quick action. You seemed to be leading the charge up the hill and the --
SECRETARY KERRY: Chris, I made a powerful call for action. I never mentioned the word “quick.” I made the case for why we needed to take action. I talked about --
QUESTION: You talked about taking a decision now. If I may though, sir, the White House --
SECRETARY KERRY: The President has taken – the President has taken his decision, Chris. The President announced his decision yesterday.
QUESTION: But nothing’s going to happen for 10 days.
SECRETARY KERRY: His decision is to take – well, Chris, it will happen with the consent of the Congress of the United States and be much more powerful and, I believe, allow us to even do more coordinating with our friends and allies, do more planning, and frankly, be far more effective.
QUESTION: Sir, but --
SECRETARY KERRY: I think this is a smart decision by the President. I think it’s a courageous decision. He is not trying to create an imperial presidency; he’s trying to respect the process by which we are strongest in this country.
QUESTION: But sir, if I may --
SECRETARY KERRY: And I think Congress and the American people should welcome this.
QUESTION: But if I may just ask my question, the fact is this was not the plan. The White House is acknowledging --
SECRETARY KERRY: I don’t know why --
QUESTION: If I can just ask the question, sir. The White House is acknowledging this was not the plan. The White House podium, the press spokesman, kept saying it didn’t need congressional approval. We’re told the President went out with his chief of staff on the lawn Friday night, changed his mind, talked to White House staff, and you and other cabinet officials were informed about it after the fact. This was never the plan.
SECRETARY KERRY: I disagree with that. I received a telephone call from the President the night before. He discussed it. He had not made up his mind. I believe it is a good idea. I think the Vice President, a whole group of people believe that the President has made a courageous decision. And as you know, Chris, and I think I’ve certainly learned as a new member of a cabinet, no decision is made until the President of the United States makes the decision. Staff can advise, people can weigh in, but everybody knows that ultimately no decision is made until the President makes it. The President made this decision. I believe it’s the right decision. I think we are stronger, the President believes very, very much that America will show the best face of our democracy and a great strength and we will show a unity of purpose in the conviction of the Congress and the President that we need to do this.
QUESTION: Sir, I have --
SECRETARY KERRY: And during this time over these next days, we have an opportunity to re-gauge and to fine-tune our strategy on Syria. I know people like John McCain and Lindsey Graham, others have thoughts about things that could strengthen it. I think we can create a unity of purpose here that actually makes America stronger and that is, frankly, much more damaging and much more problematic for Assad.
QUESTION: One final question, sir, and we have less than a minute left. You talk about this is going to make it worse for Assad. After the President announced his decision, officials in Damascus were saying that the President had flinched, had made a joke of the American Administration. A newspaper out in the streets of Damascus today calls this, quote, “the start of the historic American retreat.” Haven’t you handed Syria and Iran at least a temporary victory, sir?
SECRETARY KERRY: I don’t believe so at all. And that is in the hands of the Congress of the United States. The President has made his decision. The President wants to stand up and make certain that we uphold the international norm that we do not grant impunity to a ruthless dictator to gas his own people. Anybody who saw those images, anybody who now focuses on the evidence that I just gave you about signatures of sarin and the hair and blood samples of the first responders – I mean, first responders died. People who went to help the people who were hurt died in this case.
This is a man who has committed a crime against humanity, and I can’t imagine that the Congress of the United States will not recognize our interests with respect to Iran, Israel, Jordan, Turkey, our friends in the region, the Syrian people, the opposition. America’s credibility is on the line here, and I expect the Congress of the United States to do what is right and to stand up and be counted, and I think that the Assad regime needs to recognize that they have refocused the energy of the American people on him, on his regime, on his lack of legitimacy to govern, and on the ways we will support the opposition in order to see that the people of Syria can choose their future in an appropriate way.
QUESTION: Secretary Kerry, thank you. Thanks for joining us. It should be an interesting couple of weeks, sir.
SECRETARY KERRY: That it may be, but I believe that in the end the Congress of the United States will do what is right.
QUESTION: Thank you, sir.