Interview With Charlie Rose and Norah O'Donnell of CBS This Morning

John Kerry
Secretary of State
Washington, DC
May 28, 2014

QUESTION: Secretary of State John Kerry is with us from the State Department in Washington. Mr. Secretary, good morning.

SECRETARY KERRY: Good morning.

QUESTION: Sir, is the announcement about the troops remaining in Afghanistan in the President’s speech tonight an effort to convince the world that the United States is prepared not to sink into isolation but to be prepared to combat and play a role in the world?

SECRETARY KERRY: No, Charlie. What it really is a statement of transition that is appropriate to the timing as expressed by the military and the generals and by the situation on the ground in Afghanistan.

What we are doing, what the President is doing, is making clear that the United States understands its role of leadership in the world, that we are deeply committed to offering that leadership and to continuing to lead. We’re doing so in Iran with respect to the Iran negotiations. We’re doing so in Syria with respect to increased ramp-up assistance to the Syrian opposition. We’re doing it in the Maghreb, in the Sahel, in the Levant, in South Asia, and in East Asia. And the fact is the United States is more engaged in more places than it has ever been in any time in history.

But the President today is going to make clear exactly what the vision is for how we deal with this rapidly changing, more complex world where terrorism is the principal challenge. And so today, he will announce a terrorism partnership fund, about $5 billion that we will use to help train other countries, other people in their ability to join in alliances to take on this rising radical extremism that challenges rule of law in so many places.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, let me ask you about Syria. After three years and more than 150,000 people killed, are we finally going to intervene in Syria?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, the President has made a fundamental decision that the United States is not going to put American boots on the ground. He’s made that clear, and I don’t think the American people, the Congress, anybody feels that that’s what we should do. But yes, he is going to ramp up efforts with allies in concert with the fundamental support group of both Arab communities and European communities who are committed to helping to stop the slaughter that is taking place in Syria. The President will talk about that to some degree today. In the days ahead, we will be working very closely with Congress to engage in additional assistance to the moderate opposition.

But the main thing is that this is having fundamental spillover impact on Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan, Iraq. It’s destabilizing the region, and there is an increase in the number of terrorists, even some who are plotting against Europe and the United States.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, isn’t this a recognition that the President should have done more earlier? In fact, two years ago, if you traveled the world, you hear a lot, especially in the Arab world, that you know saying that it was a mistake not to do more in Syria two years ago.

SECRETARY KERRY: Charlie, the President has been consistently ramping up the effort in Syria. And you’re a good student of all of this. I know you’ve spent a lot of time looking at it. You know full well that over the course of the last year, the opposition was fighting amongst itself. The opposition spent a huge amount of time not fighting against Assad but fighting against radical extremists. And in addition to that, there was a division within the Gulf states with respect to who they were willing to support.

So now that division has ended. Now there is a greater focus on the regime than there is on the terrorists by the opposition. And we believe there is more coordinated, effective leadership within the opposition and among the countries that are supporting the opposition.

QUESTION: Let me go back to --

SECRETARY KERRY: So there’s been a transition which has fundamentally altered the possibilities.

QUESTION: Let me go to a speech you made at Yale in which you said, “We cannot allow a hangover from the excessive intervention of the last decade,” – that’s Iraq and Afghanistan – “to lead now to an excess of isolationism in this decade.” Are you and the President on the same page? Because the President has said clearly we want to be out of Afghanistan by 2016, we will cut the 9,000 troops by half by 2015, and all of them except embassy protection by 2016. Isn’t that a kind of isolationism?

SECRETARY KERRY: Number one, no, it is absolutely not, Charlie. It is exactly what the American people have always sought in Afghanistan and what the Afghans themselves want. The Afghans want us to transition out. The Afghans want to take responsibility for their own country. We did everything that we have achieved from 2009 until today by setting a date. We set a date for the Afghans to take over their security. They did. We set a date for the Afghans to be responsible for their election. They were. And they actually implemented all of the security. We didn’t do any of that. They planned it and they executed it. Now we’re setting a date for them taking over the security of their country. And the fact is that if you tell the Afghans we’ll be here as long as it takes, you can absolutely bet your bottom dollar they’ll take as long as they want. The American people don’t want that. We need to set targets. We need to set dates. We need to get the job done.

What the President is doing is specifically trying to free up resources that are excessively directed into Afghanistan and begin to spread them into other places where we need them in order to take on terrorism that is spreading throughout other parts of the world.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, let me ask you about Edward Snowden. He has now given an interview in which he says he was trained by the United States as a spy. How damaging is this disclosure?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, it’s not – it’s the same disclosure that everybody’s known. He very cleverly wraps it into his language about: I was a technical person; I didn’t go out there and work with humans, with other people; I wasn’t working and interacting with human beings. Basically, what he was doing is computer stuff, and that’s exactly what he says. So he wraps it into this larger language.

The bottom line is this is a man who has betrayed his country, who is sitting in Russia, an authoritarian country, where he has taken refuge. He should man up and come back to the United States if he has a complaint about what’s the matter with American surveillance, come back here and stand in our system of justice and make his case. But instead he is just sitting there taking potshots at his country, violating his oath that he took when he took on the job he took, and betraying, I think, the fundamental agreement that he entered into when he became an employee. And the fact is he has damaged his country very significantly in many, many ways. He has hurt operational security. He has told terrorists what they can now do to be able to avoid detection. And I find it sad and disgraceful.

QUESTION: Secretary, thank you so much.