Interview With Savannah Guthrie of NBC's Today Show

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

QUESTION: But for right now, let’s bring in Secretary of State John Kerry. Mr. Secretary, good morning to you.

SECRETARY KERRY: Good morning.

QUESTION: I want to talk to you about the drawdown in Afghanistan that the President announced yesterday, but let’s start with these remarks from Mr. Snowden, and actually, we have a new piece of that interview to play for you this morning. And in it, he basically lays the blame that he is in Russia right now squarely on the United States. Take a look.

QUESTION: What are you doing in Russia?

MR. SNOWDEN: All right. So this is a really fair concern. I personally am surprised that I ended up here. The reality is I never intended to end up in Russia. I had a flight booked to Cuba, onwards to Latin America, and I was stopped because the United States Government decided to revoke my passport and trap me in Moscow Airport. So when people ask, why are you in Russia, I say, please, ask the State Department.

QUESTION: Well, Mr. Secretary, what about it? Does he have a point? He’s basically saying but for the U.S. State Department revoking his passport, he wouldn’t be in Russia at all.

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, for a supposedly smart guy, that’s a pretty dumb answer, frankly. Look, I’m not going to get into the – who he was, what he was. Let me just say this: If Mr. Snowden wants to come back to the United States today, we’ll have him on a flight today. We’d be delighted for him to come back. And he should come back, and that’s what a patriot would do. A patriot would not run away and look for refuge in Russia or Cuba or some other country. A patriot would stand up in the United States and make his case to the American people. But he’s refused to do that to this date, at least.

The fact is that he can come home, but he’s a fugitive from justice, which is why he’s not being permitted to fly around the world. It’s that simple and he knows it.

QUESTION: Have you softened your stance at all with regard to his alleged conduct here? I noticed earlier this year you said that there were disclosures about the NSA made because of Snowden that you yourself were not aware of that constituted NSA overreach. Does that change the calculus at all for you?

SECRETARY KERRY: That’s entirely up to the justice system. Let him come back and make his case. The fact is that he should – if he cares so much about America and he believes in America, he should trust in the American system of justice. But to be hiding in Russia, an authoritarian country, and to have just admitted that he was really trying to get to Cuba, I mean, what does that tell you, really? I think he’s confused. I think it’s very sad.

But this is a man who has done great damage to his country, violated his oath which he took when he became an employee, and yes, in fact, stole an enormous amount of information and released it to the public, to the detriment of his country.

QUESTION: Sir, let’s move on to Afghanistan. The President announcing yesterday that the combat mission will end at the end of this year and keep about 10,000 troops there next year, and all troops out, essentially, other than Embassy personnel and those to guard them at the end of 2016. The President said something interesting. He said we have to recognize that Afghanistan will not be a perfect place and it is not America’s responsibility to make it one.

Is it a fair assessment that he’s basically saying we are leaving Afghanistan at the end of 2016 regardless of the security situation there; we are washing our hands of Afghanistan?

SECRETARY KERRY: What the President is doing is giving the Afghans the opportunity to be able to run, manage, defend, fight for their own country. And the fact is that everything that we have achieved since 2009 when the President came in and there was no policy in Afghanistan, Afghanistan was adrift because all of the focus had been shifted to Iraq, including many of the resources.

So the President focused on Afghanistan and he set dates. He set targets. He said that by a specific time, the Afghans have to take over their own security. They did. He said that by a specific time, they have to run an election and provide the security for that election. They did. Now, he is telling them by a specific time, they have to take over their own management of their own security and military.

QUESTION: Let me stop you right there.

SECRETARY KERRY: I think – yeah.

QUESTION: Because of course, sir – I mean, that is the hope. But there is no guarantee that the Taliban won’t be on the rise again, that they won’t give that safe haven to al-Qaida once again. And you think about why we went in there in the first place in 2001, all the bloodshed since then. How does that strike you personally, that all those gains could be lost?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, Savannah, if you want to look at the glass half full or dark side, you can start prognosticating the worst. But the President and I and the people in the Administration and the military are making a judgment that enormous progress is being made, and they believe and the Afghans believe that this is a schedule that they can meet. The president of Afghanistan yesterday welcomed this decision. Other Afghans have welcomed it. Pakistan welcomed it. Our allies welcome it. There are many people who believe this is the appropriate way to shift responsibility.

And the bottom line is unless you set a date, they won’t assume responsibility. It’s almost basic human nature. Do you get your homework done if there isn’t a deadline for it? Generally, a lot of people don’t. The fact is that if you tell the Afghans we’re going to be here just as long as it takes, take your time, believe me, they’ll take all the time in the world. And what we’re trying to do is make it clear we’re not going to give you all the time in the world, you have to push the envelope, you have to assume responsibility, and setting a date, a target, is the best way to do that.

Now, let me emphasize one other thing: There will still be military personnel in Afghanistan after that date continuing to do the job under a bilateral security agreement which we have reached, which both candidates for president have said they will sign. So this is not an abandonment of Afghanistan. It is an emboldenment, it is an empowerment of Afghanistan. And it is a way to put the Afghans on the track to do what they should do for themselves at this point in time.

QUESTION: Secretary of State John Kerry, it is always good to get your perspective, sir. Thank you very much for your time.

SECRETARY KERRY: Thank you. Thanks, Savannah. Good to be with you. Thanks.