Interview With Savannah Guthrie of NBC's Today Show

John Kerry
Secretary of State
Treaty Room
Washington, DC
June 18, 2014

As Aired on June 19

QUESTION: And now to our exclusive interview with Secretary of State John Kerry. We were with him on Wednesday as he shuttled back and forth to the White House helping President Obama weigh U.S. options in Iraq. And I began by asking Secretary Kerry about those reports that the President has taken the option of airstrikes in Iraq off the table.

SECRETARY KERRY: Nothing is off the table. All options are still available to the President.

QUESTION: It seems like the U.S. was totally caught off guard by this.

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, I don’t think – look, our people on the ground in Iraq have seen the increased intensity. We’ve been watching this happening. We have been engaged in efforts over the months. We’ve been beefing up our assistance, our presence.

QUESTION: But did you act too slowly? I mean, Maliki was asking for help with airstrikes in the last few weeks as this was coming, as ISIS was coming toward this part of Iraq. Why didn’t we act then?

SECRETARY KERRY: For a lot of different reasons, not the least of which is we didn’t have operational theater capacity at that point in time, partly because Prime Minister Maliki denied the kind of permissions necessary.

QUESTION: That raises the question: Why come to Maliki’s rescue now? I mean, isn’t he a big part of the problem?

SECRETARY KERRY: This is not about Maliki. Let me stress: What the United States is doing is about Iraq; it is not about Maliki. And nothing that the President decides to do is going to be focused specifically on Prime Minister Maliki. It is focused on the people of Iraq – Shia, Sunni, Kurd.

QUESTION: But it may benefit Maliki.

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, that’s up to the people of Iraq to decide. But the United States is deeply concerned about the Islamic State of Iraq in the Levant, ISIL, as we know it, that has moved in. They represent a threat to every country in the region. They’re more extreme even than al-Qaida, and they are threatening the United States and Western interests.

QUESTION: You’ve mentioned that the U.S. is open, at least, to possibly working with Iran as you deal with this situation with ISIS in northern Iraq.

SECRETARY KERRY: First of all, I don’t know where this comes from that we are – we’ve suggested working with Iran in that regard. We have heard --

QUESTION: I thought you said it in an interview the other day.

SECRETARY KERRY: What I said is we are interested in communicating with Iran to make clear that the Iranians know what we’re thinking and we know what they’re thinking, and that there’s a sharing of information so people aren’t making mistakes.

QUESTION: Just to be clear, the U.S. isn’t considering working hand in hand with Iran? Because I think for a lot of Americans, that’s a head scratcher.

SECRETARY KERRY: Let me be absolutely clear. Well, it’s not. It would be a head scratcher – and no, we’re not sitting around contemplating how are we going to do that or if we’re going to do that. That’s not on the table.

QUESTION: Dick Cheney wrote today, “Rarely has a U.S. president been so wrong about so much at the expense of so many.”

SECRETARY KERRY: This is the man who took us into Iraq saying this? Please.

QUESTION: What’s happening now in Iraq is directly related to the situation in Syria. Did the U.S. – did the President miss the moment, make a huge mistake by not trying to turn the tide in Syria then, and what’s happening in Iraq now is just the chickens coming home to roost?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, Savannah, let me just say this: There’s plenty of time going down the road here for people to have post-mortems and to make decisions. We are the largest single donor of humanitarian assistance. We are deeply engaged in working with our allies and friends in the region. We are assisting, training, doing work in terms of providing nonlethal aid and assistance to --

QUESTION: Doesn’t the evidence suggest it’s not working? Because instead of things getting better because of our assistance, in fact, a group like ISIS is on the rise and now taking more territory.

SECRETARY KERRY: ISIS is on the rise because Assad is a magnet for terrorists of all ilk and walks who are come there to try to unseat him.

QUESTION: Didn’t you advocate for arming the moderate opposition when you were a senator? I mean, didn’t you think that was the right thing to do?


QUESTION: And doesn’t it kill you now to see what’s happened?

SECRETARY KERRY: I know where you’re trying to – look, let me just make it clear: We are augmenting our assistance in significant ways.

QUESTION: What do you say to Iraq veterans, those who’ve lost so much or families of those who lost everything in Iraq, who are looking now and saying, “What was that for? No sooner have we left than everything goes back to just the way it was”?

SECRETARY KERRY: That remains to be seen. And the test is in really these next few days and weeks. And we are going to do everything in our power to follow through and try to get the job done through diplomacy, if we can, in order to honor their sacrifice.

As Aired on June 20

MS. GUTHRIE: We are back at 7:40. This has been especially a busy week for Secretary of State John Kerry, with the Administration dealing with the crisis in Iraq, other issues around the globe. We heard from him on that Thursday on Today. Well, this morning, more of our time with Secretary Kerry as we take a behind-the-scenes look at his hectic week.

MS. GUTHRIE: From breakfast with senators --

PARTICIPANT: Please unveil the portrait.

MS. GUTHRIE: -- and the ceremonial duties of office to back-to-back trips to the White House, Secretary of State John Kerry has taken his new job and run with it, sometimes literally. And the world is seeing a somewhat different Kerry, the once-staid senator now one of the President’s most outspoken road warriors.

SECRETARY KERRY: You just don’t invade another country.

He’s a fugitive from justice.

And history would judge us all.

QUESTION: It seems to me that you are looser than you’ve ever been.

SECRETARY KERRY: After years and years in public life, I know who I am, I know what I want to achieve.

SECRETARY KERRY: I, John F. Kerry, do solemnly swear --

MS. GUTHRIE: It’s a moment a lifetime in the making. The son of a Foreign Service officer, a decorated Vietnam Veteran who famously came to protest the war, a senator for decades and a former presidential candidate, Kerry seems more determined now than ever to make his mark.

SECRETARY KERRY: I have big heels to fill. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Here are some adjectives that I have read that are used to describe you: relentless, ambitious, stubborn, pompous, risk-taker, loner.

SECRETARY KERRY: Yeah. I hope I’m ambitious. I hope the President chose me because he wanted somebody in here who was going to fight hard, and I’m happy to be relentless about it.

MS. GUTHRIE: Ambitious, yes, but with mixed results so far. He pushed for talks to resolve Syria’s crisis, but Assad’s grip has only tightened. Russia’s Putin seems hardly cowed by U.S. sanctions over tensions in Ukraine, and Kerry logged thousands of miles for a Middle East peace deal that never happened.

QUESTION: Some people said they admire your energy, but essentially it was a waste of time.

SECRETARY KERRY: It is never a waste of time to work for peace, ever. We have two and a half years left in this Administration. I say to you I don’t believe that the effort is over --

MS. GUTHRIE: But how much power does he have? Kerry rejects suggestions that the real foreign policy decisions are run out of the White House.

SECRETARY KERRY: I said to the President a few months ago, I thanked him for the extraordinary breadth and absence of leash that he had given me. The President has been incredibly trusting, incredibly empowering.

MS. GUTHRIE: Moments of levity in this job are welcome, and these days that comes in the form of Kerry’s new puppy, Ben, a Lab who is named after Benjamin Franklin, and who is intermittently obedient.


This is embarrassing. Come on, Benny.

QUESTION: (Laughter.)

SECRETARY KERRY: So I’ve got to send him back to school. Ben, sit. Down, down, down. That a boy. There you are. What can I say? Stay.

QUESTION: Is he a good stress reliever?

SECRETARY KERRY: No, he’s a good stress giver. (Laughter.)

MS. GUTHRIE: The job is not without glamour, with Angelina Jolie last week at a London conference and Leonardo DiCaprio this week talking ocean conservation.

QUESTION: They call this the bromance picture to end all bromance pictures.

SECRETARY KERRY: It’s the angle. It’s the angle. It’s not a fair angle. But that said, both my daughters texted me and I won’t tell you what they said. (Laughter.)

MS. GUTHRIE: But after a lifetime in the public eye, Kerry is happy to tell you he is out of elected politics.

QUESTION: Will you really never run for public office again?

SECRETARY KERRY: I have no plans to run for public office again.

QUESTION: Is that, “I will really not run for public office again”?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, I’d never say never to anything. I might run for dogcatcher. But no, I’m not planning. I’m not running. This is my last public position, I think, and I’m going to try and get the job done as well as I can.