Interview With George Stephanopoulos of ABC's This Week

John Kerry
Secretary of State
Washington, DC
July 20, 2014

QUESTION: We are joined now by the Secretary of State John Kerry. Mr. Secretary, thanks for your time this morning. We just heard in Alex Marquardt’s piece that Palestinians are calling this morning’s operation in Gaza a massacre and a war crime. What’s your response?

SECRETARY KERRY: That’s rhetoric that we’ve heard many, many times. What they need to do is stop rocketing Israel and accept a ceasefire. It’s very, very clear that they’ve tunneled under Israel. They’ve tried to come out of those tunnels with people with handcuffs and tranquilizer drugs to capture Israeli citizens and hold them for ransom, or worse. They’ve been rocketing Israel with thousands of rockets. They’ve been offered a ceasefire, and they’ve refused to take the ceasefire. Even though Egypt and others have called for that ceasefire, they’ve just stubbornly invited further efforts to try to defuse the ability to be able to rocket Israel.

So it’s ugly, obviously. War is ugly, and bad things are going to happen. But they need to recognize their own responsibility. We have offered to have a ceasefire and then negotiate the issues. We’ve obviously shown our bona fides in the United States, and the President has put his presidency behind the effort to try to find peace in the region. So they need to join up and be responsible and accept a unilateral – not a unilateral, but a multilateral ceasefire without conditions, and then we pledge to discuss all the underlying issues, which we’ve been trying to do for the last year and a half.

QUESTION: You pin the blame – you seem to pin the blame most squarely on Hamas. Is there any dealing with Hamas, or must they be removed from power?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, that’s a – well, we don’t deal with Hamas, but there are people in the region who obviously do, and Israel has had to find a way to communicate through Egyptians or others in order to get Private Shalit back or other kinds of things historically. But there are plenty of people talking to Hamas in the region, and they’re all telling Hamas that they need to try to have a ceasefire. And what we need to do is get that ceasefire rapidly. I’ve been in touch with every foreign minister involved in this discussion. I talked yesterday with Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. President Obama talked on Friday evening with Prime Minister Netanyahu. I talked to him yesterday. The President will talk to him again today. We are trying to get a ceasefire in place, and then be able to move on and get back to the discussions that really are underlying this conflict.

QUESTION: In the meantime --

SECRETARY KERRY: But in the immediacy, when three young Israeli kids are taken and murdered, and Hamas applauds it and celebrates the fact that they were kidnapped and supported the kidnapping, and then starts rocketing Israel when they’re looking for the people who did it, that’s out of balance by any standard, George. And I think it’s important for people to remember the facts that led to this. Hamas needs to join up, be part of a solution, not the problem

QUESTION: The U.S. and the United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, you just mentioned, have also called on Israel to do more to stop civilian casualties. What exactly would you like to see from Prime Minister Netanyahu?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, Prime Minister Netanyahu has indicated that he is not trying to go in and create some sort of massive counter-civilian re-takeover. What he’s trying to do is make it clear to Hamas that he’s prepared to do what he needs to do to protect the citizens of his country. I mean, just yesterday, when I was talking – or the day before, when I was talking to the prime minister, in the middle of our conversation, the air raid sirens go off and the prime minister of the country has to tell me, “I have to interrupt the conversation. We have to go to the shelter.” Twenty minutes later, we can pick up a conversation. The same thing happened with the President of the United States. This is happening to families all across Israel. Every day, they have to seek shelter. Hamas has to understand you can’t just sit there and claim moral rectitude or the higher ground while you’re busy rocketing people and capturing people and digging tunnels to attack them. And this has to stop.

Now, we’ve indicated our willingness to be a fair mediator, arbiter, to try to come in together with others, in order to negotiate the key issues. But you can’t reward this terrorism with a bunch of preconditions up front. There has to be a humanitarian or some kind of ceasefire in order to stop the violence.

QUESTION: I want to move on.

SECRETARY KERRY: And we all want to see that happen.

QUESTION: I want to move on to the situation in Ukraine. Our embassy in Kyiv has laid out a string of evidence tying the shoot-down to Russia. In your view, is Russia responsible for these deaths?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, the question of responsibility is going to be adjudicated, obviously, in an investigation, providing we can get that full and fair investigation. But there are an enormous array of facts that point at Russia’s support for and involvement in this effort. Russia – there are – I mean, some of the separatist leaders, George, are Russian. Russia has armed the separatists. Russia has supported the separatists. Russia has trained the separatists. Russia continues to refuse to call publicly for the separatists to engage in behavior that would lend itself to a resolution of this issue. And the fact is that only a few weeks ago, a convoy of 150 vehicles of artillery, armored personnel carriers, multiple rocket launchers, tanks crossed over from Russia into this area, and these items were all turned over to the separatists.

We track – we, ourselves, tracked the imagery of the launch of this surface-to-air missile, of the disappearance of the aircraft from the radar at that time. We know that this comports with an SA-11 system because it hit an aircraft at the altitude of 33,000 feet. We know to a fact that the separatists bragged on the social media immediately afterwards about the shoot-down, and then later, when one of the leaders of the social – of the movement who – Igor Strelkov, who’s the self-proclaimed defense minister of the People’s Republic of Donetsk, he posted a social media bragging about the takedown of a military transport, and when it turned out to be civilian, he then quickly removed it from the social media. Now, drunken separatists are stacking bodies into the back of trucks, removing materials from the site. On Friday, we had 75 minutes of access to the site; on Saturday, three hours of access. This is an insult to everybody.

QUESTION: So given all that, Mr. Secretary --

SECRETARY KERRY: This is a moment of truth for – it’s really a moment of truth for Russia to step up and be part of the solution, not part of the problem.

QUESTION: So given all that, what exactly should President Putin do right now?

SECRETARY KERRY: President Putin should publicly call on the separatists. He should engage in a public support for the ceasefire. He should engage with the separatists directly in order to release the hostages that they’ve taken, and he should encourage them immediately to take part in a political process that can bring peace to the region. He needs to stop arming them. He could help prevent people crossing the border. He could stop the supplies from coming in. He could engage in the kind of constructive effort that Russia engaged in with us in order to remove 100 percent of the declared chemical weapons from Syria. He could do those things.

QUESTION: There’s no indication, yet, Mr. Secretary --

SECRETARY KERRY: All of those things.

QUESTION: -- that he’s prepared to do that. So if he doesn’t, what’s going to be the United States’ response, and do you believe Europe is now prepared to go along with greater sanctions?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, we hope Europe will be obviously. We think this is a wakeup call for countries in Europe. President Obama, however, took the lead and put additional sanctions in place on energy, on arms manufacturing companies, and on banking. And those are the toughest sanctions that have been put in place to date. He did that the day before this incident took place, and he is absolutely prepared to consider further, but we need to consult with our allies in Europe. And equally importantly, we’d like to take a stab at seeing if we can find a way for Russia to join in taking actions that actually back up the words that we’ve been hearing.

QUESTION: Finally, Mr. Secretary, you’re juggling so many different crises right now. Your friend and former colleague, Senator John McCain, has said that the world is in greater turmoil than any time in his lifetime. And he and many of your other critics say that the President bears some responsibility for that, he hasn’t been forceful enough. Do you agree with this analysis of the world right now? And how do you respond to the criticism?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, I agree with the analysis to the degree that it says that the world is in turmoil right now, and the world is because enormous numbers of forces have been unleashed with globalization, with the Arab Spring, with the radical religious extremism, none of which are the fault of President Obama. And that’s a nice narrative, politically, if all you want to do is play politics. But the fact is that the United States of America, George, is more engaged in more places in the world, and frankly, I think, to greater effect than at any time in recent memory, and I can’t think of a time when the United States has been engaged in more places where people are worried not about our staying, but they don’t want us to leave, and they recognize that American leadership is critical.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, thanks very much for your time this morning.