Interview With Alexander Marquardt of ABC

John Kerry
Secretary of State
Jeddah, Saudi Arabia
September 11, 2014

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, thank you for your time today.


QUESTION: I want to start off by talking about the President’s address last night. He didn’t seem to define what victory is. He talked about degrading and destroying ISIS, but what does the endgame look like?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, the endgame looks like an ISIS that no longer can threaten the United States of America, no longer threatens the region, no longer threatens Iraq itself and has the ability to mount attacks against the United States, against others; that it’s basically been degraded and destroyed the way al-Qaida in Afghanistan has been and the way Afghanistan – and al-Qaida in Pakistan. It’s an all-out effort to reduce their capacity to do anything of significance or meaningful to people in the region.

QUESTION: And this could take some time. As you’ve said, you acknowledge this could be handled – or will have to be handled by the next administration.

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, I’m not going to predict on timing, except to say that it’s not going to be done overnight, that it’s going to take a while. Whether that’s one year, two years, three years, I can’t tell you; nobody can. I think what we’re doing right now, what I’m engaged in doing is on behalf of the President putting together what he wants, which is the largest coalition possible; because the bigger it is, the more effective it is, the faster we can eliminate the threat. And so we have to see how things come together, exactly what the total operational capacity becomes, and that will determine to some degree how rapidly we can deal with this threat.

QUESTION: The President stayed away from saying that we’re at war with ISIS. Is the U.S. at war with ISIS?

SECRETARY KERRY: No. Look, we’re engaged in a counterterrorism operation of a significant order. And counterterrorism operations can take a long time, they go on. I think “war” is the wrong reference term with respect to that, but obviously it involves kinetic military action. It has its dangers, and – but it’s critical to the security of the United States and in this case to global security because of the reach of ISIS.

QUESTION: The White House has been adamant that no American combat ground troops will participate in the conflict in Iraq or in Syria. But you yesterday seemed to leave the door open to that while you were in Baghdad, saying it could happen – or it won’t happen unless, obviously, something very, very dramatic happened.

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, I’m not – that’s how you play with word games in your own mind, sometimes gaming something out. There’s no way we’re going to have American troops on the ground there. We’re not contemplating it. I don’t see the President ever doing that. It’s not in the cards, period. No American combat troops on the ground, period.

QUESTION: We are now in Saudi Arabia, who for the past several years has been arming and funding some of the most radical Islamist rebel groups in Syria, groups too extreme for the U.S. to back. Many, including Senator Rand Paul, have said that Saudi has even aided and abetted the rise of ISIS. You have come here to enlist Saudi Arabia’s help, and you’ve succeeded in getting them to agree to help train and arm a so-called moderate rebel force. Are they really the right partners for this?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, Saudi Arabia is going to be doing even more than that, and the answer is yes, they’re an extraordinarily important partner in this. They were extremely effective today in bringing people together and helping to create the momentum and energy that brought more partners to this coalition. And Saudi Arabia understands that these guys are dangerous and there has to be action taken and action taken now. And they’re a solid, important – no, even more so; they’re a really key partner in our efforts to try to do what we have to do.

QUESTION: Have you gotten assurances from them that they’ll try to stop the flow of money and fighters to ISIS --


QUESTION: -- and the other groups?


QUESTION: Of course, Iran and Syria are also fighting ISIS. The Administration has been adamant that there has been no communication, no coordination with those regimes. But can you completely rule out in the future any coordination with the Iranian and Syrian regimes in this fight?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, you’d have to have a sea change with respect to the relationship with Iran for that to happen, and obviously nobody foresees that in the near term. We’re in the middle of a nuclear negotiation. It’s a very difficult negotiation. That has to obviously come to completion before one can contemplate anything else. But in the near term, no, I don’t see any kind of cooperative effort with respect to this.

QUESTION: But it could be possible.

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, as I said, if there’s a sea change in Iran’s acceptance of a nuclear program and an end of sponsorship of terrorism and disengagement with a whole bunch of groups that it’s engaged with today and withdrawal from Syria and a bunch of things – anybody see that happening tomorrow? No. So the answer for the near term is obviously no, there’s not going to be.

QUESTION: Your colleague, Secretary of Defense Hagel, said that the ISIS threat is unlike anything we’ve seen before. He called it an imminent threat to every American interest. Today is obviously the anniversary of 9/11. Do you think that we are safer now than we were 13 years ago?

SECRETARY KERRY: Yes, no question in my mind. Thirteen years ago, we didn’t have airport check-ins, we didn’t have screening machines, we didn’t have capacity to check – back-check passengers the way we do today, we didn’t have a host of cooperative efforts in place that we have with other countries in counterterrorism, we didn’t have the kind of watch lists, we didn’t have the kind of tracking. I mean, there are a host of things. And 9/11 – unfortunately, those terrorists operated in a very permissive world and atmosphere, and the world has changed so significantly since then.

So today, without any question in my mind, we are – our borders are safer, our procedures are more complete, our understanding of the threats are deeper, our ability to intercept things ahead of time is greater. So in many ways, yes, Americans are safer. It’s still a dangerous world.

QUESTION: Do you agree with him that it’s the most imminent threat to every American interest?

SECRETARY KERRY: ISIL, without question, is one of the top, one, two, three – whatever you want to call it. I’m not going to argue with Chuck Hagel about it. It’s a good way to frame it. People need to understand it is an imminent threat in many different ways. It is destabilizing the region. It is training people who have American passports how to commit acts of terror, gaining expertise in explosives and recruitment and other kinds of things.

So in every respect, because of its attraction of foreign fighters, people with passports who can get on a plane and don’t need a visa to come into our country or another country, that’s an enormous risk. And in that regard and in the turmoil and upheaval that it is creating in the region in Iraq and Syria, Lebanon, a challenge to Israel, Jordan, and others, it is indeed a huge threat to our interests.

QUESTION: Thank you for your time, Mr. Secretary.

SECRETARY KERRY: Appreciate it.