Interview With Bob Schieffer of CBS's Face The Nation

John Kerry
Secretary of State
Cairo, Egypt
September 13, 2014

MR. SCHIEFFER: We spoke with Secretary of State John Kerry yesterday in Cairo, before this latest news broke. Here is part of what he said.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, thank you so much. Can I clear up one thing first? This week, you went to some lengths to say you wouldn’t call this a war, but yet at the Pentagon and at the State Department even they were saying we are at war with ISIS. Are we at war?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, Bob, I think there’s, frankly, a kind of tortured debate going on about terminology. What I’m focused on, obviously, is getting done what we need to get done to ISIL. But if people need to find a place to land, in terms of what we did in Iraq originally, this is not a war. This is not combat troops on the ground, it’s not hundreds of thousands of people, it’s not that kind of mobilization. But in terms of al-Qaida, which we have used the word “war” with, yeah, we went – we’re at war with al-Qaida and its affiliates, and in the same context, if you want to use it, yes, we’re at war with ISIL in that sense.

But I think it’s a waste of time to focus on that, frankly. Let’s consider what we have to do to degrade and defeat ISIL, and that’s what I’m, frankly, much more focused on.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, let me ask you about your trip. The Syrian foreign minister is being quoted here as saying that Syria was no problems with American airstrikes going after ISIS targets in Syria, as long as they are coordinated, and he said he was ready to talk. Will we be coordinating this campaign with Syria?

SECRETARY KERRY: No, we’re not going to coordinate it with Syria. We will certainly want to de-conflict to make certain that they’re not about to do something that they might regret even more seriously, but we’re not going to coordinate. It’s not a cooperative effort. We’re going to do what they haven’t done, what they had plenty of opportunity to do, which is to take on ISIL and to degrade it and eliminate it as a threat. And we will do that with allies.

I think with respect to this trip, I’ve been extremely encouraged to hear from all of the people that I’ve been meeting with about their readiness and willingness to participate. I can tell you right here and now that we have countries in this region, countries outside of this region, in addition to the United States, all of whom are prepared to engage in military assistance, in actual strikes if that is what it requires. And we also have a growing number of people who are prepared to do all the other things.

People should not think about this effort just in terms of strikes. In fact, as some have pointed out, that alone is not going to resolve this challenge.

QUESTION: Well, Mr. Secretary, have you gotten any specific commitments for military help? For example, have you found anybody that’s willing to put troops on the ground into this fight?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, we’re not looking to put troops on the ground. There are some who have offered to do so, but we are not looking for that, at this moment anyway. The answer is yes, there are some that have said that. There are some that are clearly prepared to take action in the air alongside the United States and to do airstrikes, if that’s what they’re called on to do.

What we’re doing right now, Bob, is putting together the whole package. And it’s not appropriate to start announcing, well, this country will do this and this country will do that.

QUESTION: Well, let me just ask you this. Going back to what you said, you said you’re not looking for troops on the ground. Do your really think you can destroy ISIL without --

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, not from external --

QUESTION: -- troops on the ground? I mean, how does that work?

SECRETARY KERRY: Bob, there are troops on the ground that don’t belong to us. They’re called Syrian. The Syrian opposition is on the ground, and one of the regrettable things is it has been fighting ISIL by itself over the course of the last couple of years. And it’s one of the reasons that they’ve had a difficult battle. And now, with the air support and other effort from other countries, they will be augmented in their capacity.

One of the things the President put in the plan is the effort to increase the training, increase the equipping and advising to that – to the Syrian opposition. And I can’t tell you whether some other country in the neighborhood will or won’t decide to put some people in there. We know the United States is not going to do that, but as I say, this is a strategy coming together as the coalition comes together and the countries declare what they’re prepared to do.

But I want it to be absolutely clear out of this discussion we’re having that every single aspect of the President’s strategy and what is needed to be done in order to accomplish our goal has been offered by one country or multiple countries and all bases are covered.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, we thank you so much for finding time to talk with us this morning.

SECRETARY KERRY: Delighted to be with you. Thank you very much, Bob.