Interview With Jon Snow of Channel 4

John Kerry
Secretary of State
U.S. Embassy
London, United Kingdom
September 18, 2015

QUESTION: So Mr. Secretary, the Russians are building up in Syria, a lot of troops on the ground, a lot of stuff in the air we’re starting to see. Your Russian opposite number and you have spoken three times, I think, in September, and I think you’re about to talk again. Your Secretary of Defense has spoken with his opposite number. Is there a plan? Is there a new phase?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, that remains to be seen whether or not there’s a possibility depending on what the Russian intention is here. We share the same deep concern about ISIL, Daesh. It needs to be – ISIL needs to be destroyed, stopped completely. It is, obviously, the most significant player in the massive migrant crisis that’s sweeping through Europe. And of course, Assad is a key part of that because he is the magnet attracting so many people to fight him in the region.

So really, the conversations with Russia right now are to de-conflict, and the focus is to make certain that our efforts, which are going to continue – we’re not abating one bit; we will increase, in fact, some of the efforts we’re making against ISIL. And we need to make certain that those do not conflict with Russia’s efforts against ISIL. So obviously, it’s important to have that conversation.

Our Secretary of Defense spoke today to Minister Shoygu. I’ve talked to Secretary Carter since that conversation. I think it was an important beginning in the de-confliction process.

QUESTION: Could you detect which way it was going, whether you were into new ground?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, I think the indications are – from both Minister Shoygu and Foreign Minister Lavrov to me personally – that they are increasingly deeply concerned about the numbers of people fighting with ISIL, alongside ISIL, who come from their region. It is true; there are at least 2,000 Chechnyans, for instance. There are many other fighters there. And the foreign fighters is an essential element of all of our efforts. We have a coalition of more than 60 countries, and one of our lines of effort has been particularly focused on stopping foreign fighters from coming to this battle.

QUESTION: There is a worry that people have. I mean, it is rare to find Russians and the Americans in the same theater of war.


QUESTION: They have people on the ground; you don’t. But they – you both have something in the air, and the danger that there might be some sort of --

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, that’s precisely why it is so important to have this conversation of de-confliction. It has taken place. It will continue. And it is possible now that there may yet be a meeting or some other follow-up on it. We will stay very closely in communication because that’s very important. We share the same goal. We share the goal of ridding the region of ISIL. They allege --

QUESTION: Well, that’s progress, isn’t it?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, they allege that they also share the goal of a political transition that leads to a stable, whole, united, secular Syria. The question always remains, where is Assad’s place and role within that, and that’s what we need to have more conversation on.

But I can assure you this: Russia worked with us very closely on the Iran negotiations. As you know, Foreign Minister Lavrov and I worked very closely to arrive at an agreement to remove chemical weapons from Syria. So there are a number of areas where --

QUESTION: Lots of people are going to be surprised at this when they look at Ukraine. They say, well, we thought we were in – you’ve got sanctions going against them. Is there any sense in which there might be some kind of a tradeoff here in --



SECRETARY KERRY: There’s no tradeoff with respect to Ukraine. Ukraine is very clear and the sovereignty of Ukraine has to be respected in full. The Minsk agreement is there. It is there to be implemented. I believe that we, in working groups last week, actually made some progress with respect to the situation in Ukraine. We hope there’ll be another meeting shortly and we can continue.

QUESTION: So Syria’s another problem?

SECRETARY KERRY: Syria is a different --

QUESTION: So then --

SECRETARY KERRY: -- set of considerations and it’s not subject to bargaining and bartering with respect to Ukraine.

QUESTION: But from what you said for – so far, it looks a little bit as if what might happen is that the Russians will really focus on ISIL and in which case --

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, terrific. And we know we’re --

QUESTION: -- in which case what happens to Assad? Do you say, look, we will deal with Assad later, let us fix ISIL?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, here’s the contradiction, and it’s one that we’ve been very clear to the Russians and others about for a long period of time. The fighters that are there – the foreign fighters that are there are fighting Assad. They are there because Assad has gassed his people, tortured his people, barrel bombed his people, that he has --

QUESTION: But they’re also there because they want a caliphate.

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, some of them. That goes to the difference between ISIL and some radical elements versus a moderate, legitimate opposition. There are different shades of opposition. Obviously, we are deeply engaged in the fight against ISIL. This notion of some unilateral assertion of a caliphate, which is opposed, I might add, by every single other country in the region.

So if Russia wants to focus uniquely on ISIL and be of assistance there, that’s one thing; but they’ve also pledged to be part of a political process under Geneva that sees a transition and would find a political settlement. We welcome their help to get rid of ISIL and to have a legitimate political transition. But you will not end the crisis of Syria as long as Assad remains this magnet for people to come in and fight, and we have to find a way forward on a political transition. That’s key.

QUESTION: You mention the 60-country coalition. What do you want them to do? What do you want us to do, for example?


QUESTION: We were – we did use a drone the other day and kill a couple of people. Mr. Cameron is thought to be thinking about a no-fly zone. How do these other countries come in? And I mean, forgive me; where, in a sense, is American leadership?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, we put this coalition together. That’s where American leadership is.

QUESTION: But to do more --

SECRETARY KERRY: And we’re flying an extraordinary number of sorties, and we are the largest single donor in the world, $4.1 billion to date, on the Syrian refugee issue. And we are leading efforts now, as we have been, to try to find the political solution to this problem. So it’s a difficult – obviously, a very difficult issue, but we’re --

QUESTION: But do you see --

SECRETARY KERRY: We’re also leading the effort with respect to Iraq. We led the efforts to have a peaceful transition away from Maliki, have the new government came in that could unite people in the coalition, and we’ve made some progress. Is it fast enough for our satisfaction? No. Is there more that we think could be done? Yes. And President Obama is very focused on what the next steps are to try to make sure we are augmenting our efforts --

QUESTION: But do you see --

SECRETARY KERRY: -- recognizing the criticality of this crisis in terms of the migrants to Europe. But also, we’ve all reached a sense this has gone on for too long. We have felt that there was one road to try to achieve our goals with respect to the prior efforts on the political solution. It hasn’t been satisfactory. We therefore need to retool and calibrate, and that’s exactly what we’re doing. It’s one of the reasons why I’m here in Europe right now is to have the meetings. I’ll meet with Foreign Secretary Hammond tomorrow, I’m meeting with others here in London, and then I will meet with Foreign Minister Steinmeier in Germany on Sunday, and then report back to the President what our sense is of various options.

QUESTION: Well, Germany, epicenter of the receiving of the refugees – I’m wondering what you feel when you see what America has described before as huddled masses coming across Europe in waves. And for example, I mean, today on the Croatian border 10,000 refugees in one day. Now, that’s the number that America has said it will receive. That’s not enough, is it?

SECRETARY KERRY: No, it isn’t, which is precisely why we are looking at what the other options are and why there is urgency --

QUESTION: What are they?

SECRETARY KERRY: -- with respect to Syria. Well, I’m not going to go into all the options now.


SECRETARY KERRY: That’s a discussion I’m having with people. But --

QUESTION: But can you see options? Because at the moment, Europe is in chaos.

SECRETARY KERRY: Yes, I can see options, and I think it is absolutely essential that we move very rapidly, because this is a human catastrophe. It is also a moral challenge to everybody as to how people are dealt with. But you cannot deal with this just by taking in people. You have to go to the root causes. You have to go to the place from which all of these people are coming, and particularly when you have a man who has committed war crimes to everybody’s knowledge – gassing your people, barrel bombing children, torturing people, ten thousands of more photographs of the people who’ve been tortured and killed, and starving people --

QUESTION: But in a sense, you have to get the rest of humanity on your side in order to do so.

SECRETARY KERRY: We have to --

QUESTION: Don’t you have to talk about the options?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, of course, you have to talk about the options. But I think leadership requires us to make our decisions as governments as to precisely what it is we’re prepared to do, and then we go out and talk to people and not just throw a lot of things out there that have not yet been decided on or that people haven’t coalesced around. But I will say that all 60 countries have been deeply engaged one way or the other. And we’ve always said some countries will be engaged in flying air sorties and in being involved in the kinetic struggle against Daesh; others will help with refugee challenges, with development issues; others will help with foreign fighters. There are many different roles that are being played.

QUESTION: I mean, that sounds great, but the truth is that in this we have seen a terrible failure in Europe. And I mention Europe because here, of course, Europe is a contentious issue. Would you be worried if Britain fell out of Europe, if they voted – I mean, the polls are really very close now – if they voted to leave?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, this is a decision that folks here in Britain have to make a decision about. It’s a decision, obviously, that --

QUESTION: But surely, you would like them still --

SECRETARY KERRY: We want a Europe that is strong and whole and free and that is obviously a Europe of one voice with respect to something like a challenge of these migrants and the challenge of Syria, where you have a terrorist entity that is a threat to all of us. And in that we want strength, and we want unity, and we want colleagues, partner countries --

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

SECRETARY KERRY: -- prepared to come to the table and work with us. No one country can solve this problem alone, and obviously we want partners to step up and be part of it. We’re grateful for what Britain has already done. We’re grateful for what Europe has already done, not just here but with respect to Afghanistan.

We’re seeing a critical – I mean, this is a – an historic moment, globally, in terms of modernity descending on a lot of countries, massive changes in economic competition and opportunity, huge numbers of young people as population growth is overwhelming that opportunity.

QUESTION: And a terrifying threat.

SECRETARY KERRY: I beg your pardon?

QUESTION: And a terrifying threat.

SECRETARY KERRY: And very real threats that are emerging out of places where you have failed or failing states. We all, as a matter of the world order as it – such as it is, need to come together urgently in order to assert rule of law, human decency, and to make order out of places where there is chaos. That is our goal. We recognize our leadership imperatives, and President Obama has stepped up again and again in various places to live up to our responsibilities and we will continue to do that.

QUESTION: Two more questions, Mr. Secretary, if I may. The first: In your country, indeed in Western democracies generally, there are these insurgent movements. You see it with Bernie Sanders. You see it with this Mr. Trump. You see it with Marine Le Pen in France, and here the Labour Party has just elected Jeremy Corbyn, who is opposed to Trident, opposed to NATO. Are you worried?

SECRETARY KERRY: As a former presidential candidate and as a senator for more than 28 years who has run for office many times, I’m very – incredibly stimulated to want to comment on a lot of these things, but my job today is the Secretary of State of the United States and to lead our foreign policy efforts on behalf of President Obama. So I’m not going to comment on presidential or parliamentary or party politics in one country or another.

I will say this though, because I think it’s important. There is a general dissatisfaction on a global basis by citizens in many countries with the inability of governments to respond to felt needs of their people. And it is true – and people are angry. People are frustrated, and I understand that frustration. What I want to make sure is – what I worry about – is not confusing things so that we don’t live to our responsibilities on a global basis to stand up to terrorists, to stand up to legitimate threats to our nations across boundaries, to deal globally together with something like climate change. There are many things we have to work on together. And what I don’t want to see is that anger in any country, anywhere, get in the way of sensible judgment about our shared responsibility to deal with these things.

In World War II we came together. That’s when we developed the best part – the special relationship between England and the United States – we, Great Britain and the United States – we don’t want to lose our ability to partner and to stand up to very real challenges today, and I hope that none of this politics anywhere in the world is going to get in the way of us all living up to our global responsibilities.

QUESTION: And nowhere is more important in terms of issues than climate change.

Now, Copenhagen – you – I was there. I think you were there too --


QUESTION: -- and it was a most distressing event --

SECRETARY KERRY: Very much so.

QUESTION: -- in which America played a part, in fact, in its failure. And I’m wondering to what extent you can say – after all, the Chinese are bringing proposals, I know you’re bringing proposals, but do you have a confidence that actually we can come out with a view which is better than what we think it’s going to be?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, I hope so. But let me just say to you – you asked about American leadership. President Obama dispatched me to China two years ago. I went to China and negotiated with the Chinese, which we had never been able to do successfully, brought them to the table, the Chinese agreed to work with us on climate change. We have partnered significantly now for two years. President Obama went to Beijing, stood up with President Xi and announced a monumental agreement where China and the United States would take the lead in helping to push countries towards Paris and in announcing our emissions reductions. President Obama has implemented a national climate action plan, we are deeply involved in setting very strong standards and leading the effort now to help – together with France and others – get to Paris with an agreement that we hope will avoid the consequence of Copenhagen. And we’re all deeply committed to this.

QUESTION: And optimistic?

SECRETARY KERRY: And we’re meeting in New York in a week at the United Nations General Assembly, where we will have a meeting of the major emitter countries of the world, where we will begin to encourage more countries to set up their independent, nationally arrived at reductions levels. And I’m hopeful, very hopeful, that we’re going to do this.

I’m going to Chile in a few days to take part in the oceans conference, which is a follow-on to one we did last year, because we’re trying to bring people into greater awareness of the linkage of the oceans to the challenge of climate and to our responsibilities to have sustainable fisheries. All of this is interconnected, and I hope we will go to Paris and lay out for everybody an agreement that will advance this effort. But it will not end in Paris. We have enormous steps yet to take to meet the global challenge of holding the rise of temperature to 2 degrees Centigrade. We’re too far away from achieving that still, and so it is imperative that we are successful in Paris. And we intend to do everything possible to help the French and others arrive at that successful goal.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, I’m very grateful to you for talking to us. Thank you very much.

SECRETARY KERRY: Happy to be with you. Thank you. Thank you.