Interview With Greta Van Susteren of Fox News

John Kerry
Secretary of State
Washington, DC
September 29, 2015

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, nice to see you, sir.

SECRETARY KERRY: Happy to be here. Thank you.

QUESTION: All right. What are we going to do about Assad?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, we’re going to work with our members of the coalition, the allies who are all combined in order to fight ISIL, and now hopefully be able to get Russia to join in the effort to fight ISIL, but also to be part of a political track, because you have to do both at the same time in order to try to come to a political resolution with respect to the transition to a government of credibility and a government of capacity in Syria. My hope is, judging on the meeting that we had yesterday with President Putin, I believe there is an opportunity to be able to do – to go down that political track because President Putin accepted the idea of a dual-track effort, and he indicated a willingness to try to work through a political transition. Now, what that means for Assad yet is not yet finalized, not determined. That will be part of the work that both leaders assign the Russian foreign minister and me to pursue over the course of the next days.

QUESTION: Do you have a sense, though, that President Putin wants President Assad to go?

SECRETARY KERRY: I think what he wants is a solution to the problem and he understands that Assad is a major blockade to do that. Has he turned around and said, “I’m going to kick him out”? No, he hasn’t said that yet. What he has said is he’s prepared to have a political process, and the end result of that process is really up to the Syrian people. So there may be a way through that threading of a needle to come to an understanding about where we’re headed.

If Assad insists on staying there, Syria will be destroyed for the simple reason that the jihadis, the extremists attracted to the fight will come in even greater numbers, and you will never be able to make peace until you resolve the question of what is happening with respect to the political track of Assad.

QUESTION: But is there any indication that President Assad even wants to leave or is willing to leave because he --

SECRETARY KERRY: Oh, I’m sure – there are indications that he has said publicly, “If the Syrian people don’t want me, then I’m prepared to go.” He has also --

QUESTION: Do you believe that? I mean, there’s been a lot of indications; there’s a civil war there.

SECRETARY KERRY: I don’t believe what he says one iota one way or the other, and I don’t wait to hear what he says. What I do care about is what Russia and Iran and other countries are prepared to do in order to try to solve this problem. And Putin now has put himself in the center of a problem. He’s there. He’s on the ground now. He says he’s going to be there to fight ISIL. Well, guess what? If he’s there to fight ISIL and he doesn’t have the support of Sunni, he’s never going to succeed in that fight. So he may wind up in a very serious situation. The only problem is it also means that Syria goes downhill.

So we all have a responsibility because the numbers of refugees that are leaving the country, flooding Europe, changing the politics of Europe, an extraordinary process of destruction of historical sites and of people and of the capacity of a country to be whole, that’s what’s happening because of ISIL’s presence and because of Assad. So both problems have to be solved, and it may well be you have to solve them simultaneously.

QUESTION: What’s in it for President Putin? I mean, he certainly has muscled his way in. He’s now got the security agreement with Iraq, Iran, Syria --

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, that’s not --

QUESTION: -- on intelligence sharing. But I mean, what’s in it for him? What’s his interest in this?

SECRETARY KERRY: Let me just point out very quickly that Russia has been coordinating with Iraq and in the region for many years. This is not new. And the intelligence that they will be sharing and getting from the Iraqis we know is nothing that interferes with us or threatens us in any way whatsoever. And if you’re going to coordinate in an effort against ISIL, you’re going to need some kind of coordination with respect to who’s operating where and what they’re going after.

So President Obama and President Putin agreed yesterday to immediately engage in military-to-military de-confliction at the most basic level, not yet to cooperate in the missions, but to de-conflict. We will continue our missions exactly as we are doing them today. The French have now joined in the fight with us and are flying missions. Australians are coming. There’s a lot happening. And I am convinced over the course of the next days that there will be additional pressure on ISIL.

The problem is and remains, as we keep telling Iran and Russia, if you do not find a way to be inclusive with respect to the Sunnis – 65 million of them from Baghdad all the way up to the Turkish border through Iraq and Syria – if they are not brought into this fight, if they are not brought into the governing, you cannot solve the problem of ISIL and you certainly can’t solve the problem of Assad in Syria.

QUESTION: Okay. So what’s in this for President Putin? What are his designs? I mean, he seems to be very busy --

SECRETARY KERRY: Putin has a very legitimate concern about 2,000 Chechens who are in Syria learning how to fight and be terrorists and very threatened by surrounding countries from which there are even more people who are there to learn to fight. I think he also is fearful that his client, Assad, was losing ground to both ISIL and the opposition and therefore he wanted to shore him up. But I think shore him up with a view to trying to maintain Russia’s influence and presence in country, even as they try to secure a political solution.

It’s a complicated – very complicated series of different interests and relationships, all of which have to be managed in a way to try to secure a resolution. And I think we will find out. I have meetings tonight with the French and the Germans and the British and the Saudis and Turks, Emiratis, Jordanians. We will talk through our point of view about how we might be able to turn Russia’s presence into a plus. And then tomorrow I’ll meet with Foreign Minister Lavrov and we’ll go to the next steps. But this is not going to happen in one day or one week. It’ll take a little while to sort through the modalities and put the political track together, and that’s what we’re going to do.

QUESTION: Iran. Iran has Pastor Abedini, a Christian pastor. It has Amir Hekmati, a U.S. Marine --

SECRETARY KERRY: Abedini, and Jason Rezaian.

QUESTION: -- Jason Rezaian, who is a Washington Post reporter, and maybe Bob Levinson – we don’t know – former FBI. And I know that the United States has not made the nuclear deal a sort of quid pro quo or brought that in, but what are we doing? And President Rouhani at least has said that he was – that he wants to consider swapping Iranians held in the United States for those three.

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, I’m not going to get into the details of any discussions or swaps or whatever that may or may not exist. What I will tell you is we are fixated on getting our citizens back.

QUESTION: What’s wrong with a swap, though?

SECRETARY KERRY: And not a conversation – I’m not going to discuss what we might or might not do. I will discuss that we are in every conversation now talking about this issue, and it’s my hope that over the course of the next days, weeks, but as short as possible, I hope our citizens will come home, and we’re continuing to focus on it.

QUESTION: Are you – are you saying – I don’t mean to beat a dead horse, but are you saying that swaps is a possibility or, I mean, it’s on the table?

SECRETARY KERRY: I’m not saying anything about any modality with respect to might – what might or might not happen. What I am saying is we are focused on getting our citizens home and we’re going to continue that conversation.

QUESTION: Sudan, which is a country that’s having a lot of problems. I’ve been in the Nuba Mountains and I’ve seen that President Bashir is dropping bombs on his people just like President Assad does on his people. Where does the United States stand vis-a-vis President Bashir and the poor people in the Nuba Mountains?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, as you know, he’s under ICC indictment. He’s somebody we don’t talk to directly. We talk underneath him to members of his administration. He’s not allowed to travel to many countries in the world because if he did, he’d be arrested. And we are deeply opposed to the violence that he is perpetrating against people in Blue Nile and South Kordofan, and indeed still in Darfur.

We have called on him to be a responsible player with respect to the peace agreement that we’ve just made that – not we have made, but we have helped to give birth to together with the countries in the region for South Sudan. He has fed that particular conflict also by giving weapons to the rebels within that fight. So he’s not proven himself to be a legitimate and – a player who is prepared to prove that Sudan itself is ready to be treated differently. There are countries in the region that have influence with him. We worked with them to try to get them off the – as you know, off the list of state sponsors of terror and to try to bring them into the process as we were going through the comprehensive peace agreement with South Sudan. And regrettably, the minute South Sudan took place in which he was helpful, he turned around and started the violence again in the two areas.

So we’re – we have a special envoy in the region who is working hard to try to find a way forward. That’s another conflict area that is part of this incredible chaos of that particular region at this particular moment of time.

QUESTION: All right. I asked this question of Governor Romney: Is the door just a itty bitty open to run in 2016? And I know that you’re very busy with your job. Is --

SECRETARY KERRY: I don’t have any door right now. I’m fixated --

QUESTION: Then so it’s completely shut?

SECRETARY KERRY: I don’t even see the door. I am fixated on doing the job that I have. It’s one of the best jobs anybody could ever have, and certainly I think the best job in the government and that’s what I’m doing.

QUESTION: All right, emails. When you came into office, did they tell you about what you could do or not do with your emails?

SECRETARY KERRY: Sure. We had discussions about email security and how you proceed, and I use the State Department server, but – all my emails are recoverable within the process of the State Department itself.

QUESTION: But in terms of the briefing, do they say to you when you come in, do they give you a very strict briefing on this?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, when you say “they,” my --

QUESTION: I mean is there a procedure when you become Secretary of State?

SECRETARY KERRY: My chief of staff --

QUESTION: Obviously, you know why I’m asking.

SECRETARY KERRY: My chief of staff actually – we had a discussion about email procedures, and my current chief of staff rides a pretty close herd on what’s going on.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, thank you, sir.

SECRETARY KERRY: Thank you very much.