Interview With Christiane Amanpour of CNN

John Kerry
Secretary of State
Chief of Mission's Residence
Paris, France
November 17, 2015

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, welcome to the program.

SECRETARY KERRY: Delighted to be with you.

QUESTION: Can you first confirm for us news of one of the terrorists suspected in this attack, Abdelhamid Abboud? There are reports that the United States, France, and other allies wanted to target him, sought to kill him in Syria; he is apparently a top-level Belgian citizen ISIS member.

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, I can confirm that he is an ISIS member at top level, but I can’t confirm whether he was targeted or not.

QUESTION: And what about Jihadi John, Mohammed Emwazi? Do you confirm officially that the Unites States did kill him in a drone attack?

SECRETARY KERRY: I can confirm officially that he has been targeted and that we have certainly been after him and that we’ve, in recent days, taken some efforts to try to eliminate him from the battlefield, but I can’t confirm yet the consequence.

QUESTION: You can’t tell us whether he’s dead or not?

SECRETARY KERRY: I can’t confirm that at this moment.

QUESTION: All right. Mr. Secretary, the President yesterday said that the strategy is working and we’re going to continue with more of the same, and that ISIS is contained. However, in the last 10 or so days, 352 civilians have been killed by ISIS, whether in the Russian plane, whether in Beirut --

SECRETARY KERRY: Sure, absolutely.

QUESTION: -- and now in Paris. The question is then, is this the new normal? Is this what we, as citizens, are expecting from our leadership that this is now acceptable collateral damage?

SECRETARY KERRY: Absolutely not. No. This is not normal. It will not be normal. It will not become normal. This is an aberration. But it is a reflection of what foreign fighters have been able to do going to Syria and then coming back and being able to spread their vile ideology to other people or even through the social media. But when the President says that ISIS – Daesh, a better name for them, Daesh – is contained, he was talking about and we are talking about within Iraq and within Syria. Their territory has been reduced. They are now operating in 25 percent less territory. We have liberated Tikrit – 100,000 Sunni have returned to Tikrit. We’ve liberated Baiji refinery. We’ve liberated – we’re now in the process of fighting to liberate Ramadi with the Iraqis leading that effort. We have liberated Sinjar and we’re currently moving on other communities nearby which will cut off the supply route from Mosul to al-Raqqa. Al-Raqqa is currently under increased attacks from the French, from the Russians, and the entire border of northern Syria, 75 percent of it has now been shut off, and we are entering an operation with the Turks to shut off the other remaining 98 kilometers.

So there’s a major effort taking place. The President has put additional American forces on the grounds in terms of Special Forces to enable some of these operations. We are engaged in thickening our presence in Incirlik – more people flying, more missions. So I believe the pressure is mounting on Daesh, and I am convinced that over time – and the President always said this would take some time. Now, we’ve always said there’s also a threat of these attacks elsewhere in the world until we have gotten further down the road in this process, and that is a risk. But more troops on the ground are not suddenly going to – I mean more – the invasion of a country or something is not going to solve the problem because you need something underneath it coming in that’s going to secure those areas, that’s going to show that the local population is invested in kicking out Daesh and helping to keep them out. And that’s what we’re working on right now.

QUESTION: The liberated territories that you mention happened with ground forces, mostly indigenous --


QUESTION: -- but it was with ground forces.


QUESTION: And while you say it is contained, it’s in fact spread to Libya, to the Sinai and we’ve seen --


QUESTION: -- we’ve seen the results here in Europe.

SECRETARY KERRY: But he wasn’t talking about whether it’s been contained globally.

QUESTION: No, but I’m asking you.

SECRETARY KERRY: He was talking about – well, yes. Yes, and we’re working on the Libya situation. In fact, very much preoccupied by it and engaged with various parties to try to bring people together and see if we can’t get a governing entity in place that will allow us to begin to focus on Daesh there.

But what I think is happening is that there’s a new awareness. People are coming together in this coalition which we built. I mean, the coalition has only been in existence for a year. One year. One year ago we didn’t have a coalition. One month ago we didn’t have a political process in place, which we now have, with Iran and with Russia at the table, which gives us an opportunity to perhaps get a ceasefire in place within the next three, four, five weeks, and then be able with a political process to work with other parties to again squeeze harder on Daesh.

So I think that the strategy is in fact real. It’s several-fold. It’s one, focus on Daesh; two, stabilize the countries in the region; and three, get the political process in place and move to get Assad transitioning, because he’s the magnet for this terrorism, and then begin to focus on Daesh itself. And I’m convinced ultimately we’re going to eliminate Daesh as a viable entity that’s day to day terrorizing people in the way that al-Qaida did previously and can’t today.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, terrorism, as you know better than I do, is a means, it’s not actually an end, and many are now saying that Daesh/ISIS is in fact the 21st century Eastern version of what we saw in the West in the 20th century, and that is totalitarian, fascist, and extremist. Do you think that we’ve got it wrong so far, that we’re waging this so-called war on terror but we haven’t mobilized to defeat an ideology as poisonous and as vile as Nazism and totalitarianism?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, it is – I’ve said this myself many times, that this is a modern form of Medieval fascism coupled with modern fascism. It’s a very dangerous and volatile cocktail that’s been mixed together there. At the same time, it’s a barbarism without a real ideology or a real platform or real future. I mean, what they do is kill Yezidis because they’re Yezidis and kill --

QUESTION: But they have totalitarian, utopian, and imperial goals. They want to spread.

SECRETARY KERRY: Yeah, and they’re not going to.

QUESTION: Are we up to – is our response up to their aims?

SECRETARY KERRY: Our – we are going to defeat Daesh and we are going to eliminate Daesh as an entity that is threatening people in the way it is today. I’m convinced of that. Every country in the region and in the world is opposed to Daesh, to what Daesh stands for, to what Daesh is doing. What we have to do now is mobilize the capacity, which is what we’ve been doing, to be able to systematically go after them and eliminate them. And I am convinced we will. When you have Iraq, Iran, Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, all of the major countries in that region, and Russia, and the United States, and Europe, all united in this effort – I would not want to be Daesh. And I believe Daesh is going to feel that pressure increasingly over the course of these next weeks and months. Every country is gearing up to do more. And President Obama – it’s important for people to know: He didn’t wait for Paris to up this. He decided himself several months ago that we needed to do more because he saw what was happening with Daesh in Libya and places. And so that’s when he ordered his own review. That’s when he decided to put Special Forces on the ground and announced it. That’s when he increased our strike capacity. That’s when we put the operations together with the Turks. That’s when we invited more countries to come into Incirlik and fly. And that’s – and have pressed, I might add, on a number of other lines of effort that people don’t see. We’re cutting off financing on a global basis. We’re going after the ideology. We’ve created a center in Abu Dhabi that is on the social media, in Arabic, instantaneously responding to their lies and discrediting them. We’re taking the stories of disaffected former Daesh fighters who have come back and said life is nowhere near the paradise and the easy life and great life that they’ve said, that they’re a bunch of lies – and they have killed people who tried to leave, and they – I mean, this is a group that is so ferocious in its barbarism that I believe we, all of us, are going to band together and ultimately we’re going to prevail.

Now, you can fight over whether one thing or another is being done fast enough. But Christiane, you can’t fight over the notion that we are committed to doing this and that each day, our capacity is growing to be able to have a greater impact and to protect people. And I believe, look, the terrible thing is that if some individual in life wants to kill themselves – we have seen it in non-ideological events in the Unites States, in a theater, or somewhere else, in a shopping mall – if somebody wants to do that, they can do that, unfortunately. But I think the ability for – it’s much harder for governments who have to get it right not that one time that you try to do something bad, but they have to get it right every single day, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. And frankly, we’ve done an enormous amount of stopping many plots before they have been hatched. We have interrupted people in midstream. And I think we’ve done a very significantly increased effort of being able to penetrate and find out what’s going on and act ahead of time. And that, I think now, will only grow even more.

QUESTION: They’re wrapping me up. I just have one more question.

MR KIRBY: We’ve got to --

SECRETARY KERRY: That’s all right. Let her do one more.

QUESTION: No, one more. Because I need to ask what you’re doing for the French, okay? You have been here to offer condolences. What are you doing for the French? Any stepped up security, intelligence? And also, your comments on the reports that it was actually a bomb that brought down the Russian jet.

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, look, with respect to the French, we are working very closely with the French. We’ve had intelligence exchanges in the last days. We are increasing the exchange of information. We are already planning some military activities. We’ve helped the French with respect to their targeting that they’ve undertaken in the last few days, in their increased strikes on al-Raqqa, and there will be other things, and President Hollande is coming to Washington to meet with President Obama and we will talk further about our joint plans. But there’s no question that there will be stepped up, increased cooperation and joint military effort and other efforts between the United States and France.

QUESTION: And the bomb that brought down the Russian jet?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, I guess what President Putin said is there is evidence of explosives on the airplane, and we’ve had some indicators of that for some period of time. It’s been important for the Russians and the Egyptians to announce their conclusions because they are the formal investigators. But I have no doubt that that will elicit a ferocious response from Russia also against Daesh, and we will make certain that we’re all working in the same direction to destroy Daesh’s ability to terrorize anywhere.

QUESTION: Secretary Kerry, thank you very much indeed.

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

QUESTION: Thank you.