Interview With Alex Marquardt of ABC

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

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, thank you for taking the time.

SECRETARY KERRY: Happy to be with you.

QUESTION: President Vladimir Putin of Russia this morning said that it was a terrorist attack that took down this Russian jet over the Sinai Peninsula. They are vowing retribution. Has the U.S. come to the same conclusion?

SECRETARY KERRY: We concur that there was an explosion that brought it down, but we haven’t, I don’t think – we’re not privy to their investigative information, but we tracked, as you know, I think, some sort of explosion. But we don’t know – we don’t have the specifics of it.

QUESTION: Right now, you’re still only saying that it’s likely that it was a terrorist attack.


QUESTION: You haven’t come to the – you haven’t --

SECRETARY KERRY: We haven’t drawn any conclusions publicly with respect to it because we’re not the investigators; we think the investigating countries need to do that. But we obviously have had some instinct about what might have happened, but it’s not conclusive.

QUESTION: In the past few hours, the Russians have launched what the Secretary of Defense called significant attacks against Russia – against Raqqa, rather. Overnight, the French launched attacks, strikes against Raqqa. The U.S. is doing the same. Does that mean we are all on the same side now?

SECRETARY KERRY: We’re all opposed to ISIL. That’s different from being on the same side because they obviously are supporting Assad, and we believe Assad has to depart from Syria. You cannot settle the war with Assad there. I mean, even if I wanted to – say I – say the United States decided, oh, it’s going to go work with Assad – which we’re not – but say they did? Nothing would change, because the war will continue because Assad is the magnet for all of these terrorists. Assad has literally driven three-quarters of his country into displaced person or refugee status, and he’s dropped barrel bombs on them, tortured them, gassed them, starved them, and nobody sees a way in which he would have a legitimate part of the future of that country.

Now, we now have a political process – finally – where we were able to bring the Iranians and the Russians and others to the table, all agreed that our goal is to have a united Syria, a secular Syria, protecting all minorities, a Syria in which the Syrian people can decide their future with a new constitution and an election. That’s a big step forward.

And now we have – after last meeting on Saturday in Vienna, we have an agreement about a timeframe for trying to bring to conclusion the political part of the transition, then lay out the election, and also everybody has agreed that we want a ceasefire. That’s a big step forward, and the ceasefire is linked to the beginning of the political transition process. So we have a road forward here, and that is a very important reality that we didn’t have a month ago.

QUESTION: But was any progress made in terms of identifying what terrorists are? And in terms of --


QUESTION: -- and on the question of what happens to President Assad?

SECRETARY KERRY: Progress was made with respect to the designation of two groups clearly. Nusrah and Daesh are --

QUESTION: But the Russians say that other groups are also terrorists.

SECRETARY KERRY: They do, and that is being worked on now with a working group out of the meeting we had in Vienna. The Jordanians are helping to lead that effort to designate, and we’ll come back to the table. But the most important thing is that the two biggest groups – Daesh and Nusrah – are – we’re all in agreement – are a fair target for all of us, and that’s exactly what you’re seeing right now.

QUESTION: After these horrific attacks in Paris, ISIS put out a video saying, “We swear that we will strike America at its center in Washington.” How likely do you think that is that ISIS could carry out an attack in Washington or another major American city?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, it is unfortunately a reality of modern-day terrorism that almost any terrorist group, if it’s determined to lose its own people, if you have suiciders who want to go into a crowd and blow themselves up – people can do damage to people in this world we live in today. That’s a sad reality. And we are doing an enormous amount with our Homeland Security team, the FBI, counterterrorism, cooperation with other countries, to prevent that from happening.

But Washington is always a target, New York’s a target. I mean, major cities, big public events, I regret to say, are in today – in this moment particularly, but in the world we’re living in, are something you have to maintain a kind of vigilance and work on. We constantly do. In our sporting events, we now have magnetometers, we check people going in, we have much greater levels of security, and that’s true ever since 9/11. Life changed with 9/11.

QUESTION: But are you surprised that ISIS hasn’t yet carried out an attack in the U.S.?

SECRETARY KERRY: I don’t want to express one opinion or another about it. I think the important thing is that we take the threats very, very seriously; we are constantly reviewing, there’s a constant evaluation of the threat stream; we did not have a specific notion or any information regarding a specific attack – I never saw it, others didn’t – in Paris. But we knew generically that Europe is at risk; we know generically that anybody who is engaged in this fight against Daesh is at risk for the moment.

But we are steadily making progress against Daesh. They have 25 percent less territory than they had at the beginning of this. We’ve liberated whole communities from their clutches. Tikrit – 100,000 Iraqis have been able to return to their homes to a community Daesh held. In Kobani, they’ve been liberated. In other communities – Sinjar, we just, over the weekend, liberated.

Steadily, the Iraqi forces, the Syrian Arab forces and others are gaining capacity. And I think, over the – I believe the strategy will eliminate Daesh over time.

QUESTION: The French and the U.S. are both now talking about an intensification of these efforts against ISIS in Iraq and Syria. Why did it take these horrific attacks in Paris for those efforts to be stepped up?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, it didn’t for the United States. We’ve stepped those up over the last months. As you recall, President Obama some weeks or months ago announced we’re putting Special Forces on the ground. He announced we were upgrading our efforts in the air. He announced we are doing more with other countries – Turkey specifically – in an operation on the border. The President has offered additional help to the Iraqis. The Iraqis have not yet accepted all of it.

But we’ve been ahead of this curve, I think, for some months now, clearly knowing we need to do more to be able to degrade and ultimately defeat Daesh.

QUESTION: So these Paris attacks aren’t resulting in greater efforts?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, they’re resulting in an increase with France and the cooperation between France and the United States, and I think France’s efforts are intensified. But the United States has been steadily ramping up over the course of these last months. And the Pentagon has put a number of new proposals on the President’s desk which he has approved prior to the Paris attacks. So this is not new for our efforts in terms of ramping up and realizing that the strategy had to pick up, and the President is on record as saying that several months ago.

QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. Secretary.

SECRETARY KERRY: Thank you, appreciate it.