Interview With Gregory Palkot of Fox News

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

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, again, thank you for doing this with us. Last Friday, you were quoted as saying that ISIS – or you call it Daesh – you were quoting saying its days are numbered. President Obama recently has said it’s been contained, at least geographically. Just a couple of hours after you said that, 129 people were killed by ISIS here in Paris.

Don’t you think that we need a radical rethink of what we are doing regarding ISIS, especially considering the mass attacks that are going on right now – Russia today saying that ISIS is responsible for that plane crash?

SECRETARY KERRY: Right. And we all agree. Look – no, I – I stand by that. Daesh’s days are numbered, no question. I’m not going to give you the number, but I know they’re numbered because we have --

QUESTION: It could be a lot of days, hmm?

SECRETARY KERRY: We are reducing their area of activity and capacity where their headquarters is. The heartland of Daesh is the caliphate they have proclaimed, which doesn’t make a caliphate, but they have proclaimed in al-Raqqa, in the combination of Syria and Iraq. That space is narrowing. There they have been contained. They have not grown in that area. They’ve diminished. We have many communities that have been liberated from the clutches of Daesh. A hundred thousand Iraqis have been able to return to their homes in Tikrit. Ramadi – the fight for Ramadi is ongoing right now. The Baiji refinery was liberated. The – Sinjar was just liberated over the weekend.

And what we’re finding is that Daesh is routable. Literally, they are routed out of Sinjar.

QUESTION: But now that they are --

SECRETARY KERRY: And we believe – we believe that with the border now closing in Turkey, with the Turkish operation that we’re putting together, with the increased pressure on al-Raqqa, we’re going to continue to diminish their ability to get revenue, to spread their evil. And you’re seeing it even in the last few days in our attacks. We took out 161 oil trucks.

QUESTION: But Mr. Secretary, now that they’re committed these mass attacks outside the border --


QUESTION: -- they are changing their modus operandi.


QUESTION: Don’t we have to change? Does the United States have to change?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, what does that mean when you say, ‘Don’t we have to change?’” Most Americans do not want and don’t think it’s necessary to be sending massive numbers of American troops to occupy Syria. It didn’t work so well in Iraq. And I think most people feel that is not the way to proceed here.

The way to proceed is in a way that empowers the people in the region to fight their fight, to take control of their communities. And we’re doing an enormous amount to be able to help them.

QUESTION: But the --

SECRETARY KERRY: Now, the question of foreign fighters is a legitimate question. We’ve raised that. That is why President Obama ordered me to pull together this coalition of 65 nations that only a year ago we didn’t have.

QUESTION: But all of that takes time. Isn’t the --

SECRETARY KERRY: Yes, it does take time.

QUESTION: Isn’t the time of slowly, slowly, diplomatically, militarily – you have to admit that is gone now, seeing the attacks here in Paris and elsewhere. And don’t you agree a well-constructed military operation led by the United States could finish these guys off in a couple of months?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, yeah, I have no doubt about the American capacity to have a huge impact on them. But you have to have something come in underneath it if you’re not going to occupy the place forever. And we don’t yet --

QUESTION: But isn’t that worth doing before a few years? We did that in Iraq. Now you have ISIS killing everybody.

SECRETARY KERRY: Yeah, but no – ISIS was created by Assad releasing 1,500 prisoners from jail and Malaki releasing 1,000 people in Iraq who were put together as a force of terror types that --

QUESTION: And perhaps the United States not doing more in the early stages of (inaudible)?

SECRETARY KERRY: No, they were put together – they were put together as an effort to give Assad – to help Assad, so Assad could then say, “It’s me or the terrorists,” and people would then join behind Assad. Never happened that way, obviously. People --

QUESTION: So you don’t think there needs to be a change in our strategy?


QUESTION: A qualitative change. I know you’re talking about quantitative, increasing.


QUESTION: You don’t think there needs to be a qualitative change?

SECRETARY KERRY: Yes, qualitatively we are. That is exactly what the President is doing. And obviously, there’s always room for qualitative improvement of one kind or another. General Dunford is putting new proposals on the President’s desk. The President has approved much of what General Dunford has put in front of him. We have new operations that we’re undertaking at this time. That’s why the Special Forces have gone in. And it may be that qualitatively there will be some add-ons to that. But --

QUESTION: Do you think there will be qualitative change?

SECRETARY KERRY: Maybe. The President is always ready to listen, and he said this specifically to everybody: Give me things that will work.

QUESTION: A quick 10-second question --

SECRETARY KERRY: He doesn’t want these easy throwaways where you have to put 20,000 troops in and you don’t even know if it’s going to work.

QUESTION: A quick 10-second yes or no. If France asks for Article 5 to be invoked from the NATO treaty – one ally attacked, all allies are attacked – would you come alongside them with that idea?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, we already are. I mean, look – the President of the United States Barack Obama said a year ago we are at war with Daesh – a year ago. We invoked Article 5 after 9/11.

QUESTION: Exactly.

SECRETARY KERRY: If another Article 5 – if a country invokes it, of course, we’re duty-bound to respond to that, and we would. As of now – and I just met with President Hollande this morning – he does not feel that that’s necessary. We already have NATO countries engaged in many different ways involved in this fight. So the issue is --

QUESTION: But there will be qualitative changes in that fight?

SECRETARY KERRY: The issue is what qualitative things do you think you can do that augment what we’re doing today but still bring the Syrian Arabs and bring the Kurds and bring the Iraqis along with us, so they’re the ones filling the void as we kick Daesh out and begin to move. I have no doubt that the pace of these operations, the intensity of the effort against Daesh, the rate at which we are narrowing their aperture, is going to increase. And I have no doubt – I mean, we’ve always known the challenge of foreign fighters was there because we know Americans have gone there to fight. Over 500 French have gone there to fight. People have gone from Australia, from Germany, from Belgium to fight.

QUESTION: So you think they can be defeated? To sum up because we’re getting a cut to --

SECRETARY KERRY: I have no doubt – I have no doubt that over a period of time Daesh is going to be defeated. I have none.

QUESTION: A period of time. Let’s hope that’s a short one.

SECRETARY KERRY: We’re trying to – well, that’s one of the reasons why we have the political track working simultaneously. Because if with Iran and Russia and the rest of the countries at the table in the next weeks we can succeed in getting the opposition engaged with Assad himself in this negotiation, then it is possible somewhere in that period of time to have a ceasefire and to begin to turn greater attention against Daesh.

QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. Secretary.

SECRETARY KERRY: Thank you. Appreciate it.

QUESTION: Thank you. Good luck.