Remarks Following Briefing at the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence

John Kerry
Secretary of State
Hart Senate Office Building
Washington, DC
November 19, 2015

SECRETARY KERRY: So we had a very constructive and I think helpful dialogue with ideas flowing both ways. Let me just state here what I said in there which is not classified, and that is that we have a three-pronged strategy with respect to Syria, Iraq, Daesh, and the region.

One is to degrade and defeat Daesh. That has been our approach from the beginning.

Number two, to stabilize the region, and we’re working with Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, and others to make sure that happens. We’re the largest donor to the refugees.

And three, it is to press for, push for, to try to achieve a diplomatic solution that comes out of the political process that we’ve been engaged in in Vienna. And we are now at a stage where the opposition is coming together to choose those people who will negotiate for it, and hopefully there will be a conference in a few days, somewhere in a week, 10 days, two weeks, that will bring them together. And at that point, the United Nations is prepared to convene the parties in Geneva and begin the process of a – of creating this transitional process for Syria itself. The Syrians themselves will negotiate that. We will be there, we will help in ways that we can and encourage the process, but it’s Syrians who have to resolve and decide the future of Syria itself.

With respect to Daesh, President Obama has already ordered increased efforts and has been doing that before the Paris attacks over the course of the last months, increased efforts. And we’re seeing the results of those in ways, some of which I could only describe in the room with the Intelligence Committee, other ways people are seeing publicly in communities that are being liberated with additional players who are coming to the battle and flying out of Incirlik or engaged with their people on the ground.

So we have to be patient, and I think it’s important to remember what Franklin Roosevelt said about the only thing we have to fear is fear itself in America. We understand who we are, we know what our values are, and here we know what our interests are. And I am confident if we stay steady and keep our heads in thinking creatively, but also being strong and committed to our fundamental values, we’re going to defeat Daesh. We always said it will take time. We began our fight against al-Qaida in 2001, and it took us quite a few years before we were able to eliminate Usama bin Ladin and the top leadership and neutralize them as an effective force. We hope to do Daesh much faster than that, and we think we have an ability to do that. So that’s the effort that we’re going to continue.

Thank you all.

QUESTION: Secretary Kerry, can I get your reaction to the House bill that was just passed today in terms of Syrian refugees?

SECRETARY KERRY: I haven’t seen that. I haven’t seen it.

QUESTION: Can we get your reaction to the rhetoric that is coming from Republicans in terms of Syrian refugees saying that they no longer want refugees to come here because they’re worried about national security?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, we’re all worried about national security. There isn’t anybody who isn’t worried about national security, which is why long ago we put in place the strongest vetting requirements of any country in the world. We’ve had 785,000 refugees come into this country in the last – since 2009, I think, and of that only 12 people were either arrested or deported at some point in time, and none of them attacked anybody in this country.

So we do not have to lose our values in terms of our ability to vet people and to know exactly who they are and where they’re coming from. And nobody can tell me that we don’t have the ability to look at a grandmother who’s come out of a country in a war-torn situation with her grandkids or something, and not be able to determine whether or not those people represent a threat or don’t represent a threat. Out of the entire total of refugees who were let into our country since 2009, only 2 percent were male of a fighting age similar to those people who are picking up the battle in Syria.

So we just – it’s inappropriate for America and all the countries in the world to panic and to somehow turn our backs on our fundamental values. We have the ability to check on the background checks, on the – it takes, by the way, 18 months to two years to do a background check on one refugee. That’s how much effort goes into it. So I hope we continue to do that.

Thank you all very much.

QUESTION: Thank you very much.