Interview With Today Show's Savannah Guthrie

John Kerry
Secretary of State
Washington, DC
November 23, 2015

QUESTION: Secretary of State John Kerry is with us exclusively from Abu Dhabi. Mr. Secretary, good morning, and let me ask you about the security situation here in the United States. Administration officials have said there’s no specific credible threat. On the other hand, officials in Paris likely would have said the same thing the day before those attacks. How confident are you in assuring the American public that there isn’t a threat that is imminent?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, I can assure you that we don’t have a specific threat stream or specific evidence in front of us, but there is always – as we’ve said to people for years – the threat of some actor, some lone wolf person, someone who slipped through. That’s the world we’re living in today and we understand that. Ever since 9/11, many experts across the United States, without regard to political party or to elections, have consistently said to us it’s probably not a question of if; it’s a question of when.

QUESTION: Well, let’s talk --

SECRETARY KERRY: Now, we have every single effort being made by Homeland Security, by the FBI, by Interpol, by intelligence communities exchanging information, and people are working hard at this. And we have averted many different plots against the United States.

QUESTION: Let’s talk about this strategy against ISIS. In recent days, ISIS has managed to pull off attacks in Paris and Beirut and brought down a Russian jetliner. By definition, doesn’t that just show that U.S. policy is not working, that there needs to be a better strategy?

SECRETARY KERRY: What it shows is that ISIL has not yet been defeated, and we understand that. Regrettably, for four years, this war in Syria has been going on and people have been traveling from all over the world to the amazement of many people, but they have been traveling even from the United States to go fight in Syria. So some people have returned to their homelands and they have been taught the tradecraft of terror, regrettably.

So, no – we’ve only had the coalition against Daesh for one year now. We put that coalition together a year ago when Daesh started to move through the region.

QUESTION: But Mr. Secretary --

SECRETARY KERRY: And the fact is that during that period of time, about – let me just finish – about 25 percent of their territory that they controlled has been taken away from them. Leadership has been eliminated from the battlefield. Whole towns and communities have been eliminated. The answer is no, it has to be picked up, the pace has to be picked up, and more needs to be done, and everybody understands that.

QUESTION: They – it’s the picked-up territory in other countries – excuse me – they’ve expanded into other countries during this time that we’ve been fighting them. The President talks about his critics popping off and saying they have a better idea, but he’s getting criticism from former members of his Administration – Leon Panetta, the former CIA director and defense secretary; Hillary Clinton, his former secretary of state; a top counterterrorism official in his Administration, Michael Vickers; as well as Diane Feinstein, who is now the intel chair of the Senate, saying it’s not sufficient, it’s not enough, and it’s not happening fast enough.

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, let me just say a word. Look, I just said to you I don’t think anybody believes it’s happening fast enough, and we are escalating our steps. The President, even in the last weeks before Paris took place, made major decisions to put additional people on the ground, Special Forces, and took additional steps – some of which I can’t talk about on the line here – but he has already been taking additional steps.

Now, yes, ISIL has brought in people in other countries. It hasn’t expanded by moving to those other countries; it has taken terrorists who already exist in those other countries and they have pledged loyalty to Daesh. That’s different. And we know there are people who are terrorists in Libya, in Yemen, in Afghanistan, and other places. What Daesh has succeeded in doing is attracting them because of what they’ve been doing on the ground in Syria and in Iraq. And we have been focused on attacking them in Syria and Iraq, and I am convinced that will increase even more so in the days ahead.

QUESTION: And very --

SECRETARY KERRY: As I said to you --


SECRETARY KERRY: -- a year ago, there was no coalition against Daesh.

QUESTION: In a word, sir, is ISIS gaining strength?

SECRETARY KERRY: I believe ISIS is going to be defeated. ISIS is not 10 feet tall. I have absolute confidence that as we increase what we are doing today, as there is more focus – I’m just in Abu Dhabi now, we’ve just had serious meetings here, I’m about to meet with the Saudi Arabians – there is a very clear focus by everybody, there is a united front, and I am absolutely convinced that Daesh will be defeated and there will be increased steps taken in order to do so.

And what we need to do is not succumb to fear. People need to not panic. There is a strategy in place growing by the day, and I have no doubt whatsoever that with the help of all the nations that are united against Daesh, they are going to be defeated, and we’re going to do everything in our power to hasten that journey.

QUESTION: Secretary of State John Kerry, thank you for your time, sir, this morning. Appreciate it.