Interview on Fox and Friends

John Kerry
Secretary of State
Washington, DC
January 18, 2016

QUESTION: Our Secretary of State John Kerry joins us live from the State Department, Foggy Bottom in Washington, D.C. Good morning to you, Mr. Secretary.

SECRETARY KERRY: Good morning to you.

QUESTION: Before we get started about the Iran deal, I wanted to ask you about these three American contractors who have gone missing in Iraq. What can you tell us?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, I can just tell you that we are in very direct contact with the Iraqi authorities. We have a good sense of what may have happened, the people are following up on it, and that’s all I can really say at this time. There is a very full effort going to find them as soon as possible.

QUESTION: But it does sound like they were kidnapped, doesn’t it?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, I’m not going to get into the circumstances of what may or may not have happened, except to say we have pretty strong indications of where this might have emanated from, and we’re working very hard with the Iraqi authorities, and hopefully, we can secure their release.

QUESTION: Again, Mr. Secretary, as far as the Iran deal goes, I mean, what a blessing for these four families and an answer to prayers. But some have said that this is a bad deal: four innocent Americans for seven criminals and giving clemency to 14 on the Interpol list. Senator Marco Rubio has this to say about the Iran deal: “What the President’s now doing, not just with this but what he did with the Castro brothers and what he did with Bergdahl, is he’s put a price on the head of every American abroad.”

So does he have a point, Mr. Secretary?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, I think he’s running for President, if I’ve been following the news correctly, and so I’m really going to just address the reality of what took place here. The fact is that we had people that we felt were wrongfully held and wrongfully convicted and in prison in Iran, and we also had some people here who had committed violations of sanctions law. We were about to lift the sanctions, and many of those people who had been imprisoned – we had enforced the law and convicted them and done what we needed to do to enforce the sanctions, but several of them, a good number, were months away, just literally a few months away from getting out anyway.

So we don’t feel like we traded something that was critical with respect to our principle. We enforced the law, we put them in jail, we also kept the sanctions in place, and then we lifted them when the terms of the agreement were met. And we thought it was appropriate to get our people home. That was critical. And I think we did this – by the way, Iran asked for many other people. They asked for people with criminal records. We didn’t touch any of them. We said no, we will not do that, we will not let anybody out who committed murder, any terrorist, anybody else. These are people with sanctions violations.

So we feel very comfortable that the United States of America held on to its principles, got its people home, kept faith with them. And I do not believe we have invited further situations, any more than every day that unfortunately is part of the reality of today’s life on a global basis. But nothing here encourages it, believe me.

QUESTION: But by almost all accounts – and I think you’ll agree with me that these Americans who have dual citizenship in some of these cases were wrongly jailed. And we found out about an hour ago that they were being tortured in prison through forced addiction and being slapped on the bottom of their feet. So in the big picture, people see eight criminals convicted and we see five Americans who were wrongly jailed, and we don’t see that being equal.

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, there is no equivalency in terms of what they were being held for. You’re absolutely correct. We’ve never asserted that. There is no equivalency whatsoever between somebody in the United States violating the law and then being imprisoned and people being wrongfully held.

But the issue is: How are you going to get them home? They’ve been held – some of them faced sentences up to 2021, 2022. Jason Rezaian was facing an even longer sentence. And so the question is, if you’re going to get them out, there had to be some component of exchange. And what we gave up, we believe, were people who were about to get out anyway and people that we couldn’t get our hands on.

So I just don’t agree. I think there is a rectitude in what we achieved. We kept our principles. The sanctions, by the way, we will continue to sanction if there is activity that is inappropriate. Sanctions remain in place for human rights, for arms trafficking, for missiles, and we will continue to enforce that, as you have seen the President has done.

QUESTION: Right. And in fact, over the weekend, this country has put new sanctions on the country of Iran after those ballistic tests of missiles in October. Mr. Secretary, there’s a story out there that, apparently, the Iranian foreign minister called you up and said that if you were to put these sanctions on earlier, it’s going to screw up this prisoner swap thing.


QUESTION: That is a report in Reuters.

SECRETARY KERRY: No, we never --

QUESTION: So you’re saying that didn’t happen?

SECRETARY KERRY: No, he never called me up to suggest that. And we had conversations about the track, but these tracks were separate. We almost had these folks out several months ago, and then there was a snag that occurred and it delayed things.

QUESTION: But the timing, Mr. Secretary, looks a little suspicious. We --

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, what can I say? We were not going to waste any time getting them home.

QUESTION: So it’s just a coincidence?

SECRETARY KERRY: It is absolutely a coincidence. We – as I say, we almost had them out. We had an agreement, I thought, in principle two months ago.


SECRETARY KERRY: And then there was a – there was a difference of opinion over the meaning of something. We had to work that through over the course of the next months. But this was a separate track, and we kept it separate very distinctly.

And I might add that it was – and this is important for people to note that we were lifting sanctions as a result of the Iranians walking back their nuclear program, making the world safer, allowing inspectors in, destroying their centrifuges, their reactor. And indeed, there was going to be a lifting of sanctions there, and it made sense for us to link sanctions-related offenses, which were about to expire anyway and be released, to the release of our people, who had years ahead of them in jail. I’m convinced we got what we – what can be considered to be an appropriate agreement for the United States of America, and our people are home, and thank God for that.

QUESTION: Very glad they’re home.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, were you as outraged as most Americans to see that video of our ten sailors on their knees with their hands behind their head, and did you know that when you came and addressed the American people about their release?

SECRETARY KERRY: No, I did not know it at that point in time. But yes, I was furious about it, and I immediately contacted my counterpart and we indicated our disgust at that particular thing. It was clear that it did not come from the ministry of foreign affairs. It was something that I think the military over there released on their own, and it was very, very unfortunate, inappropriate. And as a former sailor, a member of the military, I was infuriated by it, and I expressed that. I expressed that very directly to my counterpart.

QUESTION: All right. John Kerry joining us today from the Department of State in Washington, D.C. Mr. Secretary, thank you very much for giving us the time here on Fox today.

QUESTION: Have a nice day.

SECRETARY KERRY: Thank you. Thank you. Thank you very much.