Interview With Hayvi Bouzo of Orient TV

John Kerry
Secretary of State
Munich, Germany
February 13, 2016

QUESTION: Thank you so much for giving us the time today, Secretary of State John Kerry. I want to start by talking about the cessation of violence and the statement that you released yesterday with Lavrov about Syria. They’re talking about entering aid to the besieged areas and cessation of violence and not ceasefire. Can you please tell us the difference?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, a ceasefire implies the end of the conflict in most people’s judgment, and that’s not where we are. This is a cessation of hostilities, which is a pause. It’s a temporary end of hostilities while we are hopefully moving to a more durable ceasefire. But that will depend on the political process. It’s important for the parties to get back to the table in Geneva and begin to work on the transition. That’s what critical.

Now, if there’s no transition and they’re not serious about proceeding, then the war will go on and probably with much greater intensity. Whatever comfort Assad has today thinking that he’s riding the top of the wave, if this political process doesn’t work, believe me, that will quickly disappear.

QUESTION: What will disappear?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, the sense of confidence, because the war will intensify, unfortunately, and there’ll be more jihadis, more destruction, and worse situation with refugees because people feel intensely about what has happened over the years, the – 250,000 people killed, the gassing of people, the torture of people, the starvation of people, and the vast displacement of the people of Syria due to the violence.

QUESTION: So that Assad will feel that violence being escalated if things don’t --

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, I’m not – I don't know --

QUESTION: -- halt to this --

SECRETARY KERRY: -- what he’ll feel, but I know that the war cannot end without a political settlement. You have to have a political solution so that you can build a unified Syria, so that all the people of Syria can be protected – minorities will be protected, people will have a voice in their future. That’s really how this started. But we want to, obviously, simultaneously defeat the violent extremists. Daesh, al-Nusrah are not being considered in the cessation of hostilities, and the war against them will continue even now.

QUESTION: But the big question, given that there was mentioning of – that Jabhat al-Nusrah and obviously ISIS are not going to be included in the ceasefire, but what does it mean when Russia continues to call all of this moderate opposition or any opposition for the Assad regime terrorists?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, that’s unacceptable, and we made it absolutely clear to them that is unacceptable. And it is going to be important to the cooperation work done right now, beginning in these next days, to define the modalities of the cessation of hostilities. And during that time, we will work with the Russians, with all of the members of the International Syria Support Group, to make it very, very clear where there is legitimate, moderate opposition and where you have terrorists. And the Russians need to be more discriminating about where they are bombing and where they are engaging, and we hope that they will be. And that is the purpose of the task force that is being created to work on the cessation of hostilities and the long-term ceasefire.

QUESTION: Another big question is the other foreign fighters in Syria, such as the militias by Iran, Iraq, and Hizballah in Lebanon – all Shiite, foreign militias, extremist militias killing Syrian people based on their identity. What is your position on that? Because that wasn’t mentioned --

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, if they’re killing people because of their identity, that’s a war crime. It’s absolutely against the laws of war. And we are not in favor of external militia from anywhere – Hizballah or Shia militia coming from Iraq should not be engaged on the ground. And it is part of this cessation of hostilities to draw these people back and to make it clear to them that they have no place in Syria, number one; and number two, that the violence must stop and they must respect this process. And if they don’t, then they could find themselves being targeted by everybody.

QUESTION: What about the Russian intervention in Syria? Legal experts have called it war crimes that Russia is committing by throwing blind bombs into civilian neighborhoods, killing already thousands of people.

SECRETARY KERRY: There are many allegations. We know that bombs have been dropped that have killed civilians, women, children, people in hospitals, mosques. Innocent people have been injured --

QUESTION: Schools.

SECRETARY KERRY: -- by these bombs. And some of these weapons are what we call – many of them are actually freefall, dumb bombs. They don’t have a precision target, so they hit what they hit. And it has been indiscriminate and it is wrong, and that should stop.

QUESTION: Would you call it war crimes?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, it – I mean, it depends what happens and how it happens, but it has the potential to be qualified as that. There’s a fairly legal process that goes on with respect to that designation, and I don’t want to abuse the sort of legal necessities. But it’s certainly unconscionable, it’s wrong, it’s indecent. I mean, there are a lot of adjectives you can apply to that particular activity right now, and we have called on Russia to stop it. It is important that they do. And ultimately, there will be accountability for this kind of behavior.

QUESTION: There was mentioning – I mean, there’s no mentioning of Assad, which is the most important reason why the Syrian revolution started, why this war goes on, because the Syrian people’s number-one goal is to get rid of the Assad family ruling of Syria. What is the future of Assad based on this new statement and those new decisions?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, the United States of America and most of the allies and friends of the International Syria Support Group believe there will never be peace in Syria if Assad is there. We believe that Assad should help the transition by announcing that he isn’t going to run for re-election; he’s going to help rebuild his country. I’m afraid that he --

QUESTION: Is he going to be part of rebuilding Syria?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, no. He – that’s up to the Syrian opposition, and if they have their say, I can’t imagine that that’s possible, because they will say no. And the process is by mutual consent. That is what the Russians and Iranians have agreed. They’ve signed up to a process of mutual consent, and President Putin has said that Assad has agreed with him that he will work to do the transition and to engage in this process. Now, if President Putin is not going to deliver on that once again, then the war will grow and escalate and be even more catastrophic, regrettably. But it won’t be because people haven’t given the political opportunity for a resolution. It’ll be because they refuse to live up to the standards of that political transition.

QUESTION: The Syrian people have no reason to trust the Russians and the Iranians given their past behavior for the last five years. How are we going to be enforcing any plans? And a lot of people suggest that there should be a credible threat of force if we want Russia, Iran, and the Assad regime to comply with any political resolution.

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, the political resolution requires Iran and Russia and the Assad regime to agree to whatever that resolution is. Whether or not that can happen in the current situation – the current dynamics – remains to be seen. If indeed it requires additional pressure, then there are lots of countries prepared to put additional pressure on. But they all realize that that will mean more destruction, more death, more war, and people are trying right now to not talk about that, but rather, to talk about the possibilities of a political solution.

But clearly, if the Assad regime does not live up to its responsibilities and if the Iranians and the Russians do not hold Assad to the promises that they have made to the international community, then the international community obviously is not going to sit there like fools and watch this. There will be an increase of activity to put greater pressure on them.

QUESTION: There was proposal by Saudi Arabia to interfere on the ground, UAE joined, and actually Secretary Carter said today that they are – there is possibility that there will be ground troops on the ground fighting ISIS.


QUESTION: What is your comment on that?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, I agree with Secretary Carter. That is accurate. There is a possibility there will be additional ground troops on the ground fighting Daesh.

QUESTION: What about the Assad regime? How would that complicate or actually help the rebels in --

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, the Assad regime is not fighting Daesh.

QUESTION: Exactly.

SECRETARY KERRY: Never has been. And one of the reasons Daesh grew is because the Assad regime had a sweetheart deal with Daesh, buying oil from them, leaving them alone, not attacking them, and they grew. And so we are cleaning up Assad’s mess with respect to Daesh, and we have no expectations of Assad himself being involved in helping in that regard.

QUESTION: Two more points, just very quickly. There was a lot of talks about the Iran-U.S. relationships after the Iran deal being much better, a new Iran role in the region, a good relationship between you and Secretary Zarif of Iran. How do you comment on these impressions?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, it’s a lot of speculation. It’s a lot of speculation. We made it clear that the agreement we reached with Iran was about nuclear weapons – not about the region, not about the war in Syria, not about other issues – and as you know, we have differences with Iran with a respect to a number of issues. So we have to wait and see. There’s no clarity. There’s no understanding.

We would like Iran to behave like a normal nation, to be part of the community of nations, to live by the international rules and standards, which means stop interfering in the affairs of other countries, don’t be sending weapons to insurgent groups in other countries, and other things that happen to destabilize the region. Those things have to stop, and I hope – I hope very much, as does President Obama, that in the next months, Iran will prove itself in the course of the International Syria Support Group to be a constructive force for bringing about peace in Syria and, likewise, a constructive force for bringing about peace in Yemen. Those are two places where Iran could prove that it’s ready to join the community of nations and make a difference on a positive side. We would welcome that. But we at this point have no specific arrangements with Iran with that – in that regard.

QUESTION: To end this, would you like, Secretary Kerry, to deliver a word to the Syrian people, or a message?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, my message is to the Syrian people, first of all, one of extraordinary admiration for the incredible courage and perseverance of people in the toughest of circumstances. The way the Syrian people have withstood the assault of extremists, the assault of the Assad regime, is really quite remarkable. And I would say to them stand up for the future of a united, free, independent, non-interfered-with, completely sovereign, unified Syria. Stand up for a Syria that is secular, that is ready to embrace all minorities, with respect to all people, and choose your own government. And I hope that soon the people of Syria will be able to enjoy peace and prosperity and stability.

I visited Syria a number of times before the war broke out, and they are a people of great ingenuity, of great innovation, of great business skill, and great artistic and cultural history. And I would really hope, for the sake of a great country, that we can return to a time when people have a chance to live in peace and security.

QUESTION: Thank you so much --


QUESTION: -- Secretary John Kerry, for giving us the time today.

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

QUESTION: Thank you so much.