Interview With Terry Moran of ABC

John Kerry
Secretary of State
Brussels, Belgium
March 25, 2016

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, what can you tell us about the Americans who were killed in the attacks here on Monday?

SECRETARY KERRY: I can’t tell you very much at all because we’re going through the sad process of family notification at this point in time. And so I can just confirm that a couple of Americans have died in this event.

QUESTION: The Belgian prime minister after the attack said that the el-Bakraoui brothers who are suspects here were not involved in terrorism. It turns out that Turkey knew they were, the Netherlands knew they were, the U.S. knew they were, INTERPOL put out a bulletin for terrorism charges. How badly did the Belgian Government screw up here?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, I’m not – I wouldn’t come to the conclusion that they screwed up. I think that the Belgian Government has been in about a year, this particular government. They’ve done an enormous amount over the course of the last year, passed a whole group of laws focused on counterterrorism. They had our foreign fighter surge team come here over a month ago to work with them to try to improve their capacity with respect to dealing with foreign fighters. They have already scheduled events before this explosion took place to do in April meetings with experts on passport control, on police tactics for behavioral analysis and so forth. There are a whole bunch of things that have been happening. So – and they are the ones who captured Salah Abdeslam. So – and that may have triggered this event.

So I just think it’s unfair to start leaping to a conclusion here. I do know that as a whole, Europe needs to move information more effectively. This is a challenge. It was a huge challenge for us in the aftermath of 9/11, and we have tried to push to get a passenger name record system put in place with respect to flights, and also early passenger identification screening. Those are things that are on the agenda that haven’t yet happened, but they’re very much on the European parliament’s agenda – I think for next week, even.

So a lot is happening, and I think it’s just too early yet. We don’t know enough. I don’t know enough, certainly, to make that – any judgments.

QUESTION: But Americans see these terrorists moving across the borders of Europe. How much is what’s happening here, the problem with terrorism here, threatening Americans?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, the problem with terrorism is threatening everybody in the world. And most of it is coming out of the Middle East. Most of it is coming out of Syria, out of the region with a combination of ISIL/Daesh and al-Qaida and a few other groups. That is significantly the consequence of what has been happening in Syria over the course of the last five years. And you can point to one person predominantly who is perpetuating it – his name is Assad.

If Assad were to announce tomorrow that he’s not going to be the future leader and continue to wreak havoc in Syria, you could make peace in Syria very rapidly. You could release the pressure of these refugee camps. You could have the diaspora begin to come back to Syria to rebuild the country. And we could go together with every country in the region and destroy Daesh very quickly. One person stands in the way of that, literally.

Now, I believe that everybody has been at risk, and we’ve known that since September 11 of 2001, when we were attacked. And we’ve seen attempted attacks ever since then. The airplane shoe bomber, the New York in Times Square – I mean, there are instances where we’ve been able to prevent things from happening, and we continue to do that. But now, we have this new group, Daesh, which is focused on the West. And unfortunately, for five years they’ve had a certain head start in putting some of their people into certain places.

QUESTION: The State Department has issued a travel alert, an extraordinary alert, for all of Europe. Does that mean that Europe and its failures in counterterrorism is too dangerous for Americans?

SECRETARY KERRY: No. What it means is that we are alerting people; it’s exactly that. It’s an alert. It’s for people to be able to try to make a judgment about how they travel, where they travel, what they decide to do. We’re not saying don’t travel at all; we’re just making an alert so people can make a determination about where they might go and how they might travel. But to not do so in the wake of what has been happening, knowing what we know, would also be irresponsible.

QUESTION: Do you feel you’re comfortable taking your family on vacation to Europe?

SECRETARY KERRY: I would, absolutely. I’d choose where I go, and – but no, without a doubt, absolutely.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, thank you.