Interview With Greg Palkot of Fox
Secretary of State
QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, last time we met was in Paris for the terror there. Since then we’ve had San Bernardino, we’ve had Turkey, the Mideast, and now Brussels, and now the sad news today that at least two Americans have been killed and it’s all tied to ISIS. What do you say to those who say the Obama Administration’s policy of slow and steady regarding ISIS is just not enough? You might be regaining territory, but they’re exporting terror. I mean, it’s been 18 months and people are dying with more and more regularity. How do you react to that?
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, the problem is that the war in Syria has gone on for five years, a civil war involving Assad and forces that have been against him, which attracted Daesh, ISIL, and has seen it grow. And unfortunately, some of those foreign fighters started returning to communities four years ago, three years ago, two years ago, over a period of time. And I think what you’re seeing right now is the fact that there’s an enormous amount of pressure being put on them in their headquarters, in their home bases; that they’re issuing instructions to their folks that spread themselves around the world to engage in these lone wolf terror attacks. But --
QUESTION: As they morph, don’t we need to adapt to that?
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, we are. I think that there’s a huge effort going on right now, a huge effort that not everybody sees every day, to – for instance, Europe has not yet adopted a passenger name record system and an advanced passenger screening system, both of which we’ve been pushing to try to have adopted. That would help us very significantly reduce the capacity of people to be able to move around with impunity.
QUESTION: But don’t we need to pick up our pace? Doesn’t the United States --
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, we are picking up our pace. I mean, the President has put Special Forces on the ground in the Syria. We are more engaged with more people doing more things than we ever were before, and I think that pressure is part of what is having an impact. There is speculation here in Belgium that it was the arrest the other day of Salah Abdeslam that triggered this particular event because those guys thought they were going to be captured, and rather than be captured they blew themselves up. So as the dragnet begins to close in in various places around the world, unfortunately, we may see some lone wolf attacks. But as a whole, Daesh is being decimated. Their leadership is being eliminated from the battlefield, their revenues are being taken away, and they are under enormous pressure.
QUESTION: But very quickly, Mr. Secretary – we don’t have much time – the two big quandaries for the Obama Administration, Syria and Libya, are basically doing a lot of damage, instability for Europe. Basically you have two problems there threatening our most important regional ally – that is, Europe.
SECRETARY KERRY: Correct.
QUESTION: Don’t we have to step up to the plate more? We did it in World War I, World War II. This is not just for the regional stability of Europe, it’s for our own stability as well.
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, as I said to you, the President is stepping up and has put additional troops on the ground. He has raised the number of initiatives that are focused on the war against Daesh.
QUESTION: But it’s not just Daesh, it’s the refugees too. Hundreds of thousands have come here.
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, no, it’s even bigger than that. It’s actually bigger than that. And again, the United States is the largest single donor to the refugee problem. The United States has helped lead the effort to provide additional funding to take care of that. The United States built the coalition that is going after Daesh. The United States has led the effort to try to get the cessation of hostilities in Syria. And in fact, today in Syria, because of what the United States did to help lead that effort, the violence is down by 80 to 90 percent. That cessation has held for a month. I just came from a four-hour meeting with President Putin in Moscow, where we are talking about how to proceed forward with the political track to try to make peace in Syria. Nothing would do more to help us be able to destroy Daesh rapidly than to be able to make that work.
QUESTION: But that will take time, Mr. --
SECRETARY KERRY: So that’s one of the tracks we’re taking.
QUESTION: That will take time, Mr. Secretary. That will take --
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, we’re looking --
QUESTION: -- months, maybe years, and you’ve got people dying on the streets of Europe, dying on the streets of America due to ISIS.
SECRETARY KERRY: That is correct. But no one has yet decided that they want – that there’s even a virtue in having a total invasion of Syria and engaging in the middle of a civil war. So we are in a limitation here with respect to exactly what methods are available to us. We are working in concert with a whole bunch of folks on the ground in Syria who have been going after Daesh and going after them successfully, and now we are working – to some people’s chagrin – but we are doing a certain amount of planning and coordination with Russia, which is the co-chair of the cessation of hostilities task force, so that we’re working to try to effectively corner Daesh in a way that doesn’t require American forces to have to be in large numbers on the ground.
QUESTION: Thank you very much, Mr. Secretary. The optics of President Obama being in Cuba at a baseball game, tango in Argentina when this is going on – do you have any feeling about that?
SECRETARY KERRY: The President every single day is making decisions that are life and death with respect to Daesh and respect to this war. He has to also continue to be President of the United States and do what we need to do with respect to our diplomacy, which is an important part of building the kind of future that people in America want to see. Reaching out to Cuba is a very important part of changing a policy that has failed over 50-plus years, and it will in the end, I believe, inure to the benefit of the Cuban people as well as the people of the United States in terms of safety and security and a relationship with that country.
QUESTION: Thank you very much, Mr. Secretary. I appreciate it.
SECRETARY KERRY: Thank you.
QUESTION: Appreciate it.