Meets With Embassy Baghdad Staff

John Kerry
   Secretary of State
Stuart E. Jones
   U.S. Ambassador to Iraq
Embassy Baghdad
Baghdad, Iraq
April 8, 2016

AMBASSADOR JONES: Thank you very much. It’s a great honor to have Secretary Kerry here. They gave me this mike up here because the podium is so tall for the Secretary that they were afraid you wouldn’t be able to see me. (Laughter.) (Inaudible.) Thank you all very much for coming out. Mr. Secretary, it’s a great honor to have you. Assistant Secretary Patterson, thank you for being here. Admiral (inaudible), Admiral Kirby, Special Envoy McGurk, and the entire S staff has been wonderful to work with this week, Mr. Secretary. Thank you very much.

Mr. Secretary, everybody wants to hear from you, but if you’ll just indulge me for a second, I have to tell you a couple of things about this terrific embassy, because this embassy has done extraordinary things in the past year. The consular section, for example, has returned a record number of abducted children back to America. The RSO section has run 7,200 missions without a single incident. The commercial and economics section have restarted and refounded the American Chamber of Commerce and achieved a $1.1 billion GE Power generation deal, and they negotiated the famous Mosul Dam contract. The refugee team has eliminated the backlog of SIV immigrant visa applications and is now doubling the production of the (inaudible) IV issuance – immigrant visa issuance. And I’m sure there are some other people I’ve forgotten: the terrific OSC-I which has delivered hundreds of millions of dollars in military equipment; the political section, which has made unprecedented inroads into provincial politics and has helped organize the tribal forces. Every section in this embassy, sir, is carrying out your vision and the vision of the President. It’s not only the biggest embassy in the world, it’s the best embassy in the world. (Cheers.)

Thank you very much. We are very, very (inaudible) to have you here (inaudible). It’s been a pleasure to spend the day with you, and thank you. I think everyone wants to hear from you. Thank you very much, sir. (Applause.)

SECRETARY KERRY: Stuart, thank you. Stay up here a minute. Don’t you run away. Anne Patterson, come up here (inaudible). I want you all to say hello to our assistant secretary of state for near eastern affairs. Thank you. (Applause.) She is an old hand at this business. I first met her when she was an ambassador to Pakistan and then she was in Egypt and now in the department. I’m thrilled and happy to have her support.

But let me say hello to the best embassy in the world. Thank you, Stuart. (Applause.) What an amazing history this place has, and I could not be prouder of the stewardship of Stu Jones and his wife Barbara. They are doing such an extraordinary job and I want to say thank you on behalf of everybody in the our country. We’re deeply appreciative of you.

And I also want to thank – where’s Jonathan Cohen? There he is, right in front of me, right in front of me. That’s how you hide the best. (Laughter.) Thank you, Jonathan, for your great help to all of us here.

I just calculated – I was over in the quarters having meetings with Speaker Jabouri, and it occurred to me that I have been coming here for 13 years on and off. That’s a long time for one particular place to focus, and I’m sure that all of you feel that. And I want to second what Stu just said to you. The accomplishments of this embassy are absolutely extraordinary. It’s one of our largest embassies in the world, 500 folks here working directly – not to mention the people here, 75 or 80 TDYers, people who come through, the unbelievable number of missions that you just heard Stu refer to, whether it’s the Vice President of the United States, the President, or the congressional delegations, the constant traffic (inaudible) numbers – so we’ve got hundreds if not thousands of contractors here working to make this place a success story.

And what’s clear to me is there are few places in the world where the outcome is as important as outcome here. You guys get to get up every single day and go to work knowing – I hope that you know as of today, I hope that we really focus in on this – the degree to which you are privileged to be able to really make a difference of enormous consequence.

Daesh is as evil an entity as I have ever come across in my entire lifetime. You’d have to struggle to write the script for what they do. And it wouldn’t strike you probably to again begin to have 21 people on the beach be beheaded or some guy burned alive in a cage, or kids encouraged, 15 years old, to walk up to a bunch of other kids who are getting their trophies for soccer season and blow everybody to smithereens. The perversity of these folks, destroying history, culture, Palmyra, knocking apart the thousands of years old Roman arch, for instance, chopping the head off the 80-year-old professor who spent a lifetime preserving those antiquities, and killing Yezidis, Catholics, Protestants, Christians, Jews, Ismaili, whatever, because of who they are, before they’ve even (inaudible) because they’re not them, because they don’t want to be as depraved and as sick, as criminal, and as without any redeeming quality whatsoever. I’ve never seen anything like it, and nor have you.

Well, they tried to move all the way to Baghdad, as we know. When I was here last time we were in the center of a storm. And I remember being here and meeting with the ambassador at the time, and we talked about whether or not Baghdad could hold and was the Iraqi military going to be able to stand up, and black flags flying over the Toyotas and on captured armored vehicles as they marched through Mosul and down into the rest of Anbar over a period of time. And it was a courageous decision by the President of the United States, who said that we’re not going to just stand by, we’re not going to let all that we’ve invested in and everything that we fought for just go down the tube to a bunch of criminal thugs.

And so we started the bombing campaign, and from there we built up a 65, 66 now nation coalition that is working around the world to prevent people from flying one place to another, to deal with the social media and begin to counter the messaging of Daesh, to be able to appeal to the real Islam, to define itself as the beautiful religion that it, in fact, is, not as this absolutely hijacked, perverted sense that they try to present. And all of these efforts now are coming home with success.

Daesh is on the run, folks. They may still be in Mosul; they’re still in Hit, though not for many more days. And there are – there’s a tough fight ahead of us. But they have not taken any territory and held it in this country since last May. And the fact is their leaders are being eliminated from the battlefield on a daily basis, at least an average of one every three days, and their war minister and their finance minister, and so forth. And as we continue and you continue to do the training job and work with the Iraqi Security Forces and upgrade their capacity to get out there, they will take this fight, and we will support them.

Today, when I met with Prime Minister Abadi, he made it crystal clear that the priority is Mosul. And right now there’s another challenge on the horizon, which is a different kind obviously, and that’s the economic challenge because of the price of oil and a budget that was calculated at about 45 bucks a barrel, which is lower than normal also and had a deficit of about 20 billion, is now an even bigger deficit. And so they’re cutting and cutting, but we have to make sure that they won’t have to cut so as to destroy all of the progress that everybody here has worked for. So this is a monumental challenge, and we are talking in Washington about how we can help on the economic front as well as some of these other fronts.

So I – if we cannot defeat Daesh in all of the places we need to defeat it, if we don’t defeat it in each place individually, and that means we have to destroy it in Iraq in order to be successful in Syria, and we have to destroy it in Syria in order to be successful in Libya and in Yemen and in the various places where it has converted people to its cause. The principal reason for that conversion, folks, is success. They were able to promote a narrative that they were on the march and that they were inevitable and then in the announcing of their caliphate they were the future. And that narrative has now been destroyed and being destroyed – not fully destroyed in the minds of everybody out there, but it is destroyed in terms of real context and truth, and it empowers us to go out and fight back.

In Saudi Arabia, they’re opening a new center to be able to respond on social media, to get clerics and mullahs and imams and grand muftis and others to speak about Islam. Same thing in the Emirates, where they’ve opened a center called the Sawab Center, which has people speaking back and putting out the true stories of what Daesh is doing. In Malaysia, they’re going to open a center, in other places. So the fight back against them is actually doing to endure to our benefit well beyond Daesh, because there are other extremist groups out there, as you know, in Syria whether it’s Ahrar al-Sham or Jaysh al-Islam, or run through a list, Nusrah, Jabat al-Nusrah and so forth – and we are also going after them at the same time.

What’s interesting is, even though we have serious differences with the Russians, we are finding cooperation with the Russians now in terms of the cessation of hostilities, the political process, and trying to find a way forward hopefully to be able to combat Daesh and eliminate them even faster.

Now, there are a lot of other things happening here, I know. It’s not just all about – all the normal things that an embassy does, you’re doing at the same time. And all of the people-to-people programs, all of the efforts to manage the economy, the economic efforts, the education – all the things that we do. So I just want to say on behalf of President Obama and Vice President Biden, myself, and the whole team that are involved in the great work of diplomacy, we are so proud of you, so grateful to you, for your commitment, for being here – many of you away from families. It’s a hardship post. It’s difficult. You can’t run around and do things that you do in normal posts. So this is a sacrifice, and it’s really what makes America great. It’s what makes our country special. It’s what makes being a part of the diplomatic family and part of the State Department, I think, even more special. And because of it, I am so proud and privileged to be able to serve as Secretary of State, so proud of what we are accomplishing during this period of time.

And my encouragement to you, as I say thank you to you, is to keep up the great work, help us get this job done, and you will have contributed to a major mark in the modern history of relationships between countries and how we resolve conflicts. And that’s a pretty darn good thing to have accomplished in a lifetime. Thank you all and God bless. Thank you. (Applause.)