Interview With Omar Fekeiki of Middle East Broadcasting Network

John Kerry
Secretary of State
Washington, DC
April 28, 2016

QUESTION: It’s a great pleasure to meet you, sir. And thank you very much for giving us the opportunity. I will start with a direct question. The United States is leading the campaign to combat Daesh in the Middle East. What do you think the United States allies should be doing?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, our allies are doing a great deal. There are 66 nations involved in this effort against Daesh. But the countries in the Middle East particularly are deeply engaged in this effort. We’re working to cut off finance that comes from various places. We’re fighting to prevent young people from being indoctrinated, and so we have a number of social media initiatives to reach out to people and to counter Daesh’s narrative. In addition to that, we are reducing the flow of foreign fighters very significantly by tightening the rules of travel and airports, the customs, visas, so forth. And we are, I think, quite effectively working together in the field against the Daesh operatives and have eliminated many of their leaders from the battlefield, and I now can say that we’ve re-liberated and re-secured 44 percent of the territory that Daesh held in Iraq, and about 16, 17 percent of the territory in Syria. So it’s a slow and steady progression, but it’s being done carefully so that it doesn’t fall backwards as we do it.

QUESTION: Now, given that Saudi Arabia allocates the highest budget to military spending among Arab countries, what do you think the Saudis should be doing more of to help these efforts to succeed?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, the Saudis are doing also a great deal. The Saudis have been leaders among the nations in the region. As the Custodian of the Two Mosques, I think that the – King Salman and the government speak with a special authority with respect to Islam. They are putting together counter-narrative efforts so that they’re responding – they are responding, not us. But it’s coming from this very important seat of Islam speaking about what the true Islam is about, which I can’t do, but obviously, King Salman and the court can do.

In addition to that, they are on the front lines of effort in the International Syria Support Group, helping to try to shape a political solution to the fight. I think we would ask them – they could do perhaps a little more to help us cut off some of the sources of private finance of money that moves – not the government, but it moves privately. We’re working on those things with Saudi Arabia. But they’ve been a very key and important partner in this effort.

QUESTION: Now, the – many Iraqis have taken to the streets lately, peacefully demanding political change. Will the United States support such demands?

SECRETARY KERRY: We support specific reforms in Iraq, and we have been very clear with Prime Minister Abadi and with the government that in order to progress, in order to bring Iraqis together, in order to stabilize and grow the country and get their economy moving, they need to be inclusive. It has to be – every Iraqi has to be represented within the governing process. And I think it’s inevitable that you will wind up having moments of tension, as we have seen in the past days. But on the other hand, I think it’s worked the process in a way that ultimately works through some of the disagreements and some of the difficulties, and then moves people together hopefully in the same direction. So we would encourage Prime Minister Abadi – we have encouraged him. And Vice President Biden is there even as I speak, having conversations with him about this particular need, which is to be inclusive, bring people to the table, work through the differences, and make sure that everybody is represented in a fair and sensible way.

QUESTION: Now, the young generation is the future leaders of any nation. What kind of leaders do you think the Middle East, Arab countries, need in 10 or 15 years?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, I think they need the leaders now, and they’re beginning to see younger leaders emerging. And for instance, in Saudi Arabia, the Deputy Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman has been leading the effort on a number of different fronts, particularly the economic transformation of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. It’s a very ambitious plan, it’s a very important plan, but I am told that because he is young, and he is helping to shape an economic future for people, a lot of young people are excited and rallying around that particular initiative.

I think similarly, the Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed, His Royal Highness in the Arab Emirates, has proven to be very visionary. And together with his brothers, they have really instituted some remarkable initiatives on energy, initiatives on the counterterrorism front. They’ve been very forward leaning to stand up for – against Daesh and against al-Qaida. And I think people appreciate that, not to mention what they’ve been able to do to transform their own economy in the UAE.

QUESTION: You spoke of media initiatives to combat terrorism and Daesh, and al-Hurra and Radio Sawa have launched a new initiative called Raise Your Voice. It gives a platform for moderate voices to discuss important issues in the Middle East. How important such initiatives, do you think?

SECRETARY KERRY: Very, very important. It’s a very important initiative. It is imperative that citizens speak out. Everybody has a responsibility to fight back against this radicalism. And I think that what’s important is that people don’t feel they can’t make a difference. Everybody has an ability to prevent a friend from being seduced by phony narratives, by lies. Everybody has an ability to be able to tell the truth about Islam, to tell the truth about radicalism and terror. And I think that until people do speak up and fully make their voices heard, it’s very difficult to mobilize the full energy that we need to against violent extremism. All violent extremism needs to be negated.

QUESTION: Thank you very much. We really appreciate you talking.

SECRETARY KERRY: My pleasure. Thank you so much.

QUESTION: Thank you.

SECRETARY KERRY: Thank you very much. Appreciate it.