Interview With CNN's State of the Union With Jake Tapper

John Kerry
Secretary of State
Luxembourg, Luxembourg
July 17, 2016

QUESTION: And joining me now is Secretary of State John Kerry who is in Luxembourg on his way to Brussels. Mr. Secretary, thank you so much for joining us. Let’s start with the attempted coup.

In Turkey, more than 200 people have been killed since the uprising began. Operations at the U.S. Airbase there have been halted. Power’s been cut. Our troops there are operating off of military generators. Five military facilities in Turkey have been placed at the highest alert level. This seems to show a huge level of disrespect. Who is responsible for this? Is it Erdogan?

SECRETARY KERRY: Jake, we don’t have all the details of what has happened with respect to the coup. What we do know is this: I’ve talked three times yesterday with the foreign minister of Turkey; they assure me that there will be no interruption of our counter-ISIL efforts. It is a fact that there were some difficulties at Incirlik; but apparently, there may have been some refueling that took place with the Turkish Air Force with planes that were flying in the coup itself, and I think that has something to do with what’s taken place there. It’s not focused on us. They have absolutely assured us of their commitment to the fight against Daesh. Their foreign minister will be coming to Washington with their defense minister in three days for a major conference that we have with 45 countries – foreign ministers, defense ministers – to keep pushing forward on a strategy against Daesh.

So Jake, I expect that operations will get back to normal very quickly. But we don’t know the details of the coup, and I think the Turkish Government itself is trying to figure out the full measure of who is involved and how.

QUESTION: Has this affected the fight against ISIS, or as you call it, Daesh?

SECRETARY KERRY: No, it has not. According to our commanders, there may have been a minor delay here or there or something, but it has not affected the fundamental direction or commitment to the fight.

QUESTION: As you know, on Saturday, the president of Turkey, Erdogan, demanded that the U.S. arrest or hand over one of his enemies, Fethullah Gulen, the person he is holding responsible for this coup, who is living in self-imposed exile in the Poconos in Pennsylvania. Is the U.S. going to comply with this demand for extradition?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, first of all, we have not had a formal request for extradition. That has to come in a formal package. It has to come with documentation for the request and go to the Justice Department, and we will deal with it. I made it very, very clear to the Foreign Minister of Turkey yesterday, the United States is not harboring anybody. We’re not preventing anything from happening. We’ve never had a formal request for extradition. And we have always said give us the evidence, show us the evidence. We need a solid legal foundation that meets the standard of extradition in order for our courts to approve such a request.

So we’re waiting for that. They tell us they are putting it together and will send it to us. But we think it’s irresponsible to have accusations of American involvement when we’re simply waiting for their request, which we’re absolutely prepared to act on if it meets the legal standard.

QUESTION: Did U.S. intelligence have any idea that this attempted coup was about to happen?

SECRETARY KERRY: I don’t think anybody’s intelligence had information, particularly the Turkish intelligence. The answer is no. This is the nature of a coup. You rarely have indicators that something’s about to happen.

QUESTION: Let’s turn now if we can, sir, to the terrorist attack in Nice on Saturday. ISIS claimed responsibility for inspiring that horrific truck attack that killed 84 people, wounding more than 200. Does the U.S. have any intelligence to back up this claim by ISIS that it, at the very least, inspired the attack?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, there is public information that has been leaking out from France from the investigation itself regarding a, quote, “very rapid period of radicalization.” We know, obviously, what everybody now knows publicly that he was a Tunisian who was given permission to live in France, but we have – we had no knowledge of him as a radicalized individual. And at this point in time, we’re waiting for the investigators and we’re helping the investigation in any way that is possible.

Our hearts go out to everybody in France. This is the third major terrorist attack in France. It’s very, very difficult for the French people. We understand that. There are 85 people in the hospital now, 20 plus in the intensive care unit. So we are working with the French to try to put the pieces together, but it’s a – this one of those things, Jake. It’s worse than a needle in a haystack. If you have no indications of somebody and you don’t have any track record of radicalization, and all of a sudden over a week or in some period somebody with apparent mental problems anyway decides to go do great harm to people, it is not hard to do that. And governments and law enforcement have to be able to get this right every hour, every day, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. If you’re a terrorist, and particularly of one or two days’ vintage, you can just go out and do something very easily.

What we believe this indicates, however, is that Daesh – ISIL – in Syria and Iraq is under great, great pressure and people are acting out in various places, but they are not growing in their ability to do things. They are shrinking. We’ve taken back 40 percent – 45 percent of the territory they held in Iraq. We’re squeezing town after town. We’ve liberated communities. We’re making progress now advancing on Mosul, in Syria likewise. They’re not able to attack and hold towns. They are on the run. And I believe what we’re seeing are the desperate actions of an entity that sees the noose closing around them.

QUESTION: Well, with all due respect, sir, I’m not sure that it looks that way to the public that ISIS is on the run. In just the last few weeks we have seen –

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, obviously.

QUESTION: -- a serious of ISIS-inspired attacks – 49 killed in Orlando, 45 killed in Istanbul at the airport, more than 200 killed in Baghdad, 84 in Nice. This is just the last five weeks. I don’t think ISIS is on the run. They might be expanding –

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, Jake – look, Jake. Well, Jake, it depends on where you mean ISIS. I don’t know if this guy was actually ISIS and nor do you. And we don’t know that the guy in Orlando was fundamentally ISIS nor even told what to do by ISIS. If people are inspired, they’re inspired. But ISIL, which is based in Iraq and Syria, is under huge pressure, and that is just a fact.

Now there are thousands of fighters, some of who left the area of the fighting years ago and they are sitting in some community somewhere in the world. And if you’re saying that one person standing up one day and killing people is a reflection of ISIS moving in Iraq and Syria, I think you’re dead wrong.

Now are – is it capable for people to be inspired by them and go out and do great harm to people? I said that. I acknowledge that. Yes, there is that danger. But the core of ISIS is in al-Raqqa and it’s Manbij, it’s in Syria, it is in Iraq. And we are doing everything in our power to put additional pressure on them, and I believe their days are numbered.

QUESTION: You’re doing everything you can do? I mean, I think there are a lot of people in the United States, in the Pentagon, in the National Security apparatus who have a number of suggestions as to what more could be done to put pressure and to eliminate --

SECRETARY KERRY: Correct. And we --

QUESTION: -- the threat of ISIS.

SECRETARY KERRY: A lot of people have talked about American troops going in, et cetera. Congress displayed absolutely zero willingness to vote to do that. And if people have a willingness to show that now that has changed, the Administration will listen to any legitimate plan, any legitimate way to do more. But I believe that the pressure is mounting on a steady basis with more and more being done on a consistent basis. And we welcome additional thoughts from members of Congress, from anybody in the Intel Community and the defense community who knows or suggests – President Obama is open to any legitimate ways of moving faster that meets the test of our security needs and of what the Congress is willing to support.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, I’m being told that you have to go, that you have a meeting with the Prime Minister. We always appreciate your time. Thank you so much and good luck out there, sir.

SECRETARY KERRY: Thank you. Thank you, Jake. Appreciate it. Have fun in Cleveland.