Interview With George Stephanopolous of ABC's This Week

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

QUESTION: We are joined now by the Secretary of State John Kerry. Mr. Secretary, thank you for joining us today. First thing, let’s talk about Turkey. Are you confident now that Erdogan has fully put down this coup and is in control of the country?

SECRETARY KERRY: We believe that is the case. It seems clear – what we hope is that it will literally calm down and this will not have a such an open, accelerated amount of retribution or taking advantage, that it’s done through a process in a very methodical way. But yes, it appears as if he is fully in control and we support that.

QUESTION: You just hinted at one of the concerns here is that President Erdogan will take this opportunity, use it as an excuse to crush dissent and crack down on democracy even more.

SECRETARY KERRY: Obviously, there are coup plotters, and the coup plotters need to be held accountable and they will be. But I think we’re all concerned, and we have expressed that concern, that this not fuel a reach well beyond those who engaged in the coup but that they strengthen the democracy of the country, strengthen the process, and use it as a moment to unite the nation.

QUESTION: As you know, President Erdogan thinks that one of the plotters is this Muslim cleric Fethulla Gulen who lives in the United States in Pennsylvania. He’s called for the United States to extradite Mr. Gulen. I know you’ve said you’re going to consider any evidence. Has Turkey presented any evidence and made a formal request for extradition?

SECRETARY KERRY: There has not been a formal request made. But in the conversation I had with Foreign Minister Cavusoglu yesterday afternoon, I reiterated that the faster they get us the evidence – not allegations but evidence – we will immediately evaluate it. We will do our due diligence. We’re not holding back from doing anything, nor have we ever been. We’ve always said, look, if you have evidence of X, Y, or Z, please present it to us.

Turkey is a friend. Turkey is an ally. Turkey is an important coalition partner in the fight against ISIL. And we’ll do our due diligence within our legal process. But as you know and everybody knows, we have very strict standards in order to protect people’s rights. We will go through our legal process. They tell me they are assembling the evidence, putting it together in a dossier to the Minister of Justice, will apparently be in touch with us shortly. And we look forward to receiving the evidence they have.

QUESTION: As you mentioned, Turkey is an important coalition partner in the fight against ISIL. Well, we’ve seen the suspension of flights from the Turkish airbase. How much is this hurting the effort and how long will it last?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, the Foreign Minister emphasized that there will be no effect negatively on Incirlik by them. They are fully committed to the fight. They’re going to continue. That fight is going on. But apparently, there was some refueling of some of the aircraft that were flying during the coup that came out of Incirlik, and I think they’re trying to chase that to ground and find out if there were conspiratorialists who were somehow involved in those flights. But they’ve assured us, and to date we don’t see a negative drag on the effort with respect to counter-ISIL.

QUESTION: And in recent weeks, the United States and the coalition have been making progress against ISIL in Iraq and in Syria, but we’ve seen this backlash all over the world, most recently in Nice, France. Is this, in your view, a strategic shift by ISIL? How concerning is it? What can we do about it?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, of course it’s concerning. Unfortunately, there’s already a dispersion of some people who are supportive of what the ISIL folks are doing. And it’s very, very difficult – worse than a needle in a haystack – to know where one person may suddenly surface, go nuts the way this guy in Nice appears to have been radicalized, and then go out and do something to hurt people. And so law enforcement authorities have the huge burden, and governments have the huge burden of trying to get this right everywhere, every single instant of every single day, every day of the year. The terrorist has to get it right for 10 minutes, five minutes, for a moment, where out of nowhere they suddenly appear and decide to do harm to people.

But we believe the network is growing, which is sharing information, which is beginning to gather who is where and how they are connected. I think that, frankly, there’s been a very significant job done in shutting down many, many different plots in many different places, and that’s why it is so important for us to accelerate the effort against ISIL, which is what President Obama has been working on so hard over the course of these months. And the President has been directly personally engaged. We’ve had meetings at the Treasury Department, at the Defense Department, at the State Department, regularly assessing how we upgrade what we’re doing, intensify our efforts. And from the military to the diplomatic engagement, to various intelligence efforts, we are significantly growing our capacity. And that’s what we will be doing this week when we host 45 nations. Defense ministers and foreign ministers will be gathering in Washington to not only assess where we are but to lay down plans for how we shut these guys down forever.

QUESTION: As you know, while that’s happening Republicans are gathering here in Cleveland. And yesterday, Donald Trump laid out a broadside against President Obama and his foreign policy saying it’s caused the Middle East to spin out of control. Listen: “Never been like this. Out of control. After four years of Clinton, who really led the way and led Obama down a horrible path, every single they touched has turned to horrible, horrible, death-defying problems.”

He has also called for a formal declaration of war against ISIL. What’s your reaction to what he said and that call for a formal declaration of war?

SECRETARY KERRY: Let me just say that we have assembled a coalition of 66 nations. We have taken back now more than 40 percent, 45 percent of the territory that ISIL held in Iraq. We have taken back a large percentage of what they held in Syria. About 130 of their major leaders have been taken off the scene of battle forever. They cannot move easily. They have had to change their tactics. Their revenues have been cut. I think a very significant job is being done under circumstances in which it was clear that the members of Congress were not prepared to send American troops to Syria. I think that’s still probably true today. I would look forward to somebody who has an alternate plan, if they do.

But we are making, as I said, very significant process. And the attacks that are taking place – ISIL has not gained one foot of territory and held it in either Iraq or Syria since we began this effort a year ago. I define that as success. What is difficult are these individual players, some of whom appear to be radicalized at absolutely the last moment by something that we are still trying to calculate. And in my judgment, we are deeply engaged, we are making enormous progress. And I believe before the next President of the United States is sworn in we will have made even greater progress and ISIL will be having a very, very difficult time in both Iraq and Syria.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, thanks for your time this morning.