Interview With Chuck Todd of NBC's Meet the Press

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

QUESTION: To get more on this and all of these events around the world, I am joined now by the Secretary of State. Mr. Secretary, welcome back to Meet the Press.

SECRETARY KERRY: Thank you very much. Glad to be with you.

QUESTION: Well, it’s been a tumultuous week, to say the least, between what happened in Nice, the coup in Turkey. We’ve had some both domestic and international events that have come onto our shores, it feels like, the last five weeks. A lot of Americans may feel as if the world is coming apart. What do you say to that?

SECRETARY KERRY: I say that, actually, we’re making progress, but I know when you have these spectacular events it’s very difficult to measure. But here’s the real measure: In Iraq we are taking back territory very rapidly from Daesh – ISIL. ISIL’s space is seriously contracting. Similarly, in Syria we’re making significant progress. I was just in Russia, where we’re talking with the Russians about how we can put a cessation more effectively into place which will enable us to go after ISIL, kill ISIL more effectively, and get to the political process of a transition of dealing with Assad. I believe we made progress there. We’ve made significant progress on the ground.

But there are fighters, Chuck, who have left Syria a year ago, two years ago, three years ago, and there’s a process of radicalization that takes place so that one person in one place, as we saw in Orlando or as we just saw in Nice, France, has the ability to jump in a truck or go into a nightclub and, unfortunately, do terrible damage. That is extremely hard for law enforcement to deal with ahead of time unless there is intelligence regarding it.

So I believe those events actually are efforts by ISIL to try to prove relevance and to try to frighten people more. But I do think with respect to the fight against the leadership, we’ve taken 130 of their major leaders off the battlefield, we are making progress.

QUESTION: All right. Let me --

SECRETARY KERRY: And this week in Washington, we will have 45 nations’ defense ministers and foreign ministers gathering in Washington to lay down even more plans for how we go forward.

QUESTION: Okay. Let me start with Turkey. It appears as if the coup has been squashed by President Erdogan. I know – I’ve heard your statements – the United States, other allies support the democratically elected leader there. But let me ask you this: Are you confident President Erdogan is not going to use this coup to essentially grab more power and erode more small “d” democracy?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, we think it’s very important that he doesn’t do that, obviously. That would be a great challenge to his relationship to Europe, to NATO, and to all of us. And we have urged them not to reach out so far that they’re creating doubts about their commitment to the democratic process, and I hope it won’t result in that.

QUESTION: And you believe that some of the – there are some folks who believe that a man by the name of Fethullah Gulen, who is in a self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania, was – some are trying to point the finger at him for this coup and even talking about asking for extradition. You had said that the United States would be open to that if they can prove it. Do you believe Mr. Gulen was involved in this at all?

SECRETARY KERRY: I have no knowledge, I have no evidence whatsoever, at this point in time. But I’ve talked with my foreign minister counterpart three times in the last day and I urged him to compile the evidence that they have as rapidly as possible, provide it directly to us through the channels, and I pledged to him that according to our extradition treaty, according to our legal process and standards, we will immediately evaluate whether or not that evidence is sufficient to merit an extradition.

But they also have to make a formal request for extradition through the judicial process. They haven’t done that yet. And that has to be accompanied by evidence and by demonstrated facts which would lead a court to approve the extradition itself. But we’re open to it. We’re not blocking it. We’ve never had a formal request.

QUESTION: Our time is short here. You brought up the deal, the deal that you struck in Russia. We don’t know any details of this deal; you haven’t provided it. What should that tell us – the fact that there are no details to this deal? And why are you confident that you can work with the Russians? We’re going to coordinate airstrikes with the Russians – a country that you unloaded on not that long ago when they were essentially going into the Ukraine and taking Crimea. Why do you trust the Russians on this particular topic in Syria?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, we’re still working on the issue of Ukraine and we still haven’t resolved the issue of Ukraine. And frankly, we spent a good deal of time in the conversation with President Putin laying down the steps that we need to take to deal with Ukraine also. So we’re working on a number of different issues. We’re also working on Nagorno-Karabakh.

But with respect to Syria, nothing in what we talked about is based on trust. I’m not sitting here naively trusting what the Russians may or may not do. What we have done is laid out a series of steps concretely. Each step is the prelude to something else happening. If it doesn’t happen, then there won’t be that progress.

But one of – the reason we’re not laying it all out for everybody to pick around at is simply that there have been disappointments. The cessation of hostilities is not working properly. Assad has not abided by it. Russia itself has presented some challenges.

So I don’t want to raise expectations. I’m trying to lay this out in a way that is between us on a basis of steps taken. And there’s no question of any reliance on trust or relationship; this has to be proven step by step. And if it’s proven, it has the potential of changing the dynamics on the ground. If it isn’t, then we have to talk about other options and alternatives.

QUESTION: Secretary Kerry, I have to leave it there. I look forward to having more time with you very soon. Thank you, sir.

SECRETARY KERRY: Thank you. Thank you. Have fun in Cleveland. Have fun in Cleveland.