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Interview with Secretary Kerry on Yahoo! News

Interviewer: Katie Couric
Interviewee: John F. Kerry
Published June 16, 2014



Interview with Secretary Kerry on Yahoo! News

Katie Couric of Yahoo! News interviews Secretary of State John Kerry about the situation in Iraq regarding the terrorist organization Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and potential U.S. actions and partnerships with the United Nations and Iran in combating terrorism in the region. They briefly discuss the State Department's oceans conference.


QUESTION: So you don't think a residual force would have kept this from happening after 2011?

SECRETARY KERRY: Absolutely, unquestionably not, and I'll tell you why. Because whatever residual force was discussed to be left in Iraq would have been, had the Iraqis accepted the terms by which we leave troops anywhere in the world, which they refused to do, but that force would have been non-combat. It would have been not involved in combat. So it was not a combatant force that was being contemplated. It was train, advise, assist, so forth.

We can still do that, and there are ways for us to do that. But the bottom line is that this is an internal struggle, which has gone on for a long time in Iraq. Shia, Sunni. It's got overtones of Iraq's - of Iran's influence in Iraq. It has very serious implications with respect to other countries encouraging certain kinds of activities, and it's much more complicated than meets the eye.

QUESTION: It's been reported that the U.S. has drones flying over Iraq to gather intelligence, but a lot of analysts over the weekend were talking about the fact that airstrikes are not going to be effective because there are members of this organization scattered among the population at large. So what's your response to airstrikes just aren't the answer here?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, they're not the whole answer, but they may well be one of the options that are important to be able to stem the tide and stop the movement of people who are moving around in open convoys, in trucks, and terrorizing people. I mean, when you have people murdering, assassinating in these mass massacres, you have to stop that, and you do what you need to do if you need to try to stop it from the air or otherwise if - Americans obviously feel very powerfully about not putting boots back on the ground in Iraq, so we'll consider what options are available to us.

But you cannot allow that march, I think. I mean, it's our basic judgment of most people in the region that you can't just let them run whole hog over the country for any number of reasons. And so the Iraq - Iraqis themselves, however, are now stepping up, partly because you've sort of reach a sectarian line, and to some degree, the elements that have created this fight in the first place are now manifesting themselves in a different way.

My - I would simply say to those people who ask the question now, the President is evaluating a very thorough vetting of every option that is available. A lot of work has been going on over the course of this weekend. We met at length with discussions on Friday, on Saturday; yesterday I was talking to foreign ministers in the region. There's a lot of work going on right now to make sure that whatever judgments the President ultimately makes have the greatest amount of input and the greatest understanding of what will have the best effect.

QUESTION: I know President Obama has suggested no military aid will come without Prime Minister Maliki instituting reforms reaching out to those Sunnis. But instead there are reports he's flying in Iranian paramilitary forces, mobilizing Shiite militias, so that does not appear to be happening.

SECRETARY KERRY: I don't believe that Iranian troops are coming in and crossing the border, but there is obviously a mobilization of some of the militia, no question about it. And that has its dangers, certainly. We are adamant that Prime Minister Maliki and his government must do a better job of reaching out to all of the representative entities in Iraq and bring them to the table. That has not happened sufficiently.

QUESTION: But Secretary Kerry, is it too late? I mean, how does he do that when the country is imploding?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, the country just had an election, and there is a legitimate government formation process that is underway. Until this weekend, there was a lot of discussion taking place among all the political players as to what shape that government might take going forward. This event with ISIL has - or ISIS, as people call it, it's one and the same - has overtaken that government formation process. The question now is: Can you stem the tide, stop it where it is, even roll it back, and give the government the opportunity to take stock of what it needs to do to present the people of Iraq with a comprehensive reform package and the confidence that there will be a different kind of governance. That would appear to me to be the best way forward.

QUESTION: Some are suggesting that Maliki should resign.

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, that's up to the Iraqi people and it's up to the government formation process. I don't think the United States should be issuing instructions or orders. I don't think any country should. But I think we can -

QUESTION: But could that be further destabilizing?

SECRETARY KERRY: --but I think we should work - it depends, not necessarily at all. If there is a clear successor, if the results of the election are respected, if people come together with the cohesiveness necessary to build a legitimate government that puts the reforms in place that people want, that might wind up being very salutatory. I think it's up to the Iraqi political process to work that.

Now, we clearly can play an encouraging, consultative role in helping them to achieve that transition, and we have people on the ground right now. Our Assistant Secretary of State Brett McGurk's been doing an extraordinary job over there. Our Ambassador Steve Beecroft, very, very engaged. We are in touch directly with all of the players, and we are working to determine how we can help them to help themselves.

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