Secretary Kerry’s Interview with Media Sources on Iraq

Secretary Kerry
Secretary Kerry

Secretary Kerry’s Interview with Fox on Iraq

24 June 2014

U.S. Department of State
Washington, D.C.
June 24, 2014

John Kerry
Secretary of State
Erbil, Iraq
June 24, 2014

Interview With James Rosen of Fox

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, thank you for this honor. It’s always an honor to travel with you and have a chance to sit down with you.

SECRETARY KERRY: Thank you. Delighted to do so. I’m happy to do so.

QUESTION: The latest New York Times/CBS news poll finds nearly 6 in 10 Americans disapproving of President Obama’s handling of foreign policy, including nearly a third of Democrats. This is not just one snapshot poll. If you look at the average of major reliable polls on this subject, the handling of foreign policy, NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, Fox News poll, all of them produce the identical result. So clearly, right now it is a fact that Americans are expressing disapproval of the President’s and your performance.

Are you humbled by that?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, look, it’s a good thing that we don’t do foreign policy by polls. That would be a tragedy and a huge mistake.

QUESTION: So are you doubting the verdict?

SECRETARY KERRY: No, no, no. Let me just finish. It is inevitable that with a certain amount of upheaval all around the world that people are going to stand back and they’re going to question it. A huge amount of what is happening is not happening because the United States is there or because the United States isn’t there; it’s happening because people in these places want something different. That’s what the Arab Spring was all about. Tahrir Square didn’t happen because of or the lack of the United States; it happened because young people wanted a new future and wanted to throw off the yoke of a dictator. Same thing in Tunisia, same thing in Syria. And the fact is that people in these regions have to make choices too.

QUESTION: The American people are expressing disapproval. Are you doubting their judgment?

SECRETARY KERRY: I understand that. I understand that.

QUESTION: Are you doubting their judgment?

SECRETARY KERRY: No, I’d never doubt the judgment of the American people. But I think it’s inevitable that people will have a sense of dissatisfaction when things are in upheaval. And what I am trying to convey is that we are as involved as we ever have been at any time, in the crises of North Korea working to denuclearize, Iran to prevent them from having a nuclear weapon, Syria to help the moderate opposition to deal with a dictator who is killing his own people. These are complicated things.

QUESTION: Involved, yes. Efficacious?

SECRETARY KERRY: The American people —

QUESTION: Are you effective?

SECRETARY KERRY: Let me just finish. American people also don’t want American troops going into these places to fight the wars for these people. So there are very limited tools, very limited tools. And I believe we’ve just had a huge success in being able to get chemical weapons out of Syria. I think that right now we’re working hard here in Iraq to be able to pull together a unifying government, a competent government that’s prepared to be able to try to deal with some of the issues here.

So my real test will not be what the American people make a judgment about today. It will be what they make a judgment about when we finish, and then we’ll see what the legacy is.

QUESTION: It sounds like you like the polls you like and you don’t like the polls you don’t like.

SECRETARY KERRY: No, I just don’t pay attention to polls. If I paid attention to polls, I would have quit in Iowa a long time ago. I don’t pay attention to polls.

QUESTION: We seldom hear mention of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the head of ISIS. This may be the most successful terrorist of modern times, if measured by the acquisition of territory or cash reserves. And yet I think there are only two known authenticated photos of the guy. You’ve said recently that President Obama is benefitting from improved intelligence product from this region. Is that helping you to draw a better bead on where Mr. al-Baghdadi is and how to neutralize him? Should he be fearful?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, the last thing I’m going to do is discuss intelligence in any form whatsoever.

QUESTION: Do you know where he is?

SECRETARY KERRY: I’m not going to discuss intelligence in any form whatsoever. But I would say to you that we have proven our ability to be pretty effective in the recent capture of Khatallah and we will continue to keep a thoughtful, careful approach that protects our interests and continues to make it difficult for terrorists in any part of the world to focus on the United States or on our allies and friends.

QUESTION: Should he be fearful?

SECRETARY KERRY: I’m not going to get into any of the details. I’m not – I need to – I wouldn’t even – I’m just not going to go into any details.

QUESTION: You and President Obama have both suggested that the only real surprise in ISIS’s capture of Mosul was how swiftly the Iraqi armed forces melted away. But given all that America has done and sacrificed to stand up the Iraqi armed forces over the years, given too that ISIS captured Fallujah and Ramadi in January, shouldn’t the fighting capability of the Iraqi armed forces have been precisely the kind of thing that our intelligence services and the Obama White House National Security Council should have had a much better grasp on?

SECRETARY KERRY: Until the fight is engaged, no, you don’t know the answer to that. I think in this case —

QUESTION: This was not an intelligence failure?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, Jim, if somebody could have found out that leaders were going to literally betray and cave in and desert, that would have been terrific. But we don’t have people embedded in those units, and so obviously nobody knew that. I think everybody in Iraq was surprised. People were surprised everywhere.

QUESTION: But look, you said repeatedly that President Obama began, as you put it, way back in the last year adding material and support, trying to build up Iraq as the crisis has been looming.


QUESTION: Obviously, whatever steps he took, which you’ve only described vaguely, proved inadequate to prevent this current crisis from developing and now occupying so much of your and his time. So this, to a reasonable observer, will appear as either an intelligence or a policy failure, or both.

SECRETARY KERRY: I really think that having done what we have done – the United States of America – to build up a several hundred thousand person armed force in Iraq, and having created the structure that was created, but not being permitted by the Iraqi Government to keep personnel here, as you know, as a result we don’t have eyes on, we didn’t have eyes in there. That’s absolutely correct. We just didn’t. But the Iraqis didn’t even have a sense of what was happening. And they did – these are their people. They have the command structure. They were there.

QUESTION: So when we left, we left —

SECRETARY KERRY: In fact – let me just finish. When we – no, we had embassy personnel and we have military attaches and we have personnel in Iraq. But we don’t have personnel in every unit in every part of Iraq, and nor should we, as a matter of fact. I don’t think the American people want that. They don’t want Americans to –

QUESTION: But you saw Fallujah fall and you saw Ramadi fall, and what did you do about it to prevent Mosul from falling? It doesn’t seem like very much.

SECRETARY KERRY: I can give you a detailed accounting of the additional personnel and the additional effort and supplies and warnings and meetings and all those things that took place. In the end, the Iraqis are responsible for their defense, and nobody expected wholesale desertion and wholesale betrayal, in a sense, by some leaders who literally either signed up with the guys who came in or walked away from their posts and put on their civilian clothes. No, nobody expected that. That’s absolutely correct.

QUESTION: Your aides are wrapping the interview. I’d like to close on a somewhat lighter note. You once told me that you introduced John Lennon at an antiwar rally in the early 1970s. Does anything he said to you on that occasion, backstage or anything at all about that encounter with John Lennon, stay with you today? Anything you can relate?

SECRETARY KERRY: Nothing I would relate. But the whole visit stays with me, sure.

QUESTION: Are you withholding things that you could relate, or that’s —

SECRETARY KERRY: Strictly personal. Strictly personal. That’s all.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, thank you very much.

SECRETARY KERRY: Thank you. Appreciate it.

Secretary Kerry’s Interview with BBC on Iraq, Egypt

24 June 2014

U.S. Department of State
John Kerry
Secretary of State
Erbil, Iraq
June 24, 2014

Interview With Kim Ghattas of BBC

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, thank you very much for speaking to the BBC. I wanted to start by asking you: Why are we in Erbil? You were in the Iraqi capital yesterday. Do you consider this a separate entity? Is this the new Iraqi reality that Mr. Massoud Barzani is talking about?

SECRETARY KERRY: No, not at all. But the Kurd participation in the governing formation process is very, very important. The Kurds have been very key to helping to draw a line against ISIL. They’re cooperating in the security arrangement, and I think it’s very, very important to touch all of the bases. And because of some of the internal politics of Iraq right now, it was important for me to come here and I’m glad I did.

QUESTION: The Kurds are fighting back against ISIS. They’re also trying to hold more territory and gaining ground themselves. Is that going to stay like that?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, that’s going to be something that has to be resolved by Iraqis, by the new government. They have to form a government, so whatever that government is is clearly going to have to tackle some of these issues. But we believe, I believe, President Obama believes very deeply that a united Iraq is a stronger Iraq and it is very, very important for that unity to be shown now to deal with the internal political crisis as well as the security crisis.

QUESTION: There’s a lot of talk about unity, a lot of talk about the politics. But on the ground, ISIS, as we call it, or ISIL, is making a lot of gains. They’ve just reportedly seized the largest oil refinery, Baiji in Iraq. How do you even start to reverse these territorial gains, or have you accepted that this militant group now simply holds territory?

SECRETARY KERRY: Absolutely not. And President Obama is very concerned about it, but the President also is deeply concerned about the political situation in Iraq. Without the formation of a government, without an adequate transformative decision by the leaders of Iraq, anything that the United States or others or allies or friends would do to try to fight back is going to be limited, if not impossible. You need a competent, unified government that is prepared. That’s the first step. The second step is, obviously, you’ve got to reconstitute the military, and that’s going to take this political leadership to help to do that. And then you’ve got to lay out a strategy and understand exactly what you’re doing. But I have no question but that every country in the region will combine in order to ultimately take on and expel ISIS, because it is simply unacceptable to have a terrorist organization grabbing territory and challenging the legitimacy of governments and then challenging neighboring countries externally with acts of terror.

QUESTION: Unity is important, but Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is hated by the Sunnis. How can there be peace while he’s still in power?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, that’s exactly what a government formation process is about. It’s not up to the United States of America or some other country to come prancing in and tell Iraqis who their leaders ought to be or what they need to do. What we’re trying to do is honor a process. They have chosen to have democracy. They have a constitution. They have a constitutional process by which they now will choose a new government after they have elections. I mean, 14 million Iraqis came out, they voted. They’ve participated in the democratic process. That’s, frankly, a huge affirmation of the constitution itself and of this democratic moment. So now it’s up to Iraqis to decide who can unify Iraq, who will they all come together and join with in an effort to seize this moment.

QUESTION: It’s not up to the U.S. to pick Iraq’s leaders, but they do look like they need a bit of help. Are you going to appoint, perhaps, a special envoy or a special representative?

SECRETARY KERRY: No, no, no We have an extraordinary ambassador here and an assistant secretary of state who’s been out here many, many times. They both have very good relationships with all of the personalities.

QUESTION: But they need sustained support, sustained help and mediation.

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, there’s an organic process, which is the best way for this to, frankly, take hold and is playing out right now. And one of the things I’ve come away from in the last 24 hours in all of the meetings I’ve had is a sense of urgency, a sense of commitment, and a determination by Iraqis themselves to take steps to go forward.

Now, words are cheap. We know that. So it’s actions that will matter. And we will watch very carefully and continue to nudge and to encourage and to try to provide a clarity of the vision that is at the end of this process, because that’s the way they’re going to earn the most help and support from everybody else in the world.

QUESTION: You’ve promised sustained and intense support for Iraq’s security forces, but so far that’s only translated into 300 military advisors. That’s not very intense.

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, we’re setting up the joint operations command. In addition to that, we have very significantly increased the intelligence gathering that is taking place here. The President has insisted on doing what our military believes it needs to do in preparation for any contingency. But most important to the President and to me and to all of us is the government formation. If you don’t have —

QUESTION: So no military airstrikes before a government formation?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, I mean, barring some exigent emergency or something that predicates that the President makes a decision which he always has available to him with respect to any country or any crisis in the world. But basically, there must be a government here so that there can be a strategy going forward, because just a strike alone is not going to change the outcome. You need to have a full-fledged strategy that is being implemented which is principally a political strategy.

And as even President Barzani and his folks today said, there has to be – they concur there’s no military solution. There may be military action, but there has to be a political solution that deals with empowering the people in the communities where ISIL is today to be prepared to take them on. That takes a certain amount of preparation, strategy, implementation. And what President Obama is trying to do is encourage that process to come together as rapidly as possible, because without it everything else would be wasted.

QUESTION: We’re running out of time. I want to try to squeeze in two very quick questions. You’re fighting ISIS. You’re calling on your allies to fight ISIS. President Assad of Syria says he’s fighting ISIS. How long until the U.S. is going to turn around and work with President Assad again?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, President Assad is one of the principal reasons – the principal reason – that ISIS exists. President Assad is a magnet for jihadists and foreign fighters from around the world, and that’s why they’ve been conglomerating in Syria and spreading their tentacles out. So if President Assad really wants to fight terrorists, he would declare that he is not going to continue to serve, he will work for a transition government, and he will end the crisis of Syria. That’s the way you deal with it.

QUESTION: And a final question, Mr. Secretary, about the verdict, the sentences handed out yesterday to Al Jazeera journalists in Cairo. You were just in Cairo. You described yesterday the sentences as chilling. And yet the U.S. continues to provide Egypt with various forms of aid, including military. What is the U.S. really prepared to do at this stage to pressure Egypt to show clemency?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, we’ve actually reduced our aid. We are not providing aid directly to the government. We provide aid to the military because there’s a military-to-military relationship which is critical to security in the Sinai, to the truce with Hamas in Gaza, to counterterrorism. And we’ve had a longstanding relationship, and the military, frankly, played a very key role in helping to bring about the elections and the transition on two occasions.

QUESTION: What about pressure now?

SECRETARY KERRY: Let me – I will come to that. And in addition to that, we are only providing assistance that goes directly to the people.

Now, we have made it clear that our – in my conversations in Egypt while I was there, I made it very, very clear that if this road towards democracy, if there isn’t a change in these, whether it’s the Al Jazeera journalists or whether it’s activists who’ve been imprisoned or others who are demonstrators who were simply caught up and still, if that doesn’t begin to change, it’s going to have a profound impact on the ability and willingness of the United States to engage. And I communicated that very directly yesterday to the foreign minister.

I do not view this, as their ministry of foreign affairs issued a statement, as somehow interference from outside. I view this as a universal standard that most countries attempt to apply to journalists or to their own citizens. That sentencing is indeed chilling and it’s a terrible message, and it will, unfortunately, have an impact, a negative impact, on Egypt’s ability to attract investment, to have stability, to begin to move in the direction it wants to go.

QUESTION: Are you going to push for a pardon?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, we’re going to push for appropriate response by Egyptian authorities that liberates these journalists and recognizes the freedom of people to spread news, to report on news, and to be able to live up to the international standard with respect to journalism. And that’s what we will continue to press for.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, thank you very much for your time.

SECRETARY KERRY: My pleasure, thank you.

Secretary Kerry’s Interview with ABC on Iraq

24 June 2014

U.S. Department of State
John Kerry
Secretary of State
Erbil, Iraq
June 24, 2014

Interview With Alexander Marquardt of ABC

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, is Iraq already in a state of civil war, and if so is there really anything that the U.S. can do about it?

SECRETARY KERRY: No. I don’t think – I mean, it’s in civil strife. I don’t think it’s in civil war. It could get there, clearly. But at the moment, the Sunni leaders that I met with, the current leaders I met with this morning, and even some of the Shia leaders I met with yesterday are all determined to follow the constitutional process to try to form a government that can be a unity government and that can pull people together.

So there’s this shot, this opportunity, for Iraq to come up with its own choice that would avoid, actually, falling into civil war. But there is, obviously, the invasion of ISIL, which is a terrorist organization, that is pulling some people towards that potential. No question.

QUESTION: And are 300 American advisors enough to keep them at bay, and if not are you and President Obama ready to —

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, America is not going to keep them at bay. That is not the definition here. America is going to help Iraqis keep them at bay. And what the President has asked me to do is try to assess what the political appetite here is to be able to put together the kind of government that can help reconstitute the army sufficiently that they have the ability to put it together, because if the President were to decide to do something abstractly and U.S. simply gauging without Iraq’s capacity to support that, it’s going to fail. And nobody wants that. At least…nobody… And we’ve already decided – the President has decided – and the American people have made clear: Nobody wants to see American soldiers coming back here in a combat role.

So you have to look to Iraq, to its government, to its military, to be able to make the decisive difference here, and we’re trying to find out whether or not they’re capable of doing that.

QUESTION: Former Ambassador Ryan Crocker has called ISIS al-Qaida on steroids. Al-Qaida itself has rejected ISIS as too extremist. Is ISIS more of a threat to Americans, to the world, than al-Qaida and Usama bin Ladin before 9/11?

SECRETARY KERRY: Look, I don’t want to create something out of ISIS that it’s not yet. Is it a serious threat? Yes, it is. Do we take it seriously? Yes, we do. I don’t think we need to make one comparison or another. They are a threat. And they are a threat to the region as well as to Iraq itself and the integrity of this country. We are committed to try to help Iraqis be able to fight back, but we need to be able to know that we have a government in place that is not going to exacerbate the sectarian divisions of this country. We need to know there’s a government that’s prepared to pull people together, share power, end the sectarian division, and focus on ISIL and on the long-term future. If that happens, then the Iraqis themselves have the best opportunity to be able to regain this.

President Barzani this morning said this very clearly, that the solution to the areas where ISIL is today is not going to be found in American military might. The real solution is going to be found – it doesn’t mean you don’t need some of it – but the real solution is going to be found in the Iraqis in those areas wanting their community back and wanting their lives back. And that’s what we have to encourage.

QUESTION: Are you afraid that ISIS could launch attacks against the United States from this territory that they’ve captured in eastern Syria, in western Iraq?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, they have indicated a desire to do so. They’ve already indicated and the rhetoric has embraced attacks against the West.

QUESTION: Do you think they can?

SECRETARY KERRY: Not yet, but – and certainly one of the considerations we have is to make sure that they never can. But that’s exactly what the President is busy trying to determine now, is: What is the best way to approach that so that we are most effective and, frankly, in a way that is sustainable over the long haul?

QUESTION: You’ve said that only Iraqis can choose Iraq’s leaders, but do you have full faith in Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki given the widespread criticism that he has only deepened the sectarian divisions? Do you think he can lead this country and bring it back together?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, it’s not up to – and look, if I answer that question, then I’m engaging the United States directly in their choice —

QUESTION: Should Iraqis have faith in him?

SECRETARY KERRY: — and I’m not going to do that. It’s up to Iraqis. Iraqis have to make their decision, and they are. All the leaders I met with are busy engaged in the politics of government formation. And it’s up to – what we need to do is give them the space to do that over the course of these next days. In seven days, the Council of Representatives will convene, elect a speaker, elect a president of Iraq, and then elect the prime minister. And I have sensed in all of the meetings I have had a commitment to trying to do that with urgency and to find a way to create a unity government in which Iraqis can have faith.

I hope that can happen, and it’s imperative that that happens because that’s the key to really being able to be successful in fighting ISIL and in putting Iraq back together.

QUESTION: Have you found that Prime Minister Maliki is out of touch in thinking that he can unite the country?

SECRETARY KERRY: Again, it’d be inappropriate for me to comment on anything except that he is committed to – he says he is committed to the constitutional process, wants to see the parliament convene on the 1st of July, and will work to try to create a government of unity and a government that can bring Iraq together. It’s up to the Iraqis in these next days to make that choice, but it is an essential choice, and a prerequisite, frankly, to success against ISIL or to meet any of the other challenges that Iraq faces.

QUESTION: Before this crisis erupted, you had only visited Iraq once as Secretary of State quite briefly. Your predecessor, Secretary Clinton, had only visited once. There wasn’t a great relationship between President Obama and Prime Minister Maliki. And all that time Iraq was falling apart. Just this year, thousands of Iraqis have died. So my question is: Why hasn’t there been a stronger real diplomatic push until now?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, I would disagree with your judgment about how the – the sort of – what was happening over the course of the last few years. As everybody knows, Vice President Biden has had a very, very strong relationship and was managing that file for a period of time. And the – I think he’s visited here any number of times as Vice President. I came when it was appropriate within those intervals. And I think that – and —

QUESTION: But to not much avail.

SECRETARY KERRY: And Prime Minister Maliki visited Washington and we’ve had unbelievable contact at an unusually high level on a regular basis, because Assistant Secretary of State Brett McGurk has been here on a regular basis working with our ambassador, who’s been here for three years – two of the most experienced and capable diplomatic hands – and they’ve been here consistently working this.

We have plussed-up our assistance to Iraq over the last year. We’ve been deeply engaged in providing additional military assistance, additional economic and other kinds of engagement. So things have happened here that have been negative, absolutely. But most people here will tell you it’s not because of the absence of the United States. It’s because the Iraqi Government has not been responding adequately to the needs that have been expressed.

For instance, for eight or nine years now, people have been fighting to get an oil revenues law in place; it’s still not done. Constitutional reforms were supposed to be effected; they still have not been done. Promises that were made with respect to inclusivity were not fulfilled. Those are things that the government has to do here, and that’s one of the reasons why there is a strong movement now to try to create a unity government and a change that will reflect a confidence by all the political players and the people of Iraq that this is a new moment, a new set of possibilities, and they’re going to take advantage of it.

In the end, words mean nothing right now, today. It’s the actions of the next week and the next days that will make the difference. And as they say, the proof will be in the pudding, not in the promises today.

QUESTION: New actions means new leader?

SECRETARY KERRY: It means what the Iraqi people decide it means. It means a new direction, thats for certain. It means a new, inclusive process for certain. Whether the Iraqi people decide it’s going to be a new leader or not is up to them. But we need a new government that comes together with whichever leaders they choose in order to move the process forward. And that is the best and only way to have the kind of success in the long term that Iraq needs and deserves.

QUESTION: All right. Very good. Thank you, Mr. Secretary.

SECRETARY KERRY: Thank you, sir.

Secretary Kerry’s Interview with CBS on Iraq

24 June 2014

U.S. Department of State
Washington, D.C.
June 24, 2014

John Kerry
Secretary of State
Erbil, Iraq
June 24, 2014

Interview With Margaret Brennan of CBS

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, both you and the President have said that a safe haven for ISIS is a national security threat for the United States. But that safe haven already exists, and it’s in Syria. Now it’s in Iraq. So how do you actually reverse those gains?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, first of all, it’s not a safe haven at this point in time.

QUESTION: Syria’s not?

SECRETARY KERRY: I would say it’s not particularly safe. They’ve been kicked around and attacked by the moderate opposition and by others there, including Assad, so they’re moving around, and may be one of the reasons that they chose to move into this other territory. But look, the bottom line is the President and I stand by that, absolutely. And the President is carefully putting together an appropriate counterterrorism strategy to deal with this, but you have to deal with it thoughtfully. And that is exactly what we’re doing.

If the President were to just make some decision to strike here or there, there’s no backup, there’s no “there” there in the Iraqi Government, it could be completely wasted. It’s not a pathway to victory. So what you need to do first is get the government formation done here in Iraq. You need to have leadership that can unify Iraq, reconstitute the military, the army itself here in Iraq, and help them to be able to push back.

There will also be a need to – and President Barzani talked to me about this here today. He said there’s no pure military victory here; you’ve got to have a political solution. And a political solution will involve empowering the people in the communities where they are now to push back against them. That’s what happened originally in Anbar Province, in Fallujah way back a number of years ago, and so you’ve got to sort of put together an appropriate strategy, which is precisely what the President is doing.

QUESTION: But as that political process goes on, on the battlefield ISIS is making gains and the Iraqi army just walked away. I mean, is the U.S. willing to strike at safe havens in Syria and in Iraq?

SECRETARY KERRY: The President is going to make the judgment based on what Iraqis themselves determine they’re prepared to do and based on the security threat that is defined over the course of these next days. The President –

QUESTION: But nearly every Iraqi leader —

SECRETARY KERRY: Let me just answer. Let —

QUESTION: — asked you for military help.

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, the President – sure. I’m sure he’d like to have the United States have – become his air force. But the question is: Is he prepared to become a legitimate government? Is the government here prepared to do what’s necessary?

QUESTION: Maliki, you’re talking about?

SECRETARY KERRY: Not just Maliki. Will they all come together in a unified government that has the ability to make whatever the President decides to do a success? It would be a complete and total act of irresponsibility for the President just to order a few strikes, but there’s no government, there’s no backup, there’s no military, there’s nothing there that provides the capacity for success.

So what we are doing is a deliberate, careful, thoughtful approach, listening to the people here, listening to the allies, listening to the partner countries in the region, and putting together something that can work. And the President always reserves the right, as he does anywhere in the world in any crisis, to use force if it’s going to be to the advantage of a particular strategy. And he reserves that right. But he and I and our government are insisting that the constitutional process needs to be respected in Iraq, there needs to be a unity government that is prepared to stand up to ISIL, prepared to reconstitute the military, prepared to make the decisions that actually can turn the present —

QUESTION: That takes time.

SECRETARY KERRY: No – well, it’s happening very rapidly right now. It’s one of the reasons why I’ve been here. In the next few days, they will be meeting and deciding. In about a week from now, they will convene as a Council of Representatives in order to elect a speaker, elect a president, and then move to the election of the prime minister. And if in the meantime there’s a need, the President obviously reserves the right to do what might be necessary. But his focus and mine is on the issue of government formation so we’re not making some decision about American force in a vacuum, but it’s, rather, tied into a prospect for success in the long run.

QUESTION: Did Prime Minister Maliki tell you whether he will be making himself a candidate in this new government?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, I think it’s up to Prime Minister Maliki to make that announcement publicly to people.

QUESTION: He didn’t indicate to you?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, we had a private conversation about what he may or may not choose to do, but it’s up to him to decide when or if he wants to make his intentions known publicly. What I do know he has committed to is to form this government as rapidly as possible, to live up to the constitution, and to see the Council of Representatives convened as rapidly as possible.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, CBS and New York Times had a poll that shows a real sharp rise in dissatisfaction with how this Administration is specifically handling Iraq. Two-thirds of them do not think the President has done enough to explain American goals in Iraq; 52 percent disagree with how he’s handling the violence. I mean, have you learned anything on this trip that will lead to a change in that policy and perhaps address some of those questions and skepticism?

SECRETARY KERRY: What I’ve learned is – on this trip – that there’s a great dissatisfaction here in Iraq with the current government. And I ran into a universal sense of a commitment, a desire by Iraqis to make up for the mistakes that have been made in the past. Now, what that means in terms of personalities or individuals who might fill one role or another, I can’t tell you. That’s up to Iraqis.

What we did impress on people – what I did impress on people – was the urgency of their making this decision, of following the constitutional process, and providing a framework within which the friends of Iraq have an ability to be able to be helpful. Without a government that is confident and prepared to move forward and bring the unity that is necessary, it’s very difficult to see how you can be successful in taking on ISIL, at least in its current format. Now —

QUESTION: But then every Iraqi leader you met with yesterday asked for military help, and they feel very anxious. They want that now. Are they expecting too much of the United States?

SECRETARY KERRY: They also, every single one of them, before they want the military help, said we have to have a government that works. And we have to have —

QUESTION: Before they have military strikes, they want this cohesion —

SECRETARY KERRY: Well no – not in every case before, no. Some, in fact – there were a couple who weren’t supportive of the action, but the point is what they did say was that they want to have a government that is representative of everybody. And what they expressed was significant dissatisfaction with the status quo. Now even Prime Minister Maliki expressed dissatisfaction with the status quo and ways in which he thought that some of these things could be changed.

So what is critical now, Margaret, is that in order to be able to be – but there’s nothing that the American people would react to more adversely than a bunch of bad choices about how to suddenly engage military in Iraq without a real plan. So the President —

QUESTION: But it also looks like an excuse for inaction.

SECRETARY KERRY: No. There’s no excuse for inaction. I wouldn’t be here if we were looking for inaction. The President of the United States is trying to move this process forward in the – in what I think is a thoughtful and focused, disciplined way, so that we have a structure in Iraq which will give the greatest capacity for success. And the President reserves the right to use force, as he does anywhere in the world, if it is necessary.

But he wants to do so, if he were having to do so, and it was the decision he ultimately made, with knowledge that there’s a government in place that can actually follow through and guarantee that what the United States is working towards can actually be achieved. That has not been true these last years. And that’s one of the reasons why there is expressed dissatisfaction in America and elsewhere about what is happening in Iraq. So we look forward to that decision-making process taking place as rapidly as possible. That’s the only way forward that’s successful.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, we’re out of time, but —


QUESTION: — thank you very much.



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