Today’s CNN’s FAREED ZAKARIA GPS featured Secretary of State John Kerry discussing the next steps for the U.S. response to the crisis in Syria and Iraq. This interview took place in the Benjamin Franklin room at the U.S. State Department on Wednesday, Nov. 11.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
John Kerry, U.S. Secretary of State: I mean there is a concerted strategy here, Fareed. You know, I keep hearing people say well, what’s the strategy, what’s the strategy? The strategy is clear. President Obama, at the very beginning, said we’re going to degrade and defeat ISIL. We’re going to stabilize the countries in the region — Jordan, Lebanon, work with Turkey — and we are going to seek a political settlement.
That is exactly the strategy today and it is working, to a degree, not as fast as we would like, perhaps, but we are making gains. We have liberated major communities. About 75 percent of the border between northern Syria and Turkey has been secured. You have another piece where we are engaging in an operation with the Turks to secure the final piece west of the Euphrates River.
There is pressure being put on Raqqa. There are major disruptions to the leadership and command and control of ISIL. Their territory has been shrunk by some 17,000 square kilometers.
There’s a difference in the way they have to operate as a result of our operations. And I believe that when you combine what is happening in Iraq with what is happening in Syria, there’s an enormous amount of pressure that is continually being ramped up with respect to ISIL.
Now, ultimately, we want more forces on the ground to be able to — not ours — they’re going to have to be people on the ground…
ZAKARIA: But isn’t that the key, which is in Syria, you can defeat ISIL or Daesh, but then somebody has to govern that real estate?
ZAKARIA: And what has tended to happen is, you know, there — we don’t have local partners other than the Kurds. You leave — or the victorious forces leave, and ISIL will come back or Assad comes back. There aren’t — those moderate Syrians, just by the chairman of the Joint Chiefs’ own admission — there just aren’t many of them.
KERRY: We understand that. But on the other hand, if — if you can move rapidly towards a political settlement, rapidly, over the next six months, towards an election, etc.; if you could have a ceasefire, if — these are all ifs; I understand that. But you have to have several strategies. And we do.
One is the military pressure against ISIL, the military pressure that has taken place from the moderate opposition against Assad, and the political track, where we’re trying to get the parties united. And in — two weeks ago in Vienna, we had a major step forward where everybody, including Iran and Russia, signed on to a unified secular Syria, to maintaining the structures of the government, to all opposing ISIL, and to protecting minorities, coming up with a — with a process that leads to an election. And now we’re working at doing that.
Iran and Russia and all of the rest of our partners — Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Qatar, etc. — are committed to driving this political process that will have a transitional council that will begin to take over management of certain activities in Syria yet to be defined and determined in the negotiation, and that will lead to a sort of transitional process.
And ultimately, that is where we hope the issue of Assad and his future will be resolved.
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