Interview
John Kerry
Secretary of State
Treaty Room
Washington, DC
February 11, 2014


As Aired

QUESTION: Hello, Mr. Secretary. I’m Ilana.

SECRETARY KERRY: You are so nice to have come --

QUESTION: Oh.

SECRETARY KERRY: -- all this way for our meeting.

QUESTION: No, you are nice to having it. Is it okay if I’m on your left?

SECRETARY KERRY: Whatever side you want. Is that your better side?

QUESTION: Yeah – no, no, that’s your better side. We are waiting for this conversation (music fades in).

QUESTION: Okay. Are we rolling, guys?

SECRETARY KERRY: All right, guys, we are rock and rolling.

QUESTION: Okay. Yeah. Mr. Kerry, is that how a man on a mission looks like?

SECRETARY KERRY: My goal is to try to help resolve something that I feel in my guts is really, really important to the people of Israel. It’s important to us.

QUESTION: So when people say that you’re obsessive, you’re not insulted?

SECRETARY KERRY: No. I think I’m committed and I’m determined, but I don’t think – no. I think --

QUESTION: So why don’t you want to admit that you felt so bad when people in Israel speak about you in terms of anti-(inaudible)?

SECRETARY KERRY: Because – well, we’ll answer that. I mean, you know why? Because I don’t want to get into a sort of food fight over these kinds of things. There’s a bigger picture here. There’s a bigger concept. It’s called peace.

(Video clip is shown.)

SECRETARY KERRY: Look, I ran for president of the United States. And I came close, and I learned what it’s like to be called everything in the book. (Laughter.)

I’m old enough and experienced enough to be capable of staying focused and of working on something that’s important.

(Video clip is shown.)

QUESTION: Perhaps you should tell our defense minister, “Hell, I’m obsessive, and I’m damn proud of it.”

SECRETARY KERRY: (Laughter.) No. I – those are judgments that other people may or may not sort of have fun making in this process. I’m doing my job.

QUESTION: I wish you share with me your instinctive reaction when you read the quotes: He will not teach me anything about the Palestinian conflict. His security plan is not worth the paper on which it’s written.

SECRETARY KERRY: Ilana, I’ve known you for what? I’ve known you for about ten minutes. (Laughter.) And I love you dearly, but I’m not going there.

QUESTION: You’re not going there, okay.

SECRETARY KERRY: Okay?

QUESTION: Okay.

(Video clip is shown.)

SECRETARY KERRY: People who know me know that when I sink my teeth into something, if I get the bit between my teeth, I try to get it done.

(Video clip is shown.)

QUESTION: How many people you’ve crossed came up to you in the last year and told you, “Drop it, Johnny; drop it, it’s hopeless”?

SECRETARY KERRY: Nobody’s said that. Lots of people had warned me that it may be impossible or it’s complicated, the people – I mean, most often what I hear is people say one side or the other isn’t serious.

QUESTION: And there’s no trust.

SECRETARY KERRY: I’ve believed something different. And the reason I believe something different is that for 29 years I’ve been in the United States Senate, I have listened to every debate about this, I have met leaders through the years. I was on the lawn at the White House when the great handshake took place. And I have always had a sense of the possibility here.

QUESTION: You are a man on a mission with regard to the Middle East?

SECRETARY KERRY: I’m a man who wants to try to help Israelis and Palestinians arrive at the place that I think both of them would like to arrive at, which is peace and stability and prosperity and a future that is not cursed by conflict and rockets and soldiers and death.

(Video clip is shown.)

QUESTION: You still carry your military chain with you?

SECRETARY KERRY: No, I don’t have my military chain. I hate to say it, it was stolen. I had it – well, I had it in my briefcase and it was – my whole briefcase was stolen when I was on a foreign trip as a senator a few years ago.

QUESTION: But you did carry it for years?

SECRETARY KERRY: I carried it for many, many years.

QUESTION: Because --

SECRETARY KERRY: Thank God I gave one of them to my daughter, and she has it to this day.

QUESTION: And why did you carry it for so many years?

SECRETARY KERRY: It’s good luck. Got me home.

QUESTION: Have you ever shared with any of your Israeli counterparts your memories from Vietnam?

SECRETARY KERRY: No, because the people of Israel know war. I can’t – it would be almost insulting for me to assert my experience of war over Israel’s experience with many wars and living under the siege that Israel has lived under for so long. I wouldn’t dare venture to go there, except to say that my experience does commit me as a republic person – as a responsible, public official – to try to pursue diplomacy as opposed to war.

QUESTION: And would you say that was a defining experience for you?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, it was defining in lots of ways, but not imprisoning.

QUESTION: What do you mean?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, I’m informed by my experience.

QUESTION: Informed?

SECRETARY KERRY: Informed.

QUESTION: Yeah, but that’s a weird way --

SECRETARY KERRY: No, it’s not a weird way --

QUESTION: Explain it.

SECRETARY KERRY: -- because I’m not imprisoned by my experience. Some people never get over it. To them, it’s the definitional moment, everything is the same thing, and every decision they see exclusively through that prism.

QUESTION: Mm-hmm.

SECRETARY KERRY: And I’ve worked very hard not see everything exclusively through that prism.

QUESTION: But does it haunt you?

SECRETARY KERRY: No, it doesn’t haunt me.

QUESTION: You haven’t been haunted by the war?

SECRETARY KERRY: No, no, it doesn’t haunt me.

QUESTION: You came back from Vietnam an angry person? Would it be fair to say that?

SECRETARY KERRY: Yeah, I think it’s fair to say I was angry about the war.

QUESTION: Disappointed of your leadership?

SECRETARY KERRY: Disappointed that there were lot of lies, which were the basis of our going over there and fighting.

(Video clip is shown.)

QUESTION: Is there a chance that you will lose hope on this one? Is there a chance that at a certain point you’ll tell Abu Mazen and Prime Minister Netanyahu, “I’ve had enough; if you have any news, you can call me”?

SECRETARY KERRY: No, I never look at that kind of a – I mean, I just don’t – it’s not the way I operate. I’m an optimist and I am a believer in the possibilities. I believe Israel will get so much stronger and so much more prosperous. There is so much benefit that could come to the citizens of Israel and the West Bank Palestinian territories and the region. I’ve had an Arab foreign minister say to me in a private meeting of the Arab community that if we’re able to make peace, Israel will be the powerhouse economy and do more business with the Arab world than they currently do with Europe.

QUESTION: Can you tell that to the settler --

SECRETARY KERRY: This is the prediction --

QUESTION: Can you tell that to the settler who knows that he will have to leave his home?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, I don’t know if he’ll have to leave his home. That’s something that has to be decided.

QUESTION: He might he be able to stay there?

SECRETARY KERRY: I’m not going to get into the substance one side or the other, no decision. That’s for the parties to decide, not for me.

(Video clip is shown.)

SECRETARY KERRY: A couple of years ago King Abdullah of Jordan started to host some quiet meetings with a group of people, including Foreign Minister Lavrov of Russia, Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal of Saudi Arabia, Senator McCain, and myself, and Tony Blair. And everybody sat around a table and talked about the urgency of trying to resolve this issue. And people felt a little frustrated because people had a sense of what the solution could look like, but nobody quite knew how to get there.

QUESTION: Everybody knows the endgame, but I wonder now whether you can understand the fear of Israelis. Do you understand that --

SECRETARY KERRY: Oh, my God. Are you kidding?

QUESTION: -- many Israelis feel that no deal is better than a bad deal --

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, let me tell you – of course it is.

QUESTION: -- because it --

SECRETARY KERRY: But I agree with no deal --

QUESTION: -- might blow up in our faces the day after?

SECRETARY KERRY: I have no argument with anybody in Israel who wants to say to me, “No deal is better than a bad deal.” I say that too. No deal – and I’m not in the business of trying to put together a bad deal. So everything we’re doing is working very, very closely with both sides to meet the security needs and the long-term needs of both sides. One thing I know – gosh, I mean, I know it 100,000 percent – is that you can’t turn to the people of Israel with the prospect that what you’re offering is going to turn the West Bank into Gaza.

QUESTION: Mm-hmm.

SECRETARY KERRY: You can’t do that. Of course I understand that. Israel’s security is ironclad as a priority in this issue, and I’ve said that since day one.

QUESTION: But it goes even deeper than that.

SECRETARY KERRY: But let me go back, let me go back, because, yeah, it does go deeper than that. I’ve been to Kiryat Shmona. I’ve been there in that underground facility where kids had to run during the middle of the day because they were threatened by Katyusha rockets. I’ve been to Sderot with Tzipi Livni and seen the row upon row of rockets that – shell casings that have come out of Gaza. I’ve been there, actually, in Tel Aviv the night that a huge explosion went off down the street, and people were killed.

QUESTION: But the things that happened ever since, and I’m asking concretely about the collapse of the Oslo Accords, about the fiasco at Camp David, about the eruption of the second intifada, and I’m asking that because many Israelis feel that every time we gave up, we got a violent response.

SECRETARY KERRY: Right. I would say very, very respectfully to people – and this was hotly contested at the time that Prime Minister Sharon, for instance, decided to pull out of Gaza --

QUESTION: Right.

SECRETARY KERRY: -- there were people in the current government who were opposed to doing that.

QUESTION: Like the prime minister.

SECRETARY KERRY: Exactly. I was going to – you’ve said it, I didn’t, but – who argued that if you just pull back, it’s not going to change the dynamic. Of course.

QUESTION: It hasn’t.

SECRETARY KERRY: Of course not. Because you haven’t done what we are today trying to do, and it’s put the endgame on the table.

QUESTION: Mm-hmm.

SECRETARY KERRY: And it’s the absence of understanding where you’re really going and how it’s going to be done that promotes the uncertainty that allows the radical or extremist or anybody to push the system, and then it falls apart.

QUESTION: Exactly. And that’s exactly why Prime Minister Netanyahu is stressing so much that they need to recognize the Jewishness of Israel.

SECRETARY KERRY: Yes.

QUESTION: Do you understand that?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, how many times have you heard the President or me talk about the Jewish state and the need to have the issue of recognition resolved?

QUESTION: But the need for them to recognize that, for the Palestinians to recognize it?

SECRETARY KERRY: Of course, I understand. The United States, President Obama and I, have a position, but in the end, we have to try to help the parties come together and see what the balance is here.

QUESTION: And for now, you feel that you want it more than they do?

SECRETARY KERRY: Oh, no, no, no. I think that – look, there are opponents in both sides.

(Video clip is shown.)

QUESTION: Did it change in any way the way you feel towards the state of Israel?

SECRETARY KERRY: Sure. I mean, it’s a connection that’s deep. I mean, I lost a great uncle in the Holocaust and a great aunt. I never knew that until then. To learn that after years of being passionate about “never again” with respect to a holocaust and to understand that you are biologically and personally connected to that is very moving.

And Israel itself has a special connection to me not just because of that personal now-known connection, but more importantly because of the amazing journey of the Jewish people. And now I’ve learned that I’ve got a better sense of that here.

QUESTION: And when you get the sense of the fear that we are talking about, do you have a sense now that we are still defined by our tragedies, and that somehow stops us from taking the leap of faith?

SECRETARY KERRY: Do I understand that?

QUESTION: Yeah.

SECRETARY KERRY: Yes, Ilana. But here’s what I want to emphasize. I think my job is to try to help create a situation where the realities of the agreement are such that it’s not such a leap of faith. I don’t want this to be a leap of faith. I want this to be a leap of reason and a leap of rationality and of choice based on a sort of very understandable and tangible set of guarantees about security and other things.

If we could do that, then you sort of take some of the emotion away from it, even though there will be for some always a huge emotion because some people have very different views about greater Judeo Samaria. I know all of that. But I also know that over 70 percent of the people of Israel believe in a two-state solution.

(Video clip is shown.)

QUESTION: Nobody tells you do you think you know something that the other ones didn’t? Do you think you know something that Hillary Clinton didn’t?

SECRETARY KERRY: Here’s what I think. I think that I am walking on the experience of every secretary of state and president who has gone before us here, and every prime minister --

QUESTION: What is it that you decipher? What it is that you decipher?

SECRETARY KERRY: That this is at the moment where a lot has happened and a lot of different efforts have been tried. And maybe that points you in a different direction with a different set of possibilities.

QUESTION: That it’s truly the last train leaving the station?

SECRETARY KERRY: No, no, no, no. I’m not going to get into any – I’ve learned through the last weeks if you say anything about qualifying urgency or what is the reason for doing something, it is subject to too much --

QUESTION: And it – because if you threaten that, it’s going to happen?

SECRETARY KERRY: I’m not doing that. I’m not going there.

(Video clip is shown.)

QUESTION: Is it true that you spend hours on the phone with the prime minister sometimes?

SECRETARY KERRY: Yes, I spend a lot of time talking to Prime Minister Netanyahu, talking to President Abbas --

QUESTION: And you feel that you understand Bibi?

SECRETARY KERRY: I really do feel I do. And I think that the prime minister, as I said to you, has shown great courage and leadership in pushing to put to test the possibilities of peace.

QUESTION: That’s diplomatic talk, Mr. Kerry.

SECRETARY KERRY: No, it’s not.

QUESTION: Do you think he will go through with it?

SECRETARY KERRY: He has to answer that question. It’s not for me to make that judgment here. He has to answer that question.

(Video clip is shown.)