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CNN - Interview With Elise Labott


Location: New Delhi, India

QUESTION: Secretary Kerry, thank you for joining CNN.

SECRETARY KERRY: My pleasure. Thank you.

QUESTION: Let's talk about Mr. Snowden right now. Tell me what the U.S. is doing to try and get him back.

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, the United States, through various agencies, is reaching out to lots of countries in an effort to try to secure Mr. Snowden. He needs to come back to America and face the justice system based on the choices that he's made.

QUESTION: Well, it seems a little bit that you let him fall through the cracks because you waited two weeks to revoke his passport. I understand there was no Interpol notice, so were there some errors in --

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, that's actually not correct. That is not correct at all. He was under a sealed indictment, and the moment the indictment was unsealed and we knew of it, at that point his passport was pulled within two hours. So his passport was pulled immediately that there was an unsealed -- not indictment, as a matter of fact, it was a complaint.

And so we don't know what authorities allowed him to leave under those circumstances. We obviously have to find out from the Chinese what happened. We hope that the Russians will recognize the request of the United States, particularly given that over the last two years we have sent seven prisoners back that they requested from the United States. So we need to cooperate on this because it's important to upholding rule of law, and we hope they will.

QUESTION: Well, I mean, clearly China, on behalf of Hong Kong, helped him escape extradition, and this was after he leaked information about your surveillance activities on them. Is this payback?

SECRETARY KERRY: On the contrary. It's not our surveillance activities on them. It's our surveillance activities anonymously --

QUESTION: On thousands of Chinese citizens and the Chinese university.

SECRETARY KERRY: -- anonymously in order to be able to track terrorism. And if there is an act of terrorism or some linkage that is appropriate, some indicator --

QUESTION: From China?

SECRETARY KERRY: Whatever it is. It could be anywhere in the world. Whatever it is, then you have to go to court and you have to have court approval in order to do anything that is actually name-specific, person-specific. So this is completely anonymous, completely random. It's really inappropriate for people to be believing that this is somehow an invasion of their privacy, because there's no person identified with any of this unless a court were to approve it. The Congress of the United States has approved this, the Judiciary approves it, the Executive has approved it. This has been United States policy for some years.

QUESTION: But you can see, Mr. Secretary, where the Chinese feel it's a bit critical; you're trying to crack down on them on the cyber and they're saying now you are the biggest villain of them all, is what they're saying. I mean --

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, I don't think that is what they're saying. I haven't heard them say that, and I don't think that is the case. I think what you have here is a situation that has nothing to do with hacking, nothing to do with illegality, nothing to do with stealing, everything to do with national security, and in fact, their national security is at risk and at stake in the very same way.

QUESTION: It's going to make it more difficult to crack down on it, though.

SECRETARY KERRY: And let me just make it clear: Countries like Russia and China and many other countries are engaged in extraordinary efforts to protect their nations against terrorists, and we can't let some hypocrisy enter into this argument between countries, and I refuse to do that.

I think it's important to look at this for what it was, which was a very remote from any person initiative in order to try to find clues as to where there might or might not be the potential of terrorism. And most importantly, as we've heard from the FBI and from our intelligence community, this has saved lives. It has prevented terrorist acts. And so it has to be measured in all of its legality, its tests, its scrutiny, its transparency within the system against the lives that it has saved and the terrorism that it is fighting to prevent.

QUESTION: I know you're trying to get the Russians to cooperate, but so far it doesn't look as if they are. And you personally have invested a lot in your relationship with both President Putin and Foreign Minister Lavrov. Now, they're not helping now, and even on Syria --

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, I don't know what --

QUESTION: Let me -- Mr. Secretary, over the weekend, you said also that on Syria the Syrians are playing -- the Russians are playing a double game here, they're talking about a political process in Geneva and arming the regime and making that impossible. So why don't you have more leverage for all the investment that you're putting in this relationship?

SECRETARY KERRY: Let's wait and see what happens before we start making those kinds of judgments.

QUESTION: Have you spoken to Foreign Minister Lavrov?

SECRETARY KERRY: I have not spoken to Foreign Minister Lavrov, but the State Department has talked to the Russians and they are well aware of our position. And I think it's a huge mistake to start leaping into judgments while something is still unfolding. Let's wait and see where we are.

QUESTION: Well, if they don't cooperate, what --

SECRETARY KERRY: I'm not going to get into anything --

QUESTION: -- what kind of consequences --

SECRETARY KERRY: I'm not going to speculate. I'm not going to get into hypotheticals.

QUESTION: What kind of consequences is China going to face then?

SECRETARY KERRY: I'm not going to get -- we'll see what happens when we find out exactly what happened. You -- if you have knowledge that Beijing made a decision, you have knowledge that I don't have, and I'm not sure where you have it from. But I don't know what the sequence was yet, and I doubt that you do or a lot of other people do. So let's find out precisely what took place here, and then we'll make our judgments.

QUESTION: You've been talking to Ecuador, urging them not to extradite. What kind of leverage do you have over them or Venezuela if he chooses to go there? How to make them not --

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, we're not urging Ecuador not to extradite.

QUESTION: To extradite. Sorry.

SECRETARY KERRY: We're -- no, we're urging them not to grant asylum and to uphold the law. But let's wait and see what happens. Again, I don't know if he's going to be in Ecuador, if he's going to Ecuador. I don't think anybody knows at this point. Let's let this unfold.

But what is clear is this is a man who is accused of having conducted, committed three major acts of espionage against his nation, who by his own admission stood up on television and announced to people that he was the person who did this and broke faith with the oath he took to serve his nation, to protect it, to defend the Constitution, and to keep faith with his fellow workers. So I think there is -- I think there is an enormous amount at stake in terms of the safety and security of our country, and we just need to let this unfold and we'll see where we are.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, six Americans have been charged under the Espionage Act since the Obama Administration took over, all of them for leaking information to journalists. Now, this act has been used over the last 90 years very -- in isolated cases for the most notorious spies like Aldrich Ames, Robert Hanssen. Are you putting him in that category? I mean, can't you see the reputation of the United States as a democracy with free press is being threatened here?

SECRETARY KERRY: On the contrary, what I see is an individual who threatened his country and put Americans at risk through the acts that he took. People may die as a consequence of what this man did. It is possible the United States will be attacked because terrorists may now know how to protect themselves in some way or another that they didn't know before. This is a very dangerous act, and anybody who wants to make him a hero is misjudging how they stay safe day to day and how complicated it is to protect America in today's world of self-made terrorists and of internet radicalization and other things that take place.

When the Boston Marathon bombers were suddenly uncovered and everybody realized these guys had been using the internet to radicalize themselves and learn how to make a bomb, what was the first question people asked? They said, "How come you guys in the government didn't know these guys were doing this and radicalizing themselves?" Well, the answer is because we don't look at people's emails and we don't go inside and just do a random scoop like that. So people need to really draw a distinction here between the degree to which protections exist in the United States for all of the rights of free speech and communication and association versus an anonymous, random program that is attempting to protect Americans. I'll stand by that distinction any day of the week.

QUESTION: Let me just ask you a quick question on Syria. You've been pushing really, alone in this Administration, for more robust action, even saying perhaps there should be considering airstrikes or a no-fly zone, some kind of military option.

SECRETARY KERRY: Yeah. I have to tell you, I'm laughing because I'm just amazed at the misinformation that is out there. I am not alone. The President of the United States has a policy and I'm carrying it out. The President made the decision --

QUESTION: Do you think that there should be --

SECRETARY KERRY: Let me just finish. The President --

QUESTION: -- a more robust military option, though?

SECRETARY KERRY: That's very bad reporting on a conversation that was completely distorted in the White House, and I'm not going to get into the way in which we evaluate and test every single side of every issue, which is appropriate. This President --

QUESTION: Well, do you think that these weapons that are being sent --

SECRETARY KERRY: This President -- let me just --

QUESTION: -- are a little too late?

SECRETARY KERRY: This President has exhausted and is exhausting all of the options that he has to consider in order to effect a good policy with respect to Syria. The President sent me to Rome and to Istanbul and to Amman to work with the Syrian opposition. That's the President's decision. The President made the decision to draw a redline and then to say the redline has been passed as a consequence of the use of chemical weapons and made the decision to up the assistance that he is providing to the Syrian military. And --

QUESTION: But it seems as if, Mr. Secretary, though, that you are saying that the weapons that are being considered might be a little too little, a little too late.

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, I've never said that. The President and I are on the same page with respect to --

QUESTION: You're on the same page with the President on Syria?

SECRETARY KERRY: No, I am on the same page with the President. This is his policy, and I think it's the right policy. I think the President is pursuing this thoughtfully and carefully with patience. He has made it clear that there are plenty of options still on the table. He sent me just the other day, obviously, to have the meeting that we had in Doha, at which all of the ministers there agreed to do more, some of them in different ways, but all of them agreed to do more.

And there are a great many weapons reaching the opposition from different people from different parts of the world at this time, and I think the President is correct to want to get a negotiation, because he and I and the rest of the Administration want to try to prevent Syria from imploding and try to prevent this from becoming more dangerous, where because we aren't engaged and involved much more extreme people wind up not only getting weapons but getting access to chemical weapons and ultimately perhaps menacing us and other people in the world as a result of our inattention.

So we're focused on this, and I can assure you, contrary to rumors and to the chatter of Washington, we are very much on the same page, and I think the President has the right policy.

QUESTION: Okay. Thank you, Secretary Kerry.


QUESTION: Thanks very much.

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