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NBC "Today Show" - U.S. Options in Iraq


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QUESTION: And now to our exclusive interview with Secretary of State John Kerry. We were with him on Wednesday as he shuttled back and forth to the White House helping President Obama weigh U.S. options in Iraq. And I began by asking Secretary Kerry about those reports that the President has taken the option of airstrikes in Iraq off the table.

SECRETARY KERRY: Nothing is off the table. All options are still available to the President.

QUESTION: It seems like the U.S. was totally caught off guard by this.

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, I don't think -- look, our people on the ground in Iraq have seen the increased intensity. We've been watching this happening. We have been engaged in efforts over the months. We've been beefing up our assistance, our presence.

QUESTION: But did you act too slowly? I mean, Maliki was asking for help with airstrikes in the last few weeks as this was coming, as ISIS was coming toward this part of Iraq. Why didn't we act then?

SECRETARY KERRY: For a lot of different reasons, not the least of which is we didn't have operational theater capacity at that point in time, partly because Prime Minister Maliki denied the kind of permissions necessary.

QUESTION: That raises the question: Why come to Maliki's rescue now? I mean, isn't he a big part of the problem?

SECRETARY KERRY: This is not about Maliki. Let me stress: What the United States is doing is about Iraq; it is not about Maliki. And nothing that the President decides to do is going to be focused specifically on Prime Minister Maliki. It is focused on the people of Iraq -- Shia, Sunni, Kurd.

QUESTION: But it may benefit Maliki.

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, that's up to the people of Iraq to decide. But the United States is deeply concerned about the Islamic State of Iraq in the Levant, ISIL, as we know it, that has moved in. They represent a threat to every country in the region. They're more extreme even than al-Qaida, and they are threatening the United States and Western interests.

QUESTION: You've mentioned that the U.S. is open, at least, to possibly working with Iran as you deal with this situation with ISIS in northern Iraq.

SECRETARY KERRY: First of all, I don't know where this comes from that we are -- we've suggested working with Iran in that regard. We have heard --

QUESTION: I thought you said it in an interview the other day.

SECRETARY KERRY: What I said is we are interested in communicating with Iran to make clear that the Iranians know what we're thinking and we know what they're thinking, and that there's a sharing of information so people aren't making mistakes.

QUESTION: Just to be clear, the U.S. isn't considering working hand in hand with Iran? Because I think for a lot of Americans, that's a head scratcher.

SECRETARY KERRY: Let me be absolutely clear. Well, it's not. It would be a head scratcher -- and no, we're not sitting around contemplating how are we going to do that or if we're going to do that. That's not on the table.

QUESTION: Dick Cheney wrote today, "Rarely has a U.S. president been so wrong about so much at the expense of so many."

SECRETARY KERRY: This is the man who took us into Iraq saying this? Please.

QUESTION: What's happening now in Iraq is directly related to the situation in Syria. Did the U.S. -- did the President miss the moment, make a huge mistake by not trying to turn the tide in Syria then, and what's happening in Iraq now is just the chickens coming home to roost?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, Savannah, let me just say this: There's plenty of time going down the road here for people to have post-mortems and to make decisions. We are the largest single donor of humanitarian assistance. We are deeply engaged in working with our allies and friends in the region. We are assisting, training, doing work in terms of providing nonlethal aid and assistance to --

QUESTION: Doesn't the evidence suggest it's not working? Because instead of things getting better because of our assistance, in fact, a group like ISIS is on the rise and now taking more territory.

SECRETARY KERRY: ISIS is on the rise because Assad is a magnet for terrorists of all ilk and walks who are come there to try to unseat him.

QUESTION: Didn't you advocate for arming the moderate opposition when you were a senator? I mean, didn't you think that was the right thing to do?


QUESTION: And doesn't it kill you now to see what's happened?

SECRETARY KERRY: I know where you're trying to -- look, let me just make it clear: We are augmenting our assistance in significant ways.

QUESTION: What do you say to Iraq veterans, those who've lost so much or families of those who lost everything in Iraq, who are looking now and saying, "What was that for? No sooner have we left than everything goes back to just the way it was"?

SECRETARY KERRY: That remains to be seen. And the test is in really these next few days and weeks. And we are going to do everything in our power to follow through and try to get the job done through diplomacy, if we can, in order to honor their sacrifice.

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