Interview with Senator John Kerry

Interview with Senator John Kerry

By John King, USA - March 31, 2011

KING: There's been plenty of debate and discussion about Libya on Capitol Hill today. Among those answering questions, the defense secretary, Robert gates. Not quite mission accomplished, but listen to this.


GATES: We have accomplished the military goal in -- and now we need to sustain it in terms of the no-fly zone and in trying to protect the civilian population. You could have a situation in which you achieve the military goal, but do not achieve the political goal.


KING: And that last point there is imperative. Let's discuss the way forward now with Senator John Kerry. He's the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee.

Senator, you heard Secretary Gates there saying the military goal has been accomplished; the political goal could take quite some time. He can't give an answer there. Nobody can. One way to try to speed that up would be to do more to help the opposition. Do you think it's time for the United States and its allies to get weapons and training to the opposition?

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: Well I think it's appropriate to provide some assistance to them, but I think it's not a unilateral decision by the United States. I think that we have a number of partners in this effort. I was just meeting the other day with French authorities and with British authorities. I think both of them are leaning quite far in that direction. But it ought to come as a unified decision, hopefully, before we have to get into any kind of unilateral decision.

KING: And you've invited the opposition leaders to come here to Washington, D.C. The French have recognized the opposition as a legitimate government of Libya. Is it time for the Obama administration to do that?

KERRY: Well I think it's a little premature for us at this point, but indeed, I have asked a number of those leaders to come here. I think the administration was anxious also to have -- people really learn a little more about them, have a sense of who they are. I've met with Mahmoud Jabril (ph), who is their foreign minister. I saw him in Cairo a week ago when I was there and I was very impressed by him. I thought he was articulate, clear about their objectives, clear about their goals for Libya in the long-term. And I think that Americans need to hear from them.

I also think it's impressive -- you know, it's not a small fact that the former foreign minister you know, Moussa Koussa, has now defected. I think that's an indication of the degree to which there is pressure. And I think that pressure can be increased, even though Secretary Gates says the sort of immediate task of trying to protect civilian population has in a large measure been achieved. I'm not sure it's completely over, but I think there's a lot more we can do now to put pressure on Gadhafi.

KING: Well, let's start with the military perspective and then we'll move to that defection we just talked about. From a military perspective, there seems to be some debate within the allies here about whether their job is simply to protect civilians, or we've heard complaints from the opposition in the last 24 hours or so that as the opposition has been in full retreat, Senator, and you've seen it. They're moving back towards the east now, pushed out of Ras Lanuf, pushed out of Brega. They're saying, where are the air strikes? We haven't had as many, especially against the air strikes on the front line.

Should there be more?

KERRY: There are more and they're taking place right now in the course of today. I think that, regrettably, yesterday, there were weather issues, there was a sand storm issue, very, very low cloud ceiling and ground fog at the same time. But it was not a conscious pullback in any way.

KING: And when you get to this -- you mentioned Moussa Koussa, also another foreign minister. Mr. Al-Triki has also defected. What is your sense? Is this going to be one or two, or do you think there's actually widespread -- maybe not in the most inner circle, the Gadhafi, but the next inner level, which would include Moussa Koussa and others. Are they beginning to think, got to get out of here?

KERRY: If they're smart, they'll think that. And I think more and more of them are taking a hard look at this. They understand our commitment, the NATO commitment, the global community's commitment. There's been a united message out of London just a couple of days ago that Gadhafi has to go.

There are indications, through various sources, of dissension, growing within his camp, even including within his family. And I think if they're smart, they'll begin to try to figure out, you know, some way out of there that doesn't end the way that it might under the worst circumstances.

KING: And if they get that smart, they might also be smart enough to say, can I get a deal here? There are many who believe Mr. Koussa, for example, had a role in the Lockerbie bombing. The International Criminal Court has said in terms of when the troops were moving east towards Benghazi, that Mr. Koussa was key in what they believed to be human rights abuses against the Libyan people.

Should anyone leaving Gadhafi's inner circle get a deal, get immunity, or should they come out and have to face the facts?

KERRY: Well, there was no deal with respect to Mr. Moussa Koussa. There is no deal at this point in time. But I do think it's important to leave the door open on a case-by-case basis on individuals, and see where we wind up.

I think if lives can be saved as a whole in Libya, if we can begin to move to a point of stability and reduce the overall burden and cost to the rest of the world and begin to move forward -- you know, it depends on exactly what the agreement might be, but I would certainly leave the door open for a diplomatic solution here.

KING: You've heard Secretary Gates, you've heard the president of the United States, say, absolutely, under no circumstances, American boots on the ground in Libya. We now do know there are some CIA boots or shoes on the ground.

Does no boots on the ground include Special Forces as well?

KERRY: Well, no boots on the ground was very a clear statement with respect to any kind of military personnel. And that means any kind of military personnel. And I support that position. I think it's the right position.

I wouldn't comment on a news report with respect to any kind of covert activities.

KING: There are some who say the president of the United State is being very smart here. We have budget problems here in the United States. We're already involved in two wars in that part of the world, and he's saying the United States will step back and be in a support role, use our unique capabilities to help. There are others who see it that way and say the United States is yielding leadership at a key moment in world history. What's your view?

KERRY: I couldn't disagree with that latter view more. I don't see any way in which the president of the United States has ceded leadership on this. He's been up-front. He's been very clear.

I think the president helped to shape this in precisely the appropriate way, which is to have broad American power to bear, up- front, in order to help have the minimal risk to pilots and to our armed forces, to put the no-fly zone into place, to show American power and capacity. But then, why wouldn't we want the allies with whom we worked so hard to develop this thing called NATO and to keep it alive, why wouldn't we want it to show its ability to be able to lead?

And I think this represents a new set of possibilities for multilateralism, for engagement.

I think we ought to be very pleased with the fact that we stood up for American values, we stood up for American interests, but we've done it in a way that doesn't open up another war for the United States with troops on the ground in a way that allows for dangerous mission creep and other kinds of downsides for the United States.

Let me just say one other quick thing. I am frankly disappointed in a degree to which it appears that both presidential politics and partisan politics don't stop at the water's edge in today's world. We saw that with Bosnia with President Clinton, and the very people who historically supported this very kind of intervention, whether it was in Somalia, or whether it was Haiti, or whether it was in Panama, or in Granada, you know, or in Ira, which was one of the most ill-advised things we've ever done are the first now to be saying somehow this is wrong application of the president's power, with the exception of some stand-up folks like, you know, Senator McCain and Senator Graham and some others.

I think it's very disappointing to see. I don't it's statesman- like. I don't think it's leadership.

KING: Chairman Kerry, appreciate your time today.

KERRY: Thank you.


John King, USA

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