Coming off a week where President Obama laid out an Afghanistan withdrawal timetable and put forth his foreign policy vision, Secretary of State John Kerry declared Thursday that this administration is “more engaged” with the world “than at any time in American history.”
“I don’t think the president, frankly, takes enough credit for the successes that are on the table right now,” Kerry told PBS. “I mean, if you look at what has happened in Ukraine, the president led an effort to try to keep Europe unified with the United States, to put difficult sanctions on the table. Europe wasn’t thrilled with that. But they came along. That was leadership. And the president succeeded in having an impact ultimately, together with the Europeans, on the choices that face President Putin.”
“In Syria, the president obviously made his decision to strike Syria, and appropriately sent that decision to Congress. Congress didn’t want to move. But we came up with another solution, which was get all of those chemical weapons out, rather than just have one or two days of strikes,” he added.
Kerry then claimed “the president has now succeeded in getting 92 percent of those weapons out of Syria.”
“There is one last transfer that has to take place to get to 100 percent,” he said. “I believe it will take place.”
A May 23 letter to the UN Security Council from Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon obtained by the New York Times paints a bleaker picture, noting that only five of 18 known chemical weapons production facilities had been closed in Syria. The deadline to clear the program is supposed to be June 30.
The Assad regime has also been using chlorine gas as its new chemical weapon of choice, a substance prohibited for weapons use under the Chemical Weapons Convention that Assad joined last year to avoid strikes.
The 1,300 metric tons of chemical weapons declared by the regime included some mustard gas and sarin.
Kerry denied that the administration is essentially letting Bashar al-Assad stay in power for cutting this chemical weapons deal.
“This is a completely phony, fraudulent effort by Assad to claim legitimacy for an election that nobody in the international community with significance is going to respect,” he said of next week’s dog-and-pony-show elections with the dictator. “The United Nations is not to going to respect it. The global community that is supporting the opposition is not going to support. So, it’s — it doesn’t take you anywhere.”
He wasn’t done with the lavish praise for his boss’ accomplishments.
“In addition, the president has engaged with Iran. We were on a course to absolute collision, where they were building a nuclear system and the world was standing opposed to that. But the president put in place a series of sanctions, a capacity to be able to bring Iran to the table,” Kerry continued.
“We are now in the middle of negotiations. Everyone will agree the sanctions regime has held together. The weapons — the nuclear program has been frozen and rolled backwards. And we now have expanded the amount of time that Iran might have for a breakout. That’s a success.”
Kerry argued that the “case is there to be fully proven and laid out” that he and Obama are the most engaged team on the world stage, but blamed the media for pushing a “not fully informed, not factual” view on this.
“And, of course, there is an industry in Washington today of oppositionism, oppositionists, oppose anything. And the Congress and its current pace of legislating tells the whole story,” added the former senator.
Kerry also credited Obama for rescuing the Afghanistan war in 2009 when it was “adrift and in danger.”
“We have done it. They had a very successful election. And they provided the security and they did the planning, and they did the execution. That is exactly what the president is now trying to do with respect to the final steps.”
He panned former Vice President Dick Cheney’s criticism of the timetable. “I’m not surprised to hear from Dick Cheney that — something that’s, obviously, number one, negative, and, number two, wrong,” Kerry said, claiming that Bush and Cheney “turned topsy-turvy the entire region” in regard to Sunni-Shiite relations by going into Iraq and ousting Saddam Hussein.
Kerry also indicated some engagement still needs to happen with Nigeria regarding the schoolgirls kidnapped by Boko Haram last April.
“I think an all-out assault — I’m not sure what that means. I would want to know what that means. It could be very risky to the young women. And there may be a time and place for that. But I think we have to look at this very, very closely,” he said of Nigeria’s declared plan to plunge into the area where the schoolgirls are believed to be held.
“I actually hope to be talking to President Goodluck Jonathan somewhere in the course of today or tomorrow. And we are, as I say, prepared to be as helpful as we possibly can,” Kerry added. “He has not, to my knowledge, specifically said, I want your help in a military operation with respect to these young women. But we will obviously have discussions with them about what the right way to proceed is.”