QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, thank you for this honor.
SECRETARY KERRY: Delighted to be with you. Thank you.
QUESTION: I know it’s early in your tenure, but I wonder if your experience to date, and particularly your exposure to me, has led you to the conclusion that this is the best job you’ve ever had.
SECRETARY KERRY: (Laughter.) No answer needed.
QUESTION: All right, very good. Let’s start with Syria.
SECRETARY KERRY: Actually, we’ve had fun. I’m enjoying it, honestly.
QUESTION: Thank you.
SECRETARY KERRY: I’ve had fun.
QUESTION: Me as well, sir. On Syria, the U.S. has begun offsite training for some forces in that conflict. What is your hope for how that will help to contribute to a speedier exit for Mr. Assad? And do you see that role possibly expanding in the future?
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, I think what President Obama is hoping is to build on what has already happened. The President put in place sanctions, and that helps to strip some of President Assad’s ability to fuel his war machine. Then the President worked with Secretary Clinton to identify the opposition, to figure out exactly who we’re dealing with, is it safe to help them, where are they going --
QUESTION: I understand. I’m following it closely, but my time is limited.
SECRETARY KERRY: -- what their voice is going to be, so – I’m just trying to lead up here. So now, the President has ratcheted up, through the meeting in Rome, which we brought about inviting countries to come, in order to send a signal that we are determined to change President Assad’s calculation. That’s really what you’re asking.
QUESTION: And the training is what – I often ask about training.
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, it’s one part of it. It’s one part of it. But other nations are doing other things. There are a lot of nations working at this. And so I think President Assad needs to read the tea leaves correctly, which is Rome signified a restatement of unity, a conviction that no nation is going to stand by while he slaughters his people with SCUD missiles and his jets dropping bombs. And we’ve ratcheted up yet another level with the hope of convincing him and his allies that the time has come to really negotiate with the transitional government that was created in the Geneva communiqué.
QUESTION: Who’s doing the training?
SECRETARY KERRY: Look, who’s training whom or what is happening --
QUESTION: That’s what I’m asking you about, though.
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, that’s not important, who’s doing training. What’s important is there are a lot of countries doing training. The answer is --
QUESTION: Including the U.S.?
SECRETARY KERRY: There are a lot of countries doing training. What is important is that President Assad needs to understand the refocus of commitment in order to get him to change his current calculation, and in order to hopefully get his allies to advise him, “You need to go to the table and negotiate a peaceful resolution.”
QUESTION: Two quick questions on Benghazi, sir, if you would. First, why have we not heard from any of the Benghazi survivors?
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, I mean, I can’t tell you the answer to that. I can tell you that I have visited with one of the survivors at Bethesda Hospital, who is a remarkably courageous person, who is doing very, very well. And I’ve called his wife and talked to her. I can’t tell --
QUESTION: Will we hear from them?
SECRETARY KERRY: I don’t know what the circumstances are of any requests to talk to them or not, but let me just say this about Benghazi: Benghazi was a tragedy that I felt as a senator and I feel even more now as Secretary, and I’m just going to --
QUESTION: They’re already wrapping me here, so I have to be very quick.
SECRETARY KERRY: Oh, I’m sorry.
QUESTION: I’m so sorry.
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, but let me just say the key here is that we are implementing the lessons that we learned from Benghazi, and that’s the key.
QUESTION: President Obama vowed that the perpetrators of those attacks would be brought to justice. As you know, any law enforcement or counterterrorism officer would tell you, the longer the passage of time after the given event, the less likely it is that you will bring the perpetrators to justice. It’s been six months. Will we see justice brought to those perpetrators? And isn’t the passage of time making that more and more unlikely?
SECRETARY KERRY: James, I hope we will, and I know the President is committed to try to do so. And I have personally talked to the FBI director to get a brief on exactly where we stand in that process.
QUESTION: What did he tell you?
SECRETARY KERRY: He told me, literally on the eve of his departure to go to Tripoli in order to talk with people, that they are doing everything they can within the FBI to conduct their investigation and to lay the groundwork in order to be able to bring justice. That effort continues.
QUESTION: We’re six months more – six months out.
SECRETARY KERRY: Justice sometimes takes a while when you operate by high standards and when you need the levels of evidence that we do. But we are working at it, and we will continue to work at it.
QUESTION: We are almost 10 years to the day since the launching of the Iraq War. Do you still regard that as a mistake?
SECRETARY KERRY: I believe that getting our troops out of Iraq, which is what the President did, was the right thing to do. And if you talk to almost anybody here in the region, as I have in the last days, turning the region upside down in the way that that did has created serious security challenges for people throughout this region. Now, I think the President made the right choice to get out of there. I think we can be proud of what we achieved. I think our troops did an absolutely stunning job, an extraordinary job. I think --
QUESTION: And President Bush, does he deserve credit for that?
SECRETARY KERRY: He deserves credit for what the troops did when they went in. There’s a different issue, obviously, about the choice of it. But our troops were extraordinary, our military always performs remarkably, and they have given the Iraqis the unique opportunity to have a democracy that hopefully can work. It’s up to them to make it work, and we’re still struggling with that.
QUESTION: Two last questions. You’ve been very generous, sir. I appreciate it. You made reference in Germany the other day, somewhat derisively to my ear, to what you called the so-called domino theory. Hasn’t history, not only perhaps in Southeast Asia but in the former Soviet bloc, and even in the Arab Spring, validated the essential concept that undergirds the domino theory?
SECRETARY KERRY: No. The domino theory, as it applied, James, to Southeast Asia was that every single country was going to fall. And obviously, every single country did not fall.
QUESTION: They all turned democratic, almost, right?
SECRETARY KERRY: That wasn’t the domino theory. The domino theory was they were all going to turn communist.
QUESTION: The domino theory is that a pivotal change in one country can spark like changes throughout a region, right?
SECRETARY KERRY: But the domino theory, as I applied it and as we talked about it, those of us in that generation of Vietnam, it referred specifically to Vietnam and to Lyndon Johnson’s speeches and to the notion that if we didn’t take our stand in Vietnam --
QUESTION: I understand.
SECRETARY KERRY: -- all the rest of that region would become communist. Now, you’ll notice that that didn’t happen even as we left Vietnam. That doesn’t mean – and let me emphasize this – that doesn’t mean that in parts of the world, one country falling to something may not mean that others are at risk, and we obviously have risks with Iranian influence in this region, we have huge risks with violent extremism. We need to be very careful about that in Mali, through the Maghreb. So I was referring back to 1960. I’m not referring to today.
QUESTION: I’m out of time, so I gather you will not indulge one further question, a personal for --
SECRETARY KERRY: It’s not up to me. It’s up to the schedule here, but I’m always happy to talk with you. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Powerless. All right, very good. Thank you, Mr. Secretary. I appreciate your time.
SECRETARY KERRY: Thank you, appreciate it.