The following script is from "The Secretary of State" which aired on Sept. 29, 2013. The correspondent is Scott Pelley. Producer Henry Schuster.
We've just seen breakthroughs in two crises that threaten to drag America into combat -- there's a deal to avert a U.S. airstrike on Syria -- and there are talks now between the United States and Iran over the Iranian nuclear program. Both happened at the annual United Nations General Assembly and the leader of the American team was Secretary of State John Kerry. He spent last week at the UN and we were with him as war and peace hung in the balance.
On Syria, the U.S. and Russia finally agreed on a UN Security Council resolution to force the Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad to give up his chemical weapons. Tonight, there are still many questions: Is the Iranian opening real? How did the U.S. make a deal with the Russians? And, what if Assad reneges on turning over his arsenal?
John Kerry: Assad has to always know that if he plays games or if he varies from this or if he doesn't comply, and if ultimately the Security Council gets stuck again and refuses to enforce-- then, the United States always reserves its prerogatives with respect to its national security interests.
Scott Pelley: But is this idea of the use of force credible anymore? After the enormous opposition you saw from the Congress and from the American people, no one believes that the president would go ahead and use force in Syria.
John Kerry: I can assure you this president of the United States is not going to take off the table unilaterally any prerogative that a commander-in-chief has. And no one should doubt that.
The president wants to punish Syria for August 21 when the U.S. says Assad's forces used nerve gas to kill 1,400 citizens -- part of a civil war that has killed 100,000 and left 4 million homeless.
John Kerry: I believe Assad has lost all moral authority by which any person governs a nation. How can you gas your own people? How can you lob missiles for two years into universities and hospitals and kill innocent women and children, and then turn around and say, "I'm the guy who ought to govern you"?
Scott Pelley: --but this is the man you're trying to make a deal with on the chemical weapons. If you get that deal, you need him to stay in power.
John Kerry: There are two fundamental reasons why Assad made this deal. One is the threat of force by President Obama. There's no question in my mind that without President Obama's willingness to take a strike, Assad would never have taken seriously the notion that he was threatened. And number two, the Russians. The Russians made a huge difference here. We thank them and congratulate them. The Russians actually weighed in heavily with Assad, and he knew that one of his principal patrons was saying, "You've gotta do this."
Scott Pelley: The development of the Syria policy has confused a lot of people. On August 30, you came out and made a full-throated argument for a military strike.
[John Kerry: My friends, it matters here if nothing is done.]
Scott Pelley: The next day, the president said, "Well, wait a minute. I'm going ot ask Congress for its authorization." It seemed in that moment that the left hand didn't know what the right hand was doing.
John Kerry: Not in the least. Not in the least. The president came out and announced to the American people, "I've made a decision." That's leadership. He said, "I believe we need to have a strike." But he also, exercising his judgment about how the nation ought to make this kind of decision, felt it was the right thing to do to include the Congress after many congresspeople in our consultation said, "Hey, you ought to come to us. You ought to make sure you consult us." So, the president did that. And I think that was the appropriate decision.
Scott Pelley: Was there no tension between the two of you? You had gone and spoken around the world about how the United States had to take military action. And then the president, it appeared, left you twisting in the wind.
John Kerry: Scott, let me-- that's mythology and-- hypothe-- I mean, believe me, there was not an ounce of tension in this. I thought the president made a courageous decision, not necessarily the easiest way to get to the goal that he was achieving, but a courageous decision, and one in keeping with the constitution of the United States. And, yes, tough debate in the Congress because we're living through an enormous Iraq hangover. The American people felt betrayed by what happened in Iraq. The evidence wasn't there. Weapons of mass destruction weren't there. So, we approached this learning that lesson. And all of us, the intelligence community, the president, the entire White House staff, State Department bent over backwards to make sure we were building a case that could not be punctured.