Juggling crises, Kerry maintains optimistic streak

Secretary of State John Kerry testifies before the House Foreign Affairs Committee on December 10, 2013 in Washington, DC.
T.J. Kirkpatrick, Getty Images

Secretary of State John Kerry has kept a lot of irons in the fire during his first year as America’s top diplomat, maintaining a busy travel schedule as he jets from region to region in an attempt to defuse crises and advance U.S. interests abroad.


On Sunday, Kerry spoke with ABC’s Martha Raddatz, offering an optimistic assessment of the state of American diplomacy and discussing the latest developments in Iran, Syria, North Korea, and elsewhere.

Asked about Robert Levinson, an American with ties to the Central Intelligence Agency who disappeared inside Iran seven years ago, Kerry said it would be a mistake to assume the U.S. has abandoned its efforts to engineer Levinson’s safe return.

“There hasn't been progress in the sense that we don't have him back,” he said, but “to suggest that we have abandoned him or anybody has abandoned him is simply incorrect.

“The fact is, that I have personally raised the issue not only at the highest level that I have been involved with, but also through other intermediaries,” Kerry continued. “And we're looking for proof of life. We're working on several processes that I'm not free to talk about, but there are a number of different channels that are being worked aggressively.”

Kerry also addressed the execution of Jang Song Thaek, the uncle of North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un who was long seen as a powerful behind-the-scenes force within the inscrutable pariah nation. The Secretary of State said Kim’s decision to put his uncle to death “tells us a lot, first of all, about how ruthless and reckless he is.”


 “And it also tells us a lot about how insecure he is, to a certain degree,” Kerry added. “It tells us a significant amount about the instability, internally, of the regime, with the numbers of executions. This is not the first execution – there have been a significant number of executions taking place over the last months which we're aware of. And most importantly, it underscores the importance for all of us of finding a way forward with North Korea in order to denuclearize the peninsula.”

On the recent decision to suspend aid to anti-government rebels in Syria, Kerry said “it happened because there's a certain amount of infighting taking place within the opposition.”

“The problem is, you have some radical Islamic elements there,” he said, indicating that the disbursement of assistance could resume “very quickly” when officials are confident it won’t fall into the wrong hands.

Kerry also acknowledged a grain of truth in fears voiced by some in Congress that the instability in Syria is providing extremists and terrorists a foothold in the region.


 “Al Qaeda has greater clout there than it had before and it's an increasing threat, and it's a threat we're going to have to confront,” he said.

Still, he said America’s ability to curb the rising influence of extremists in Syria may be limited, given the reluctance to intervene more directly in the Syrian civil war.

“Congress is not disposed to try to provide additional assistance. The American people do not want America involved in another war,” he said. “And I think, given the circumstances, we're doing pretty well at managing to get it toward a political conference where, hopefully, an alternative can be put into play.”

The secretary of state also spoke to the state of negotiations with Afghanistan on a security agreement that will permit a residual U.S. force to remain in that country after a planned 2014 troop withdrawal. Despite the complaints from Afghan President Hamid Karzai about the scope and specifics of such an agreement, Kerry said he believes it will be signed soon.


 “As recently as a day ago, [Karzai] reiterated through his minister that the language is fine,” he said. “He's not going to change -- to seek a change in the language…So we are very close to the ability to move forward, and I believe it will be signed.”

Even as he paid due mention to the difficulties and frustrations that accompany his job, Kerry insisted that the sum total of global developments should provide cause for optimism, saying the world is a safer place than it used to be in “many, many ways.”

“People tend to see things as the glass half full, half empty,” he explained. “You can go half empty and find some tough things to focus on. I think it's actually half full, and I think there are lots of really remarkable things happening in the world. If we concentrate our activities and our energies on the things that I listed, I have confidence that we have ways to solve those things.”