The Envoy

A Conversation With John Kerry

John Kerry

  • Country: United States
  • Title: Secretary of State

After serving five terms in the U.S. Senate—including four years heading the Foreign Relations Committee—and surviving one unsuccessful run for president, John Kerry became President Barack Obama’s secretary of state in February 2013. Since then, Kerry, a decorated Vietnam veteran, has been in near-constant motion, logging more miles than any of his predecessors (1,281,744 at last count). On September 13, Kerry met with Foreign Affairs’ managing editor, Jonathan Tepperman, in Washington to discuss his tenure and his plans for his last months in office. They spoke again on October 11, after a deal Kerry negotiated with the Russians over Syria collapsed; their second conversation is appended below.

You just negotiated a deal with the Russians on Syria. How is it different from the last one, and what gives you the confidence that this one might work?

I can’t sit here and tell you with confidence that it will work. What I’m saying with confidence is that this is an opportunity, and it carries hope. But it depends on a lot of moving parts. It’s very, very complicated.

What makes it different, and the reason I have hope, is that it imposes a series of actions and responsibilities on the players in ways that will encourage them to conform. For instance, Russia has to meet our mistrust and skepticism by providing seven consecutive days of reduced violence. That would be a confidence-builder.

As an incentive for them to do that, they can’t get what they want—the cooperation of the United States in going after Nusra [the al-Nusra Front] and ISIL [also known as the Islamic State, or ISIS]—without that seven days. And unless we get our [allies in the] opposition to comply, we don’t get the establishment of the Joint Implementation Center, which would lead to the first [joint] targeting, which would be the trigger for [Syrian President] Assad to not fly in the agreed-upon zone.

There’s also a mechanism here for dealing with

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