June 30, 2016
On June 28, Secretary of State John Kerry said that Washington and Tehran have a common interest in Iraq and the fight against ISIS, also known as ISIL, Daesh or the Islamic State. Iran “has been in certain ways helpful, and they clearly are focused on ISIL/Daesh,” he said at the Aspen Ideas Festival. Kerry acknowledged the remaining differences between Iran and the United States, but he also emphasized that the brokering of the nuclear deal opened up a new opportunity for communication with Iran.
PBS asked CIA Director John Brennan about Kerry’s comments on Iran's role the following day. Brennan said the Iranians “have to do more” in the fight against ISIS. He also noted that Iran is still the leading state sponsor of terrorism. The following are excerpted remarks by Kerry and Brennan.
Secretary of State John Kerry
MR ISAACSON: Now that Iran is at that table with you, obviously they want to protect Assad a little bit, but they also are very fervent in getting rid of Daesh, like we are. Are they being more helpful or more harmful (inaudible)?
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, I know this will fall – I mean, look, we have challenges with Iran, as everybody knows, and we’re working on those challenges. But I can tell you that Iran in Iraq has been in certain ways helpful, and they clearly are focused on ISIL/Daesh. And so we have a common interest, actually.
MR ISAACSON: And do you think the Iran deal helped get us that more common interest?
SECRETARY KERRY: There’s not – there’s no question that it opened up the opportunity for communication. I mean, when our sailors stumbled into Iranian territory and got held, two years ago we wouldn’t have known who – we would have called the Swiss. We would have called some other country and said, “Can you help us?” And enough time would have gone by and there would have been sufficient level of enmity that those guys would have probably been hostages and we’d have had another situation. But within 30 minutes I had my counterpart on the phone. Within an hour and a half we had a deal. It was clear they were going to come out and we were going to not make this a bad moment in what we were trying to achieve. So that’s a benefit that came out of the whole process.
And even now, we are working on other things, and look, Jason Rezaian is sitting here because --
MR ISAACSON: Jason – is that – Jason is the wonderful Washington Post reporter who was held, and I think the Secretary helped get him out. Jason, thank you for being with us.
SECRETARY KERRY: But this is – this is a tough one. But I think we’re going to make some progress in the next months.
MR ISAACSON: And can you envision five to ten years from now Iran being more of a partner than an adversary?
SECRETARY KERRY: I don’t want to make any guesses. That’s too fraught with too many variables. It really is, Walter. I mean -- look, the hope is – everybody understands that Iran is going through certain change. President Rouhani and Foreign Minister Zarif have a vision that was a vision that was carried out in the context of sitting down with us and negotiating. There were those in Iran who didn’t want to do that.
MR ISAACSON: And should business leaders here trade and open up relations with Iran more now?
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, it’s up to them if they have business that they do. It’s open to that and --
MR ISAACSON: Would that help our foreign policy?
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, certain businesses are open to that. It’s not generically open to every business yet. We still have sanctions in place from our – what we call our primary sanctions that were put in place because of state support for terror or human rights abuse or missile shoots or arms (inaudible).
MR ISAACSON: And are we better off in those fields now?
SECRETARY KERRY: We’re better off in the last few months.
MR ISAACSON: Okay.
SECRETARY KERRY: There were some – we had to sanction – we sanctioned additionally a few months ago because of a missile shoot. We’re prepared to do that again if we have to. Our hope is that we can continue to open the aperture.
And there are those in Iran – we had people bitterly opposed to the deal here in America; they had people bitterly opposed to the deal in Iran. It was a very tough fight there, just as it was a tough fight here. But that’s the nature of change. I mean, you have to fight for something that’s rational.
—June 28, 2016, at the Aspen Ideas Festival
CIA Director John Brennan
JUDY WOODRUFF: Secretary of State John Kerry said yesterday that Iran had been helpful in the fight against ISIS. Is that how you see Iran’s role there?
JOHN BRENNAN: Well, I think the Iranians have a vested interest in doing what they can to prevent the growth of ISIS in that area, because ISIS has a very strong anti-Shia dimension to it, so there are some things that the Iranians can do and even some things that the Iranians have done that have helped to inhibit the further growth of ISIS.
But there are a lot of things that Iran does that tends to facilitate terrorism, and they still are the leading state sponsor of terrorism in the world.
JUDY WOODRUFF: So, on balance, would you say Iran is more helpful in the fight against terrorism or less?
JOHN BRENNAN: On balance, I think they have to do more. I think they have done some things, but they need to demonstrate their commitment to helping defeat these terrorist organizations and being able to work with regional states, their neighbors and doing it in a way that is really going to be designed to destroy these organizations.
—June 29, 2016, on PBS Newshour