Secretary of State John Kerry denied Thursday having suggested that Washington was considering working in coordination with Iran in the face of surging terrorism in the region, and specifically in Iraq.
“What we have said is that we are interested in communicating with Iran,” he said, “so that Iran knows what we are thinking and we know what they are thinking.”
Kerry brushed aside criticism of the Obama administration’s Middle East policy, taking exception to assertions Washington has been too passive in its reaction to the rise in violent conflict in the area.
Kerry noted the failure of the United States to secure a continuing military arrangement with Iraq’s government after US combat forces left. “We didn’t have operational theater capacity at the time” of the surge in violence spawned by al-Qaida-inspired Islamic State militants, he said in an interview on NBC.
On the broader issue of Mideast policy, Kerry said the administration has been “deeply engaged” in the region and is the largest source of humanitarian assistance. He said violence is on the rise in Iraq because Syria’s Bashar Assad, who has been under siege for at least three years, “is a magnet for terrorists of all walks.”
Asked about former Vice President Dick Cheney’s assertion that President Barack Obama has been wrong all along about the Mideast, Kerry replied, “This is a man who took us directly into Iraq. Please.”
He reiterated that airstrikes have not been ruled out, saying that “nothing is off the table” in administration discussions.
Kerry didn’t signal any details of involvement beyond what is already known, but did say that whatever assistance is forthcoming won’t necessarily be aimed at bailing out embattled Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. The efforts will be “focused on the people of Iraq,” he said.
Kerry said the militant Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL, is “more extreme than even al-Qaida and they are a threat to the United States and Western interests.”