Kerry at Global Counterterrorism Forum

September 23, 2014

Office of the Spokesperson
September 23, 2014

Secretary of State John Kerry
At the Global Counterterrorism Forum

September 23, 2014
Waldorf Astoria Hotel
New York, New York

SECRETARY KERRY: Thank you all very much for joining us here today. I’m delighted to be joined with my co-chair, Minister Cavusoglu of Turkey, and we’re very grateful for the strong turnout today and the importance of this discussion. This is the 5th ministerial meeting of the Global Counterterrorism Forum. And when we launched this effort just three years ago, we did so with a clear objective: to establish an informal but action-oriented forum that focuses as much on preventing tomorrow’s terrorists as it does on countering today’s.

And collectively, every single one of us are going to be measured by how we carry out this mission. This meeting obviously could not be happening at a more important time. And frankly, it couldn’t include a more important group of partners. Every single country here today is a critical part of the effort to address a global terrorist threat that is more diverse and dispersed than ever before.

Now obviously there are a range of terrorist groups that concern us, and we are laser focused on combatting them. But we gather this week to discuss as priority a threat that has a particular resonance for every country in this room, and that’s ISIL.

ISIL is an organization that knows no bounds, as it has proven. It brutalizes women and girls and sells them off as slaves to jihadists. It forces grown men to their knees, ties their hands behind their back, and shoots them in the head. Fed by illicit funding and a stream of foreign fighters that have come, regrettably, from many of the countries around this table – mine included – it has seized territory, and it has attempted to undertake announced genocide against minority groups like the Yezidis. This kind of barbarity simply has no place in the modern world. And these coldblooded killers, masquerading as a religious movement, need to be stopped.

Now President Obama has laid out a coordinated global strategy to degrade and ultimately defeat ISIL. And we’ve assembled a broad coalition. And last night, by conducting strikes against ISIL, targets inside Syria, we took another major step towards getting the job done. But it will require enormous cooperation and perseverance by everybody.

And I’m very pleased with the meeting I just had with Minister Cavusoglu, who reiterated what President Erdogan said to me the other day when I was in Ankara. Turkey is very much part of this coalition, and Turkey will be very engaged on the frontlines of this effort. But clearly, Turkey had an initial challenge with respect to its hostages, and that being resolved now, Turkey is ready to conduct additional efforts along with the rest of us in order to guarantee success. And we’re very grateful to Turkey for that willingness.

I’ve been very encouraged, as I think all of us engaged in this are, by everybody else’s cooperation, by the overwhelming unity and support for Iraq’s new government, and the anti-ISIL effort at the UN Security Council Ministerial that I chaired last Friday. No civilized country can shirk its responsibility to stop this cancer from spreading.

And all of us understand this is not a question of a few strikes or a few days. There are bigger issues here involved in our efforts to be able to be successful. This requires a common strategy, and we need to focus on the efforts and areas where our collective efforts are going to be the most coordinated and effective against ISIL as well as against other terrorist groups.

We’ve all had conversations about this before. We know that poverty is a problem and it contributes. We know that ungoverned spaces are a problem. We know that bad governance is a problem. We know that large, bulging populations of young people without opportunity and dignity and respect – all of these things contribute to providing recruits for extremism because of their perception of a lack of alternatives.

So we not only need to challenge them on the ground, we need to challenge them in their heads. We need to challenge them with ideas. We need to recapture the legitimacy of religions and we need to make it clear to all groups that stopping the flow of foreign fighters and recruits to this effort will depend on a broader array of choices that we make as leaders.

We obviously have to also do specific tactical things, like cutting off the visas for those who’ve traveled and want to come back, like cutting off funding, and moving to restrict the ability of money to flow to these groups. The threat of foreign terrorist fighters is very real, and we have to start with the uncomfortable reality that security measures alone will not solve this problem. We’re talking about fighters recruited from our own communities and radicalized sufficiently to go fight in wars that are not their own.

The minds of these young men and women are poisoned by terrorists, who brainwash them into committing unspeakable atrocities. Our friend, Julie Bishop, Foreign Minister from Australia, has eloquently talked several times about the pictures of a young nine-year-old child holding a severed head with the parents who support this cultism, standing beside them in approval. That has no place anywhere in any civilized society.

So we have to detect and disrupt foreign terrorist recruitment. We have to share information on risky behavior of known and suspected terrorists and make certain that we’re screening those who are entering our countries. We have to engage in strong counterterrorism laws that make it a crime to travel overseas in order to fight in these illicit enterprises. And we have to make certain that suspected terrorists are ultimately prosecuted under appropriate rule of law.

I want to thank our colleagues from Morocco and the Netherlands for spearheading the forum’s effort to develop the first global set of good practices on stopping the flow of foreign terrorist fighters, which we will adopt here today. The United States will commit more than 40 million now to support this effort. And tomorrow, President Obama will chair an historic summit meeting of the UN Security Council to mobilize the international community around the plan to deal with this shared threat with a particular focus on the work of this forum.

So that’s the first challenge. But a second challenge is addressing the epidemic of kidnapping for ransom, which has created an illicit market that funds extremists and endangers more and more innocent journalists and doctors and humanitarian aid workers, who risk their lives to go into conflict zones and who, by virtue of prior payments, have a target put on their heads. They become ripe for the picking for the next round of negotiation and payment.

Now, the United States for decades has had a policy of not paying ransom. And the reason is simple: We know that it leads to more kidnappings, and ultimately more kidnappings lead to more killing. We’ve argued that the only way to dry up the market for kidnapping in the first place is to take away the profits and to hold the kidnappers accountable. But I hear these words and I know it’s difficult. I met the other day with the families of victims and with families of those held. And every one of us inevitably asked the question: What about the innocents who are held by their captors? As a parent, I fully understand the feelings of any parent who knows that their loved one is being held in this way. And privately, people may undertake their efforts, but governments – may choose to undertake efforts – but governments need to make a clear choice here. And I want to emphasize it was not United States policy that caused ISIL’s brutal and barbaric kidnappings and televised executions. It was ISIL’s myopic and miscalculated belief that in doing that for all the world to see, it will somehow advance their extremist agenda. That is how twisted their thinking is.

Ours is obviously a hard policy and it’s a hard policy to look at and live by when you’re looking at a parent of one of those hostages and you’re trying to explain it. But it’s not why ISIL kidnaps. It’s not why ISIL kills. It is why ISIL must be stopped. And it’s why we will never stop working to set our citizens free and bring them home to their families. And it’s why today, together with Algeria, Canada, and the United States, we’ve all developed and we will make available training modules that help countries to prevent and deny the benefit of kidnapping for terrorists. It’s why we’re going to continue to dry up ISIL’s illicit funding, and ultimately we know that our success depends on the ability of local communities to be able to prevent radicalization in the first place.

For our efforts to be effective, they’re going to have to be driven by local knowledge and responsiveness to the concerns of local communities. That means we need to enlist the support of local political and religious leaders, journalists, and educators in order to repudiate the religious incitement and the sectarian rhetoric that groups like ISIL use in order to recruit terrorists. We have to take that away from them, and we have the ability to do it if everybody will work to do that together. It means integrating a focus on women and girls in all of our work. It means supporting local communities with public and private funding in their fight to counter violent extremism.

We launched the Global Fund on Community Engagement last year in order to put local communities in the driver’s seat. I’m pleased to announce today that the United States is planning to contribute an additional 3 million to that effort on top of the 2 million we already provided immediately. And I’m grateful to those governments that have already pledged their support, and we urge all other countries here today to step up their commitments. And given the more immediate challenge that is posed by ISIL, I’d ask that our partners encourage the fund to make grants to local organizations that focus specifically on anti-ISIL projects.

So let me close by being crystal clear: The evil that ISIL represents is not something that Iraq or even the region can or should take on alone. We face a common threat, and our response has to be all hands on deck. We saw the arrests that Australia had to conduct just a few days ago. That tells you how far and wide this can spread and how quickly. This is our opportunity to prove to the world what we can build together, and the power of our ideas is far more powerful than what the terrorists seek to destroy. Acting together with clear objectives, we can protect the innocent, we can preserve the peace, we can empower local communities in their fight to be able to do the same. And that’s why this forum is so important and that’s why we are committed to working with every single one of you as we try to protect our citizens and provide a much more stable and peaceful path to the future.