U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Thursday praised countries in the Middle East for working to bring political and economic change in the region.
In an exclusive interview with the Alhurra network, Kerry hailed the efforts by Arab nations to fight Islamic State terrorists.
With 66 nations participating in the fight against IS, Kerry said, the countries in the Middle East "are deeply engaged in this effort." He said that by working together, the coalition "has reliberated and re-secured 44 percent of the territory that Daesh [the Arab acronym for the jihadist group] held in Iraq and about 16 to 17 percent of the territory in Syria."
Kerry said the U.S. and its allies have been taking several specific measures to fight Islamic State, including working to cut off funding; preventing young people from becoming indoctrinated by setting up social media initiatives to counter the extremist group's narrative; and reducing the flow of foreign fighters by tightening the rules of travel.
Republican lawmakers and presidential candidates have been expressing deep skepticism over the Obama administration's strategy for defeating IS. On Thursday, Senator John McCain, an Arizona Republican, accused the administration of having a "myopic" focus on the group while missing broader U.S. challenges in the Middle East. McCain favors sending in a large coalition ground force — a proposal President Barack Obama has ruled out.
Kerry said Washington's partners are "quite effectively working together in the field against the Daesh operatives and have eliminated many of their leaders from the battlefield."
Kerry admitted there are steps that can be taken only by the leaders in the region. He said, for example, that because Saudi Arabia is custodian to the holiest sites in Islam, its leaders speak "with a special authority with respect to Islam." He said the Saudis are putting together a counternarrative to Islamic State so that "this very important seat of Islam [is] speaking about what true Islam is about."
But he said the Saudis can certainly do more to help the West suffocate the source of financing for the terrorist group.
Praise for young leaders
Kerry said the efforts by the Middle East leadership also translate to their domestic front. He praised young leaders for helping the region undergo an economic transformation.
He singled out Deputy Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman of Saudi Arabia and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed of the United Arab Emirates as visionaries of the younger generation who are trying to move the economic fortunes of their kingdoms into the future.
He said the United States is encouraging such forward progress in other nations in the region, like Iraq. "In order to progress, in order to bring Iraqis together, in order to stabilize and grow the country to get their economy moving, they need to be inclusive," Kerry said. "Every Iraqi has to be represented within the governing process."
Kerry said ultimately it is up to every individual to determine what can be done to fight terrorism and injustice.
"Everybody has an ability to prevent a friend from being seduced by phony narratives, by lies," he said. "Everybody has an ability to be able to tell the truth about Islam, to tell the truth about radicalism and terror. Until people do speak up and fully make their voices heard, it's very difficult to mobilize the full energy that we need to against violent extremism. All violent extremism needs to be negated."