Interview With Craig Melvin on NBC’s TODAY Show


John Kerry
Secretary of State

Copacabana Beach
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

August 6, 2016

Question: Secretary of State John Kerry attended the opening ceremony last night, his first in person. He is leading the U.S. delegation here at the games, joined by nine-time Olympic gold medalist Mark Spitz who’s a part of the delegation as well. Good morning to both of you, gentlemen. Thanks for —
Secretary Kerry: Good morning.
Mr. Spitz: Good morning.
Question: — for getting up so early, or staying up so late.
Secretary Kerry This is a tough location.
Question: I know.
Secretary Kerry All right, you know?
Question: I could get used to this – postcard perfect. Let me start with you. The opening ceremonies – your initial thoughts? I know you were sitting next to French President Hollande.
Secretary Kerry It was beautiful. It was absolutely extraordinary. I mean, the only thing – it was the first time I’ve ever been to one, as you mentioned, and I missed some of the commentary of sort of explaining this is what, this is what. But it was beautiful, unbelievably well done, and it was really thrilling to be there. And when the American team came out, I couldn’t believe it. They stretched the entire length of the stadium. But it was fun. It was great fun.
Question: As you know, coming into these games there was a lot of talk about security, a lot of talk about safety, the political unrest in this country as well. The thousands of Americans who have assembled here in Rio for the next two weeks or so, are they safe?
Secretary Kerry Well, nobody can make predictions in today’s world, but I have never seen as much security, as much coordinated effort. They have gone all out. We’ve been working with them. Our security people are very, very tightly entwined with them. So I think they have done a tremendous job of getting ready in a very complicated world, and I feel very confident personally, but we live in a complicated place.
Question: I know you’re an avid cyclist. I would imagine you’re going to make your way over to that venue today.
Secretary Kerry I’m going to be at the start of the cycling, and then I’m going to try and pile in as much as I can. I’m going to get to some of the beach volleyball, a little bit of tennis, a little bit of gymnastics, and wind up with a little swimming.
Question: And you’re squeezing in a lot. Let’s talk about the swim team here, Mark, because Katie Ledecky, Michael Phelps, of course, as you know, as most Americans know at this point, are two of the best to ever get in the pool for Team U.S.A. What can we expect from that team going into the Games?
Mr. Spitz: Well, Katie, as you mentioned, is going to probably lead off the women in a real positive way. She’s predicted to win and projected to win the 200 free, the 400 free, and the 800 free. She’s got a commanding lead of best times going into the Olympic Games. And of course, Michael Phelps is swimming in three individual events. He will swim – right now, his times that have been done in the world are second in two of those events and I think sixth or seventh. But he wasn’t rested for the Olympic trials, and I think that I would never bet against him. This is his swan song, and I expect that he will surprise us – or maybe not surprise us – but I think he’s going to come away with several more medals, and probably gold.
Question: Wouldn’t that be fun to watch? Mr. Secretary, while I have you here, on a more serious note, you and President Obama hold firm that the $400 million payment to Iran was not in exchange for those detainees there. Can you appreciate – can you see why so many people around the world, and especially in this country, see it differently?
Secretary Kerry Well, I can see why somebody asks the question, but when the facts are known, it should be ended immediately as any kind of controversy. The fact is that we went to great pains to have a completely separate track of negotiation, but we knew the negotiation was going on because we’re paying interest. American taxpayers were paying potentially billions of dollars of interest, and what we did was take advantage of a moment that came with a completely separate career team – no politics, nobody who was influenceable – they negotiated this separately. It’s a legal proceeding under international law. We’re being sued for money that belonged to the Iranians, and what the Iranians got back was their money plus some interest, and this was actually a principal payment, but we got a huge savings for the American taxpayer and it was completely unrelated to the transfer of the people which we negotiated. I personally negotiated that with our team at the State Department, and it was separate.
Question: Why cash? Why not a wire transfer?
Secretary Kerry Because you can’t get money – you can’t write a check. We have no banking relationship with the Iranians, partly – not partly – because of our sanctions. So the very measures Congress put in place in order to bring about a negotiation are what, in fact, created a situation where you have to transfer cash. So I mean, this is politics. This is a political season. We understand that. But the facts make it absolutely clear: We don’t pay ransom, we will not pay ransom, we never have, and we’re not going to in the future.
Question: Team U.S.A. – I know you spoke to them yesterday.
Secretary Kerry Yeah.
Question: What did you say to them and what did they say to you?
Secretary Kerry Well, they’re all champions already just for being here, but the excitement, the level of confidence, the – these kids are just absolutely extraordinary, and we’re very, very proud of all of them. And the stories among them are just incredible. We have a refugee who came over. We have kids who are competing but who are working at the same time with our embassies to work with children in other countries who don’t have the same opportunities. They’re – it’s an extraordinary team. I have great expectations, and I think all Americans do, and we’re very proud of them.
Question: Mr. Secretary, thank you for your time.
Secretary Kerry Thank you. Good to be with you.
Question: Mark, good to see you as well, as always.
Mr. Spitz: Thank you.
Question: Thank you so much for your time.
Mr. Spitz: You bet.
Question: The networks of NBC, of course, the only place to watch these Olympic Games. Don’t miss our coverage tonight right here on NBC starting at 8:00Eastern/7:00 Central. Sheinelle, Steph, I’ll send it back to you guys for now.