US 'Communicating' With Adversaries Against ISIS But Not 'Coordinating'

A verbal skirmish over the role of Iran and Syria in defeating ISIS.

ByABC News
September 15, 2014, 3:39 PM
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry looks out from a helicopter over Baghdad, Sept. 10, 2014.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry looks out from a helicopter over Baghdad, Sept. 10, 2014.
Brendan Smialowski/AP Photo

— -- Secretary of State John Kerry made clear during a roundtable with reporters in Paris that the US is open to communicating with both Iran and Syria on their shared concerns regarding the ISIS extremist group, although he insisted it’s not “coordinating” with either of them.

But the administration does not appear to have a clear answer for when communicating ends and coordinating begins.

Kerry said that the US isn’t planning military action with Iran, but he left the door open to other types of synchronization between the two countries.

“We’re not coordinating with Iran, but as I said, we’re open to have a conversation at some point in time if there’s a way to find something constructive,” he said.

State Department spokesperson Marie Harf sought to explain the difference during Monday’s briefing: “We’re not going to be telling the Iranians what we’re doing. We’re not going to be coordinating actions with them. We’re not going to be sharing intelligence with them. We’ve made clear how people can be helpful, but again, we’re not going to be coordinating with them.”

White House spokesperson Josh Earnest called it a matter of where the US and Iran’s shared interests are.

“There is a reason for us to have conversations with Iran on this topic, because we do have a shared interest in degrading and ultimately destroying ISIL,” he said, using an alternate name for ISIS. “I think the reasonable question that people have is, given Iran's significant military capability and given their significant interest in the outcome here, is the United States going to coordinate with Iran as we move forward on this military strategy? The answer to that is, no, we are not.”

But as the US ponders its military steps in Iraq and neighboring Syria, Kerry said on Sunday, during an interview with CBS, that the US would “de-conflict” with the Assad regime in Damascus if necessary.

“Well, we’re not going to coordinate with the Syrians. We’ve made that very, very clear. But there are all kinds of ways of communicating to avoid mistakes or disasters and not – strike the word ‘disasters’ –there are all kinds of ways of avoiding bad things. And I’m not going to go into them, but we’re not going to coordinate.”

When asked what Kerry could have meant by “de-conflicting,” Harf grew visibly frustrated.

“As [Kerry] said several times in that interview, we will not -- it's like I'm a broken record today -- we will not be coordinating in any way with the Syrian government.”

The reporter persisted, asking again.

“I think I just made clear what he meant. And we have to move on; I'm on a little bit of a tight time schedule today,” she said.