On January 13, Secretary of State John Kerry emphasized defeating ISIS and resolving the Syria conflict as top foreign policy priorities for 2016. In his address, Kerry outlined three pillars of U.S. strategy in Syria: defeating ISIS, working with allies to prevent the spread of violence, and de-escalating the Syria conflict. The following are related excerpts from his speech at the National Defense University.

Our strategy with respect to Syria certainly is three-fold. But what we’re seeing emerge is really a transformation that represents not a clash of civilizations, because there’s nothing civilized about Daesh. It’s barbaric. It’s a step backwards in time not by years, but by centuries. And it represents a clash not of civilizations, but of culture and modernity, a clash of people who have been left behind and who find some false notion of explanation for their acts in the hijacking of a great religion or the distortion of the most fundamental notions of how people should choose to live.

So with respect to Daesh, we have, first of all, intensified our campaign – first, through a 65-member international coalition that we have mobilized to degrade and defeat the terrorist group known as Daesh – ISIL, some people call it, but there’s nothing Islamic about it and there’s nothing that merits being called a state. Daesh is literally the embodiment of evil – psychopaths who murder and rape; adventurists in some cases, criminals in many cases, who torture and pillage and call it the will of God. Earlier this week, we heard about one terrorist – a member of Daesh – whose mother pleaded with him to leave the group because she thought they were going to get beaten and she didn’t want her son killed. What did he do? He turned her in and then, by his own hand, publicly executed her. To quote the President, “These people are killers and fanatics who have to be rooted out, hunted down, and destroyed,” period, and we will do that.

Our efforts are directed both at Daesh’s core networks in Syria and Iraq and at strangling attempts by the terrorists to establish branches and inspire attacks elsewhere in the world, including in the United States.

Now, we have known from the moment that we formed our international coalition in the fall of 2014 – and by the way, it merits remembering that this coalition has only been at this for a little over a year now. We knew that success was not going to be measured in a matter of weeks and months; it would be measured in years, as it was with al-Qaida. And I said at the time – 2014 – that it would take some time. So did the President. But in the end, mark my words, not as a matter of braggadocio but as a matter of fact: Daesh will be defeated. Every country in the region that surrounds Iraq and Syria is opposed to Daesh – Iran, Jordan, Lebanon, Qatar, Turkey, down through the Emirates, Saudi Arabia, and way beyond, which is why we have a coalition of 65 nations.

The progress we have already made towards that end of defeating them is undeniable. Last month, Iraqi forces, with coalition support, retook most of the provincial capital of Ramadi, further reducing the area that was controlled by terrorists. In the past half year, the coalition and its partners have worked with Iraqi forces to liberate Tikrit, and 100,000 Sunni have been able to return to begin to rebuild homes and find homes. We’ve been able to free Sinjar, remove terrorist commanders from the battlefield, including nearly a dozen leaders in the past few weeks alone. And we have worked together to cut off the terrorist supply lines, to hammer their oil facilities, to take away their resources, to deprive Daesh of more than 40 percent of the territory that it once occupied in Iraq. Daesh has not been able to seize a major town or city since last May.

And the coalition is stepping up the pressure even further. We are intensifying airstrikes in northern Syria, assisting our partners along the border between Syria and Turkey, and helping to squeeze Daesh’s remaining strongholds in Mosul and Raqqa, and we are opening the aperture for further cooperation with others in the region, including Russia. Meanwhile, we are doing more every day to prevent foreign fighters from joining Daesh and to stop those who do from returning to their home countries and engaging in terrorist activities. We are also doing more to rebut terrorist propaganda, to dry up revenue resources. We have opened a number of facilities on a global basis – one in the Emirates, another opening before long elsewhere – that will help deal with the challenge of social media management, in an effort to be able to take away the recruitment and the lone-wolf challenge. We know more than ever about Daesh’s sources of income, and that has allowed us to be more strategic in our efforts, with greater impact on Daesh’s ability to be able to sustain itself. There is no question that we have significantly degraded Daesh’s ability to profit from the oil that it controls, and we have made anyone who might consider doing business with them think twice.‎

So degrading and defeating Daesh is the first pillar of our strategy. The second is to work with our partners to prevent the violence from spreading. Just the other day we had a significant meeting with respect to Libya, and you can anticipate additional efforts with respect to Daesh’s efforts to spread its tentacles into Libya and elsewhere. And that is one reason why we are now providing a record amount of humanitarian assistance – more than 4.5 billion to date, which is more than any other nation in the world – directly to deal with the problem of displaced people out of Syria and Iraq. And we are doing more to strengthen the defense capabilities of Jordan, Lebanon, and other friends in the region. This is really important work, and I guarantee you it’s going to continue.

The third pillar of our strategy is to de-escalate the conflict in Syria, and that can only happen through a political transition. Every leader I’ve met with says to me there’s no military solution, you got to have a political solution. I mean, you can – I suppose you can sit there and make the argument there’s a military solution and you could wind up like the Roman historian Tacitus who wrote of Carthage, “They made a desert and called it peace,” sure. But if you want to hold the country together, if you want to restore the secular, united Syria that once was, if you want to bring people together in a way that allows Sunni and Shia and Druze and Ismaili and Christians all to live together, then you need a political transition and you need a political settlement.

Last November in Vienna, the United States and other members of the International Syria Support Group finally agreed upon a series of specific steps to stop the bleeding in Syria, to advance the political transition, to isolate the terrorists, and to help the Syrian people begin to rebuild their country.

Now, I can’t stand here before you today and tell you this is going to work. I know how it could, but it’s going to require the cooperation of countries in conflict. It was monumental that we were able to bring Saudi Arabia and Iran to the table together in order to join in this, and it is important that both have said they will not allow their current differences to stand in the way of working towards a settlement.

In December, we and the other members of the United Nations Security Council passed a resolution endorsing the work of the Vienna support group, the International Syria Support Group, bringing the full weight of the global community behind this process.

So for the first time, every one of the major international players has come around a table together with a specific timetable for negotiations between the responsible opposition and Syria’s government. And because of the hard work of all of those parties, those talks are now slated to begin later this month, on January 25th.

It will be difficult. It will require good-faith effort by Russia, Iran, by all the players to push for the implementation of the Geneva communique, which calls for a transition unity government. But it is not to be missed by anybody here that even Iran put forward an important contribution to the dialogue in a peace plan that called for a unity government, constitutional reform, a ceasefire, and an election. And that is part of what has been embraced by the Vienna support group.

So obstacles to peace always remain. There’s always an obstacle to peace. Look at the frozen conflicts we have in the world. But the need for settlement is clear. And the more progress we make towards that goal, the easier it will be to mount a truly effective and sustained and unified effort against Daesh.

Daesh benefits when great powers are squabbling among each other. Leave a vacuum in governance and we got plenty of people out there with mal intent who can fill the vacuum.

Click here for the full text.