Kerry says air strikes in Iraq an option, U.S. open to Iran talks

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States is considering U.S. air strikes to help the Iraqi government fend off an Islamist insurgency as well as possible discussions with neighboring Iran, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said on Monday. Asked about the possibility of such strikes, Kerry said in an interview with Yahoo! News: "They're not the whole answer, but they may well be one of the options that are important." "When you have people murdering, assassinating in these mass massacres, you have to stop that. And you do what you need to do if you need to try to stop it from the air or otherwise," he added. Kerry also said the United States could be willing to talk with Iran to help Iraq's Shi'ite-led government combat a Sunni Islamist insurgency. "We're open to discussions if there is something constructive that can be contributed by Iran, if Iran is prepared to do something that is going to respect the integrity and sovereignty of Iraq," Kerry told Yahoo! News. Earlier on Monday, a senior U.S. official said there could be talks between officials from the United States and Iran, which is also majority Shi'ite, on the sidelines of other talks in Vienna this week. Kerry's comments come as the United States weighs its possible response to the conflict as militants from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL, continues its fierce onslaught across Iraq. In the interview, Kerry called Iraq a strategic partner in the Middle East and said the United States was "deeply committed to the integrity of Iraq as a country." "It is vital, ultimately, to the stability of the region as a whole," he said. Kerry also called on the government of Nuri al-Maliki, Iraq's Shi'ite prime minister, to be more inclusive to various sectarian groups but stopped short of calling for his resignation, saying that was up to the people of Iraq. "I don't think the United States should be issuing instructions or orders. I don't think any country should," he said. "We are adamant that Prime Minister Maliki and his government must do a better job of reaching out to all the representative entities in Iraq and bring them to the table. That has not happened sufficiently," Kerry said. The United States has also increased security at its embassy in Baghdad and evacuated some personnel, and Kerry on Monday said he did not think that ISIL would be able to take over the key city of Baghdad, at least in the near term. "But that remains to be determined by the decisions that are made in the course of next few days," by the United States, Maliki's government, and others, he added. "I'm absolutely convinced we have the security we need for our embassy," Kerry said. (Reporting by Susan Heavey and Eric Beech; Editing by Eric Beech)