Background Briefing by Senior State Department Official in Tunis, Tunisia

Special Briefing
Senior State Department Official
Tunis, Tunisia
February 24, 2012

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Okay, we are in Tunis. The Secretary has had a number of bilateral meetings. Let me give you a little bit on her short bilateral meeting with Foreign Minister Juppe and then her session with representatives of the Syrian National Council and the Kurdish National Council of Syria. She is now meeting with Foreign Minister Saud. We’ll do what we can to get you something on that later today.

With regard to her meeting with Juppe, they started off talking about Iran, specifically preparing the P-5+1 response to the Iranian letter and the importance of maintaining strictest sanctions and increasing pressure on Iran in parallel with that.

They then talked about the upcoming Chicago summit, NATO summit, and the way forward on Afghanistan. The Secretary raised the importance of being prepared to support the Afghan National Security Forces for the long term. They both discussed the need to support them materially, support them financially, and also to broaden the pool of nations that support the ANSF over the long term.

And they wrapped up with a conversation about Somalia in the wake of the London conference and again the need to maintain strong national EU support for the AMISOM forces and also to get other countries involved in supporting AMISOM.

So that was the Juppe meeting. Questions on that, or should we go on to the SNC-KNC?

QUESTION: Run through all of them and then do questions at the end.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yes, okay. As you know, the Secretary met with two members of the SNC and one member of the Kurdish National Council. The SNC representatives were Dr. Burhan Ghalioun and Dr. Basma Kodmani. Both of them were in her earlier meeting in Geneva, which was in December – right, Nick? And then they were also joined by Dr. Abdul Hakim Bashar of the Kurdish National Council of Syria.

QUESTION: Abdul Hakim Bashar?


QUESTION: You should have that on your email too, I think.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yeah, I think we sent you those names a little bit earlier.

As you may know, the SNC, in the spirit of broadening its base and broadening participation, is working through a negotiation with the Kurdish National Council of Syria on a common platform. They both – both sides, SNC and KNC – made clear that they are quite far along in that, and it was a testament to that that they were comfortable sharing this meeting with the Secretary.

The representatives were obviously very, very pleased by the strong international turnout here and from all over the world. They were particularly encouraged by the concrete articulation of a humanitarian support initiative, which they think will make a real difference for Syrians on the ground if we can get it in.

They stressed that they’d like to see all nations, whether they are attending here or whether they chose not to, to press Assad to allow the humanitarian aid in. And they specifically said that they were hoping that Russia would push Assad to allow the UN to deliver the humanitarian aid that has been offered.

QUESTION: Do you remember who said that specifically? Was it Ghalioun?


QUESTION: Which one? Sorry. Ghalioun?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yes. But it was a common view of the importance of all nations supporting this initiative, and particularly hopeful that we could all encourage Russia to encourage Assad to accept it. This would obviously not only relieve the suffering of the Syrian people but would demonstrate to them in concrete terms that the world is thinking about them.

QUESTION: I’m sorry. And that was to press Russia to allow in, to --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Press Russia to encourage Assad to allow the humanitarian aid in.

QUESTION: Thank you.


QUESTION: Wait. I’m sorry, I’m sorry. They would – they hoped that the international community would press Russia to encourage Assad?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Well, obviously they want all of us to press Assad.


SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: And this meeting they see as pressing Assad. But they also made clear that they hope Russia will not only participate – consider participating itself, and China and everybody else who was not here, in the humanitarian support for the Syrian people, but that they would play a diplomatic role in encouraging Assad to accept it. And they want the Russian Federation to know that they are hopeful that Russia will play a role in this.

They also talked quite a bit about the importance of reaching out to all of the communities in Syria, the ethnic minority communities, to women, to make it clear that they are looking to – looking for a Syria that represents the views and the needs of all Syrians, that they are trying to encourage Alawi, Druze, Kurds, Sunnis, Christians, women, all of the minorities – including, they mentioned, they have a small Russian minority – to support the broad umbrella that the SNC is trying to provide, and to understand that the future Syria that they hope to participate in building will protect their rights, will protect their interests. And obviously, that has been a theme for the Secretary, and she was very supportive and encouraging of that.

And her message to them was obviously for them to continue to broaden their outreach, broaden their message, continue to work with all groups in Syria who want change on a common transition platform, and that the United States is with them and wants to continue to meet with them regularly to hear what they need and how we can support them.

Let’s go to what’s on your minds. All right. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Did she and Juppe come to any agreement on how at least France and the United States believe the P-5+1 should respond to the Iranian letter?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: It wasn’t that kind of a detailed conversation. It was a discussion in general terms about the importance of working together within the P-5+1 to prepare a common response.

QUESTION: Is the SNC asking for anything else other than humanitarian aid? Do they want to see you at least give the green light to allow weapons to come in? I mean, is there – was there any talk about that?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: That did not come up in this conversation.

QUESTION: But she said –

QUESTION: The question of arms did not come up at all, in any way?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: The question of support, other than what this conference has provided, in response to the Secretary’s question of how we can help, she – they made this point about encouraging Russia to support the humanitarian initiative. They also made the point about all of the efforts that they are making to try to encourage minority communities to join them and join them strongly, and to work together in common interest, and to encourage us to use our channels and other countries to use their channels to all of those communities --

QUESTION: How about like --


QUESTION: How do you get --

QUESTION: But the topic of arms didn’t come up at all?

QUESTION: I mean, how do you do, like, humanitarian aid --


QUESTION: -- humanitarian aid corridors, getting people out? I mean, how do you do that without any kind of international force?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Well, I think the Secretary will obviously speak to this later tonight when she does her presser. But this conversation was all about, as we discussed before, that in the first instance, in the best instance, Assad will allow the enormous amount of international support that is being pledged here and that is already available to get to his people, and that that’s the best thing for Syria.

QUESTION: When you said that they were continuing to meet with the SNC and the Syrian groups, did she say she would continue to meet, or U.S. at large?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Well, that the U.S. at large, obviously. I think you know this is her second meeting, and we’re anticipating that we will have more friends of the Syrian people meetings, and that we’ll have other opportunities to continue to see them.

QUESTION: There was a point today where I think Ghalioun spoke to the gathering.


QUESTION: And at that point, the cameras were kicked out. And based on what you --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yes. No, we are endeavoring to get you a copy in English of his statement, which I understood was very strong.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.) They were there.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Were they there? Did you get it? Okay.

QUESTION: Can I ask more broadly --

QUESTION: I’m not – I wasn’t done. So the – part of the big picture in hearing them was to hear their transition, their ideas for a transitional government. That was part – and you all said a couple times yesterday that one of the reasons you wanted to hear them out. So either in what he said or in the bilateral, did it come up what his vision of a Syrian transitional government would look like? And did the Secretary react to that?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: My understanding is that they articulated some of the key principles that would underpin their vision of the future of Syria, which are very much in line with the principles that the Secretary laid out in her speech. But I have to tell you, I’ve heard about his remarks but I wasn’t in the room either, so I didn’t see them. But I think her sense was that because the statement was pretty full, she had a good sense of where they’re going. The issue now is whether they can continue to deepen and broaden the tent of interests and groups that they represent.

QUESTION: Can I ask more broadly, on the question of arms, did it – as I understand it, it was not on the agenda of this meeting.


QUESTION: But – and this may be getting ahead of ourselves – was there any discussion of it anyway? And the Saudi foreign minister apparently thinks it’s an excellent idea. So to what extent did it come up either in the bilats or in the broader agenda, or was it kind of a side issue that some countries are prepared to discuss but not on the international Friends of Syria level?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Again, I was not in the room and literally only have information about these two bilats as of today.

QUESTION: Well, but --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: So we’re going to have to --

QUESTION: -- you didn’t hear about his remarks to the conference?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I heard about his remarks, and the Secretary is meeting with him now, so we’ll have a better sense of his views after that.

Okay. Thanks, guys.

PRN: 2012/T60-08