Background Briefing on Additional Nonlethal Assistance to Syria
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: All right, everybody. We are on background, Senior State Department Official. To remind that this is embargoed until the formal announcement by Secretary Kerry at his joint press availability later today about 12:20 with Italian Foreign Minister Terzi and SOC Chairman al-Khatib. Most of what I’m going to give you now will be in the Secretary’s statement, but this will give us an opportunity to have questions. So let me just start, then.
Later today in Rome, after the meeting with the Syrian Opposition Coalition, Foreign Minister Terzi, Secretary Kerry, will be joined by Syrian Opposition Coalition President al-Khatib for a press announcement. Secretary Kerry will announce there our intention to work with Congress to provide an additional $60 million in --
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: -- six-zero million dollars in nonlethal assistance to --
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: -- nonlethal assistance to support the efforts of the Syrian Opposition Coalition over the coming months. This money will be used particularly to enable the SOC to help local councils and communities in liberated areas of Syria expand the delivery of basic goods and essential services, and to fulfill administrative functions, including security, sanitation, and educational services.
QUESTION: What was the first one?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Security, sanitation, and educational services. Additionally, these funds are going to be used to enhance the capacity of the SOC and the local councils to extend the rule of law and establish interim justice as needed in newly liberated territories in Syria.
The United States will be sending technical advisors through our implementing partners to support the SOC’s staff at their Cairo headquarters in the execution of this assistance. This will ensure that the assistance continues to comply with U.S. rules and regulations on the use of foreign assistance, including vetting, oversight, and monitoring. To remind that this additional 60 million for the SOC is in addition to the more than 50 million in nonlethal support we have already provided to help Syrian activists organize opposition efforts across the country and to amplify their message to Syrians and to the world through communications and broadcasting equipment.
In addition to the 60 million, the Secretary will announce today that the United States will look for opportunities to work with the SMC.
QUESTION: What’s the SMC?
QUESTION: What’s that stand for? The military --
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: The Syrian Military Council.
QUESTION: The Supreme?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: The Supreme Military Council, apologies – to provide concrete, nonlethal support to the Free Syrian Army. This will include things like military rations to feed hungry fighters and medical supplies to tend the sick and the wounded. And then also, just to remind, that separately, we continue to provide $385 million in humanitarian assistance to help IDPs in Syria and refugees in neighboring countries.
So just to draw the picture even more clearly for you, with the $60 million to the SOC, we’re trying to do two things. We’re trying to strengthen them in Cairo as a political organization that actually can begin to deliver concrete assistance to their people. And we’re trying to help them ensure that in newly liberated areas of Syria, the administration of those areas meets the needs of the people and is done in a manner that comports with the human rights standards and rule-of-law standards that the SOC has articulated and that the Syrian opposition has committed to in its own founding documents.
And you know why we’re doing this. We’ve talked about it before. We are concerned that we have extremists operating in and among the opposition who don’t share the goals of a future Syria that is democratic, that’s united, that is just and that respects the human rights of all Syrian citizens and provides a place for all of them. So those members of the opposition who support our shared values need to be able to demonstrate that they can deliver a better day and need to set an example of a Syria where daily life is governed neither by the brutality of the Assad regime nor by the agenda of al-Qaida-affiliated extremists.
QUESTION: Sorry, could you say that last – those last six words, “not dominated by?”
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: The brutality of the Assad regime and its cronies, nor by the violent agenda of extremists.
QUESTION: You said “governed,” right, or did you say “dominated?”
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I think I said --
QUESTION: You said “governed.”
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I said “governed,” whatever I said, whatever brilliant thing I said. (Laughter.)
Okay. Let’s go to your questions. There may be a limit to what I can answer, but let’s do what we can on background.
QUESTION: [Senior State Department Official], a question I have is, obviously, there are a range of options and – to include things that go beyond medical care and food rations that might fall in the nonlethal category. These include vehicles, night vision goggles, bulletproof vests, things of that sort. Is – are those still on the table as possible options depending on how things go in Syria, or has the United States basically decided that this is the limit of what it wants to do at this particular time?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: What I’ve articulated are the items that we have decided to provide today. You’ll hear the Secretary make clear that in his meeting with the opposition, they talked about many needs, and we will continue to keep those under review.
QUESTION: [Senior State Department Official], one question on the language. You said “will look for opportunities to work with.” That doesn’t sound like a commitment. It means you’re looking for opportunities to provide this. Have you actually decided that you will provide this?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yes. We wouldn’t be announcing that we were going to work with them on rations and on medical care unless we’d made the decision that we are open to doing that. As you know, we will do this with vetted individuals, vetted units, so this has to be done carefully and appropriately.
QUESTION: And [Senior State Department Official], in other words, is this kind of a staged, set pattern where you give them this at this point, you evaluate how they are respecting human rights, et cetera, and then you go on and perhaps evaluate – provide more?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Let’s just say that, as the Secretary’s been saying, we need to change the calculation that Assad is making. We also need to support those on the ground in Syria who want a democratic future that respects human rights of all Syrians, provides a place for all Syrians. So we want to support on the political side and on the military side those who represent those values.
QUESTION: [Senior State Department Official] --
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: We’re going to do this, and as I said, we will continue to look at whatever – we will continue to look at the situation on the ground and the needs.
QUESTION: [Senior State Department Official], can you --
QUESTION: (Inaudible) ask you for things that you specifically – that you have been unwilling – that you are unwilling currently to provide?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I don’t think I have anything else to share on that besides the way I articulated it a minute ago.
QUESTION: Can you address the current state of U.S. military training that’s going on in this effort?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I don’t have anything to share on that front.
QUESTION: Can I clarify the 60 million?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yeah.
QUESTION: Does that include the MREs and the medical, or is that – the MREs --
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: No.
QUESTION: -- and the medical stuff is on top of it, or is there another --
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Would be – will be on top of. I don’t have a dollar figure for you today. I think this will be something that we’ll have to feel going forward.
QUESTION: And this group --
QUESTION: How about a rough estimate? I mean, millions? I mean --
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Certainly in the millions, but I can’t go beyond that.
QUESTION: Not tens of millions, though, right?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I just don’t --
QUESTION: 60 million is tens of millions.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I don’t have --
QUESTION: No, I’m talking about the MREs and the other stuff.
QUESTION: MREs and medical are on top of the 60?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Correct. I don’t have a dollar figure for you today.
QUESTION: Do you deny that we’re involved in training right now?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I’m not prepared to get into that issue at all.
QUESTION: And [Senior State Department Official], this is the --
QUESTION: Can I just – we’re wondering if you could clarify the language about the technical advisors you’re sending to the SOC. You said you’ll be sending them through implementing partners. Does that mean that they’re not actually Americans, or are you --
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: My understanding is that this will be done – and we can get you more detail on this as we go forward – but my understanding is that these will be some of the NGOs that we regularly work with in this part of the world to deliver these kinds of services.
QUESTION: But what (inaudible)?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: They’ll be contracted.
QUESTION: What is technical adviser? I just want to make sure we understand.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: This is – for example, if you are in the SOC leadership in Cairo and you know that local coordinating council in the newly liberated area outside of Idlib, for example, wants to stand up an interim police force or needs to rebuild its school or hire teachers, you may know what it is you want to buy for them, but you may not yet have the experience where to get it cheapest, fastest to get it in, et cetera. Anything from radios for local police to schoolbooks that you’re trying to buy for kids to – so what the implementing partners will do will be to advise the SOC on where it can provision the needs, how it can best get them in, and ensure that we use this support to pay for things that they have contracted for, if that makes sense --
QUESTION: [Senior State Department Official]?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: -- until they build the capacity to do this themselves.
QUESTION: I’m just confused on --
QUESTION: So it’s not military. These are not --
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: No, no, no. This is on the --
QUESTION: Because when you say technical advisers, you’d think of --
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: No, this is for contracting and provisioning of the nonlethal support to the SOC.
QUESTION: [Senior State Department Official], I’m just confused who these people are. You may have answered, I’m just – the implementing partners and the technical advisers are some State Department employees, are they contractors, are they American citizens, are they foreign governments, are they NGOs?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: My understanding is that they are NGO – they are contracted NGO folks who specialize in getting this kind of civilian support in quickly.
QUESTION: Those are the implementing partners?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Correct.
QUESTION: But the technical advisers in Cairo are --
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: The technical advisers in Cairo are also – my understanding, and we’ll get you more if I haven’t gotten this right – my understanding is that they will be contracted by AID, et cetera. They are experts in how to procure and send this kind of support in.
QUESTION: [Senior State Department Official], can you explain --
QUESTION: How will this change Assad’s calculation? You’ve said how this will help the opposition people. How is it going to help change his calculation?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Well, first of all, we are, for the first time here, albeit nonlethal, explicitly supporting the needs of the Supreme Military Council and vetted members of its fighting force. Second, we are supporting the SOC in its efforts to ensure that those areas that have been liberated become freer, more democratic, more just, and set a positive example for what can happen in the rest of Syria if those still supporting Assad will peel away from him and will change their calculation, stop the fight, and begin supporting a true transition, as called for in Geneva and as supported in the opposition’s own documents.
So it’s a demonstration project, if you will, of what a better Syria can look like. And the concern that the SOC has, very explicitly, is that if they can’t touch, improve, and heal the lives of Syrians in those places that have been freed, then extremists will step in and do it. And we’ve seen this pattern before, whether it’s the – Hezbollah buying influence in Lebanon with its social welfare projects or whether it is the efforts of al-Nusrah now to establish extremist forms of justice, to veil women, to change the traditional tolerant nature of Syrian society in those areas where it is freed. So we have to provide – we have to help the SOC provide and demonstrate a real democratic, free alternative.
QUESTION: Can you explain the technicalities of this? These dollar numbers you’re describing, that’s the value of the goods. We are not now --
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Correct. We will not give cash.
QUESTION: -- hand the money --
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: We do not give cash.
QUESTION: -- to the military council or the SOC?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Correct.
QUESTION: And what you’re describing sounds like the establishment of governance, then the next step being the creation of a state. Are we at – can you describe what the U.S. Government’s view is of where we are on the ground? Are we at the point where this becomes a true government and military that we’re recognizing?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: What we’re supporting here are two things. There is the top-down process of the SOC getting stronger in Cairo in its ability to support alternative administration in liberated areas, and there’s a bottom-up process of the SOC providing the goods and services and support and training that those at the local level in the political opposition who are starting to try to provide services need to demonstrate to the people in their neighborhood, the people in their towns, the people in their villages, that a better day is coming.
QUESTION: At the top you mentioned working with Congress. What does that mean? Is money not appropriated or --
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I’m going to have to get back to you on exactly what pots of money this comes from. But whenever you make a change to the way you spend money, you have to notify, you have to brief, you have to have consent.
QUESTION: But can – just to follow up on what I was asking, though, with the military council part, are we trying to build them into the military equivalent of the SOC, that is the military representatives of the Free--
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: The Supreme Military Council is now itself working as a partner with the SOC in trying to provide coordination and better execution of the military side of the opposition’s work, in a manner that’s consistent with the democratic values of the future Syria that they want.