Background Briefing Previewing the Syria Donors Conference

Special Briefing
Senior State Department Officials
London, United Kingdom
February 4, 2016


MODERATOR: (In progress) -- answer to any other questions you might have about that humanitarian assistance. We’re – we have with us [Senior State Department Official Two], just for your --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: No.

MODERATOR: Did I say [name redacted]? I’m so sorry. I apologize. [Senior State Department Official Two] --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: He does know me, and he knows my name. (Laughter.)

MODERATOR: Sorry. I’m fatigued.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: I think somebody is tired. I think the whole panel is tired.

QUESTION: We’re referring to these as senior Administration officials?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Yeah.

MODERATOR: [Senior State Department Official Two], who is [identifying information redacted] – yeah, that’s right – [identifying information redacted]; [Senior Administration Official Two], [Senior Administration Official One], and [Senior State Department Official One]. What is your – (laughter) – I’m trying to think of some --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: You are not responsible --

MODERATOR: That’s right.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: [Identifying information redacted.]

MODERATOR: Also know [Senior State Department Official One] for years, so long that I don’t even know what you do anymore. (Laughter.)

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Neither do I. (Laughter.

MODERATOR: In any case, let’s open it up, and [Senior State Department Official Two], do you want to start off at the top? And again, just for your reporting purposes, this is on background.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: So as we approach the fifth anniversary of the uprising conflict in Syria, this is the fourth international pledging conference that’s been held. The previous three were really focused on humanitarian assistance and were held in Kuwait by the Kuwaitis in conjunction with the United Nations.

So what’s different this year is not just the climate, but also that there’s additional co-hosts. We have now the UK, Germany, Norway, and Kuwait, in addition to the UN. And also the realization that the Syria crisis is a protracted emergency and requires more than just humanitarian assistance provided to the victims of the conflict.

And so you will be seeing that the themes of this conference have been drawn out by the British – themes of education, jobs, right to work, economic development. And the third theme today, we’ll be looking at protection of the people and stabilization of the region.

So the Secretary will be making announcement of our funding. The humanitarian assistance piece is $600 million. Last year we had pledged $508 million, so this is an increase over what we pledged at the beginning of last year. During the course of the year last year, of course, we provided additional assistance as the year went on in response to United Nations appeals. So by the end of last year, we had given $1.627 billion in response to the Syria crisis, which is roughly --

QUESTION: What’s that figure? One --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: 1.627.

QUESTION: And is that calendar or is it --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: That’s fiscal year. And that’s roughly a quarter of the humanitarian assistance that our two offices – [Senior Administration Official One]’s office and my office – have. Because we have annual budgets from Congress of about $6 billion in humanitarian assistance. So roughly a quarter of our – all our humanitarian assistance goes to Syria and the region.

So $600 million – so a strong start this year, but probably not all the money that we’ll be providing this year. Because like last year, we’ll probably be providing more as the year goes on. And then also approximately $300 million of development assistance – and this is the funding that [Senior Administration Official Two] is overseeing as the expert on it – and the reason it’s being announced here is to bring more attention to the need to educate Syrian children and local children in the places that the Syrian refugees have fled to, so particularly Jordan and Lebanon. So she can talk more about that if there’s interest.

We also support some of the things that the World Bank and other development agencies, multilateral development agencies, are trying to do in terms of helping those middle-income countries like Jordan and Lebanon that have done the right thing and let in their refugees and are now coping with the strain. And so the World Bank is looking at trying to provide more concessional financing for these countries in – so that they have additional financing for water and sanitation, education, health care programs, job training. We’ll have to listen to see what the World Bank announces today. And so we – our point is that we’re very supportive of the work that they’re trying to do in this area.

An important message that we are giving to other delegations is to inform them about the announced – recently announced September 19th summit that President Obama will have at the UN General Assembly, where we will be trying to encourage countries to do more for refugees in the areas of increasing aid, increasing resettlement of refugees and other legal pathways to get people to safety in countries away from the battlefields, and also to do more to foster inclusion in the societies to which they have fled.

So that’s the overall piece of this that I wanted to provide before taking your questions.

MODERATOR: Great.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Okay, [Moderator]?

MODERATOR: No, that’s – I think it’s fine. Do you want to go ahead, [Senior Administration Official One]?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: Yeah. Maybe I’ll add a little extra flavor to what [Senior State Department Official Two] was mentioning. It’s important to understand that our humanitarian assistance is both to the refugees in the neighboring countries, but also inside Syria. And inside Syria we’re working both in regime-held areas and in opposition areas, okay. And even there, some of it is cross-border. Some of it is – even a small amount is even cross-line, where we’re able to move from, say, the government areas into opposition areas. That has to be closely negotiated, of course. But the idea is that we’re trying to be as flexible and as comprehensive with our assistance as possible.

The types of assistance is also quite flexible. Within Syria, it’s mostly actual food commodities, usually a package that we provide to a family – that it include both grain, some flour or some kind of thing, plus vegetable oil, beans or peas, things like that. And even a package of other types of commodities, especially to people who are displaced, of feminine hygiene kits, diapers for babies. We try to provide an actual package of things that is useful – soap, things like that. So we try to be as good as possible.

And then among the refugees – of course, they’re living in Jordan, in Turkey, in Lebanon. And there are existing markets there. So rather than just provide food commodities, we try to use – utilize those markets. So what we do is we provide vouchers to the refugees, that they can then go – it’s almost like a credit card, like a debit card – they can go to local grocery stores and get food commodities. That gives them some choice. It gives them a little more sense of self-worth, if you will, because they’re not just being handed bags of food; they can go to a store and buy things, and then they can buy the items that they think are important for their family. And then it helps the markets in those countries as well.

And then even within Syria, wherever we can, we try to do our humanitarian assistance in a way that also builds some sort of capacity, helps the economy to the extent we can. So for instance, in southern Syria, we’re able to reach, in opposition areas, bakeries in towns. So rather than just handing out food, what we’re doing is we’re providing flour to bakeries, and then they in turn can make the bread, and then people can buy it. And that gets what little economy can going as possible. So we try to always do it in such a way that it reduces dependency as much as we can, helps the local economy as much as we can, even under these circumstances.

And then surprisingly, we have quite a robust monitoring and oversight program. You would say, “Well, how can you monitor there,” because obviously, no USAID or State Department people can go inside Syria. But we work through partners, whether UN or NGO, and then they in turn work with local organizations, and with modern technology – cell phones and so on – we can actually get very good information, so that we know in a particular village we’re delivering a certain number of commodities, they – we literally have barcodes on them, and you can scan that and send a text message showing where it arrived, when it arrived with the GPS, and what arrived, so that we can actually track things pretty well. So the instance of our assistance going astray is actually very, very low. It’s not perfect; we’re always trying to improve it. There are times when a town – we deliver some commodities, and the next day the town gets overrun, but then we can stop it pretty quick after that.

So anyway, we’re continually refining that. And as [Senior State Department Official Two] said, we are the biggest donor by far from – on the food side, we provided over 40 percent of all the food assistance to the refugees and inside Syria of all donors. And it’s similar on non-food items.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: I forgot to say that with this $600 million, our total, since the start of the crisis, of humanitarian assistance we’ve provided is now $5.1 billion.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: Five billion, yeah. And then lastly, we have a very active coordination structure both with the UN and our NGO partners, and also with other donors. And we meet on a regular basis to continually try to refine our systems to make sure that we’re encouraging new donors and encouraging greater assistance, and then also continuing to refine the systems to make them as effective and efficient as possible with the limited resources we have. Because even with the five billion that we have given over the last few years and what other donors have given, we’re still at barely 50 percent of the need. So it’s got a long ways to go.

MODERATOR: Thank you, [Senior Administration Official One]. [Senior Administration Official Two], anything to add?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO: Sure. I would just – to explain further the relief to development continuum that this conference really is trying to highlight goes to [Senior Administration Official One]’s point about the food vouchers is a perfect example. If you take the food vouchers as debit cards that we’ve done, that injects 1.25 billion into the economies of the neighbors of Turkey – of, sorry, Lebanon and Jordan. And out of that you create 1,300 jobs. That’s the type of continuum we need to start seeing, because this can’t all be humanitarian at this point, and it can’t be long-term development. We have to find a way to do a better linkage, which is why we are all here together, because we want to show that it is a full linkage from one side to the other.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Right, right.

MODERATOR: Great, thanks so much, all of you. I think we’ll – now, we’ll open it up to questions.

Arshad.

QUESTION: So just some quick, clear, simple questions. The additional about 600 million that you are pledging today, that will be for Fiscal Year 2016?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: For the current fiscal year that we’re in.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO: Humanitarian, just humanitarian.

QUESTION: For the current fiscal year? That was ’16?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Yeah, ’16.

QUESTION: Okay, great. Second, in his remarks, Secretary Kerry lumps together that figure along with the 325 for development assistance, of which 290 is new money.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Right.

QUESTION: For the purposes of this conference and figuring out what the actual aid pledges are directly relevant to this conference, is the correct number the 600 million? Is it 600 plus 290?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Yeah.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO: It’s approximately 900 million --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Yeah.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO: -- is probably – is the best way to say it, because it is a combination of both. It’s the humanitarian piece and the longer-term development piece.

QUESTION: Okay. So it is --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: And in previous years, you find that we commit a number, we’ll pledge a number, and then we spend the number in the near future – I think the checks are moving out to the bank accounts of the agencies – but that other countries will do multiyear funding, old and new money. And so we’re trying to be very clear and transparent on this, because we think other countries should do the same.

QUESTION: And then one last question. I suspect I will regret asking it, but just so that we’re all clear on this: The 600 million that you will pledge this year for humanitarian assistance in the --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Not this year. This – this --

QUESTION: This fiscal year, excuse me --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Yeah, but at this event.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: At this event.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: There’ll be more coming.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO: This event. There’ll be more.

QUESTION: There’ll be more. No, I get it. I’m sorry.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Okay.

QUESTION: Is that new money? It has not been previously announced or spent, or this is an additional chunk of money that is now going to start going out the door?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: It’s new; it has not been previously announced or spent. But it’s – it is already appropriated to us by the Congress.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: Yeah.

QUESTION: This Congress, okay, okay. Got it. Great, thank you so much.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: But also it’s --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: And it’s a mix of refugee assistance from my bureau, and the food aid and assistance to NGOs through AID.

MODERATOR: Carol. Carol.

QUESTION: You talked about the recognition this year that this is going to be a protracted --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Protracted.

QUESTION: -- emergency. And obviously, the peace talks in Geneva are at least temporarily halted, maybe long – maybe more than temporary. I was wondering if that suggests to you that you are about to be overwhelmed by an even bigger tide of refugees this year, and if – what impact what’s going on in Geneva has on what you are attempting to do here today.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Well, I don’t see a big difference in what’s happening today based on Geneva. However, I do see a big difference this year over previous years because of the migration to Europe. And I think you see that reflected in the fact that there are three European governments cohosting this year. And there’s just much more focus on refugees and migration at this event, but also in the events that are coming up later this year. I’ll be back here in April because DFID is having an event with World Bank and High Commissioner for Refugees, UNHCR, and also the World Humanitarian Summit is doing more focus on displacement now. So I see a difference because of the migration, definitely.

MODERATOR: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Can I just drill down on the 290 million figure? So this is part of a 325 million allocation that’s already been made? Can you just sort of tell us where this money comes from, how much of it is new above and beyond what has already been announced? And is this going to all be in this year’s – like, the next budget (inaudible)?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO: So – right, so this is Fiscal Year ’15 and ’16 development assistance for Lebanon and Jordan combined.

QUESTION: So already appropriated?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO: So already appropriated. The reason you will see differences in the 290 and the 325 is because the President hasn’t delivered his Fiscal Year ’17 budget to Congress. So we are not announcing that piece of it, which is why we’re saying approximately 300 million, because we expect the ’17 number to be additional to that. But we’re not in a position to announce it at this point. So the 290 that you have, which we’re saying is approximately 300, is made up of our education assistance, and specifically related to Jordan and Lebanon, infrastructure school repair. None of these schools – these are all agreed to with the Jordanian Government, but we have not started the work yet. And we hope to be putting this in a joint fund with the Jordanian Government to work on 25 specific schools that we will be building, 130 that we will be rehabilitating, and 150 that we are adding additional classrooms to. So that makes up part of the 290.

QUESTION: Do you have a breakdown between Jordan and Lebanon and how much of this goes to --

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO: Yes, I do, and I will give that to you in a second.

QUESTION: All of the 290 goes to those two neighboring --

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO: Those two – yes, those two neighboring --

QUESTION: -- (inaudible).

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO: So two – excuse me – 230 – 230 for Jordan and 62 for Lebanon.

QUESTION: So you already agreed with the plans for these countries. So it’s --

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO: No --

QUESTION: This is not a new pledge; it’s just new – it hasn’t been spent yet? You’ve already talked to them about spending --

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO: Right. We have been working with them on specifying the essential areas and communities that need this, and so this has been part of a discussion. And as our money has flowed in, we have committed to working in those very specific areas. And so that – we’ve – we have not gotten all the money yet, which is why the discussions have started, because we know that we will have an ongoing commitment. And so at this point, we’ve picked these 25 schools, but we’ve not been able to put them in.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: The U.S. Government --

QUESTION: (Inaudible) Jordan and Lebanon breakdown? Sorry.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO: Sure. 230 and 62.

QUESTION: 230 for – yeah.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO: 230 for Jordan, 62 for Lebanon.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: The U.S. Government has always been interested in education, but – and that’s something that USAID is very strong in. But what’s different now is this concentration among a lot of world leaders to not lose a generation of Syrian children inside Syria and Syrian refugee children outside Syria in the region. And so we see a lot of support in the Administration for calling attention to this, to devoting resources to it, and also to trying to get private sector funding and smart people around the world – not just government aid officials – to focus on this.

So Tony Blinken, the Deputy Secretary of State, has had a number of in-depth discussions with education experts about how we can do more. And we’ll be meeting with UNICEF later today. UNHCR is very interested in this. And it’s – the idea is not just to benefit the Syrian children, but to make sure that the Jordanian and the Lebanese children whose schools are going to second shifts to accommodate extra kids, that they don’t lose out also.

So – and that’s partly why Malala is here, to talk about education needs of children. And then she also insisted on bringing a young lady who is a Syrian refugee to speak also. She wouldn’t show up unless this refugee girl was also given a moment.

MODERATOR: That’s great.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO: And she was very active this morning.

QUESTION: So the 230 and 62, that was the money? Or – I see that’s the same numbers as the refugees.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO: Yeah. I was about to say, I was just – I was just about to correct myself on that.

QUESTION: Okay.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO: So thank you. So the number for Jordan – the problem is we went down from 325 – is 300, and the number --

QUESTION: 300 million?

QUESTION: Million?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO: I’m sorry. The problem is we went down between when I left here – I’m trying to get you to the 290. So come back to me.

QUESTION: It’s million, right?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO: Yeah.

QUESTION: Well, but you just said 300.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO: Yeah, 20 – yeah, no, so – 21.7 – I’m just trying to do the math here, because it’s not laid out for me properly. So give me one second.

QUESTION: Take your time.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO: Yeah, thanks. Yeah. So it is – God, I’m trying to figure out – 15 – that 17 number – 27 --

QUESTION: We don’t want to focus – focus on the numbers either.

QUESTION: We’re not --

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO: Yeah – thank you, yeah.

QUESTION: That’s why --

QUESTION: (Inaudible) mistake, and we have put out corrections.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO: Right, no, no, that’s why I’m trying to – I want to get this now. So the – yeah. I mean, just come back to me, because the problem once we hit the 17 number in here, we’re not as good on my papers, and now we’ve taken it out. So I just want to give you the right number.

QUESTION: The 17 number?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO: Now – so the previous conversation, the 290 is the number that we are talking about now. That is the development assistance number. So we’re saying we’ve also heard the Secretary --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: That we have appropriated.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO: -- appropriated the 290. So I am just trying to --

QUESTION: For FY ’16?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO: Yeah.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: It’s already been --

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: ’15 and ’16.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO: ’15 and ’16, so for the ’15, /’16 year.

QUESTION: Right.

QUESTION: Was there a bottom line? What’s new – the – what is new money?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO: This is the pledge, the – yeah, the 290. The 290, so --

QUESTION: The 290?

QUESTION: That’s new?

QUESTION: Okay.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO: Yeah.

QUESTION: And can you give us the – I’m sorry, can you get us the Jordan/Lebanon split?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO: Yeah, I will get you the split.

QUESTION: All right. Thank you.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: And can I --

QUESTION: I just have some substantial questions.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Can I just say one thing? When we talk, we’re not only talking about the refugees, but we are talking about those communities here as well.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO: Mm-hmm, right.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Which is obviously an important message to the countries, because of the burden that they’re facing.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO: Yeah.

QUESTION: So the UN had a report today, and – about aid, and it suggested that only half of what it spends actually reaches individuals. Do you guys have a tooth-to-tail kind of estimate on how much that you guys provide actually gets to Syria versus how much is overhead and waste and --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: UN issued a report that said half of their funding is overhead? I can’t believe that.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: That’s very – yeah.

QUESTION: Yeah, pretty much.

MODERATOR: I haven’t seen that.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: That doesn’t sound right.

QUESTION: Well, is it too high or too low? I’ve heard worse before.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: It should be about 7 percent.

QUESTION: Well, maybe it was – well, it said 50 percent.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO: U.S. taxpayers wouldn’t stand for that. Yeah that’s just accurate.

MODERATOR: We’ll look at that.

QUESTION: And then the other thing about that version – you said it’s very low. How much do you estimate it to be on the aid front?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: We estimate it to be below 1 percent (inaudible) version.

QUESTION: One percent. And then how do your guys operate, like, when you come from the north of – the southeast Turkey to the north – to northern Syria with Nusrah and other groups there? Do they get right of free passage by Nusrah, or do they have armed – do they fight against Nusrah? How are they --

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: No.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: No fighting.

QUESTION: How are they escaping them all the time? It seems --

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: No fighting, yeah.

QUESTION: It seems improbable that they seem to avert Nusrah every time.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: It’s – yeah. No, what they do is they work through local organizations. And often that’s a local council that existed there even before al-Nusrah came and so on. And as long as they can operate independently and not be – and not have to pay some sort of a tax or anything like that, they’re able to continue, and we support that. But we’re in touch with them, I mean, literally weekly if not daily through our partners to make sure that that’s the case. And as long as they’re able to operate independently and without any diversion, we want to support that because there are needy people there.

So what they have – they have to negotiate access and they have to negotiate their ability to operate independently. So in some areas, for instance, we would not provide commodities because there’s too much of a danger of it – of them being diverted, okay. But we might still be able to do, say, health care or repairing broken water systems because that’s less likely to be taken. And so there are some areas, for instance, we can’t get food commodities in or things like that, but we can still do other things.

So it’s something that we continually monitor and continually refine, and sometimes we have to turn things off for a few months until they negotiate the independence again, and then we can start up.

QUESTION: Are you finding, or do you guys have any metrics that would sort of indicate how much more that is the case now than it was? Like, is it becoming increasingly the case that you’re having trouble with access, or not as much? And do you attribute that to what’s going on on the ground, or your growing expertise in trying to figure out how to navigate it, or what?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: Yeah. I mean, I would definitely say that it’s getting increasingly difficult. Obviously, with the expansion of the Islamic State, that cut off large areas. In a few Islamic State areas we were able to operate for a while, but basically that has now been pretty much all stopped. In some of the other areas, it – we were able to continue, but it certainly got more difficult. And then, of course, now you have the besieged areas where you can’t even get access into the areas.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: It’s a tenet of international humanitarian law that civilians should be able to get aid and that they should also have freedom of movement so they can get away. And so it’s been a hallmark of the conflict inside Syria that all those humanitarian laws are flouted and that combatants attack civilians and that they stop them from getting aid and that they trap them in places. And this has been the case of combatants on all sides. And so it’s part of what makes this such a horrible tragedy.

Was this (inaudible)?

QUESTION: This was something the U.S. had a problem with too, in Iraq, is there not being – for example, the siege of Fallujah was completely – Fallujah was completely sealed and no civilians could get out either. So it seems to be a problem broader than Syria, if I’m not mistaken.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Yeah. What’s tricky about Syria – I mean, yes, in other places there’s problems with international humanitarian law. We work with the International Red Cross to try to – and support their efforts to try to teach international humanitarian law to combatants. So like, where do you even begin, though, with ISIL? So it’s something that’s been a major frustration, I know, for them.

And the other thing about Syria is that its communities are being encircled, fully encircled, so they can’t go anywhere. They can’t retreat or go forward.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Yeah. And of the 18 areas that the UN considers besieged, 15 are considered to be besieged by the regime, one by Daesh, but that’s a very large one, and a couple by the opposition.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: And those two by the opposition may soon – the opposition may be overrun in those areas with the things going on now. So --

MODERATOR: Any other questions? Well, great. Thank you so much. And thanks to all of you for helping walk us through this significant contribution. We really appreciate it.

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