Remarks to the Friends of the Syrian People

William J. Burns
Deputy Secretary
Marrakech, Morocco
December 12, 2012

I want to thank Foreign Minister Othmani and the Kingdom of Morocco for hosting this very important gathering and for your leadership on behalf of the Syrian people. We were all saddened to hear of the murder of your honorary consul to Syria earlier this month. Our thoughts and prayers today are with him and with all those suffering under Asad’s war. This atrocity must end, the dignity of Syrians must be respected and a democratic transition must begin.

All of us are frustrated that this terrible conflict persists. But with every day that passes, the regime’s hold on power weakens. Territory slips from its grasp. The opposition becomes more unified and organized. In a growing number of towns and villages, a new Syria is being born. The regime of Bashar al-Asad must and will go. The sooner he steps aside, the better for all Syrians.

The international community and the Friends of the Syrian People must do all we can to hasten this process and lay the groundwork for a peaceful, democratic future for Syria. The United States is pressing ahead on three fronts.

First, here in Marrakesh, we are working to achieve a peaceful political transition. The United States joined our partners in taking an important step forward. We have now recognized the Syrian Opposition Council as the legitimate representative of the Syrian people. We have extended an invitation to Moaz al-Khatib and the Coalition leadership to visit Washington at the earliest opportunity. And I look forward to meeting with key members of the Coalition later today.

I want to reaffirm that we support the diplomacy of Joint Special Envoy Brahimi. We have been intensively engaged with Special Envoy Brahimi, our Russian counterparts, and other partners to assist him in his efforts to bring about an effective political transition as outlined in the Geneva communiqué -- the core element of which is a transitional governing body, formed on the basis of mutual consent, which would exercise full executive power. Talk of peace may sound distant in a time of conflict. A transition is coming, one way or another. But we continue to maintain that the best way forward is for Asad to give way to an effective transitional governing body and ultimately to an inclusive, democratic post-Asad Syria.

At the same time, we are also increasing international pressure on the Asad regime. We are tightening sanctions and working to hold perpetrators of human rights abuses accountable for their crimes. And we have sent a stark warning regarding chemical weapons, and joined NATO in defending our ally Turkey with Patriot missile batteries.

Second, to help address the growing humanitarian crisis, we are providing an additional $14 million to get emergency medical care to those who need it most and to help Syrians prepare for the coming winter. This includes essential medicines and surgical supplies, special nutritional supplements for 225,000 hungry children and everything from heavy-duty plastic insulation to blankets and boots for thousands of families. This brings our total humanitarian assistance to more than $210 million reaching more than 1.5 million Syrians inside and outside their country. And we are committed to do more to coordinate our assistance with the Opposition Coalition.

Third, all of us have work to do to be ready for the democratic transition we are working to hasten. In Doha last month, opponents of the Asad regime from across the political spectrum -- inside and outside the country -- took an important step forward when they united behind the new Syrian Opposition Coalition.

This leadership comes with real responsibilities. We look to the Coalition to continue creating more formal structures within the opposition and to accelerate planning for a democratic political transition that protects the rights, the dignity, and the aspirations of all Syrians and all communities. That means taking concrete steps to include women and minorities; engage with religious leaders and civil society; and discourage reprisals and inter-communal violence.

The United States will support these efforts as a friend and partner. We are contributing approximately $50 million to help civil society and civilian opposition groups communicate, organize, and evade regime attacks. And we are providing direct support to local councils identified by the Coalition as they begin providing basic services and governance.

We also look to the Coalition to stand firm against extremists who would hijack the resistance for their own ends or sow division among Syria’s communities. Human rights abuses cannot be tolerated, no matter who commits them. They will only weaken the Syria you hope to inherit.

This week, the United States designated the extremist group al-Nusrah Front as a terrorist organization. This group is little more than a front for al-Qaida in Iraq and we urge all our friends and partners to join our efforts.

In recent weeks, we have seen Syrians take to the streets in places like Damascus, Aleppo, and Idlib expressing strong support for the vision of the Coalition. Now the task is to make that vision real. To offer a true alternative to the Asad regime -- democratic and inclusive rather than dictatorial and divisive.

The road ahead will not be easy. But it holds the enormous promise of a better future for all Syrians, with the strong support of all of us in the international community.

Thank you.