Press Availability on the London Conference

Hillary Rodham Clinton
Secretary of State
Foreign Commonwealth Office
London, United Kingdom
February 23, 2012

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, good evening. And I want to begin by thanking the prime minister and the foreign secretary for hosting us. This has been a busy and quite substantive day, and I highly congratulate the government for making this conference one that we all felt at the end of it had been worthwhile and hopeful that we’re going to be able to continue our efforts successfully. Before taking your questions, I want to touch briefly on a few highlights, both from the conference and from other meetings that I have been holding up until about 10 minutes ago.

I’ll begin with Somalia. Today’s conference coincided with the halfway point of the roadmap to end the transition in Somalia, which spells out the steps for building a stable government after decades of erratic rule. On August 20th of 2012, the Transitional Federal Government’s mandate expires, and the international community has been clear that we do not support another extension. It is time to move forward to a more stable and unified era for the Somali people.

Today, the international community and Somali political leaders discussed what needs to happen next, in particular, the steps Somalis themselves agreed to in December: convening an assembly to approve a constitution, forming a new parliament, and electing a president and speaker. We also addressed the security dimension, from piracy to al-Shabaab. As the AU mission and the Somali national security force expand control of territory – and just yesterday, as you know, al-Shabaab lost control of a key southwestern city – we must all keep al-Shabaab on the run. That means making additional financial and training contributions to AMISOM as the United States continues to do, and implementing the Security Council’s ban on imports of Somali charcoal.

Al-Shabaab’s announcement recently that it has joined al-Qaida proves yet again it is not on the side of peace, stability, or the Somali people. Negotiating with al-Shabaab would be the wrong path. But the United States will engage with Somalis who denounce al-Shabaab’s leadership and embrace the political roadmap and the fundamental rights and freedoms of all Somalis.

Today, I announced the United States is providing an additional $64 million in humanitarian assistance to the Horn of Africa, bringing our total emergency assistance, since 2011, up to more than $934 million, including more than 211 million for Somalia alone. And looking ahead, as the security and political situation improves in Somalia, the United States will consider a more permanent, diplomatic presence there.

Now turning to Syria, first let me say that our thoughts and prayers are with the families of Marie Colvin and Remy Ochlik, the two journalists killed this week, and with the thousands of families of Syrians who have been killed and wounded in the brutal onslaught that the Assad regime continues to rain down on their own people.

Today, I had a chance to meet with a number of key partners and allies in preparation for tomorrow’s Friends of Syria conference in Tunis. This meeting comes on the heels of the overwhelming vote in the UN General Assembly, which condemned the Assad regime’s widespread and systematic violations of human rights and backed the Arab League’s plan for a negotiated, peaceful, political transition to solve this crisis.

Tunis will be an important opportunity to begin turning international consensus into action. We look forward to concrete progress on three fronts: providing humanitarian relief, increasing pressure on the regime, and preparing for a democratic transition. To that end, we hope to see new pledges of emergency assistance for Syrians caught in Assad’s stranglehold and international coordination and diplomatic pressure on Damascus to convince it to allow humanitarian aid to those who need it most. We also expect additional nations to impose effective sanctions against the regime, and we look to all countries to aggressively implement the measures they have already adopted.

Finally, we hope to hear from the Syrian opposition about their vision for a post-Assad Syria that is governed by the rule of law and respects and protects the universal rights of every citizen regardless of religion, ethnicity, sect, or gender, because, after all, we must never lose sight of what this is about: a regime making war on its own people, families suffering in cities under siege, a nation brought to the brink of chaos. We cannot allow the obstruction of a few countries to stop the world community from coming to the aid of the Syrian people. And that is what we will discuss tomorrow.

Next, Pakistan. Foreign Minister Khar and I had a constructive discussion of our common concerns, from confronting violent extremism, to supporting Afghan-led reconciliation, to improving our bilateral relationship. Building and sustaining a relationship based on mutual interest and mutual respect takes constant care and work from both sides, from the daily engagements of our embassies to high-level meetings like the one we had today. Now, I am sure we will continue to have our ups and downs, but this relationship is simply too important to turn our back on it for both nations. And we both, therefore, remain committed to continue working to improve understanding and cooperation.

Finally, I also consulted with allies and partners about a range of other issues, particularly Iran’s continued refusal to address international concerns about its nuclear program.

So it’s been a full day, and I think it’s a testament to the leadership of our hosts on so many critical issues that so many leaders gathered and not only attended the conference but worked diligently all day to try to translate the words of the conference into future actions that we are all committed to taking.

I’m very grateful, once again, to the prime minister and the foreign secretary for their hospitality and their partnership. We look forward to welcoming the prime minister to Washington in a few weeks to continue the discussions that we have had on a regular basis that are so important to us both.

I’d now be happy to take your questions.

MODERATOR: We’ll take four today, the first one from Reuters. Arshad Mohammed.

QUESTION: Secretary Clinton, a U.S. official said that the Friends of Syria are going to challenge Assad to provide humanitarian access to besieged civilian populations within days. What are you going to do if Assad does not provide access within days?

Second, you said you had a constructive discussion with Foreign Minister Khar. What, if any, commitments did she give you to try to improve the relationship, work together on Afghanistan and on counterterrorism?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, look, as I’ve said, Arshad, the efforts that we are undertaking with the international community, continuing with the first Friends of Syria meeting in Tunis tomorrow, are intended to demonstrate the Assad regime’s deepening isolation and the resolve of a vast majority of nations to support the Syrian people in their demand that the violence end, that the suffering be addressed, that the democratic transition begin.

So tomorrow, we will be discussing a range of options, from tightening sanctions to increasing humanitarian relief to helping the opposition, which will be represented in Tunis, in its efforts to represent all Syrians – Sunni, Allawi, Christian, Druze, Kurd, minorities, women – to be able to strengthen their position as the voice of so many Syrians whose voices cannot be heard right now from Syria.

Our immediate focus is on increasing the pressure. We’ve got to find ways to get food, medicine, and other humanitarian assistance into those affected by violence. We have begun to explore ways with our partners as to how that might be done.

But this takes time and it takes a lot of diplomacy, old-fashioned outreach, dialogue, planning that we’ve been doing now for several weeks which we continued in meetings today. But I think there is a great resolve and commitment and there is an openness to exploring what can work.

So I can’t prejudge the outcome of Tunis tomorrow other than to say there will be a very broad cross-section of nations and organizations represented. We believe that the Syrian National Council, which will be there sitting at the table, will show that there is an alternative to the Assad regime, one that respects the rights of all Syrians. And we’re going to take this day by day, but I am encouraged by the progress we are making together.

Now, regarding Pakistan, as you know, the Pakistani Government is in the midst of a process that includes their parliament being able to speak on issues concerning our bilateral relationship. And when the government, including the parliament, has completed this process, we will consult on the way forward. But as always, today’s conversation gave us a very important opportunity to keep the lines of communication open, because there’s always, in difficult times, which I admit we are in with respect to our relationship with Pakistan, a lot of swirling in the air of who said what, when, et cetera, that does not accurately reflect the state of the relationship.

And we’re continuing to do a lot of work together. The work hasn’t stopped. And I value these regular consultations, and we will be proceeding based on the broad discussion we had of about an hour and a half today.

MODERATOR: Next question, Ali Dahir, Shabelle Media Network.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

SECRETARY CLINTON: Here comes the microphone, sir.

QUESTION: Sorry. Thank you. Secretary of State, thank you very much. You just indicated in your speech that Somalia will inform their own parliament and choose president as well as the speaker of parliament and they will be appointed by prime minister. And Somalis are sick and tired of a political representative that has been selected rather than by – elected by Somali people. So would that mean business as usual, another years of anarchy and chaos in Somalia? Because there will be a government that does not have the trust and confidence and support of people.

Second things: U.S. policy toward Somalia was a dual-track policy which most of Somalis see this another way of dividing the country and undermining the TFG or maybe American Government. Would – that policy will be still in place after post August 2012?

And my final question is: Will you support air strike in al-Shabaab-controlled area, and will you please guarantee that there will not be a civilian casualty in Somalia? Thank you.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, first, the roadmap calls for elections, it calls for a new parliament to be formed that is much smaller but more representative than the large, unwieldy body that exists now. But legitimacy comes through elections, so it is our intention to support very strongly the drafting of a constitution that takes into account the interests of all Somalis – not from one region, one clan, one subclan, but all Somalis; that it also is our intention to see this constitution adopted through a vote of the representatives of the people.

And I made very clear in my remarks this morning that speaking for the United States, there will be no more delays. We think the Somali people have waited long enough. And there is every reason to believe that given the right political environment, the Somalis – people of all parts of Somalia – can govern themselves very well. They do a lot of that today on their own with no help from a government in Mogadishu or any outside help.

So we have no doubt that, structured properly, the right kind of constitution, the right set of elections, the right people being elected, will put Somalia on a much more secure path forward. We also believe in a unified Somalia. Now, how Somalis themselves determine what that means is up to you. Our country has 50 states; we are a federal system. So that may be something that you would look at. Or take another example of a state that is arranged differently but takes into account the legitimate constituencies that exist throughout the country.

What was so important about this conference and why we are grateful to the Government of the UK is that it comes at the halfway point. The roadmap is six months in, six months to go.

Now regarding your last question, I think that the AMISOM forces, the TFG forces, the Ethiopian forces, others, the Kenyans who will be integrated into the AMISOM forces, are doing a very good job. We see a lot of progress on the ground. I am not a military strategist, but I think I know enough to say airstrikes would not be a good idea. And we have absolutely no reason to believe anyone – certainly not the United States – anyone is considering that. The progress that is being made on the ground by the forces who are trying to free Somalia from the grip of al-Shabaab has to continue. But it is, I think, encouraging to see how much has been accomplished.

MODERATOR: Next one, Wyatt Andrews, CBS News.

QUESTION: Madam Secretary, going back to the humanitarian aid, this is a long time coming. I mean, what makes you or the members of this alliance believe that Assad will simply allow in the humanitarian aid where he hasn’t done so before? And following up on the previous question, is there a plan if he simply refuses to allow the aid in?


QUESTION: Secondly, if I might, do I understand you correctly on the SNC? Does the United States now consider the Syrian National Council to be a credible alternative to Assad? Because that sounds new.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, they will be at the conference tomorrow. They will have a seat at the table as a representative of the Syrian people. And we think it’s important to have Syrians represented. And the consensus opinion by the Arab League and all the others who are working and planning this conference is that the SNC is a credible representative, and therefore they will be present.

It’s also true, Wyatt, that I cannot, standing here today, predict exactly how this will unfold. But we are seeing increasing defections. We are seeing a lot of pressure on the inner regime. There is growing evidence that some of the officials in the Syrian Government are beginning to hedge their bets – moving assets, moving family members, looking for a possible exit strategy. We see a lot of developments that we think are pointing to pressure on Assad. We hope it will pressure him to make the right decision regarding humanitarian assistance. But in the event that he continues to refuse, we think that the pressure will continue to build.

So it’s a fluid situation. But if I were a betting person for the medium term and certainly the long term, I would be betting against Assad.

MODERATOR: Last one today, Glen Oglaza, Sky News.

QUESTION: Thank you very much. I just wanted to pick up on the airstrikes in Somalia, first of all, because about an hour or so ago in this room, the prime minister of Somalia said that he would welcome airstrikes against al-Shabaab. So I just wondered if the Americans would contain that or possibly even participate in it.

SECRETARY CLINTON: I have to – I wasn’t here to hear what the prime minister said, but I have no military rationale for airstrikes in this kind of conflict. If there is some argument to be made, I would certainly be interested in it, but I don’t know who would do it.

QUESTION: On Syria, isn’t the reality that Assad is intent on annihilating the opposition, as his father did before him; and without the Russians and the Chinese, and short of military intervention, there’s frankly nothing anyone can do about it?

And I wondered if I could ask you about Christopher Tappin, who is a 65-year-old British man who’s being extradited to the States tomorrow. He’s accused of supplying missile parts to the Iranians. He says he’s innocent and that he should be tried in British courts, not extradited to the United States. Thank you.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, as to the last question, we have an extradition treaty, as you know, between us, and there are certain laws and procedures to be followed. They have been followed in this case. The gravamen of the complaint is based in U.S. law, and that’s where he will be tried.

Regarding Syria, I think the – the fact is that when Assad’s father conducted his horrific attacks back in the early ’80s, there was no internet, there was no Twitter, there were no social communication sites. There was no satellite television. There were no on-the-ground witnesses. It’s much harder, and thankfully so, to have that level of brutality, shelling with artillery your own people, not be known by everyone, most particularly your own people, not after the fact but in real time. Therefore, I think that the strategy followed by the Syrians and their allies is one that can’t stand the test of legitimacy or even brutality for any length of time.

There will be increasingly capable opposition forces. They will, from somewhere, somehow, find the means to defend themselves as well as begin offensive measures. And the pressure will build on countries like Russia and China, because world opinion is not going to stand idly by. Arab opinion is not going to be satisfied, watching two nations – one for commercial reasons, one for commercial and ideological reasons – bolster a regime that is defying every rule of modern international norms.

So I know it’s not a satisfying answer to say we have to take this day by day, but that’s my answer: We have to take this day by day. But it is clear to me that there will be a breaking point. I wish it would be sooner, so that more lives would be saved, than later. But I have absolutely no doubt there will be such a breaking point. And I want the Syrian people who are suffering so mightily to know that the international community has not underestimated either their suffering or their impatience, and we are moving in an expeditious but deliberate manner. And I also want those Syrians who are still uncertain about what would come after Assad – and there are so many of them with understandable reasons who fear what would happen to them because of who they are or what – how they worship, or what their political beliefs are – I want them to understand that we also appreciate their concerns and fears. But we think that – there is no doubt in our mind that a political transition that respects the rights of every Syrian and puts in place a democratic process will be, by far, the best outcome for them and their children.

So thank you.

MODERATOR: Thank you all very much.

PRN: 2012/T60-05