Interview With Clarissa Ward of CBS News

Hillary Rodham Clinton
Secretary of State
Istanbul Congress Center
Istanbul, Turkey
April 1, 2012

QUESTION: Madam Secretary, thank you so much for --


QUESTION: -- taking the time to talk with us. I wanted to begin by talking about former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan’s six-point plan. During the week since Bashar al-Assad claimed to accept the plan, there’s been no let-up in the violence, and I just wanted to ask you, at what point do we say that this plan has been a failure? What is the deadline?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, Clarissa – excuse me, let me start over again – Clarissa, let me say that the plan is a good plan. It’s getting it implemented, as you point out, which is the real challenge. And we’re going to hear from Kofi Annan to the Security Council tomorrow, so we’ll get a firsthand report. But as you saw coming out of this conference, there does need to be a timeline. We cannot permit Assad and his regime and his allies to allow what is a good faith negotiating process by a very expert, experienced negotiator to be used as an excuse for continuing the killing. We think Assad must go. The killing must stop. The sooner we get into a process that ends up there, the better. And I think former Secretary General Annan understands that.

QUESTION: But how do you enforce that timeline?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I think it’s self-enforced. I think he has to be the one who says, within a relatively short period of time, we’re not getting any results, I was given promises, they’re not kept. Because then we would go back to the Security Council. Now, what will Russia and China say? Kofi Annan has gone to Moscow, he’s gone to Beijing, he’s met with them. They support his plan. They have urged publicly that Assad follow the plan. So if we have to go back to the Security Council to get authority that would enable us to do more to help the Syrians really withstand this kind of terrible assault and get the aid that they need to get the humanitarian assistance they require, I think we’ll be in a stronger position than we would if he hadn’t had a chance to go and try to negotiate.

QUESTION: So one of the primary functions of the Friends of Syria is to provide support for the opposition, but up to this point, we still don’t see any real coordination and communication among the different both armed and political opposition groups inside Syria. How much of a frustration is that for you as you go through this process?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I’m encouraged by what we heard today, and I met privately with representatives of the Syrian National Council. They are making progress. They have unified around a compact, a national pact, about what they want to see in a new Syria, which is important, because then that sets the parameters for the kind of opposition that will be under their umbrella. They have reached out and included a much more diverse group of Syrians than when I met with them in Tunis or the first time in Geneva. They’re making progress. This is quite difficult, but I am encouraged.

What they need is what we are now offering. We are offering assistance to them, and it’s a variety of different sorts of assistance. The United States will be offering – in addition to significant humanitarian aid – will be offering technical and logistical support. You mentioned communications. They have a great deal of difficulty communicating inside Syria. You were there. You know how hard it is. We think we have some assets that we can get in there which we would try to do that will enable them to have better communication. So everyone’s looking to see what they can provide that is value-added for the opposition.

QUESTION: But no clear leader has emerged who can articulate what the opposition’s political vision for their country is.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I think that leaders have emerged who have played a very important role, and I thought the presentation by Professor Ghalioun was good today in how he set forth what their objectives were. But in this kind of fast-moving event, more people will come to the forefront. I met a very impressive young woman who just left Homs who is now active in the Syrian National Council. She looks to me to be an up-and-coming leader.

So I don’t think we can sit here today and say who is the leader, but by assisting the Syrian National Council, we are assisting the leadership, and there will be leaders within the civilian side of that, and there will be leaders within the military side.

QUESTION: We were recently inside Syria in the north in the city of Idlib, and the rebels who we were staying with now tell us that they have no ammunition left, they have no money left, and that their only recourse for self defense is to build IEDs or bombs. Obviously, there is a host of very complex issues associated with arming the opposition, or rebel groups specifically, but are you not concerned that if no support comes from the outside, that this could really devolve into a very bloody, ugly insurgency, and that if we aren’t the ones to provide that help, other non-state actors like extremist groups such as al-Qaida might be the ones to fill that void?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I think that’s why you heard today that a group of nations will be providing assistance for the fighters, and that is a decision that is being welcomed by the Syrian National Council. The United States will be doing other kinds of assistance. Other countries will as well. So we have evolved from trying to get our arms around what is an incredibly complex issue with a just nascent opposition that has now become much more solidified with a lot of doubts inside Syria itself from people who were either afraid of the Assad regime or afraid of what might come after to a much clearer picture, where we are now, I think, proceeding on a path that is going to have some positive returns.

QUESTION: Do you see any signs that Bashar al-Assad is starting to crack, that his regime is starting to feel the pressure, that conferences like this one are really having some kind of an impact?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, today, we heard from a deputy oil minister who defected, and certainly, his presentation to the large group suggested that, because the pressure that is being put on those who are still allied with the regime from outside and inside is increasing – the sanctions, the travel bans, the kinds of reputational loss, the fears that people are having, because as you are engaged in this kind of terrible authoritarian crackdown, people get paranoid and they start worrying about the guy sitting next to them. We do see those kinds of cracks. We think that the defections from the military are in the thousands. We know that there are perhaps two dozen high officers --

QUESTION: But there haven’t been more defections in the way that we saw in Libya from Assad’s inner circle.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, partly because when there were a couple of defections, the regime has cracked down and was basically holding families hostage. In fact, the man who spoke to us today, his family had gotten out ahead in Jordan, so he was free to leave. But that is an unsustainable position. You cannot turn the whole country into a giant prison. People are not going to put up with that after a while. So we think that there are cracks. I can’t put a timeframe on it, but we think that that is beginning to happen.

QUESTION: Madam Secretary, thank you so much for your time.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you. Great to talk to you.

QUESTION: Likewise.


PRN: 2012/ T61-02