Remarks at the Friends of the Syrian People Ministerial Meeting
Secretary of State
For more than a year, those who spoke for the Syrian opposition said they did not want any foreign intervention. And we respected that. And it is something that we took seriously. Starting in Tunis and then in Istanbul and now in Paris, we are focused on determining what we can do to try to hasten the end of this regime and to provide the circumstances for an effective process of transition and reconciliation.
What was accomplished in Geneva by the action group was, for the very first time, to enlist not only all five permanent members of the Security Council including Russia and China, but also important leaders in the region and in the Arab League in support of such a transition. The issue now is to determine how best to put into action what was accomplished there and is continuing here. And I really hope everyone reads the communique from Geneva, because for example, one of the earlier speakers from Syria expressed concern there was nothing about political prisoners. Well, indeed there is. And a call for the release from detention. So it would be very helpful to get everybody on the same page if we’re going to work together about what we have already done and what we need to be doing as we move forward.
Under the Geneva communique, the opposition is for the first time put on an even basis with the government. They are given equal power in constituting the transition governing entity that will have, as we just heard, full executive authority. That could not have been imagined three months ago, let alone a year ago.
So although none of us here is satisfied or comfortable with what is still going on inside of Syria, because it is against every norm of international law and human decency for a government to be murdering its own people, there has been in the last several months, starting in Tunisia, a steady, inexorable march toward ending this regime. What we need to do is to follow through on what each of us can contribute to the end of the Assad regime and the beginning of a new day for Syria.
I applaud what was accomplished in Cairo a few days ago. It was the largest, most inclusive gathering of opponents to the Assad regime ever convened. They came together to support a detailed transition plan that builds on Kofi Annan’s guidelines. They created a follow-up committee, including some of Syria’s brightest young people – after all it is their future that we are hoping to improve – and we expect the Syrian opposition now to begin to implement that transition plan.
We also think it is imperative to go back to the Security Council and demand implementation of Kofi Annan’s plan, including the Geneva communique that Russia and China have already agreed to. So we now have them on record supporting a transition. And we should go back and ask for a resolution in the Security Council that imposes real and immediate consequences for non-compliance, including sanctions under Chapter VII.
Now what can every nation and group represented here do? I ask you to reach out to Russia and China and to not only urge, but demand that they get off the sidelines and begin to support the legitimate aspirations of the Syrian people. It is frankly not enough just to come to the Friends of the Syrian People, because I will tell you very frankly, I don’t think Russia and China believe they are paying any price at all – nothing at all – for standing up on behalf of the Assad regime. The only way that will change is if every nation represented here directly and urgently makes it clear that Russia and China will pay a price, because they are holding up progress – blockading it – that is no longer tolerable.
And let me also add that confronted with the regime’s non-compliance, it is difficult to imagine how the UN supervision mission can fulfill its responsibilities without a Chapter VII enforcement mechanism. I think General Mood and his team have performed an extraordinary task, but it is clear unarmed observers cannot monitor a ceasefire that does not exist.
Next, what can you all do? You can tighten the financial vise, squeezing the regime. The second meeting of the sanctions working group in Washington last month called for all states to take additional steps to freeze the assets of regime officials, restrict transactions with the commercial and central banks, and embargo Syrian oil. Since then, Switzerland, the European Union, Japan, and Australia have all announced additional measures. And the regime is becoming more isolated, which will help to hasten its end because its business support will finally turn on it.
Syria’s currency and foreign reserves have collapsed. Sanctions on oil alone have deprived Assad of billions of dollars in lost revenues, and his ability to finance his war grows more difficult by the day. What’s keeping him afloat is money from Iran and assistance from Russia and the failure of countries represented here to tighten and enforce sanctions. You cannot call for transition on the one hand and give the regime a free pass on sanctions on the other. So we need to push for even stronger implementation at the working group meeting next to be held in Doha on sanctions.
I am also pleased that the Syrian Justice and Accountability Center is now up and running, compiling evidence of serious violations of human rights, because, after all, there can be no impunity and we need the evidence in order to make sure there is none.
So increasing pressure in all these ways is critical because no transition plan can progress so long as the regime’s brutal assaults continue. And we cannot ask the opposition to unilaterally give up their struggle for justice, dignity, and self-determination. The United States will continue providing non-lethal assistance to help those inside Syria who are carrying the fight to organize and better communicate.
Now what else can we do? We can increase our humanitarian relief. The United States is providing more than $57 million to support humanitarian organizations, but unfortunately, the Syrian Humanitarian Response Plan is only 20 percent funded so far. So we all need to do more – not only now but in the future to assist with the reconstruction.
And although the stakes for the Syrian people are literally life and death, they are also significant for the entire world, because if Syria spirals further into civil war, not only will more civilians die, more refugees will stream across the borders, but instability will spread far beyond Syria.
This is a regime with a massive war machine. I’m sure many of you followed the back and forth I had with the Russian Government over sending the attack helicopters they were refurbishing back to Syria. And I thank the United Kingdom and other European countries for very clearly expressing their refusal to allow that ship to go forward. But there are still those who are funding the regime and providing war materiel. And they have shown no hesitance in continuing to do that. In fact, the Syrian Government itself has only escalated their violence over time.
Given their behavior – and the chemical weapons they possess – it is imperative that they understand their international responsibilities. So yes, what can we do? Right now, leaving this meeting, there are a number of things every one of us can do. And I hope that we will commit to doing so, because clearly our message must be: We are united in support of the Syrian people and in our absolute resolve to see the end of the Assad regime and a transition to a democratically-elected, representative government that gives the Syrian people a path forward. And I think that means we, at this time, must be firm and united in support of Special Envoy Kofi Annan’s plan and act accordingly.
Thank you very much. (Applause.)