Remarks on Syria: Questions and Answers Session

Hillary Rodham Clinton
Secretary of State
Istanbul, Turkey
August 11, 2012

Question and Answer video, part 1

QUESTION: Madam Secretary, for you, can you tell us a little bit more in detail about your meeting with the opposition activists? Did you get a better sense of whether they are really prepared to be able to be involved in leading a transition? What kind of questions did you ask them about who is actually doing the fighting on the ground? And what kind of answers did you get?

And then, for both of you, there has been a lot of talk about this common operational picture. What exactly is that common operational picture? Does it involve the potential of this corridor from Aleppo, north to the border here, turning into some kind of safe haven? And does it include anything on how to deal with the chemical weapons that everyone has expressed concern about? Thank you.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, first, with respect to the activists with whom I met, I listened carefully to their descriptions of what each was doing. One young man had just come out of Aleppo, and was intending to return. They, to a person -- there were both men and women there -- are committed to a pluralistic, democratic, inclusive Syria. And each is doing his or her part.

There is work going on about telling the story. There is no free media inside Syria, as there is, very evidently, here in Turkey. So how does the story get out in an authoritative way?

And another talking about the work being done on justice and accountability, documenting the abuses that are occurring so that there will be no impunity when there finally is a new government and a new opportunity for the Syrian people to hold those who perpetrated these abuses accountable.

A lot of attention, particularly from the women, to what is happening to women inside Syria, the abuses that they are subjected to by the regime, the need for women to be partners in a new Syria, to be heard and to participate as they try to form the basis for a transition.

We heard from the representatives of the students who are still peacefully protesting on university campuses and trying to organize and support the opposition. There was concern expressed about the apparent lack of unity among the outside opposition and a hope that, as one young man said, the opposition will rise to the occasion and be able to present a unified front, both inside and outside of Syria, going forward.

We heard firsthand, as I said, from the young man who had just been in Aleppo about the tremendous courage of those who are withstanding the assaults from tanks and aircraft, and how important it is to work for ways to support those on the ground without making the suffering worse. There is a very clear understanding about the need to end this conflict quickly, but not doing it in a way that produces even more deaths, injuries, and destruction.

So, I came away very impressed by these young activists, and very committed to increasing the assistance we are already providing. Several of those present have already received support from the United States. As you know, we are providing $25 million in nonlethal aid, mostly communications, to civil society and activists. And I don't want to go into any further details as to how we are helping people, at the risk of endangering them at this time.

Regarding the planning, what the minister and I agreed to today was to have very intensive operational planning. We have been closely coordinating over the course of this conflict. But now we need to get into the real details of such operational planning. And it needs to be across both of our governments. Certainly our two ministries are coordinating much of it, but our intelligence services, our military, have very important responsibilities and roles to play. So we are going to be setting up a working group to do exactly that.

And both the minister and I saw eye-to-eye on the many tasks that are ahead of us, and the kinds of contingencies that we have to plan for, including the one you mentioned in the horrible event that chemical weapons were used. And everyone has made it clear to the Syrian regime that is a red line for the world -- what would that mean in terms of response and humanitarian and medical emergency assistance, and of course, what needs to be done to secure those stocks from every being used, or from falling into the wrong hands.

Question and Answer video, part 2

QUESTION: Hi. (Inaudible.) Madam Secretary, you mentioned you met Syrians this morning. But Syrians I have spoken to inside or outside Syria are extremely frustrated with international -- what they see as the international community's lack of response. And they basically feel left alone at this point.

You talked about non-lethal aid. You talked about post -- day-after planning. You talked about helping refugees. But in terms of given that Aleppo is being bombarded, and given that there is a huge suffering inside major cities and about roughly over 100 people die every day, have you also discussed actionable, tangible steps, whether it is safety zones, no-fly zones, Security Council resolutions, or other forms of assistance that could impact their day-to-day life?

And quickly, I wanted to follow up, if you don't mind, just -- there is a good deal of anxiety in Turkish public about the Kurdish presence and potential PKK presence in the northern parts of Syria. In your assessment, is this something that concerns you? And, you know, have you looked into the PKK presence or power? And what is your assessment on that? Thank you.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you. As to your first question, the issues you posed within your question are exactly the ones that the minister and I have agreed need greater in-depth analysis. It is one thing to talk about all kinds of potential actions. But you cannot make reasoned decisions without doing intense analysis and operational planning. And we share not only the frustration, but the anger and outrage of the Syrian people at what this regime continues to do. But we also are well aware that its brutality seems to know no bounds. And there is no -- you know, there is no doubt in the minds of the minister or myself that anything we do should be to hasten and lessen bloodshed, not to catalyze even greater and more horrible kinds of assaults.

So, really doing contingency planning, sorting this out, is what we have agreed to do. We have a very long list that we have gone through this morning on all kinds of issues, both before the inevitable fall of Assad and after. But we have to be very careful, and we have to do it in a way that always keeps in mind our goal, number one, is to hasten the end of the bloodshed and the Assad regime. That is our strategic goal. And we have to analyze everything against that goal. And then, of course, we want to be good partners in helping the Syrian people build the kind of democratic, pluralistic society and government that will respect human rights and restore a better future. So, this is how we are proceeding.

Regarding the PKK, let me just underscore that the United States remains strongly committed to the defense of our Turkish ally. Together we are working to root out violent extremism and to address the many regional security issues we face. And amongst those we stand firmly with Turkey against the PKK.

Now, your question was is there reason to worry about enhanced PKK activity arising out of the vacuum created by violence and the brutality of the regime within Syria, and the answer is yes. We worry about terrorists, PKK, al-Qaeda, and others taking advantage of the legitimate fight of the Syrian people for their freedom to use Syria to promote their own agendas, and even to perhaps find footholds to launch attacks against others.

So, we are absolutely committed to supporting Turkey against the PKK, and we will do so in any way that protects Turkey and the people of this nation from this kind of terrorism.