Remarks at the Ad Hoc Friends of the Syrian People Ministerial
Secretary of State
This video is available on YouTube with closed captions.
But I must begin by acknowledging that conditions in Syria continue to deteriorate as the Assad regime relentlessly wages war on its own people. And we see more bodies filling hospitals and morgues, and more refugees leaving their homeland and flooding into neighboring countries. As President Obama told the General Assembly this week, the regime of Bashar al-Assad must come to an end so that the suffering of the Syrian people can stop and a new dawn can begin.
Now, it is no secret that our attempts to move forward at the UN Security Council have been blocked repeatedly. On Tuesday, I met with Joint Special Representative Brahimi to discuss alternative strategies, and I look forward to hearing all of your views today. But the United States is not waiting. We are taking new steps to meet the growing humanitarian needs of the Syrian people, to support the opposition as it moves toward an inclusive, democratic transition, and to further pressure and isolate the regime.
First, today I am announcing an additional $30 million to help get food, water, blankets, and critical medical services to people suffering under the relentless assaults, based on need, regardless of political affiliation. This brings the total U.S. humanitarian aid during this crisis to more than $130 million. As the need continues to grow, so must the emergency response. The UN appeal remains woefully underfunded. All of us in the international community have to step up, and I repeat our urgent call for all parties to ensure that humanitarian aid reaches those in need, to uphold international law, and particularly to protect medical facilities and personnel.
Second, today I am also announcing an additional $15 million to support Syrian civilian opposition groups, bringing our total support to the unarmed opposition to almost $45 million. That translates into more than 1,100 sets of communications equipment, including satellite-linked computers, telephones, and cameras, as well as training for more than 1,000 activists, students, and independent journalists. We are working to help them strengthen their networks, avoid regime persecution, and document human rights abuses.
As more parts of Syria’s control slip from the regime to the opposition, we’re supporting civilian opposition groups as they begin providing essential services – reopening schools, rebuilding homes, and the other necessities of life. Dedicated civil servants are working to preserve the institutions of the Syrian state while freeing them from the regime’s corrupt influence. In these places, we are seeing the emergence of a free Syria, and the United States is directing our efforts to support those brave Syrians who are laying the groundwork for a democratic transition from the ground up.
Over recent weeks, we have seen how important it is for people and leaders in nations transitioning to democracy to reject extremists who incite division, conflict, and violence. In Syria, a country that is home to a variety of religious and ethnic communities, this is especially important. We know the regime will do everything it can to pit communities against each other and that extremists will be eager to exploit tensions and impose their own brutal ideology. So the opposition and civil society will have to be especially vigilant against this threat and reassure minorities they will be safe in a post-Assad Syria.
It is encouraging to see some progress toward greater opposition unity, but we all know there is more work to be done. The United States supports the efforts of the opposition follow-up committee to build consensus around the transition plan agreed to in Cairo this summer. I understand there will be a meeting in Doha to continue the work of making the opposition stronger and more cohesive. And we look forward to hearing from representatives of several of the opposition groups about how they are moving forward.
The United States is also ratcheting up pressure on the Assad regime and deepening its isolation. Two weeks ago in Morocco, the United States joined with many of you to pledge more than $3 million in new support for the Syria Justice and Accountability Center and its efforts to document human rights violations inside Syria. And let me be clear: Human rights abuses cannot be tolerated, no matter who commits them.
At the recent meeting of the sanctions working group in The Hague, we reiterated our call for governments, private financial institutions, and businesses to do more to cut off the Assad regime from assets and income that fund its war machines. Those who continue doing business with entities and individuals associated with the regime risk being connected to sanctions violations, damaging their reputations, and exposing them to other potential consequences.
Our government also continues to expand sanctions against individuals and entities who help the regime procure weapons and communications equipment used in waging its war. Our most recent measures target Hezbollah leaders, an arms company in Belarus that is supplying fuses for aerial bombs used against civilians, and senior figures in Syria’s military.
But let’s be very frank here: The regime’s most important lifeline is Iran. Last week, a senior Iranian official publicly acknowledged that members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps are operating inside Syria. There is no longer any doubt that Tehran will do whatever it takes to protect its proxy and crony in Damascus. Iran will do everything it can to evade international sanctions. For example, last year Turkish inspectors found a shipment of assault rifles, machine guns, and mortar shells labeled as “auto spare parts” aboard an Iranian airliner bound for Syria.
So we are encouraged to hear that Iraq has announced it will begin random searches of Iranian aircraft en route to Syria, and we urge all of Syria’s neighbors to take steps to prevent their territory or airspace from being used to fuel Assad’s war.
The United States is moving forward on all these fronts: providing humanitarian aid, supporting the civilian opposition, and increasing pressure on the regime. As President Obama said, “the future must not belong to a dictator who massacres his people.” Together, we must stand with those Syrians who believe in a different vision. So there will be difficult days ahead, but our unity and resolve must not waver as we continue to do what we can to end the violence and bloodshed, and bring about a better day for the Syrian people.