Press Availability on Syria

John Kerry
Secretary of State
Villa Madama
Rome, Italy
February 28, 2013

The video below is available with
closed captioning on YouTube.

SECRETARY KERRY: Good afternoon again. I just have a very brief statement, then I’m happy to take a few questions. I just got to look outdoors and actually see that it is a beautiful day here in Rome, and I want to again thank our host, the Foreign Minister, and thank Italy for bringing us here today. We’re enormously appreciative and I’m very grateful to them for that, and also to all of the partner nations who came here today. I have to tell you that around that table was a very important, competent, and powerful group of countries ranging through Europe down into the Gulf as well as Turkey and Egypt, and everybody was unanimous in their conclusions.

Aiding the people who are fighting for a free Syria is a cause to which President Obama and all of us are deeply committed. And what unites us today is our shared conviction that the best solution for Syria is a political solution. The sooner we can get started, the more lives we’ll save, and the better chance we have of preserving Syria’s institutions and its rich culture and of restoring its unity. That’s our goal here.

Working together, we’ve already been able to do a lot. We’ve imposed broad sanctions on the Assad regime that dry up some of the funds that fuel his war machine. In addition, we have supported the Syrian Opposition Coalition with training, organization, and some of the communications resources that they need to reach out to the Syrian people. We continue to increase our humanitarian support for those who are suffering. But today, President Obama has encouraged all of us to embrace the notion that we need to do more.

So the $60 million that I announced on his behalf today will do the following: It will strengthen the organizational capacity of the Syrian Opposition Coalition. It will help war-torn communities be able to survive devastating situations with respect to sanitation, food delivery, medical care. It will speed the delivery of basic goods and services including security and education. It will help to initiate discussions with those who are providing for public order and for justice as the transition itself unfolds. And we will help the SNC, Free Syrian Army, and the civilian opposition to feed those in need and tend to the sick and the wounded.

We do this because we need to stand on the side of those in this fight who want to see Syria rise again in unity and see a democracy and human rights and justice. The stakes are really high. And we can’t risk letting this country, in the heart of the Middle East, be destroyed by vicious autocrats or hijacked by the extremists. In supporting the Syrian Opposition Coalition and the Free Syrian Army, we reject both of those choices, and we stand with those Syrians fighting for the right to choose dignity and democracy and justice. That’s our battle. I’d be happy to take your questions.

MS. NULAND: We’ll take three today. We’ll start with Fox News, James Rosen.

QUESTION: Thank you very much, Mr. Secretary. As you know from your many years in the United States Senate and from your many years traveling the globe, the kind of multifaceted program in the tens of millions of dollars that you’ve announced here today will take many months before it is fully operational and longer still before its impacts are discernable on the ground. As you also said today, President Assad seems only to increase in his viciousness and his brutality. Aren’t you concerned, sir, that while you’re trying to stand up local councils and extend the rule of law in these places in Syria that perhaps we could see another 20,000 lives lost? In short, as the Syrians are sure to say, is this the best you can do?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, (inaudible) it’s a very good question and it’s an appropriate one, and the answer is I am confident about our ability to be able to deliver this money rapidly. Part of this money we have programmed in some of the things that we are doing now, but in addition to that, I’ve touched base with key members of Congress who I think are prepared to be helpful. And I will – I’ve agreed to brief them the minute I get back from this trip. I will personally be engaged in that process and I – so I feel very confident about it, as does the President and his advisors in the White House who signed off on this knowing that this would require rapid delivery.

MS. NULAND: Next question, from the Italian side, Alessandro Casari, TG1, please.

QUESTION: (Via interpreter.) Good morning, Mr. Secretary of State. Thank you. You mentioned the wonderful climate here in Rome, but of course, you’re here as a Secretary of State at a very complicated time, right after our political elections. At international level, many people have expressed their concerns with regard to the political stability here in Italy and with regard to the consequences, the spillover – economic spillover – not only in Europe. And in fact, over the past few days, we’ve been hearing this from the president of the Fed, and yesterday the German Minister of the Economy, Mr. Schaeuble. Do you share these concerns? Do you see that Italy, this political instability can somehow impact macroeconomics?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, one of the first things I learned as a recovering politician, as a new Secretary of State, is don’t make judgments about other people’s political system. So I’m going to be somewhat wary about digging in in any depth to the situation.

Let me just say this: I am really personally very confident about Italy’s ability and desire to work through the complicated, obviously, returns and results. Italy is a strong, stable democracy. It’s an important member of the European Union. It’s a Eurozone member. A lot of different positive things have happened over the last months, as the reforms have somewhat been implemented. And frankly, I want to congratulate the Italian people. They had a very robust, interesting, challenging election. And it was very hard-fought. And what I read out of it was that almost everybody in Italy wanted reform and they wanted change.

So Italy will remain a critical partner on European, on other issues. Look at the role Italy is playing today, notwithstanding the fact they had an election and it’s in the midst of a government change. So I’m very confident that we will continue to lend our support as Italy pursues further reforms. And I’m – I have great confidence in the ability of the voice of the Italian people to work its way through your political process.

MS. NULAND: Last question today. New York Times, Michael Gordon, please.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, you’ve talked over the past several days about the importance of changing Assad’s calculations and his belief that he can hang onto power. But all you’re offering by way of nonlethal assistance to the Free Syrian Army is food rations and medical supplies. How is that supposed to change the mind of a man like Assad who has used SCUDs in Aleppo and employed force indiscriminately? And secondarily, are you prepared to state today that if the Free Syrian Army demonstrates that it’s able to use this limited assistance in a proper way –

SECRETARY KERRY: Can you hold the mike a little closer there?

QUESTION: Can you state today that if the Free Syrian Army is – demonstrates it’s able to use the limited assistance you’re offering in a proper way, can you commit to providing more substantial assistance in the future, such as communications equipment, armored cars, bulletproof vests, night vision goggles, the things of that nature?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, here’s what President Obama is committing to today in his decision to make a significant stepping-up of the policy that he has been pursuing. What the President is doing is coming together by sending me here with all of the other key 11 partners who have been meeting on this on a regular basis, all of whom have agreed today that we need to change President Assad’s calculation, and we need to do more.

What we are doing in our part of that doing more is part of a whole. Different countries are choosing to do different things, and we make this evaluation based on the whole. I am absolutely confident from what I heard in there from other foreign ministers that the totality of this effort is going to have an impact on the ability of the Syrian opposition to accomplish its goals.

Now, when you said “all you are doing is providing,” that’s not all we’re doing. We are providing some $60 million, the most significant portion of which is going directly to the Syrian opposition to enable it to be able to organize more effectively, to be able to carry its message more effectively, to be able to reach people within Syria so that in secured areas, they have an ability to be able to deliver what they can’t deliver today. That will help them build support much more rapidly.

In addition, we have – under – I mean, we are going to continue to consult with each other, as we have said, on an urgent basis. And I am going back to Washington with a number of thoughts and ideas that were put on the table today, and I’m confident we’re going to have a robust and ongoing conversation.

So this is – don’t look at this as the whole – this is not – what the President has announced and what we’re doing today is part of a whole, and I am very confident that that whole is going to have the ability for President Assad to realize he better start measuring more effectively what his future is, what his choices are, and what kinds of weapons he uses. And I think that the international community is going to continue to be intensely focused on this issue. So I’m very confident in what the President has put forward today as the beginning of a process that will, in fact, change his calculation.

MS. NULAND: Thank you all very much.

SECRETARY KERRY: Thank you all. Appreciate it.

PRN: 2013/T01-11