Remarks With Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu and Syrian Opposition Coalition President Moaz al-Khatib
Secretary of State
Good very morning early to you. (Laughter.) I’m sorry about keeping everybody so long. We never expected to have this meeting be as long, but I think it was a very, very important meeting at which we achieved some significant advances. I begin by thanking my friend, the Foreign Minister of Turkey, who once again has hosted us here and hosted me here, and I thank him for his and the prime ministers of his country’s leadership on this and on other issues on which we’re working closely, and I really appreciated his hospitality.
And I’m delighted to be here with my friend, President Khatib, whose leadership has really been an important voice globally for rights and for justice. And I understand his passion, I understand his deep concern for his country and his people, a very emotional concern. And I am enormously appreciative for his constructive contribution to today, in fact, to the work we’ve done to date.
As Moaz Khatib has said and as the Foreign Minister has said, the situation in Syria is simply horrific. It is horrible. And cities and neighborhoods are under fire constantly from heavy artillery. Ballistic missiles are used against people, innocent people, and Assad is using his air force to reign down terror, dropping various kind of bombs, some very questionable, on the people of his country. This conflict is now spilling across borders, and it is threatening stability in neighboring countries. And we had some of those countries obviously represented at the table tonight. Last Sunday, tragically, the regime’s violence led to the loss, in one moment, of 30 innocent children.
So this bloodshed needs to stop, and that’s what brought us here tonight, on a Saturday night and a very early Sunday morning, to talk about the possibilities of a peace and a transition. Our international partners in the Syrian Opposition Coalition share the view – and I was pleased today to continue our discussion with our allies – they shared the view that we should have a peaceful transition. That’s the first priority of everybody. And we talked today about that transition.
President Obama has been absolutely clear: The United States is committed to a democratic, unified post-Assad Syria. The President directed me to step up our efforts with respect to the opposition in particular, and so I asked Ambassador Robert Ford, who has been deeply involved with this and who was our ambassador in Syria for a period of time, to work over the past week with our partners. And he has been here in Istanbul working together with our good partners, the Turks, and with many other people. And I’ve asked him to work and reach out to a wide range of people who have a stake in the future of Syria, and that includes, obviously, the Syrian opposition as it stands today, but also Kurds, Christians, Druze, and Alawi, who themselves have a future in the future of Syria.
We believe that today, what we did was come up with two important documents – one, a document which the Syrian opposition came up with – it’s their document – that expresses their vision for the future of Syria. And among other things, as the President just said, they are committed to a pluralistic Syria, to a Syria in which every minority has minority rights protected. That includes all the minorities, in which everybody will have an ability to be able to make choices for the future. It is a vision that rejects terrorism and rejects extremism. It is a vision that is pledged to never use chemical weapons. It is a vision that is committed to a political solution, first of all. That’s the first goal, along the lines of the Geneva communiqué which offers Syria peace tomorrow if they would simply – if the Assad regime would simply come to the table and live up to the agreements of that international framework.
We want to see the coalition lead the way by ramping up its ability in order to be able to provide assistance, deliver services, and respond to the needs of the Syrian people. And every day, in the absence of peace, President Obama is committed to be helpful in non-lethal aid in order to help the Syrians be able to manage that. For the last several months, we have steadily increased our non-lethal assistance to more than $127 million, and that aid is providing food now, medical kits now, and support for local leaders who are trying to lay the groundwork for a stable and a democratic future.
Today, it’s safe to say that we’re really at a critical moment, and that’s what brought us here. The stakes in Syria couldn’t be more clear: chemical weapons; the slaughter of people by ballistic missiles and other weapons of huge destruction; the potential for the whole country, a beautiful country with great people, being torn apart and perhaps breaking up into enclaves; potential of sectarian violence, which this region knows there is too much of.
So what we’re trying to do is avoid all of that, and we committed to – we recommitted because we think there are some people who don’t believe that we believe it or are – in fact, are committed to it. But our first choice as a resolution to this crisis is a political choice, and that is true for every person standing here. Our first choice is to do what the international community framed as a top possibility last year, which is a mutually-consented-to transitional government that then frames the process for an elected transition for the new leadership of Syria. That is the path to peace, and it’s a path to peace in which every single citizen, whether you are Alawite, Druze, Sunni, Shia, Christian, whatever it is – I’ve left some out – Ismaili – every one of them has the ability to be part of the future of Syria as long as they go with the framework for peace that was agreed by the international community, including our friends, the Russians.
Today, we, the supporters of the Syrian opposition, came together. The ministers of all the countries that were here tonight, each of them committed not only to the first choice of a political peaceful solution, but they committed to guarantee that they will separate and make certain that all aid goes through the Supreme Military Command, through General Idris. Tonight for the first time, we had a briefing from General Idris, the first military briefing we’ve had in the course of my dealing in these meetings. And we all committed that the aid and assistance from every country will go through the Supreme Military Command and General Idris. We also committed to a standard of conduct. We committed to guarantee that we would reaffirm the goal of a pluralistic, fully representative Syria without any retribution against any particular sect or individual.
So I think these principles – these are a few of the principles, these are the most important. There were many principles. There were agreement principles from the Syrian opposition, there was agreement of principles by the Supreme Military Command, and there was an agreement of the principles – a compact, if you will – of all of the nations that are supporting the Syrian opposition and the Supreme Military Command in order to bring everybody together on the same page with respect to how assistance will be provided.
So I just close by saying to you our hope is that we can somehow get to that negotiation within the framework of the Geneva communiqué. But if we can’t, we are all committed to continue to support the Syrian opposition, and there would have to be further announcements about the kind of support that that might be in the days ahead.
So I thank Foreign Minister Davutoglu. This has been an extremely productive afternoon and evening, and now early morning, and I’m very grateful to him for, again, hosting us and for his leadership. Thank you, sir.