Remarks at Syria Ministerial

John Kerry
Secretary of State
UN Headquarters
New York City
September 24, 2014

SECRETARY KERRY: Philip, thank you very much and thank you for chairing, and I appreciate enormously everybody’s indulgence. I’m sorry to be late. Because the foreign fighters forum is still going on, the President asked me to chair for some of the prime ministers and heads of state still there, and I need to go back in a moment, so I am very grateful for everybody’s indulgence with respect to that. As we all know, the diplomatic speed dating of this week is challenging, to say the least.

I want to thank all of our cohosts this afternoon, Foreign Ministers Fabius, Steinmeier, Cavusoglu, and, of course, our good friend Saud al-Faisal. This is a critical discussion, obviously, at a critical time, with the transformation that’s taking place with our action with respect to ISIL. And I am delighted to join the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia in bringing together so many friends of the Syrian people. I also want to thank our steadfast partners in these efforts, Hadi al-Bahra and the Syrian Opposition Coalition. We’re delighted to welcome you all here today.

Let me make it clear to all those who are part of that effort that for all of the men and women who make up the moderate Syrian opposition, we stand behind you today. We have stood behind you in these last years. I know sometimes there’s been a greater desire for more, but we will continue to stand beside you as long as ISIL remains a threat and Assad remains in power.

And now with the determination of the President to go to Congress and the successful vote by Congress, we stand in a very different position. We are overtly engaged in training and arming. It has taken a while to get there, but we are there, and that is significant, particularly at this moment that we are taking action against ISIL.

For three years, it is the moderate opposition who have been fighting for Syria’s future – first against a merciless dictator, and then also against another enemy as well, a terrorist group so extreme that even al-Qaida came to sever ties with it.

With the recent grotesque murder of French citizen Herve Gourdel, the world was once again reminded of the sheer evil of ISIL. It shocks the world’s collective conscience and it insults our collective sense of humanity. It is against everything that this institution in which we gather stands for. So we stand by the French people in outrage at this barbarity, and we also share their resolve to rid the Earth of this menace. We will not stand by as ISIL and others who use fear and violence and oppression to achieve their goals continue to find safe haven anywhere, including in Syria.

And that’s why this week President Obama ordered America’s armed forces to begin airstrikes against ISIL targets within Syria’s borders. And it’s why we were joined in this effort by many of our partners and friends in the region and around the table here today: Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Jordan, Bahrain, Qatar. It’s also why we’re moving forward with our mission to do this training and equipping of the Syrian opposition. And that will deepen our investment in the only fighters who have been fighting ISIL, who drove ISIL out of Idlib province, who have been standing up to ISIL in Aleppo, standing up to ISIL in Damascus suburbs, standing up to ISIL in other parts of Syria.

So today I’m happy to announce an additional $40 million in immediate assistance for the opposition, and this includes more than 15 million for communications equipment, vehicles, food, other essential items for the armed opposition, as well as more than 25 million to support the civilian opposition as it works to build the capacity of governing.

As President Obama has made clear, the United States is committed to defeating and ultimately to destroying ISIL wherever it exists. And I’m very pleased to say that already more than 50 nations have committed to joining us in this effort in one role or another. Not every nation has to engage in military activities. We have to stop foreign fighters. We have to cut off funding. We have to engage in humanitarian effort. We have to train, equip, advise. There’s a role for everybody, but no nation should stand back from its engagement and its effort to try to help.

And we’re also committed to eliminating the ISIL threat because we know that for these last years, even as there was a period of time when there was some lack of cohesion and unity in the support that was being given from various places which detracted from the coalition’s efforts, we also know that during that time the moderate Syrian opposition had to fight ISIL. And as more people are engaged and as ISIL grows weaker because we do take them on, then the Syrian opposition will also grow stronger and this dynamic will shift.

Bashar al-Assad wants you to believe that the Syrian people have two options only: support his murderous regime or face a Syria ruled by extremist thugs from groups like ISIL or al-Nusrah. It’s one or the other, according to Assad. But everybody in this room knows better. We know that the most viable alternative to extremism in Syria is not the dictator that attracted these terrorists in the first place. Extremists will never stop fighting as long as he is in power. So the alternative to extremists is not Assad; it’s moderate opposition; it’s the moderate Syrians who have been fighting for freedom and dignity for far too long. And it’s the brave men and women who share our tolerance and respect for diversity, our commitment to the rule of law, and our vision of a stable, prosperous, and inclusive democracy in Syria. The moderate opposition remains Syria’s best hope, and they’re the only option for Syria’s future that we are prepared to accept.

No one has forgotten the fact that Assad had any number of opportunities to address the legitimate, peaceful grievances of his people. What started all of this in Syria was a follow-on to what started in Tunisia and what started in Egypt. It was young people who came out into the squares, into the streets, asking for jobs, for dignity, for a future. And they were met with violence. And when they were met with violence, their parents came out because they were shocked by what happened to their children. And then their parents were met with bullets and death. That was the beginning of this. People seem to forget that. This was not a religious-inspired event. This was an effort to have governance at its best.

So the regime chose to cling to power at all costs. The regime could have focused its military might on fighting terrorists as they began to gain influence, but it never chose to do that. It has been complicitous even with ISIL. They unleashed barrel bombs and chemical weapons on their own innocent civilians. And certainly the regime could have put the full force of law enforcement towards stopping foreign fighters from entering Syria and joining terrorist groups, but they never did that either. Instead, they were too busy imprisoning people and torturing peaceful activists.

The truth is there never has been a military solution to Syria’s civil war. The only way forward is and always has been and remains today a negotiated political solution ultimately. And despite more than three years of war and devastation in Syria, despite the exploitation of the crisis by ISIL and other extremists, and despite the immeasurable suffering that continues today, despite all of these horrible realities, as I look around and see the number of allies who have gathered here today, and as I think of the global coalition we have assembled of more than 50 countries committed to defeating ISIL, and as I consider the brave partners we have on the ground in Syria and in Iraq, I remain hopeful that a better future can be won.

So together, we can find a way forward as the Syrian people can choose their leadership, know peace, return to their homes, and hopefully, begin to lead lives with dignity and with a future. That’s our mission, and we are committed with our colleagues here at this dais and all of you in this room to seeing it through. Thank you, Philip.