Special Briefing
Senior State Department Official
Intercontinental Hotel
Geneva, Switzerland
December 6, 2011


SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: All right. We are in Geneva, as you know. The Secretary met today for about an hour --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Hour and three quarters.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: -- hour and three quarters – boy, it felt faster than that – with seven members of the Syrian National Council, and then our special guest took them out to dinner and continued that conversation. So we have today with us [Senior State Department Official Two], hereafter known as Senior State Department Official. Before we jump into [Senior State Department Official Two]’s brief, where he’s going to talk a little bit about the programmatics going forward, I wanted to just give you some of the things that we heard from the opposition folk about what they see inside Syria.

They spoke about the regime tearing apart the fabric of Syrian society, that when they were growing up, they never thought about Syria as being a particularly sectarian place where the confessions were pitted against each other, but that has been the approach the regime has taken in its effort to maintain control, but it’s seeking to divide the society, turn the confessions on each other.

They spoke particularly poignantly about their concern for the need to protect civilians. Obviously, in Hamas and Homs, where the violence has been particularly acute, but all over the country, citing not only killings that we all know about, the arrests and the torture, but new, gruesome weapons of violence, including the use of rape against both men and women, and the targeting of children.

They called this a struggle for dignity, a struggle for the dignity of the Syrian people. They said that some in the outside worry about the risk of a civil war if Asad goes, but Syrians worry about the reality of a civil war if Asad stays. And one said, “It is the regime that is trying to militarize, sectarianize, and Islamacize our revolution for dignity.”

QUESTION: Is that a direct quote?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Yeah.

QUESTION: I’m sorry. Would you say that --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: “It is the regime that is trying to militarize, sectarianize, and Islamacize our revolution for dignity.”

QUESTION: Who said that?

QUESTION: Can you say who said that?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: I think I will not.

[Senior State Department Official Two], why don’t you take it from here?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Sure, thanks. Thanks, [Senior State Department Official One]. I’ve got a few notes that I’ve tried to put in readable form here, and I’ll just go through them as quick as I can, and then we can do Q&A.

As [Senior State Department Official One] mentioned, Secretary Clinton met for a hour and three quarters with seven senior members of the Syrian National Council, the SNC, which is a broad umbrella group representing a wide swath of the Syrian opposition both inside Syria and in the diaspora. The SNC delegation was led by Professor Burhan Ghalioun, the organization’s president.

The Secretary sought this meeting in order to hear from the opposition on two major subjects – its plans for Syria’s transition from a brutal, corrupt, and self-serving family dictatorship to government reflecting rule of law and the consent of the governed, and its program to reach out to Syria’s minorities, especially Alawis and Christians, to convince them that they will be better off in a Syria where family rule is replaced by real citizenship and real rule of law. In trying to save itself, the regime is playing divide and conquer, seeking to convince minorities that it alone stands between them and persecution. The regime’s sectarian game-playing is a potentially grave threat to the country’s unity and stability.

Professor Ghalioun and his colleagues made it clear that they are seeking a peaceful, orderly transition in which Asad, his family, and key regime figures would leave Syria, after transferring power to a provisional government with limited authorities. The end result, over time, would be a Syrian-designed democracy, one in which citizenship would trump sect, ethnicity, and gender as the source of rights and responsibilities in the new Syria.

Secretary Clinton thanked Professor Ghalioun and his colleagues for the thoughtfulness and thoroughness of their presentation. She expressed the hope that Bashar al-Asad and his clique would see the merit of stepping aside and leaving sooner rather than later. She commended the SNC for offering a transition plan that is measured, deliberate, and utterly devoid of revenge. She said that this approach should appeal to Syrians and outsiders alike who have supported the regime, notwithstanding its grotesque human rights abuses, out of concern that the regime’s departure would lead to chaos.

What is required, however, is the cooperation of a regime that has shown no sign to date of any values beyond its own preservation. There then ensued an exchange on how best to prevent the regime from continuing to wage war on its own people. Professor Ghalioun and his colleagues then briefed Secretary Clinton on their efforts to persuade minorities to join the revolution against corrupt family rule. It should be noted that the SNC delegation itself included representatives from Syria’s major minority groups and it also --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Do you want to just go through the groups?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: -- included a woman. Oh, my. We had, obviously, Sunni Muslims. We had Christians. We had a Kurd. We had an Alawi. We even had a Circassian.

QUESTION: And a woman too.

QUESTION: These are all seven of them, yeah?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: And there were seven people, a grand total of seven people.

QUESTION: The one woman, is she also an Alawi?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: No. She is --

PARTICIPANT: Ms. Repp is also a secular --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Secular Sunni.

QUESTION: And she’s not herself – okay. Secular is what we got there.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Yeah.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Sorry, [Senior State Department Official Two]. I didn’t --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: No, that’s quite all right.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: The opposition leaders stress that they see minority outreach as their top priority, along with detailed transition planning and diplomacy. They see the Asad regime’s survival strategy of frightening minorities with the specter of sectarian rule as threatening the unity Syrians have built since independence in 1946. They know that Alawis, Christians, and others have no illusions about the regime’s corruption, incompetence, and brutality, but they also know that the regime is fanning their fears.

The opposition leaders pledge to draw more minority representatives into their leadership ranks, which, in fact, they’re doing, and to devote significant resources to a major outreach program. They stress that the Syria they seek will feature equal rights and responsibilities for all on the basis of citizenship, and that diversity will be both celebrated and protected.

Secretary Clinton strongly recommended – sorry, strongly welcomed the commitment to minority outreach. She urged the opposition leaders to be focused and systematic in their messaging and to ensure that credible, effective people would be given the responsibility for designing and executing outreach programs to the various minorities. She saluted them for the progress they’re making in this regard to date. She asked that the minorities issue receive intensive attention, not only in the context of an exit strategy for the Asad regime, but during the transition phase itself.

The Secretary and the opposition leaders concluded with a discussion of the Arab League initiative and the absolute imperative of the regime implementing all the steps, as it agreed to do so on November the 2nd. If the regime admits Arab League monitors, gets its official forces and armed gangs out of populated areas, releases all prisoners of conscience, it permits peaceful political activity, the transition can proceed.

Secretary Clinton pledged her full support of the Arab League Initiative. She and Professor Ghalioun agreed to stay in touch. Let’s see. Secretary Clinton asked the opposition leaders to convey to their colleagues inside Syria her admiration for their courage and their dedication to a peaceful transition from dictatorship to democracy. She acknowledged that they must operate under the most difficult circumstances imaginable.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Okay. Let’s go to questions.

Arshad.

QUESTION: You said they talked about their vision being a Syria that Asad, his family, and key officials would leave?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Yes.

QUESTION: Did they discuss anything about holding those people accountable or accountability or some process for accountability? Did they discuss anything about some process for reconciliation? It’s one thing to say at first that he’s going to be celebrated if both Asad (inaudible), people who tortured other people, torturers and their victims to reconcile.

And lastly, did they discuss their desire or sense of or other kinds of methods to try to better – to try to protect the civilian population with or without international sanction? One of them cited, for example, the (inaudible) precedent --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- where (inaudible) – correct – without Security Council prior authorization. So those three things – accountability, reconciliation --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- and how do you protect the civilians --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- in a concrete way?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Accountability and reconciliation, to the best of my recollection, were not discussed in the meeting, per se. In some of the preparatory documents that they shared with us to help frame this meeting, these issues were discussed. And I think at this point, I should probably not really address that head on, because these are issues that the SNC really needs to take up with the Arab League in the near future.

On the desire for safe zones: Yes, this did come up at one point under the rubric of protection of civilians. The SNC recognizes that, as of right now, the most relevant initiative going is the Arab League Initiative. The Arab League Initiative seeks to place within Syria 500 or more human rights monitors in sensitive areas, hot spots – people who would have the ability, in essence, to witness what is going on. And the people with whom we spoke said that this is all important. If you can get witnesses on the ground, chances are the regime will not do its worst. So emphasis for the time being, certainly until it plays all the way out, is on the Arab League Initiative.

We were asked to place a very, very high priority, which we do, on the ongoing slaughter that’s taking place in Syria, and to consider alternatives in the event the Arab League Initiative fails. For the time being, we’re placing our emphasis on the Arab League Initiative and hoping that the regime will find a way to implement these steps that it agreed to in principle on the 2nd of November.

QUESTION: So just to verify, it came up as a potential issue, that is safety and some sort of –

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Yeah. That’s a potential issue, yeah.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Well, I think the point that [Senior State Department Official Two] is trying to make is that, if you have these monitors, it has the effect of creating safe zones.

QUESTION: I’m just clarifying what (inaudible).

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Yeah. No, that’s what it would accomplish. The key thing here is trying to accomplish the mission of protecting a population that is under tremendous pressure. And the quickest way to do this is through implementation of the Arab League Initiative.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Okay.

Elise then Karen, then we’ll go to (inaudible).

QUESTION: Did you – where did you leave it with the Secretary and the group, and – you’re all about next steps. What, beyond the idea of safe havens were they looking – what were they looking for, in terms of more outreach, any other kinds of assistance that could be helpful? And to follow up on that, where are you in terms of your comfort level in increasing your outreach and engagement with these both? I mean, what – I know there’s all this talk about recognizing them, and it’s this, it’s that. I mean, in order for you to – obviously, you’re talking to them, but in order for you to consider them worthy of moving forward, what do you need to see? And I’m assuming at this point you consider them enough of a legitimate group to meet with the Secretary, so I guess –

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Yeah. I think – yeah. In terms of how we would define that particular issue, we would say that the United States considers the Syrian National Council to be a leading and legitimate representative of Syrians seeking a peaceful, democratic transition. The issue of recognition in a formal sense, per se, was not raised, certainly not by Professor Ghalioun.

Their emphasis, and I think rightly so, is on Syria and the Arab world. Okay. Once they’ve firmly established themselves there, and they are well on their way to doing so, then it may be timely for issues of broader recognition to arise. As far as next steps for the SNC – I may need a little help on the dates – I think their next steps include an Arab League meeting, I believe, on the 14th and 15th –

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Correct.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: -- of this month. And then they have a General Assembly meeting in Tunis, I believe, on the 18th.

Is that approximately right?

QUESTION: But what about – no, no, no. I’m sorry, but I meant more next steps with your kind of growing engagement.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: What are we looking to do?

QUESTION: Where – and what is your – where – what do you need to see in order for you to step up your assistance of them, whatever it may be?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: We have been in touch with this group as it has been evolving since October. We are comfortable discussing issues with them, discussing their concepts of the direction they want Syria to go. Now, we also have discussions with independent opposition people, opposition people belonging to other organizations. We don’t limit ourselves to the Syrian National Council. But we are, I must say, pretty encouraged at the progress this council has made, in terms of really moving toward unification of the opposition, both inside Syria and outside, and in terms of coming up with a sensible program.

QUESTION: Did they ask you for recognition the way that the Libyan group was?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: No, no.

QUESTION: No. Or even standards for how they get there – to get there?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: No, no.

QUESTION: Did you talk about – this whole question about outreach and unification. You said that (inaudible), that’s their highest priority. How – did they explain how they’re going to do this and how – I mean, it’s all well and good to have somebody – two people living in Paris who are from different Syrian sects, but what does that mean in terms of actual support inside the country? How do they do that with most of them being on the outside, and how will you know that they’ve done it --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- when people are afraid to talk about it?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: It’s an excellent question. And the folks we met with today are, indeed, on the outside. Much of the SNC is on the inside. Okay? And much of that which is on the inside is unnamed. They’re anonymous, for obvious security reasons. A fellow a couple of months ago who was a declared member – a Kurd – was assassinated in short order.

The SNC has already done, I think, a pretty credible job in the issuance of its general principles, in speeches and public statements that Professor Ghalioun and others have made in trying to convince the minorities of Syria – indeed, trying to convince all Syrians – that they’re going to be better off when this regime is history and the transition is under way. What we discussed – and just in general terms, this was not at all a technical discussion. But we discussed the fact that what’s really needed here is a very persistent and very consistent outreach to the people of Syria, using all the modern means that are available to do this. And they acknowledged that they are working on this, they’ve got some internal expertise, there is other expertise they can turn to out there. But they acknowledge that what’s needed is something perhaps a bit more systematic and persistent than what they’ve been able to bring to bear so far.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: But is it fair to say that they have taken some time to broaden their group to include all branches of Syrians? They’ve taken some time to get these principles together and to get their ideas together of what a transition might look like. And what they’re now endeavoring to do is to shop those ideas to more Syrians inside Syria of all confessions and trying to build energy and support behind their principles. Is that fair? And that we are obviously encouraging that that stay as broad-based, as non-sectarian, as principles and values-based as possible, but they – just as it’s taken some time for this group to get its ideas together, now it needs to shop those ideas, get them to as many Syrians as possible and to – and start a conversation about them.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: I think we have to –

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Or grow a conversation about them.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: That’s right. Look, I think we have to have a basic appreciation for what these folks are up against, both inside the country and outside. For all practical purposes, the curtain came down on real political life in Syria nearly 50 years ago. Okay? It is only since March that this country has begun to breathe again, that people are actually able to meet in groups of more than three or four people and exchange ideas, debate, and not worry about the consequences of who’s listening. And in fact, they probably still worry about those consequences, sometimes, particularly on the inside.

So it’s tempting for us – and I mean us in the U.S. Government – to say, “Come on. Move faster, move faster, move faster. Time is of the essence,” and yeah, we do that. We do that. But at the same time, we have to appreciate how far they’ve come, given the fact that this, in essence, is like a patient coming out of a 50-year induced political coma, because that’s what’s happening here.

QUESTION: Can I ask, as you urge them to move and to act, what are you offering them, or did you, in this meeting, offer them any kind of additional support or help? Or did they ask you for anything?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: They didn’t particularly ask for anything. We said, “Look, we are asking a lot. We’re asking you to move very, very quickly here, with all deliberate speed on these issues. And if there are areas where we can be of assistance, let us know.”

QUESTION: Did you offer them advisors?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: I don’t know. One of the comments they made was if you add it all up, there are something like 70 million people on Earth of Syrian descent, people living on – people still living in Syria, people living on the outside. I’m sure within those communities, the requisite skills exist. And I suspect that’s --

QUESTION: So you’re not offering any sort of specific State Department –

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: No, nothing specific yet. But we told them that as a general matter, as they look at this requirement, if they think that there are skill sets where we can be of assistance, we’ll take a look at it, for sure.

QUESTION: Just one follow up.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Yeah.

QUESTION: The State Department has been very proactive in the last year or two about helping communities – minorities under siege – with tech, health, advice programs. Are you doing that in (inaudible)? Is that still --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: I think we’re – I’m not familiar with those programs but I think we’re probably dealing with a different situation here. In Syria you have key minorities, mainly the Alawi minority and the Christian minority, that where you can still find some support for the regime. Okay? The majority in Syria seems to be in favor of the transition. Minorities are going slow on this.

Again, it’s hard to find anybody in Syria who has any illusions about the basic characteristics of governance in the country. The corruption, the incompetence, the violence – this is known to everybody. But some within these minority communities still fear the alternative, which is something the regime is trying to fan. The regime’s message to them is, after us comes civil war and then sectarian governance. You’re going to be under pressure, you’re going to be forced to change your customs and traditions. Ultimately, you’re going to run out of this country. Okay? That’s the challenge this opposition faces, is to try to counter that propaganda convincingly.

QUESTION: So you’re not doing anything to help them, use social media to do that? What’s not being used?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: One of the --

QUESTION: What about the Alawi stuff? (Inaudible) consider it (inaudible)?

QUESTION: That’s what I’m asking about.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: One of the things that I thought was interesting about this meeting, which goes to the point that [Senior State Department Official Two] was just making, is that they spoke about 20 million Syrians in Syria, 20 million Syrians outside of Syria, and then 70 million people of Syrian descent. And the emphasis very much was on drawing talents from their own diaspora community to help with these things.

QUESTION: I appreciate that. It’s just that you have this great program and I’m --

QUESTION: There actually have been problems with their website, so it’s a really relevant question that we’re asking.

QUESTION: I’d love to say yes or no.

QUESTION: Are you doing --

QUESTION: They’ve given interviews on it. It’s not a secret that you’re working with some Syrians, activists, on this internet program. So is that related to the SNC, or is it something different?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: That issue did not come up that way today at all. This was much more about the Secretary hearing from them on what they’re trying to do with Syrians outside and inside of Syria.

QUESTION: So just to be clear, [Senior State Department Official Two], you don’t know the answer to the question about --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: I do not know. I do not know the answer to the question. I am reminded that from one participant at the meeting, the issue of recognition did come up. One participant, speaking on his own behalf, basically suggested that we should recognize the SNC and that this would have a major impact in Syria. But the balance of the group was satisfied with the formulation we offered and acknowledged that their real center of gravity is inside Syria and inside the Arab world in the time being.

QUESTION: Did the Secretary address that one participant’s suggestion?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: She did in terms of --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Yes.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: -- in terms of saying that we’re going to make this statement about seeing them as a leading and legitimate group and in terms of the discussion about their priority, which is to now broaden their base inside Syria.

QUESTION: Did she say, “Look, we’re not going to recognize you for now, and here’s
why”?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: The conversation didn’t go in that kind of a crisp direction.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Yeah.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Anne.

QUESTION: Is there any existing alternative to them that is – has been addressed?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Well, there are these coordinating committees inside Syria, there are other groups.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: I’m sorry. I didn’t hear the question.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: -- which was other addresses --

QUESTION: -- viable alternative to the SNC, as an address, someone for you to talk to that you actually really can talk to?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: There are other members of the opposition belonging to different groups, some operating independently with whom we do have periodic contact.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: And Robert has a very – you know Robert in our Embassy in Damascus has a vibrant conversation with the coordinating communities, the folks who pull together the different coordinating committees, and lots of different opposition voices inside Syria.

QUESTION: Can Robert --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: And I think one – as I recall, one reaction the Secretary did have to the one person who raised the recognition issue was, “Look, focus on doing what you’re doing. You’re getting your act together, you’re doing a good job on transition planning, you’re doing an increasingly good job on outreach to minorities. Don’t waste a lot of energy on this particular issue.”

QUESTION: Can you talk a little about the two things that – happening simultaneously, Ford going back, and this meeting? What – was that intended to send two kinds of the same statement?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Robert going back and this meeting? I think it was a – more than anything else – a coincidence of timing.

QUESTION: Because the White House said that – in its – in Jay Carney’s statement, that it was – that you could think of no better way to signal your standing in solidarity with people in Syria, presumably meaning --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Yeah. No. And that’s quite right. But what I’m saying is that there was no conscious attempt to make these two events happen on the same day.

QUESTION: Okay. One last thing. You had one particularly vivid quote that I think you attributed to the Secretary that I want to find out if it was verbatim. You said that she described their transition plan, primary components seemed to be the departure of the Asad sort of ruling clique, followed by a transfer to an internal government with – a provisional government with limited powers. Said she described it as measured and deliberate and utterly devoid of revenge. Is that verbatim?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: I think that’s something you can attribute to the Senior Official, rather than the Secretary.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Yeah. She didn’t – that’s not a direct quote from her.

QUESTION: That’s not – she didn’t say that?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: That’s not a direct quote. No.

QUESTION: Okay.

QUESTION: Measured --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Measured, deliberate, devoid of revenge.

QUESTION: You actually said, “Utterly devoid.”

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Utterly.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Yeah, that’s not a quote from her.

QUESTION: Can you – I’m sorry. The end of that phrase, when you said, “with limited authority” – was there something after that, “followed by –”

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: “Elections.”

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Yeah. I mean, what they’re talking about is a transition period that would stretch out over time. But again, this is something the specifics of which they need to discuss with other opposition groups and with the Arab League. So I would expect in the fullness of time, and not all that much time, you may be seeing a transition plan.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: But we shouldn’t leave anybody in any doubt that their end state is a democratically elected government, right?

QUESTION: Had they sketched out this –oh, I’m sorry. Go ahead.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Look, their end state is definitely a democratically elected government. It’s government by consent of the governed with rights and responsibilities based on citizenship and nothing else.

QUESTION: Can I ask you what you – I mean, it’s not really about this meeting, but the Syrian Free Army?

QUESTION: Can I ask a small follow up here, just on that one --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Yeah.

QUESTION: Had they previously sketched out this as their sort of transition plan?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: I think they’ve discussed things along these lines over the last couple of months. But now I believe they see an opportunity with this Arab League Initiative to get more formal with it, to try to put it in writing and try to present it to the Arab League to seek assistance in implementing it.

QUESTION: And they discussed it in private or in public?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Privately.

QUESTION: Thank you.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Yeah. I don’t believe there’s been any public exposition on it.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Let’s take two more.

QUESTION: Just Syrian Free Army?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: What’s the question?

QUESTION: Well, I mean, what do you think of these guys? Do you think they’re – and do you see them coordinating? Because I didn’t get any sense that anybody in the military was coordinating the SNC. Is this a small fringe group that had a spectacular attack but is not really – and I say spectacular in quotes, but --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Yeah. I don’t – well, first of all, with respect to this meeting, I don't think --

QUESTION: Didn’t come up in the meeting?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: -- it didn’t come up.

QUESTION: They published photos of themselves though, meeting these guys.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: That’s a couple of weeks ago.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: That’s not – that’s actually not – I think you guys are conflating maybe your dinner and the meeting and the meeting --

QUESTION: Well, he’s the coordinator for Syria, so I’m just asking you --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: No, but in – can I finish? In the meeting they did say that they had some contacts with these guys, which has been public anyway.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Yeah.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Yeah.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: But there wasn’t any kind of a detailed discussion about the relationship or what they expect these guys to do.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: No, no, no. It was really much more about working their own plan and broadening their appeal inside Syria, was the main bulk, I mean.

One more.

QUESTION: Could I just clarify, in very broad sense, for those of us who, like, were paying attention to Burma last week – (laughter) – the Secretary – if I’m understanding right, she didn’t come into this meeting with any new American initiative or funding or – I mean, it’s obvious --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: That’s correct.

QUESTION: -- support that’s she’s showing she wants to learn from them and exchange views and so forth. But there’s not anything new in the American position right now, vis-à-vis, Syria and what we’re doing?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: She wanted to get to know some more of these people personally, and she wanted to hear from them, and she wanted to get a sense of where they are.

QUESTION: At this stage, we’re – I mean, we’ve done all the sanctions we can do. We’re deferring to the Arab League process, as they are, in hopes that that’s the vehicle for pressuring Syria, in addition, again, to the sanctions that U.S. and others have done.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: I don’t think that’s a fair characterization, Steve. We’ve done a huge amount of our own pressuring. The Europeans have done a huge amount of their own pressuring.

QUESTION: Beyond that – new --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: The Arab League is now starting to come up with its own pressure, I think the bulk of – a lot of this conversation was about how valuable it is inside Syria also to have Arab League support and the fact that they were planning and they were already working closely with the Arab League and that they were going to intensify those contacts, now that the Arab League is clearly lost patience with Asad.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: I think what’s new here and what’s fairly significant is that the Secretary of State did this meeting with this group. I think it’s fairly significant. This group has met with the Secretary’s counterparts in the UK, France, and Germany. Okay. So I think they certainly considered it an important meeting, and the Secretary found it to be a very valuable opportunity to hear them out on issues of importance to them and to learn what they’re thinking in terms of transition planning and minority outreach.

QUESTION: Even if it’s not recognition, it’s quite a laying on of hands, for her to spend almost two hours with these guys.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: And to make clear that we view them as a leading and legitimate group.

Good. Thanks everybody.

QUESTION: Thanks for doing this.



PRN: 2011/T57-16

[This is a mobile copy of Background Briefing on Syria]