Hillary Rodham Clinton
Secretary of State
Istanbul Congress Center
Istanbul, Turkey
April 1, 2012

QUESTION: Thank you for talking with us, Madam Secretary.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Always a pleasure.

QUESTION: The U.S. is apparently going beyond providing just humanitarian aid, strictly humanitarian aid, for the Syrian opposition forces. Tell me what we’re providing and why.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, we are going to be providing what you might call technical or logistical equipment – not arms, not military equipment, but communications equipment. We’ve learned that there’s a great deal of difficulty for the opposition to communicate with one another inside Syria, and from inside to outside to their counterparts who are along the border of Turkey or elsewhere. That will facilitate the safety as well as the movements of the people who are on the inside.

We have some intelligence capacity that we might be able to usefully offer. Now other countries are going to choose to provide different kinds of aid. Today, a group of countries announced that they were going to be funding some of the Free Syrian Army. That’s their choice, but what we think is appropriate for us is to try to facilitate the ability to communicate and to be protected and to know what is happening inside Syria to minimize civilian casualties.

QUESTION: On providing money to basically try and encourage members of the Syrian army to defect, that seems very close to arming the opposition, something the United States didn’t want to do for fear of raising the number of civilian casualties.


QUESTION: Why is it better to encourage defection? It seems like it’s another increase in violence.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I think what you’ll find is that many thousands – the numbers vary, some it’s from, like, 10,000 to 40,000 of the soldiers have defected. If you really study the Syrian military movements, they have five brigades. They use two of them because they can’t trust the other three of them. And there have been a number of defections at senior officer levels, generals and colonels, many of whom are now across the border in Turkey kind of setting up headquarters.

So clearly, there needs to be a greater reassurance to those soldiers who defect that if they take their weapons and turn them against the military that continues to ruthlessly assault civilian targets, they’re going to – their family is going to be provided for, there is some safety net for them. I think that’s a sensible approach for those countries that are willing to do that.

QUESTION: Syria’s government says with recent gains by the Syrian army that the battle to overthrow Bashar al-Assad is done and that now it’s a battle to regain stability. Tell me why you think they’re wrong.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I think they’re wrong because what they have done is to create enemies of the regime. Where before, they had peaceful protestors and demonstrators who, inspired by the Arab Spring, wanted the chance to choose their own leaders and participate in their society. The resistance that has been put up by poorly armed fighters who often ran out of ammunition, who had nothing but a AK-47 or some other automatic weapon against tanks and mortars, demonstrates that this is a very long-term conflict.

And I also think that from within, the effect of the sanctions – the travel bans, the other kind of pressure that we’re putting on members of the regime, the accountability project that the United States has begun to catalog the atrocities so that people on the inside can look around and think, “Man, I better get out of here before I end up at the International Criminal Court,” because remember, it sometimes takes years. It takes years. But we do end up with a lot of the criminals who committed crimes against humanity or even war crimes eventually having to face justice.

So our reading is that this is not the end of anything. It may not even be the beginning of the end. It’s just the very start of a long-term process that will lead eventually to the removal of Assad.

QUESTION: Thank you, Madam Prime Minister.


QUESTION: Let me ask you a couple questions about another subject. On Iran, the President says all options are on the table to keep Iran from developing a nuclear weapon. Do you feel like it’s your job to make sure it doesn’t come to having to use military action?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I’m a diplomat. My job is to try to see if there are peaceful ways to resolve difficult problems, and this is a really difficult problem. When the President says all options are on the table, he means it. When he says that our policy is prevention, not containment, he means it. But there are a number of different paths that can get us to the outcome we’re seeking, which is a peaceful resolution of this very difficult challenge. And we appreciate the fact that Iran will return to negotiations with what’s called the P5+1, the five permanent members of the Security Council, plus the European Union and Germany. And we will enter into those negotiations with the hope that there can be a positive resolution, but without any illusions and without any patience for talk without progress.

So there has to be a plan going forward, and we think that we could arrive at an acceptable resolution that would give the Iranians the right to peaceful nuclear power under verifiable certain conditions, but remove the threat that they are developing nuclear weapons. But we’ll see. The proof is in the pudding, as they say, and we’ll start cooking that pudding in a few weeks.

QUESTION: The U.S. and Israel clearly disagree how much time is left before military force would be necessary to keep the Iranians from developing a bomb, but they also disagree on what the effects of using military force would be.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I don’t want to get into the kind of very analytical expert discussions that we’ve been having at the highest levels with the Israelis. I will say this – that I think there is agreement about the status of the Iranian program. I think that, as Prime Minister Netanyahu has said on numerous occasions, Israel reserves the right to defend itself. So they have a view that they have to have great certainty as soon as possible that they will not be threatened. Our position is that we have increased sanctions and pressure on the regime. We’ve kept together the international community. It’s quite remarkable that people are reducing their crude oil imports and going to great lengths to try to comply with American and European sanctions because they want to be part of the solution, not part of the problem.

So we think that the array of evidence points to the importance of pursuing the diplomatic path at this time.

QUESTION: Did you force Iran’s hand yesterday when you announced that the talks would be held in a couple – few weeks in Istanbul? It’s my understanding they hadn’t actually committed to the talks yet, at least publicly.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, we’ve gotten lots of private messages from a number of different sources that they were going to go to the talks, and I think we need to start planning for them. I certainly hope that they will follow through on what they’ve told a number of people about their intentions to be serious participants.

QUESTION: I think that’s a yes. Thank you, Madam Secretary.

SECRETARY CLINTON: (Laughter.) Thanks. Good to see you.

QUESTION: And you.

PRN: 2012/T61-04

[This is a mobile copy of Interview With Wendell Goler of FOX News]