Hillary Rodham Clinton
July 16, 2012

QUESTION: Madam Secretary, thank you for making time on a busy day. It seems Bashar al-Assad has the reserves to go on fighting. What is the end game?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I think, Margaret, the end game is starting, because with the increasing pace of defections, both military and civilian, with the fighting moving into and around Damascus, with the violence increasing, with the pressure mounting on the Assad regime, it’s only a matter of time. I wish it were sooner instead of later, because every day that goes by more innocent people are killed. But there’s no doubt in my mind that this regime is at the beginning of what will be a painful end, unless they cooperate with the international community to assist in a managed transition that keeps the institutions of the Syrian state intact, which ceases the violence, saves lives, and moves to a transition that will lead to elections and a new future for the Syrian people.

QUESTION: Would you meet with Bashar al-Assad?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, certainly we are prepared to do anything to assist the transition, but we’re strongly supporting Kofi Annan, who, as you know, is the Joint Envoy of both the UN and the Arab League. He’s in Moscow today. So we’re giving him our full support. But I have attended every meeting that was held at my level to do as much as we could to move the international community and to send a clear, unmistakable message to Assad and to the opposition that we expect the opposition to put the interests of the Syrian people first and be prepared to participate in a transition.

QUESTION: Is there a group within the opposition that’s emerging that you would feel confident in taking over if Bashar exits?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, the real core of the opposition is not outside Syria, which are the people that we largely meet with, but the people inside Syria. So at this point, we cannot tell you with any certainty who the people inside Syria would select to be their representatives. But if it were to come such a moment, we’d be prepared to back those choices, assuming they truly represent the will of the Syrian people.

QUESTION: Well, how is the U.S. supplying the rebels at this point?

SECRETARY CLINTON: With nonlethal assistance, which is what we said we would do, communications, medical supplies, the kinds of things that were in such desperate short supply to help people organize and protect themselves from the onslaught of the government’s full barrage against them.

QUESTION: What would make you change the type of support?

SECRETARY CLINTON: At this point, nothing. We are focused on doing what we think is appropriate for us to do. We don’t want to further militarize the conflict. We don’t want to support, either directly or indirectly, the arming of people who could perhaps not use those weapons in a way we would prefer. They seem to be getting their hands on enough weapons. It’s not weapons, it’s will that we’re trying to engender between both the government and the opposition to cease the violence and work toward a transition that leads to a democratic future.

QUESTION: Now, you mentioned Kofi Annan is in Moscow. By his own admission, his plan thus far has not been successful in holding a ceasefire and really moving anything forward. At what point do you change strategy?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I think he is very committed to pushing forward on this track for two reasons. First, the mission of observers that has been in Syria, which by all accounts has provided at least reliable reporting about what was happening in various of the conflict zones, is coming up for renewal on July 18th, and he’s looking to give his best advice to the Security Council.

Secondly, we do believe that we’ve moved the international consensus to the document that we produced out of Geneva under his leadership, calling for a transition governing body with full governing authority to manage the government and the transition to democracy. What we haven’t been able to do with the Russians and the Chinese is to get agreement on how exactly that would happen. That’s what he’s trying to do inside Moscow. We believe additional pressure through a Security Council resolution, a Chapter 7 resolution, imposing very tough sanctions on Assad and the people around him would give us more leverage to accomplish that.

QUESTION: When you leave office in January, if Assad is still in power, will you walk away believing that this was the right strategy, to stay the course with this?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I don’t know what other strategy anybody is suggesting, because unless you have Security Council support for any other action, I don’t think any country believes that it should act unilaterally in such a complex, dangerous situation. Certainly the countries along the border of Syria that stand to be affected by any spillover of violence are extremely worried about any unilateral kind of action.

So I know people share my deep frustration and outrage at what’s going on inside Syria, but my job is not just to express outrage. My job is to try to figure out what can be done that would be effective. And sometimes a situation does not lend itself to an answer that is immediately satisfying. That’s just the way diplomacy and life happen to be. So I’m very confident we’ve done everything we can do and will continue to do everything possible to try to bring this terrible situation to as early an end as possible.

QUESTION: Can you give me a sense of what the effect of what’s going on in Syria has been on the surrounding countries? I mean, how much is it shaking stability here? And what is Iran’s role?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, Iran is playing a major role. We often talk about wanting to get Russia and China on board because they’re permanent members of the Security Council. But the real player supporting Syria is Iran and their proxy, Hezbollah. They’re the ones who are, day in and day out, providing cover, support, financing, weapons, military advice to Assad, to the army, to the regime. And it’s just another example of the malicious role that Iran plays in the world, promoting terrorism, destabilizing its neighbors, pursuing nuclear enrichment, with the likelihood that it could be moved to have a nuclear weapon unless they are stopped. So Iran plays a very malign role. There’s no doubt about that.

And that, of course, adds to the effects of the violence. We’ve seen Turkey have some difficult situations on their border. They have received thousands of refugees. Jordan has received tens of thousands of refugees. So has Lebanon. You look at the region and beyond, it could be quite destabilizing. So far, the effects have been somewhat contained, but it’s another reason why you don’t want to spread the violence and the conflict, because there’s no way to keep it contained within the borders of Syria.

QUESTION: And lastly, how did you feel when you were in Egypt and you saw the protests that were attacks in many ways on America, personal? What did you think?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I’m pretty used to this by now. I’ve been in politics and around my own country and the world for many, many years. And protest is part of people expressing themselves. They had a point of view. I happen to think they were wrong in their assumptions and their conclusions, but they have a right to express themselves.

QUESTION: All right, Madam Secretary, thank you so much for your time.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you, Margaret.

QUESTION: I appreciate it.

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PRN: 2012/T68-49