Special Briefing
Senior U.S. Official
U.S. Mission in Geneva
Geneva, Switzerland
February 14, 2014


MODERATOR: Well, welcome, everyone. We’re going to get started. We are going to do this on background, attributable to a Senior U.S. Official. So on that note, I’d be happy to turn it over to you, to --

SENIOR U.S. OFFICIAL: Thank you. Let me just say a few things by way of opening, and then be glad to take your questions. When we had our meeting in Montreux to launch this round of negotiations, more than – or about 40 countries and organizations all stood up and said that it was time to implement the Geneva communique, including creating a transitional governing body with full executive powers by mutual consent. And the power of all of those countries and all of those ministers delivering that message – except for one minister, the current Syrian regime – the power of that was because of the devastating human consequences that are occurring in Syria.

I’m sure you all were as struck as I was yesterday when Ambassador Power in New York said nearly 5,000 people had been killed just since these talks began. And clearly, the regime has decided to increase its barrel bombing and the other truly horrific events that are taking place. That said, we are glad that 1,400 people have been able to leave Homs, that food and medicine has entered. But again, as was said yesterday at the UN, there are 250,000 people in other besieged cities and still remaining in Homs, who do not have the supplies they need, who want to leave. And we do not know once those who want to leave Homs can leave whether, in fact, the regime will then simply attack and try to destroy what remains of Homs.

So this is an intolerable situation, one that cannot be won militarily on a battlefield. Even if one day one side is up and the other is down, over time no one will win this militarily. This can only be resolved politically, which was the other strong message out of Montreux. We must engage in a political settlement. But everyone also understood at Montreux – and one of the reasons why 40 ministers and organizations showed up was because they knew it would take the support of the international community, because it is incredibly difficult to reach a political solution.

The Syrian coalition, which sits on the other side of the table from the regime, has worked very, very hard during these two rounds of – the second round is finishing in the next hours or so – has done an extraordinary job, because remember, they have brought many groups together under the banner of the coalition. They continue outreach to the Syrian people and their connections to the armed groups who are in the field. They have put constructive solutions on the table, including a plan for a transitional governing body that was very thoughtful, and I know you all noted – because I think it’s now made its way through the public domain – did not mention the first instance that Assad had to go – not because a transitional governing body by mutual consent won’t ultimately mean that Assad will have to step down, but as a first order of business, the coalition was saying, “Here’s what it could look like; we want to keep institutions in place, we want to have a stable, secure government.”

And then the last point I would make is that the coalition, with whom we meet on a regular basis – and I don’t know how to say this without saying who I am, but we had a meeting last evening, so do what you can with that while protecting me as a senior government official – understands that unless we end this conflict and there is a stable government that really represents the Syrian people and cares about the welfare of the Syrian people and does not use starvation as a tool of war, that the terrorists, the extremists who are coming into Syria and who are present in Syria, will never leave Syria.

As others have already said, including Secretary Kerry, in essence, Assad is a terror magnet. And the conflict that exists only increases the likelihood of the extremism and the terrorism that all countries want to see gone from Syria – in fact, gone from the world. But that will require a transitional governing body with full executive powers that really represents the desires and the aspirations of the Syrian people.

So let me stop there, and I’ll be glad to take your questions.

MODERATOR: And if I could just ask you to state your name and your outlet before you ask the question. Thank you.

QUESTION: Excuse me.

QUESTION: I’m Anne Barnard from The New York Times. How are you?

SENIOR U.S. OFFICIAL: I’m fine. How are you?

QUESTION: Nice to meet you. I was just wondering about Secretary Kerry’s comments about looking at new options. Can you tell us anything more about what kinds of options he was asked to look at, whether there’s any shift in the White House inclinations? Does it include military options or a more robust arming process?

SENIOR U.S. OFFICIAL: With all due respect to the person who wrote the first story that came out, it was a little overwritten. The actual question was: “On a second issue, President Obama said – last Friday said that, because of his frustration about the lack of a solution to the Syrian war, that the Administration is reviewing once again the options to do more on Syria. I wonder if you could address that. Is the Administration thinking about doing more than providing humanitarian aid and perhaps nonlethal assistance? Have options been presented to senior officials?”

And the Secretary basically said: With respect to Syria, the President is always considering the options, that this is not a one-time thing to say. And then he went on to say it is fair to say because of the humanitarian crisis – which is getting worse, there is no doubt about it – and because of the unwillingness of the Assad regime to engage fully in the Geneva talks, which – the sole purpose of which is the full implementation of Geneva I, that, indeed, this president has encouraged all of us to constantly dig deeper to see what else we can do to bring this horrific situation to a positive end.

And the President has always said, as he did standing next to President Hollande, that he is constantly looking at the range of options available to him. But he wasn’t ready, nor am I, to say we’re going down this road or that road. This is, as the Secretary said, not a one-time thing. It is a constant.

QUESTION: But I guess I wonder: Is there a sense on the part of the State Department that the White House is inching towards changing its sort of --

SENIOR U.S. OFFICIAL: I think where we are is being as robust as we possibly can. You’ve seen the very assertiveness in the UN Security Council around a humanitarian resolution. There was a great deal of debate – there has been for a long time – about whether we should move on a humanitarian resolution. But given what is occurring in Syria, we agreed – along with like-minded nations led by Australia, Luxemburg, Jordan, and others – that we needed to press forward.

And the humanitarian resolution, which is being discussed among like-minded nations and the entire Security Council, is very robust, is enforceable, and absolutely must address all of the issues we’ve been trying to include, including cross-border, getting into besieged cities, standard operating procedures for humanitarian assistance. I had a meeting yesterday with Peter Maurer of ICRC, and they are just very focused on making sure that it is not a choice of governments whether or not to abide by international humanitarian law. And the Syrian regime is not.

QUESTION: Hi. Mina al-Oraibi, Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper. Just to pick up on the resolution, rightly it’s important – Valerie Amos and others have been calling for this for a long time to happen. But the timing of wrapping up the efforts in New York, the Russians clearly were not happy with, thought that they had to take a position. And when you look back, how much did that impact your talks here? And did they raise that – I know it wasn’t raised officially in the trilateral meeting with Brahimi, but are you concerned that that actually put wrong type of pressure?

SENIOR U.S. OFFICIAL: Well, actually, it was raised in our discussions. We always raise the humanitarian issues and the need to address them, including the appropriateness of the Security Council, which has the international responsibility to address these issues. So Geneva communique speaks to a whole range of issues, and certainly meeting the humanitarian needs of the Syrian people is part of the implementation of the Geneva communique.

So in terms of timing, the timing has to do with the 5,000 people – nearly 5,000 people – who have died since the Geneva II talks have begun. The timing is because we couldn’t get an opening to Homs, we couldn’t get into besieged areas, because starvation was being used as a weapon of war. That’s what the timing is about.

MODERATOR: Let’s go to John.

QUESTION: John Heilprin, the Associated Press.

SENIOR U.S. OFFICIAL: Hi.

QUESTION: How long is the U.S. willing to let the talks go on for? And do you have any ideas for breaking the impasse? Because at the moment, it looks like they’re not going anywhere. And it also looks like the U.S. is more anxious for progress than the Russians, who seem to be fine letting the process go on indefinitely.

SENIOR U.S. OFFICIAL: As I said at the beginning, we believe that Syria should be resolved politically, not on the battlefield. And so we are very committed to the Geneva II process.

That said, talks for show make no sense. I don't think that that judgment has been made at this time, that these are for show. They were always going to be difficult. They are difficult. They will continue to be difficult. But if Special Joint Representative Brahimi assesses at some point in consultation with the initiators, the United States and Russia, that there is no content, then he’ll have to, as he said yesterday, call it as it is.

Where we are right now I would say is at a tough place. There’s no doubt about that. I think that whether you see what’s happening on the humanitarian front, in the Geneva II talks – in fact on CW some might say there’s a go-slow approach. And when we’re talking about people’s lives, go-slow makes no sense.

And so yes, the United States would like there to be more progress, for the regime to come to the negotiating table with more seriousness of purpose. We think that the opposition coalition, the Syrian coalition, which comes to the table, has put several constructive proposals on the table, including a full-blown proposal for a transitional governing body. We’d like to see the regime do the same. We think that Russia has a responsibility to press the Syrian regime to approach these talks with seriousness, and we look forward to the Russians helping to make that happen.

MODERATOR: Yeah.

QUESTION: Adil Cherkaoui with Al Jazeera Arabic. Is there a different approach as to the naming and shaming? We know that, as you say, the regime is not budging, the Russians are not budging, that you’re committed to the political process, to the Geneva process. We’ve been through the second round right now. What’s going to happen during a third round? What is approach, then, if the regime doesn’t even agree to the agenda set by Brahimi? Then what’s next?

SENIOR U.S. OFFICIAL: Well, sometimes in these kinds of negotiations, which are very difficult – and as everyone said at Montreux, were going to be very difficult. If they weren’t very difficult, we wouldn’t have in essence a war going on in Syria. Sometimes, people need to take a few days and reflect on where they are and think about the choices they’re going to make. So I don’t know when Lakhdar Brahimi will decide this round has ended – whether that will be today, whether that will be tomorrow. But then I won’t be surprised if he says, okay, let’s take some period of time – not too long, but some period of time, go back to capitals and reflect on what you’re doing, because some serious judgments and decisions have to be made here.

It’s – the United States Congress takes a recess from time to time. Sometimes that’s valuable when they’re not being productive. That’s true of negotiations as well.

QUESTION: But we saw that they were stiffer than the first round. They went back to Damascus. When they came this time, they went back, like, two steps backwards. So what assurances would you have? I mean, what would you do --

SENIOR U.S. OFFICIAL: There are no assurances. What we are doing is supporting the parties, particularly the Syrian Coalition, to bring their ideas to the table, which they have done, to show that they are serious about these negotiations. If the regime chooses not to be serious, if Russia as an initiator is having a difficult time urging the regime to be serious, then the whole world will see what is happening here. That will assert some pressure on the parties to do more, and we’ll see where that goes.

QUESTION: Lina Sinjab from BBC World. While the main partner here, Russia, seems to be taking exactly the same line that the regime is taking, they’re not even sending any signals that they are willing to pressure the regime to change anything. In fact, Lavrov says the priority is combatting terrorism, then we talk about the TGB. So what kind of guarantees you can have to have this forward, and even like saying that they might another fourth veto against the humanitarian resolution?

SENIOR U.S. OFFICIAL: I think that what the international community has to do is what it’s doing, which is to insist upon what is right, what is moral, and what is necessary for the Syrian people, and to use all of the pressure and resources at our disposal to support the Syrian people to define and get the destiny that they deserve and want for themselves. And I hope that Minister Lavrov and the Russians will do their part. And if they choose not to, that will become apparent and you will all write about it.

QUESTION: Writing is not going to end the war.

SENIOR U.S. OFFICIAL: Writing will not end the war, but I would also note that many journalists have lost their lives in Syria trying to tell the story of what is going on. That has been very crucial to the world understanding what is happening. And your reporting helps to paint, for, in my case, the American people, for people all over the world to understand what is really happening in Syria, and that is incredibly valuable. People need to know. People need to know.

QUESTION: Okay. Yeah.

QUESTION: Stacy Meichtry with The Wall Street Journal. Can you give us some sense of what seemed to go wrong with the Russians? Because in the weeks leading up to this round, we were constantly being given indications that the Russians are signaling openness, there was obviously the trip by the Coalition to Moscow, tidbits about Lavrov tapping his watch during al-Moallem’s speech and whatnot. And then suddenly we get to tomorrow – excuse me, we get – we got to yesterday, and there’s this frigid response by Gatilov. Is it Ukraine? What suddenly got in the way?

SENIOR U.S. OFFICIAL: We’ll see whether in the end of the day what you have just described is, in fact, what occurs. But if indeed it does, I think that it is unclear whether Russia has made a different choice and is unwilling to press the regime, or unable to press the regime. And I don’t think we know the answer to that. I think it will become apparent. We obviously have ongoing discussions with the Russians. Secretary Kerry and Minister Lavrov talk very, very frequently. And whether any of this is connected to a broader set of events, I don’t know. You should ask the Russians.

QUESTION: They’re not talking much.

SENIOR U.S. OFFICIAL: Which might say something to you as well.

QUESTION: Hussein Kneiber from Al Arabiya news channel. Mr. Gatilov said yesterday that the agenda for negotiations must follow the Geneva I communique line by line, and that the transitional – political transition is the sixth point of this communique. How do you comment on this?

SENIOR U.S. OFFICIAL: What I’d comment on that is the Russians also put out a press statement, I think today or late yesterday, saying that terrorism should be the number one priority, and terrorism isn’t mentioned anywhere in the Geneva communique. Violence is, but not terrorism. So what I would say is that if, in fact, the Russians are suggesting that we go line by line, that is a tactic; that is not an answer.

QUESTION: Alex Felton, CNN. What’s your – after the trilateral meeting yesterday, what’s your comment and idea on the position of Minister Brahimi within all of this? I mean, over the last – through Geneva I and especially over the last week through his press conferences that he’s given to us, there’s a impression that he’s sort hit a brick wall with this. And a few sources have been saying to us that maybe he’s going to go back to New York next week, present his paper to the UN, and maybe he might resign from his position, because he’s obviously – he looks very tired this week as – and his rhetoric was – that it was laborious, and we’re hitting a point that he’s going to try and keep pressing, but he’s obviously got to think about himself and his legacy, to think of his political legacy a touch. Do you think there’s any possibility that we could get to round three, or the fact that Mr. Brahimi, by the end of the next week, is saying “I don’t see a way forward. I can’t manage this process with myself in charge. I can’t be doing this” – is there any way that he might step down from his position at all, do you think?

SENIOR U.S. OFFICIAL: You’ll have to ask Mr. Brahimi where – what he thinks he wants to do. The one thing I will say is that he is really extraordinary. He is, I think most of you know, recently celebrated an 80th birthday. And I daresay that when I’m 80, I probably won’t be doing this. He is one of the quickest minds I know. He remembers every detail. He remembers every date. He sees and hears everything going on in the room. He is a very experienced negotiator and has managed a very complex and very, very difficult undertaking with this negotiation.

The Syrian coalition, I think, has done a terrific job, but they’ve never been in a negotiation ever like this. Few people have. And they certainly aren’t experienced negotiators. And I think that – and the regime, as you all have seen, has been – dragging its feet would be a nice thing for me to say about how they’ve approached this negotiation, stonewalling every step of the way so far, it appears. And I think that Lakhdar Brahimi has used his considerable talent to nurse this process because he understands how crucial it is for the people of Syria.

QUESTION: So you have all the faith that if we come out for round three, if that is, that he will be there?

SENIOR U.S. OFFICIAL: I think you have to ask him. We all make our own judgments about life. All I can tell you is what I have seen and how I think he has approached this negotiation, and it’s been quite something.

MODERATOR: John.

QUESTION: Yes. I’m John Zarocostas from McClatchy newspapers in France (inaudible). We haven’t heard too much on ideas from either the government or the opposition on how they’re going about on the key point in the Geneva I that is in bold letters the immediate cessation of violence – in other words, a ceasefire. Secretary Kerry mentioned partial ceasefires, I suspect because of the 1,800 armed groups and the government on the other side. Any ideas on this front? And where do you start? Have people – any ideas being tossed around? The opposition came with seven military commanders from different parts of the conflict areas. Any ideas in your bilaterals with the Russians or Mr. Brahimi? Kofi Annan had made that a top priority. It doesn’t seem to be on the map here.

SENIOR U.S. OFFICIAL: Well, I think everyone would love to have a ceasefire, but loving to have one and getting one are two different things. And so I think what Secretary Kerry has spoken of is local ceasefires where, in fact, as we got in Homs – Homs was important because 1,400 people got out and because food and medicine got in, but it is not by any stretch of the imagination the way this should be done. This shouldn’t be a political negotiation. This should be a provision of humanitarian assistance under humanitarian law. So it shouldn’t be done this way, and it was done the way it was done. The ICRC, as you know, did not engage in it because they thought the procedures were not appropriate and were too – had too many potential downsides. And indeed, there was sniper fire against some of the trucks that came in, and that is a very dangerous situation to have in the provision of humanitarian assistance. There are 90-year-old people who are trying to walk across a square and wouldn’t be able to scramble out of the way if there is sniper fire.

So I think that going for local ceasefires is trying to deal with the besieged areas and deal with the provision of humanitarian assistance, but there is no doubt that ultimately, through a diplomatic negotiation such as Geneva II, one would hope to eventually get to a ceasefire.

QUESTION: But what’s holding it back? Where are the ideas on a ceasefire? We’ve seen many negotiations, maps. Is this being presented in --

SENIOR U.S. OFFICIAL: Oh, there are plenty of maps, John.

QUESTION: Yeah.

SENIOR U.S. OFFICIAL: There are plenty of maps. And as you say, there are plenty of groups inside of Syria. And I would say in 80 percent of the cases where humanitarian assistance has not gotten through, it is the regime. I would say in the other 20 percent where it hasn’t gotten through, it is under – largely, not entirely, but largely under the control of extremists. And extremists are not the Syrian coalition which sits at the table.

QUESTION: Was there some – I’m sorry. You haven’t had a question yet. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Yeah. I’m Feras from BBC, Feras Kilani. Since these talks have started here in Geneva, this – the military situation on the ground is changing, especially in Aleppo.

QUESTION: I’m sorry. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: And we understand from our sources that Mr. Ahmad al-Jarba didn’t attend this round because he’s very scared from what’s going on in Aleppo – as the regime moves forward. Do you have any plans to support them in this period within the next two rounds of talks as they are moving some of their – some areas in Aleppo and northeast Damascus and even the south?

SENIOR U.S. OFFICIAL: Well, I’m not sure I would agree with all of your analysis, but if you’re asking are there ways that we can continue to help them, it sort of goes back to the initial question. We already, as you know, provide non-lethal aid. We do everything we can, working with the London 11 and a group of partners, some of whom provide other things to the opposition coalition. And we will continue, as Secretary Kerry said, as President Obama said, standing next to President Hollande to look at every option that is open to us to see what else we can do to be helpful.

QUESTION: Yeah, but today, different sources from the opposition told us that there are two flights with weapons arrived to (inaudible), and somehow there was some kind of American officials controlling the issue.

SENIOR U.S. OFFICIAL: Nothing that I can comment on. I’m not sure what you’re talking about specifically, so I can’t offer a comment. I’m sorry.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: It seems that one of the impasses here has to do with the definition of terrorism and the definition of violence. And I’m just curious whether there was any discussion either in the face-to-face meetings with Brahimi or in the trilateral or in the bilaterals about this issue. In other words, I think Mekdad claimed in his meeting that the opposition – I mean in his briefing that the opposition had refused to acknowledge that terrorism exists. Now, they have certainly talked about terrorism, but they’ve emphasized ISIS and they haven’t taken a further step of saying, “You know what? There’s people who are aligned with us who have committed atrocities.” I mean, is there any push from your side to get them to go a little farther in that direction?

And similarly from the other side, is there any way to engage the parties in a discussion of defining what is terrorism and what is violence, so that they can move towards talking about the same thing?

SENIOR U.S. OFFICIAL: The reason this is so difficult and so hard is because the regime and the Syrian people are so far apart. And as Mr. Brahimi has said to everyone, we have to put concerns on the table, but there’s no doubt that it will take time to resolve any of these issues. And that in the first instance, the regime will define terrorism in one way and the Syrian coalition will define it in another way. In an initial discussion, the regime would have certain things to say about a transitional governing body and the Syrian coalition would have something entirely different. But you have to start a negotiation by putting that on the table and then seeing where you can begin to find any common ground and a way forward. It is very, very difficult. The only way this works is if both parties come to the table ready to engage. The Syrian coalition has come to this table ready to engage. They put a transitional governing body plan on the table.

So what we are looking for is for the Syrian regime to engage and to put constructive proposals on the table – not that either side is going to begin and say, “Oh, great idea. Let’s go do that.” This is going to take time, but you have to come with a commitment to engage, not to step back. And that’s what we’re looking for from the regime. That’s what we hope Russia will encourage them to do.

QUESTION: But what will entice them to do that? I mean – I’m sorry, go ahead.

QUESTION: I was just going to ask – sorry.

SENIOR U.S. OFFICIAL: Tell me where you’re from.

QUESTION: I’m sorry, Nina Larson, AFP. Just wondering about what you think is the likelihood that this will end either today or tomorrow and there will be no announcement of a third round and the parties go back? And what will that do to the credibility of this if there is no announcement of a third round coming and it’s just left up in the air?

SENIOR U.S. OFFICIAL: Well, I think that’s a hypothetical. We’re not there yet. So I think it’s – I can’t comment on a hypothetical. What I can say is that I believe that the UN, United States, Russia, the 40 countries and organizations that came to Montreux believe there needs to be a political solution, not a military one. And so I believe there is enormous energy for a diplomatic and political process. It may well be that there needs to be a few days of a recess for people to reflect on where we are after two rounds. This is tough. This is tough.

And so I don’t think people should necessarily read anything into any – into whatever occurs today or tomorrow other than this is a very tough process and it’s going to have a bunch of ups and downs, and probably more downs before there are any ups. It’s hard.

QUESTION: The hypothetical situation is becoming more concrete.

SENIOR U.S. OFFICIAL: Yes.

QUESTION: I mean, just let us know that Brahimi won’t be doing a press conference and they’ll let us know of any possible activity tomorrow. So things look like they’re sort of evaporating.

SENIOR U.S. OFFICIAL: Well, I would presume that if Mr. Brahimi decides that there won’t be a meeting tomorrow then he will have a press statement and he will define where things are going. I think what that says to me is that he has met with the regime today. He has met with the opposition today. He has had other meetings today, and he’s decided for today he’s going to stop and he’s probably thinking through how he thinks things ought to proceed. That’s fair.

QUESTION: I’m sorry. Go on. No, you’re before me.

QUESTION: Well, all right.

MODERATOR: He started, and then he was going to --

SENIOR U.S. OFFICIAL: We did, [Moderator].

QUESTION: Sure.

MODERATOR: Yes, now it – and then Alex next.

QUESTION: When will you tell Brahimi enough is enough? The opposition presented what they need to present. They’re serious, as you’re defending their case. They’re serious; they’re mature enough in these negotiations. They presented papers and what have you. The other side didn’t do a thing. What – and we’ve seen the Russians – as I said earlier, they’re not budging and they’re defending their case 100 percent. What – when will you tell Brahimi, “Hey, as a sponsor of this conference, enough is enough”?

SENIOR U.S. OFFICIAL: Well, I’m not saying that today because those choices and decisions haven’t been made. And at the end of the day this is about the parties at the table. Russia and the United States are the initiators; those 40 countries who came to Montreux are the international community in support. I’m sure that there will be lots of consultation over the next few days about the next step in this process. I think that – I’m sure that Brahimi needs to talk with the Secretary General of the United Nations. This is a diplomatic process. Things happen after concentric circles of consultation and thinking through, because as you are noting in your questions, there is a lot at stake here. There is a lot at stake.

So it may be easy to, okay, say, “All right, on to the next thing.” But there is a lot at stake, so we better be very thoughtful about each step along the way here.

QUESTION: But you’re – it seems to me like you’re betting on the human kindness of the regime for the next rounds or for the --

SENIOR U.S. OFFICIAL: I am not betting on the human kindness of this regime.

QUESTION: But that’s – that’s – I’m not --

SENIOR U.S. OFFICIAL: I don’t think I’ve said anything here that would imply that whatsoever.

QUESTION: (Laughter.) No. What I meant is we all know that there’s no military option. You insist on the political solution. What I’m saying over here is what will entice the regime to give in? Or so it’s like you’re kind of bet – you’re shaming them and naming them, and it seems to be not enough.

SENIOR U.S. OFFICIAL: These situations are not resolved in a day. They’re not even resolved, generally, in a month. So let’s let the process play out a little bit here.

MODERATOR: And we have about five minutes left, so we’ll try and get as much into that as we can.

Alex.

QUESTION: Do you personally - When you go back – when we all go back to D.C. after – we all go to Vienna and then come back, do you think this week has been a success in your eyes? As in, since we went to Montreux and we were there, and that was a very big meeting, do you think it’s been, from a U.S. standpoint, a success, a partial success that at least we had these meetings this week, the regime were there? Or do you think, from a U.S. standpoint, we have a lot more work to do – actually, maybe – because I’m going to be asked by the guys in D.C. as to how CNN covers this in terms of the angle they’re taking. Or have the Russians – on this round, the regime and the Russians have got one up on the U.S. over this week?

SENIOR U.S. OFFICIAL: Well, I don’t think they have one up when 136,000 people have died. It’s not about who’s one up. It’s about solving the problem. You’re looking at the wrong ball in the wrong soccer game. This isn’t a soccer game. This isn’t any kind of a game. These are people’s lives at stake. This is a war. This is a regime that is undertaking intense brutality, using starvation as a weapon. So we take this in all seriousness, and if we have a tough week – and this has been a tough week where there has been foot-dragging; there’s no doubt about that – that says to us we have to dig deeper, push harder, and do whatever we can to help the Syrian people get the destiny they asked for.

So I would say it increases our resolve to do whatever we can to help the Syrian coalition get the resolution they’re seeking.

MODERATOR: Nina.

QUESTION: Sorry, I just want to ask about next steps. Because there was – although your (inaudible) was a regular one that was expected, a lot of hope was pinned on it, partly because Mr. Brahimi said, “I need the two initiating states to help.” So is it, at this point, about the two initiating states, what they can do together, or is it really just the onus on Russia? I mean, how do you feel your next steps are?

SENIOR U.S. OFFICIAL: In any situation like this, you need everybody to get it done. And as I said, it’s about the two parties, the two delegations engaging. One has; one hasn’t. It’s as simple as that. We have had the responsibility through this process to help the Syrian coalition come along, build their skills, come to the table, be constructive, build out their representation, outreach to more parts of the Syrian community, Syrian people. They are doing all of those things. Russia took on the responsibility of encouraging the regime to do what was necessary here, and that seems to be stalled at the moment. I’m just stating facts that are apparent to everybody.

So we hope and trust – because Russia is an initiator, believes in a political solution, in a diplomatic solution – that Russia will urge the regime to engage in a serious and constructive way.

QUESTION: But they didn’t give that commitment in your meeting yesterday.

SENIOR U.S. OFFICIAL: What I would say about that is the regime hasn’t done so yet, and that speaks for itself.

MODERATOR: Okay. One last question.

QUESTION: Oh, you --

QUESTION: You had --

MODERATOR: Stephanie hasn’t.

QUESTION: Nebehay from Reuters. Are you expecting talks on Syria to continue then on the sidelines in Vienna, at an appropriate level?

SENIOR U.S. OFFICIAL: With whom?

QUESTION: The Iranians.

SENIOR U.S. OFFICIAL: Hmm?

QUESTION: With other powers, potentially with contacts with Iran, contacts with --

SENIOR U.S. OFFICIAL: Well, the P5+1 or E3+3 or E3+EU+3 – whatever our Iran – whatever you call our Iran talks in your newspaper or your media outlet – the only subject for those negotiations is Iran’s nuclear program. Of course the other political directors and I end up on the margins, or when we’re sitting around waiting for the next meeting, talk about all manner of things – whatever happens to be in the morning paper or on TV or being tweeted out by somebody. So I’m sure we will talk about this on those margins. But the purpose of the discussions of the P5+1 and our discussions with Iran is solely about Iran’s nuclear program.

MODERATOR: Okay. On that note, I’d like to thank everyone for coming and remind you that this is on background for attribution as a senior U.S. official. And as noted by the senior U.S. official, please take care to protect the --

SENIOR U.S. OFFICIAL: Identity.

MODERATOR: -- the identity. Thank you. Okay.

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