Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton With Wyatt Andrews of CBS

February 26, 2012
Sofitel Hotel
Rabat, Morocco

QUESTION: Madam Secretary, good morning.


QUESTION: Thank you for doing this. Let’s get right to Syria, please. I know and respect that you think the Friends of Syria Conference on Friday was a success. But the shelling continues. I don’t think we have any evidence that humanitarian aid is going in as the conference demanded. So on what level exactly was the conference a success?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, Wyatt, perhaps I take a longer view than some in looking at the way that, again, the Arab League has led, which has been one of the most remarkable developments in the last year that they would take positions against fellow Arab nations on behalf of the aspirations that we all hold for the Arab Spring. The fact that so many other countries were present and all speaking with one voice – this is not to be, I think, diminished in terms of its importance. It doesn’t mean that we aren’t deeply distressed by what has continued.

QUESTION: But the world is united. I take your point, but what does that do?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, except that – well —

QUESTION: What does that do?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I think it does several things. Sometimes, overturning brutal regimes takes time and costs lives. I wish it weren’t so. I really, really do. I wish that those around Assad would realize that it may not be tomorrow, may not be next week, but they’re done. I wish the military that serves that regime would quit staining their own honor and stand up for the rights of the Syrian people. I wish the businesspeople who are still sitting on the fence would realize that they’re going to be so tightly sanctioned that it’s going to be a big price for them to pay and so on. Because it’s not just one man; it is a regime. And we think that we’re putting a lot of pressure on that regime, and that there will be a breaking point. And we think that the regime itself is dishonoring who they are and what they stand for. They don’t represent the Syrian people anymore; they represent a family, maybe the Ba’ath Party, a small group of insiders.

And so we’re – we are pushing this day by day. But they also have very, very strong friends, if you look at Russia, China, and Iran, who are in there determined to keep Assad because he does their bidding, he buys their arms, he sells them oil. This is as clear a contrast between the values that the world now is embracing and the past.

QUESTION: But on the point of the pressure and the pressure you’re trying to apply, our correspondent in Syria yesterday was interviewing some of the people still being shelled in Homs, and there was a poignant moment in this interview where this man says, who is under the shelling, says, “Where are you, Friends of Syria?”


QUESTION: He specifically mentions the conflict. He says Baba Amr – that’s the suburb of Homs —


QUESTION: — is being shelled as if you did not exist, that – meaning the Friends of Syria Conference.


QUESTION: Does he have a point?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Of course he has a point, and I am deeply, deeply distressed for the people that he represents who are trapped under this artillery bombardment. But the problem for everyone is you have a ruthless regime using heavy artillery and tanks that are war weapons of the greatest impact against defenseless people. So there will be – and I’ve said this before – there will be those who are going to find ways to arm these Syrians who are under attack. But even if they are given automatic weapons against tanks, against heavy artillery, the slaughter will go on.

And what I’m at – I’m wondering is what about the people in Damascus, what about the people in Aleppo? Don’t they know that their fellow Syrian men, women, and children are being slaughtered by their government? What are they going to do about it? When are they going to start pulling the props out from under this illegitimate regime?

QUESTION: You’re sending a message to them?


QUESTION: The Administration made a point this week of suggesting that if Assad does not step down, does not stop the violence, that the U.S. would consider additional measures.

Talk to me. What are the additional measures?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I’m not going to go into that, Wyatt. I think we did signal that this kind of wanton violence is just unacceptable. There are countries that are much closer with a much greater stake in the neighborhood who are looking at what they might do. Obviously, we are talking with them to see whether they intend to take action and whether they need any kind of logistical or other support, but no decisions have been made.

QUESTION: You’re suggesting nonlethal support? Or are you suggesting that the United States may support the closet backchannel arming of the rebels that’s going on now?

SECRETARY CLINTON: We have made no decisions to do any of the above. We are in consultations with others who are watching this as we are watching it, and trying to determine what more can be done.

QUESTION: When I go back to the plight of the folks being shelled and who are very plaintive in their requests of the international community to be stronger, the question is: How long does the killing go on before the additional measures you’re talking about kick in?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I think, Wyatt, if you take just a moment to imagine all the terrible conflicts that go on in the world, we have seen in the last 15 years millions of people killed in the Eastern Congo in the most brutal, terrible, despicable ways. It wasn’t on TV. There were no Skype-ing from the jungles that were the killing fields. And I could point to many other places where governments oppress people, where governments are turning against their own people. And you have to be very clear-eyed about what is possible and what the consequences of anything you might wish to do could be.

I am incredibly sympathetic to the calls that somebody do something. But it is also important to stop and ask what that is and who’s going to do it and how capable anybody is of doing it. And I like to get to the second, third, and fourth order questions, and those are very difficult ones.

QUESTION: The U.S. has repeatedly said that it’s reluctant to support the direct arming of the dissidents. The U.S. has been reluctant to arm the dissidents. Why?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, first of all, we really don’t know who it is that would be armed. We have met some of the people from the Syrian National Council. They’re not inside Syria. This is not Libya, where you had a base of operations in Benghazi, where you had people who were representing the entire opposition to Libya, who were on the road meeting with me rather constantly, meeting with others. You could get your arms around what it is you were being asked to do and with whom. We don’t have any clarity on that. We —

QUESTION: But what’s the – Madam Secretary, what’s the fear?


QUESTION: On the ground, what is the fear —


QUESTION: — of arming the rebels?

SECRETARY CLINTON: First of all, as I just said, what are we going to arm them with, and against what? You’re not going to bring tanks over the borders of Turkey, Lebanon, and Jordan. That’s not going to happen.

So maybe at the best, you can smuggle in automatic weapons, maybe some other weapons that you could get in. To whom, where do you go? You can’t get into Homs. Where do you go? And to whom are you delivering them? We know al-Qaida. Zawahiri is supporting the opposition in Syria. Are we supporting al-Qaida in Syria? Hamas is now supporting the opposition. Are we supporting Hamas in Syria?

So I think, Wyatt, despite the great pleas that we hear from those people who are being ruthlessly assaulted by Assad, you don’t see uprisings across Syria the way you did in Libya. You don’t see militias forming in places where the Syrian military is not trying to get to Homs. You don’t see that, Wyatt. So if you’re a military planner or if you’re a Secretary of State and you’re trying to figure out, do you have the elements of an opposition that is actually viable, we don’t see that. We see immense human suffering that is heartbreaking and a stain on the honor of those security forces who are doing it.

QUESTION: We’re out of time, but thank you.