I want to thank Prime Minister Erdogan, Foreign Minister Davutoglu and the people of Turkey for hosting us today. Turkey has shown steadfast leadership throughout this crisis. I also want to recognize the continuing contributions of the Arab League and in particular the work of Secretary General Elaraby and the chair of the Syria committee, Prime Minister Hamad bin Jassim. To all my colleagues, and to all our friends and partners around the world, thank you for standing by the Syrian people.
We meet at an urgent moment for Syria and the region. Faced with a united international community and persistent popular opposition, Bashar al-Assad pledged to implement Joint Special Envoy Kofi Annan’s initial six point plan. He promised to pull his regime’s forces back and silence its heavy weapons, allow peaceful demonstrations and access for humanitarian aid and journalists, and begin a political transition.
Nearly a week has gone by, and we have to conclude that the regime is adding to its long list of broken promises.
Rather than pull back, Assad’s troops have launched new assaults on Syrian cities and towns, including in the Idlib and Aleppo provinces. Rather than allowing access for humanitarian aid, security forces have tightened their siege of residential neighborhoods in Homs and elsewhere. And rather than beginning a political transition, the regime has crushed dozens of peaceful protests.
The world must judge Assad by what he does, not by what he says. And we cannot sit back and wait any longer. Yesterday in Riyadh, I joined with the members of the Gulf Cooperation Council to call for an immediate end to the killing in Syria and to urge Joint Special Envoy Annan to set a timeline for next steps. We look forward to hearing his views on the way forward when he addresses the United Nations Security Council tomorrow.
Here in Istanbul, we must take steps of our own to ratchet up pressure on the regime, provide humanitarian relief to people in need, and support the opposition as it works toward an inclusive, democratic and orderly transition that preserves the integrity and institutions of the Syrian state.
First, pressure. On Friday, the United States announced new sanctions against three more senior regime officials: Minister of Defense Rajiha, Deputy Chief of Staff of the Army Adanov and Head of Presidential Security Shalish. A growing list of Syria’s worst human rights offenders are learning that they cannot escape the consequences of their actions. I am pleased that the Friends of the Syrian People have agreed to form a sanctions working group, to coordinate and expand our national sanctions and strengthen enforcement. Together we must further isolate this regime, cut off its funds, and squeeze its ability to wage war on its own people.
The United States will also work with international partners to establish an accountability clearinghouse to support and train Syrian citizens working to document atrocities, identify perpetrators, and safeguard evidence for future investigations and prosecutions.
Our message must be clear to those who give the orders and those who carry them out: Stop killing your fellow citizens or you will face serious consequences. Your countrymen will not forget, and neither will the international community.
Turning to the humanitarian effort, the United States is expanding our commitment to help the people of Syria. This week in Washington, I met with the president of the International Committee of the Red Cross and we discussed the urgent needs, especially in the communities suffering under relentless shelling.
In Tunis, I pledged $10 million to fund makeshift field hospitals, train emergency medical staff, and get clean water, food, blankets, heaters, and hygiene kits to civilians who desperately need them, including displaced people. Despite the regime’s efforts to deny access, that aid is starting to get through. So in March we added $2 million to our commitment, and today I am announcing more than $12 million for the Syrian people – for a total of nearly $25 million.
But we know that no amount of aid will be enough if the regime continues its military campaign, targets relief workers, blocks supplies, restricts freedom of movement, and disrupts medical services. So the United States fully supports the UN’s diplomatic effort to secure safe and unfettered access for humanitarian workers and supplies, including a daily, two-hour ceasefire -- beginning immediately -- to allow aid to get in and wounded civilians to get out. And I want to thank the governments of Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon, and Iraq for keeping their borders open and serving as generous hosts to Syrians in great need.
The third track is supporting the opposition as it plans for an inclusive, democratic transition.
Here in Istanbul, the Syrian National Council and a wide range of opposition groups are uniting around a common vision for a free, democratic and pluralist Syria that protects the rights of all citizens and all communities. It is a roadmap for saving the state and its institutions from Assad’s death spiral. And it is worthy of support from the international community and Syrians from every background.
Turning this vision into reality will not be easy, but it is essential. Assad must go and Syrians must choose their own path. Citizens across the country are already laying the groundwork. Peaceful protests continue to swell, with citizens marching in the streets of Syrian cities and towns, demanding dignity and freedom. The regime has done everything it can to prevent peaceful political organizing, and activists and opposition members have been jailed, tortured, and killed. And yet, local councils have emerged all across the country. They are organizing civil resistance and providing basic governance, services and humanitarian relief, even as the shells rain down around them.
To support civil opposition groups as they walk this difficult path, the United States is going beyond humanitarian aid and providing additional assistance, including communications equipment that will help activists organize, evade attacks by the regime, and connect to the outside world – and we are discussing with our international partners how best to expand this support.
In the unlikely event that the Assad regime reverses course and begins to implement the six-point plan, then Kofi Annan will work with the opposition to take steps of its own. But in the meantime, Syrians will continue to defend themselves. And they must continue building momentum toward a new Syria: free, unified, and at peace.
Now that they have a unified vision for transition, it will be crucial for the opposition to translate it into a political action plan to win support among all of Syria’s communities. We’ve seen here in Istanbul that disparate opposition factions can come together. Despite the dangers they face, the next step is to take their case across Syria, to lead a national conversation about how to achieve the future Syrians want and deserve. That’s how the opposition will demonstrate beyond any doubt that they hold the moral high ground, strip away Assad’s remaining support, and expose the regime’s hypocrisy.
So this is where we find ourselves today: Kofi Annan has given us a plan to begin resolving this crisis. Bashar al-Assad has so far refused to honor his pledge to implement it. The time for excuses is over.
President Medvedev calls this the “last chance” for Syria. I call it a moment of truth.
Together we must hasten the day that peace and freedom come to Syria. That solution cannot come fast enough, and we grieve for every lost day and every lost life.
We are committed to this effort and we are confident that the people of Syria will take control of their own destiny. Let us be worthy of this challenge and move ahead with clear eyes and firm determination.