I want to thank Tunisia for hosting this meeting today and I salute the Arab League for its leadership throughout this crisis. I want to particularly applaud the selection of Kofi Annan as a special envoy for both the UN and the Arab League. He will seek to advance the consensus reflected in the Arab League transition plan and the UN General Assembly’s resolution, and I look forward to working with him.
Now, we are all here because the Assad regime’s escalating violence in Syria is an affront to the international community, a threat to regional security, and a grave violation of universal human rights.
The Assad regime has ignored every warning, squandered every opportunity, and broken every agreement.
Faced with determined protesters demanding their rights and their dignity, the regime is creating an appalling humanitarian disaster. Tanks, mortars and heavy artillery continue to target civilians in residential areas, including women and children. Security forces have cut off electricity and communications, sabotaged water supplies, invaded hospitals, and forced thousands of Syrians to flee their homes. The UN has found crimes against humanity. And now there are reports of troops massing for even more deadly assaults.
Here in Tunis, the international community is speaking with one voice, as we did in the UN General Assembly last week that the Assad regime’s brutal assault must stop and a democratic transition must begin. The people of Syria are looking to us in their hour of need. We cannot let them down. Let’s begin by reaffirming the core principles we’ve agreed on today:
We strongly echo the Arab League’s demand that the Syrian Government immediately halt all attacks against civilians; guarantee the freedom of peaceful demonstrations; release all arbitrarily detained citizens; return its military and security forces to their barracks; and allow full and unhindered access for monitors, humanitarian workers, and journalists.
We call for a negotiated political solution to this crisis and an inclusive democratic transition to address the legitimate aspirations of Syria’s people in an environment free from violence, fear, intimidation, and extremism.
And we are firmly committed to the sovereignty, independence, national unity, and territorial integrity of Syria.
In support of these principles, this group should take concrete action along three lines: provide emergency humanitarian relief, ratchet up pressure on the regime, and prepare for a democratic transition.
First, humanitarian relief. Conditions in Syria are dire and getting worse. Emergency assistance is desperately needed, but the regime is doing everything it can to prevent aid from reaching those who need it. It is going after aid workers, doctors, and journalists reporting on the suffering.
We cannot wait for this crisis to become an even greater catastrophe. Today I am announcing that the United States is providing $10 million to quickly scale up humanitarian efforts, including support for refugees. These funds will help support makeshift medical facilities, train emergency medical staff, and get clean water, food, blankets, heaters, and hygiene kits to Syrian civilians in need. This is not the end. The United States will provide more humanitarian support in coming days.
Trusted humanitarian organizations have prepositioned humanitarian supplies at hubs in the region and they are already on the ground poised to distribute this aid if safe access can be arranged. To that end, we fully support the efforts of the UN Emergency Relief Coordinator to secure immediate and safe access for humanitarian workers and supplies.
If the Assad regime refuses to allow this life-saving aid to reach civilians, it will have even more blood on its hands. So too will those nations that continue to protect and arm the regime. We call on those states that are supplying weapons to kill civilians to halt immediately.
And that brings us to our second line of action: increasing the pressure on the Assad regime, deepening its isolation, and sending a clear message: You will pay a heavy cost for ignoring the will of the international community and violating the human rights of your people.
We all need to look hard at what more we can do. It’s time for everyone here to place travel bans on senior members of the regime – as the Arab League has done -- freeze their assets, boycott Syrian oil, suspend new investments, and consider closing embassies and consulates. For nations that have already imposed sanctions, we must vigorously enforce them.
There should be no mistaking our resolve: These crimes against the Syrian people must stop and there must be accountability for senior figures of the regime.
Nor should there be any doubt that the Assad’s rule is unsustainable. As we heard directly today, citizens inside and outside Syria have already begun planning for a democratic transition, from the leaders of the Syrian National Council to the grassroots local councils across the country who are organizing under the most dangerous and difficult circumstances. Supporting this process should be our third line of action.
Assad is tearing the fabric of Syrian society and seeking to pit community against community. To repair that damage and build a sustainable democracy, all Syrians will have to work together – Alawis and Christians, Sunnis and Druze, Arabs and Kurds – to ensure that the new Syria is governed by the rule of law and respects and protects the universal rights of every citizen, regardless of ethnicity, sect, or gender.
We view the Syrian National Council as a leading legitimate representative of Syrians seeking peaceful democratic change and as an effective representative for the Syrian people with governments and international organization.
As we heard today, the SNC is articulating a plan for the future, starting with an effective transition. In the coming days and weeks, we urge the full range of opposition groups and individuals in Syria, including representatives of all ethnic and religious minorities, to come together around that common vision.
Only a genuine democratic transition will solve this crisis. As the Arab League has said, the goal should be the formation of a national unity government followed by transparent and free elections under Arab and international supervision. Assad’s departure must be part of this.
Now I recognize that some inside Syria, especially members of its minority communities, are worried about what comes after Assad. We know that they have much more to fear from his continued rule, but their concerns are understandable. So I urge this gathering to send a strong message that the world will not tolerate the replacement of one form of tyranny with another. We will resolutely oppose acts of vengeance and retribution. And we will support a managed transition that leads to a new Syria where the rights of every citizen are respected and protected, not to chaos.
To those Syrians who still support Assad, especially members of the Syrian military: understand that this regime has no future. The longer you carry out its campaign of violence, the more it will stain your honor. But if you refuse to take part in attacks on your fellow citizens, your countrymen will hail you as heroes.
Syria is a proud country of 23 million people, with a rich history and ancient culture. The end of Assad can mark a new beginning for Syria. It is a chance to rebuild and strengthen the foundations of the state. If Syrians come together, and especially if the leaders of Syria’s business community, military, and other institutions recognize that their futures lie with a reformed Syrian state and not the regime, then Syria may yet emerge as a strong and unified country – a respected and responsible leader in the region.
That should be a goal we all share. And as we move forward today, I hope we stay focused on taking concrete steps to end the violence and support the courageous people of Syria in their aspirations.