Hillary Rodham Clinton
Secretary of State
February 26, 2012
QUESTION: Madam Secretary, thank you very much for speaking to the BBC. Just over a year ago, I asked you a question about Libya,
and I know that Libya and Syria are very different, but in essence the question kind of remains the same. With no sign
of rapid tangible action to stop the violence in Syria, if we wake up tomorrow and President Assad has leveled Homs to
the ground, history will not judge the Obama Administration very kindly.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I just disagree with that premise, Kim I think that if you look at what’s happening in Syria, and it’s very
different from Libya – and you’re right, a year ago we were cautiously assessing what was possible, and what became
possible, because the opposition controlled territory, had a united national presence that was quite prepared to not
only engage diplomatically but organize against the Qadhafi regime is not present yet in Syria. And certainly that is a
condition precedent for anyone who is trying to figure out how to help these defenseless people against this absolutely
I wish that people inside Syria were responding as people inside Libya responded. They are not, at this point, perhaps
because of the firepower and the absolute intent that we’ve seen by the Assad regime to kill whomever. But the fact is
we are moving to do everything possible with the international community.
QUESTION: But if the people inside Syria can’t get organized, and the rebels don’t have the territory to organize properly, what
is the responsibility of the international community to make sure that we don’t end up with a large-scale massacre?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, Kim, we still have a very strong opposition to foreign intervention from inside Syria, from outside Syria. We
don’t have the United States Security Council approval, legitimacy, credibility that comes with the international
community making a decision We have a very dangerous set of actors in the region, al-Qaida, Hamas, and those who are on
our terrorist list, to be sure, supporting – claiming to support the opposition. You have many Syrians more worried
about what could come next. So I don’t want to say that nothing can be done, because I don’t believe that and I feel
like we are moving to the best of everyone’s ability who is concerned as we are about this.
But I want to make clear that for anyone watching this horrible massacre that is going on to ask yourself: Okay. What do
you do? If you bring in automatic weapons, which you can maybe smuggle across the border, okay, what do they do against
tanks and heavy artillery? So there’s such a much more complex set of factors. But I want to assure you part of the
reason for the Tunis meeting was to see whose side who was on.
QUESTION: At the Tunis meeting, the Saudi foreign minister said it was an excellent idea to arm the rebels. Others are perhaps
already doing that. Are you discouraging them or encouraging them?
SECRETARY CLINTON: We are doing neither. We are only speaking on behalf of the United States.
QUESTION: But aren’t you worried that arms flowing into in the country will feed into the conflict?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, but that contradicts the point you were making earlier, and understandably, because it’s a very difficult set of
considerations. I have no doubt that people are already trying, to the best of their ability, to get arms into those who
are defending themselves. What I can’t understand is why the Syrian army is doing Assad’s bidding and taking these
actions against defenseless people, staining their honor, undermining one of the institutional pillars of their country.
I don’t understand that.
QUESTION: It’s starting to look like this is going to be a long conflict. Are you worried about that? Are you worried about years
of conflict in Syria, perhaps something like a Lebanon scenario with regional pairs and different groupings and armies
SECRETARY CLINTON: I am worried about it. I think that there’s every possibility of a civil war. Outside intervention would not prevent
that; it would probably expedite it. So I think that as you try to play out every possible scenario, there are a lot of
bad ones that we are trying to assess while keeping our eye on the need to get humanitarian aid in, to try to do
everything we possibly can to support the Syrian opposition, to make it credible, to have it be both inside the country
and outside the country speaking on behalf of the Syrian people, inclusive, representative. And we’re trying to help
push a democratic transition. It took more than a year in Yemen, but finally there was a new president inaugurated.
People kept being killed all the time.
So these are very painful situations. There’s no getting around it. I feel like everyone else watching the video, and I
also have the additional information that comes from all kinds of intelligence sources, so I know how terrible things
are in parts of Syria. Other parts are totally unaffected. So this is a difficult but necessary engagement for the world
to stay focused on.
QUESTION: In Tunis, you called the Chinese and Russian actions despicable on Syria. Is that wise? Aren’t you cutting them out of
the solution? You may need them to negotiate a possible exit for President Assad.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, they’re free to negotiate anytime they want to try to bring this to an end. The best I can see is their
negotiation is only to reinforce Assad’s existing tendencies and actions. And their actions are very distressing,
because they could be part of the solution.
If you look at the Security Council resolution that they vetoed, there were no arms going into Syria under it, no
foreign intervention of any kind, no basis for foreign military action, not even sanctions. What we were trying to do is
to have the international community behind the Arab League’s leadership, which was to negotiate that kind of handover
that proved successful with Yemen. And that is something that the Russians wouldn’t go for, so we, of course, would
invite, welcome, encourage Russian and Chinese intervention that could lead to the end of the bloodshed.
QUESTION: But some argue that the United States and all the Friends of Syria are hiding behind Chinese and Russian obstructions.
Because the reality is no one, as you said, is really ready to deal with the consequences that any sort of intervention
to halt the violence would actually entail when it comes to Syria. This is a very complicated country. So in a way, the
Russians and the Chinese are also making it easier for you to step back and see how this plays out.
SECRETARY CLINTON: No. If they had joined us in the Security Council, I think it would have sent a really strong message to Assad that he
needed to start planning his exit, and the people around him, who are already hedging their bets, would have been doing
the same. Because they know they’ve got Iran actively supporting them, Russia selling them arms and diplomatically
protecting them, and China not wanting anybody to interfere with anybody’s internal affairs. So that gives them a lot of
comfort. Those are three consequential countries, one right on their border, one nearby, and one that has a lot of
So I think that we have to take the facts as we find them. I wish I could wave my magic wand and change them, but that’s
not possible. So therefore, we are waiting for the Russians to play a constructive role, as they have continued to
promise us. Unfortunately, that’s not been forthcoming.
And I would not be doing my job if I were not looking at the complexity. I mean, I could come on and I could do an
interview with you and I could say, “Oh, we’re all for them. Let’s go get them.” But what would that mean? Because
clearly I know how complex this is, and anybody who is thinking about it and having to actually consider what could
happen next understands it. So what I’m trying to do is work through this with likeminded countries that so we can get
to a point where there is sufficient pressure so that the people around Assad – the business community is still
supporting him, the minorities, which you know so well from Lebanon, don’t know which way to jump and are scared about
what might come after, the opposition, which doesn’t have any place that can really be a base of operations. I mean,
there’s just so many features of what it takes to run an effective campaign against such a brutal regime that are still
not in place.
QUESTION: I’m going to squeeze in a last question about Egypt. Regardless of the outcome with the issue of American NGO workers
who are detained and others as well, because there aren’t only Americans who are facing charges – regardless of the
outcome, it seems to show that the current political establishment, which is a result of the popular revolution, is just
as opposed to the work of civil society as the government of President Mubarak was. That’s not a great result for a
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, Kim, I’m not sure what it shows, because there isn’t a government yet. I mean, that’s one of the problems, is
that they’re still in transition. They finished elections for the parliament. They don’t have an executive that would
have such authority to be able to determine what is and is not the policy of the new Egyptian Government. So we’re in a
transition. And I think that’s one of the reasons why these difficulties flare up.
QUESTION: Would you trust the judicial system in Egypt?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I think we are working with the highest levels of the existing Egyptian authorities and we’re hoping to get this
QUESTION: Thank you very much.