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Secretary John Kerry Meets the Press at the Syria Donors’ Conference
January 15, 2014

Secretary of State John Kerry’s Press Availability at the Syria Donors’ Conference

January 15, 2014
Bayan Palace
Kuwait City, Kuwait

SECRETARY KERRY:  Well, good afternoon.  Thanks for being patient and waiting to have a chance to share some thoughts about both today and other issues that may be on your minds.

It was really heartening to take part in this conference here today and see the level of concern, but also the growing level of support for what has to be done in Syria.  And I think that it’s very key for all of us to maintain a united resolve, a shared resolve in the days to come, both in providing humanitarian relief, but also in pressing for the political solution.  As I said earlier today, there is just no joy in a repeated conference to continue to be forced in conscience to support a growing number of refugees, when we really need to undo the underlying cause of the creation of those refugees.  And so, it is critical for all of us to be laser beam-focused on finding that political solution and ending the violence all together, once and for all.

We are very grateful to Secretary General Ban Ki-moon for convening this today, and for his direction of significant focus, as well as resources, into this.  And I want to thank again his Highness Sheikh Sabah Al Ahmed Al Jaber Al Sabah, for bringing everybody together and providing these extraordinary facilities for people to be able to act.

The human toll of this crisis is really clear for everybody to see now, almost to the point where the repetition of the numbers — when you say 130,000 lives have been lost, there is a numbness that sets in, and it’s hard for people to relate to what that really means on a daily basis, in terms of violence on the ground, disrupted families, loss of life.  And you begin to get a better sense of that when you see it graphically, as we did in pictures and film today.  What I saw, personally, at the Za’atari camp in Jordan really left an imprint on me in terms of not only the frustration and even anger that people there felt, because they don’t see their lives changing and they don’t see the crisis ending, but also the frustration that I felt with the global power gridlock on trying to do something that really meets the level of the challenge.  And in the faces of those refugees, as well as in their numbers, there is a level of pain and a level of suffering that everybody in the world ought to share in some way, but which really demands a much greater response than has been provided yet by the community of nations.

So, I am proud that the United States of America is leading the charge, not only with respect to a response to the refugees, but also to try to end the creation of the refugees.  And we today provided an additional — through the grace of the American people — another $380 million that brings our total to about 1.7 billion that we have provided — the leading nation in the effort to try to deal with this crisis.

Now, some of our support will help Syrians immediately as they cope with one of the cruelest winters on record.  And with our contributions today, we are providing, specifically, fuel for heating and cooking, we are providing thermal blankets and other critical winter supplies for tens of thousands of people.

In addition, we are also investing and meeting the longer-term needs of Syria’s neighbors.  After providing generous support for refugees for three years, to Lebanon, Turkey, and Jordan, who are all now under strain that I talked about earlier today, we also want to make sure that these nations are able to keep their hospitals and their schools up and running, and their economies growing, as they witness these enormous numbers of people, and particularly young children, coming into their societies.  So that’s why we contributed an additional $78 million in assistance for refugees living in Lebanon today, and we are delivering support to UN agencies and partners so that children will be able to see a doctor or go to school.  You saw photos of kids in school.  We are also trying to provide assistance so that parents will be able to pay rent and put a roof over their heads.  Otherwise, we run the risk that abject poverty is going to become another threat to Lebanon’s sovereignty and stability.

We are also providing an additional $61 million in assistance to refugees in Jordan, where we see too many Syrian boys and girls who are now working at jobs in their teens — low teens, some of them — rather than being in school, learning and growing.  Contributions from the United States have already helped to place 80 percent of Syrian refugee children in classrooms across Jordan.  That’s an extraordinary accomplishment, and something that Americans ought to be very proud of.  But it also means there are still 30,000 children who are not in school.  So our support today will ensure that many of these boys and girls are no longer going to be denied their childhood right to an education.

Now, some of the more than $30 million that we committed to refugees in Turkey today will also fund schooling and support children who are traumatized by war.  We obviously are not able to wipe away the horror of some of the things these kids have seen and lived through, but what we can do is help to provide them with a future brighter than the life they live today, and we can do that with funding for things like teacher training, educational materials, and quality medical care, all of which is designated in the funding that we are providing.

All of the additional support that the United States announced today, whether in Syria, Turkey, Lebanon, or Jordan, in the wider region, is vital to security now, and it’s absolutely essential for the region’s next generation.

For many of the six-and-a-half million men and women who are displaced within Syria, some

of the contributions made on their behalf today will obviously not matter if it can’t reach them.  So, access is critical.  And the refusal of humanitarian access by both the regime and elements of the opposition is an outrage.  We believe firmly that this is an affront to human dignity, and we are going to continue to find ways to raise the profile of this issue, so people understand it.  Access is critical.  And the Assad regime needs to provide that access.

In Paris this weekend, Foreign Minister Lavrov and I discussed what we can do, working with the International Committee of the Red Cross and others, to deliver humanitarian aid to besieged areas.  And earlier this morning in the general gathering, I had a chance to meet with the president and director of the Red Cross, International Red Cross, who had just come back from Damascus, where they are engaged in discussions, and they told me firsthand how they get an agreement from one agency, and then they go to the other to have that agreement carried out, and the other agency takes it away.  So they have told me personally stories of how they will have an agreed-upon access set up, and then the day comes along where the convoy is going to deliver the goods, and they say, “No, it’s too insecure today, and you can’t go,” and they shut it down.  And so, this excuse, this process, is a calculated, designed process by the Assad regime to deny people, as a matter of a weapon of war, the access that they have a right to for the delivery of these goods.  And one of the things that I am determined to do coming out of here, is make certain that we hold them accountable.  And this will clearly be a subject of discussion going into the Geneva meetings.

We also need to see a more positive climate for these talks.  And my hopes are that in the next days, with a visit of Foreign Minister Muallem to Moscow, and with other efforts, that we will be able to secure from the Assad regime the steps necessary for a ceasefire in whatever number of places that might be able to be achieved.  And we will continue to press for that.  I will be talking with Foreign Minister Lavrov later today on the return trip home in order to see what progress we can make there.

So, a lot of nations, including the United States, made generous contributions today, or pledges for those contributions.  But the greatest single pledge that our nations can make is to work together and commit to the hard work of diplomacy, in order to bring an end to this endless cycle of creating of refugees and of loss of life.  And to put a stopper to the suffering and to end this crisis once and for all, we need to find a political solution.  And we will remain committed to that effort

I would be happy to take any questions at this point.

MODERATOR: The first question will be from (inaudible) of Reuters.

QUESTION:  Thank you very much.  Mr. Secretary, you just talked about holding Assad accountable concerning humanitarian access, and you talked earlier today (inaudible) about the need for them to stop (inaudible) other atrocities.  But what are the specific consequences for Assad if he doesn’t do this?  Given President Obama’s decision not to use force or to support outside force in Syria, how seriously do you think he takes your threats?

And a quick follow-up question.  There is a report in the BBC today quoting Syria’s deputy foreign minister saying some Western security officials have actually been in touch with the Damascus government to coordinate or talk about the threat of Islamic extremism.  Is there any truth to that?

SECRETARY KERRY:  I don’t know anything about that.  Certainly not under my auspices have there been any outreach or contact with that respect — with that regard.

With respect to the issue of consequences, as I said previously, we are reviewing, in the State Department, a whole set of different options with respect to how to have a greater impact with respect to the humanitarian crisis, so that we’re not simply standing up like this and talking about it.  But those options are not yet ready for prime time.  Our team is working on them, we’re looking at how we might be able to have a greater impact directly on this issue of direct humanitarian access.

And with respect to the consequences, there are a number of different options.  But, obviously, paramount among them is the fact that in London the London 11 nations committed in the communique to hold anybody who violates international laws with respect to the conduct of war or conflict accountable.  And there are plenty of international organizations that are available through which to move to do that.  And there are nations ready and willing to begin to bring those kinds of actions and complaints, should it be necessary.

So, I think President Assad needs to understand, and the people around him need to understand, that accountability goes on for some period of time.  And there are people today paying the price in the Hague and elsewhere for their choices.  So we are not without options, but we are working on some more immediate, and we will see where we are with respect to those choices when the time is right.

MODERATOR: The last question will be from (inaudible):

QUESTION:  Thank you very much, Mr. Secretary.  My question is really on Israel.  Mr. Secretary, were you pleasantly shocked or upset by the comments made by the Israeli Defense Minister in this serious diplomatic role between Israel and the United States?  Is it not a sign of a lack of confidence between the two allies?  And is it not a sign of serious disagreements for the security plan and framework agreement you are working on?

And finally, on Egypt, could we have your position on the referendum which could lead to presidential (inaudible) by General al-Sisi.

SECRETARY KERRY:  What was that last part, again?

QUESTION:  Sorry, the —


QUESTION:  The referendum could lead to presidential bid by General al-Sisi.

SECRETARY KERRY:  Oh.  Well, I’m — let me take the second part, first.  I’m not going to comment on the outcome with respect to Egypt yet, or what may or may not happen politically, because they’re in the midst of this process even today.  And our hope is that it will be a process that is transparent and accountable, and one that can give confidence to people that they are going to move down the road that has been promised.

But we don’t know yet.  It’s too early, and we’re going to watch very, very closely, and make judgments as we go forward.  And we remain hopeful — though not yet certain — that the right steps will be taken.  And the proof will be in the actions that are taken not just today, in the referendum, but in the days ahead.  And we intend to watch very, very closely.

With respect to Israel, Prime Minister Netanyahu and I talk regularly, and we are both very committed to moving the process forward.  And we just can’t let one set of comments undermine that effort, and I don’t intend to.  Yesterday, when I was in Rome, meeting with the Foreign Secretary of the Holy See, and preparing for the Donors’ Conference here today, we kept focused on what we’re trying to do to move forward.  Everywhere I go, even here today, everybody I talk to expressed gratitude for the efforts the United States is making for President Obama’s commitment to try to make peace between Palestinians and Israelis.  And we all know the very, very difficult choice in trying to deal with that.  The process is hard.  And we’ve always known that, as we approach the time for these difficult choices, it’s going to be difficult.  I mean there are hard choices to be made.

So, we’re going to work with both sides.  I will work with the willing participants who are committed to peace, and committed to this process.  And after five months of negotiations, I believe strongly in the prospects for peace, and I know that the status quo is not sustainable.  So we will continue to work, and I will work undeterred.

Thank you all very much.  Appreciate it.