SECRETARY CLINTON: Good afternoon, everyone. Before I begin, let me say that like many Americans, I was shocked and saddened by the killings of innocent Afghan villagers this weekend. We send our condolences to families who have lost their loved ones and to the people of Afghanistan. This is not who we are, and the United States is committed to seeing that those responsible are held accountable.
I’ve had a series of productive discussions today with my counterparts focused largely on challenges and opportunities facing a fast-changing Middle East and North Africa. First, in private and public meetings, we continued our international efforts to stop the horrific campaign of violence that continues unabated in Syria.
Five weeks ago, we were blocked at the Security Council from even condemning the violence and endorsing a peaceful plan developed by Syria’s own neighbors. But we have refused to let that stand in the way of our support for the Syrian people.
The United States believes in the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all member-states, but we do not believe that sovereignty offers a grant of immunity when governments massacre their own people, threatening in the process the peace and stability we are collectively committed to protect. How cynical it is that even as Assad was receiving former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, the Syrian army was conducting a fresh assault on Idlib and continuing its aggression in Hama, Homs, and Rastan.
I had a constructive conversation today with Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov. We discussed his meetings this past weekend with the Arab League in Cairo, where he agreed on the necessity of an end to violence; full, unimpeded humanitarian access; and a political process led by former Secretary General Kofi Annan; and based on the terms of the Arab League and UN General Assembly resolutions.
Now is the time for all nations, even those who have previously blocked our efforts, to stand behind the humanitarian and political approach spelled out by the Arab League. We should say with one voice as an international community that the killing of innocent Syrians must stop, and a political transition begin.
Second, I was pleased to be here today when we renewed and updated the UN support mission in Libya. Last year, the Security Council, the Arab League, and countries around the world acted to help Libya in its moment of need. Today’s renewal reflects our continued commitment to Libya and our recognition that our work to help the Libyan people achieve the future they aspire toward is not yet finished.
Finally, today, we held an informal consultation of the Quartet. We remain committed to the overall objectives the Quartet outlined last September and we agreed to meet in April. We reiterated our support for Jordanian peacemaking efforts and our call to both parties to remain engaged and to refrain from provocative actions.
I also, on behalf of the United States, condemned in the strongest terms the rocket fire from Gaza into southern Israel, which continued over the weekend. We call on those responsible to take immediate action to end these attacks, and we call on both sides to make every effort to restore calm.
Now, it is no secret that the pursuit of Mideast peace is difficult work, but the Palestinian people – just like their Arab neighbors, Israelis, and all people – deserve dignity, liberty, and the right to decide their own future. They deserve a viable, independent Palestinian state alongside a secure Israel. But we know, from decades in the diplomatic trenches, that the only way to get there is through a negotiated peace, a peace that cannot be dictated from outside by the United States, the United Nations, or anyone else, and one we will continue to pursue through every productive avenue.
With that, I will take your questions.
MS. NULAND: We’ll take three today. We’ll start with Lachlan Carmichael from AFP.
QUESTION: Good morning, Madam Secretary. This morning with Mr. Lavrov, did you secure any commitments or progress towards getting the elements you need for a ceasefire and getting humanitarian aid into Syria? And two, did you discuss the Russian arms shipments to Syria? Did you ask them to stop that? And what did he say?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, first, I did appreciate the opportunity I had today to discuss with Foreign Minister Lavrov, a week after the Russian elections and after his meetings with the Arab League, the way forward. I think he has heard clearly how strong the feelings are in the region and on the Security Council, and that we expect all nations, including Russia and China, to join us now in pressing the Assad regime to silence its guns, to allow humanitarian aid to enter, and to make way for a real political transition that protects the rights of all Syrians.
I pointed out my very strong view that the alternative to our unity on these points will be bloody internal conflict with dangerous consequences for the whole region. So our message is clear: It is past time for action to save lives, to protect the dignity and rights of a proud people, and to meet our obligations as Security Council members to protect peace and security.
Now, Foreign Minister Lavrov will take what he heard here back to Moscow, and we are all waiting to hear from former Secretary General Kofi Annan as to his advice about the best way forward. In the meantime, we will be continuing our efforts with the other 70-plus members of the Friends of the Syrian People to get humanitarian aid where it is so desperately needed, to tighten sanctions on Assad and his regime, and to strengthen the transition planning of the opposition.
We want to support the efforts of Kofi Annan and the Arab League to end the violence, but we believe that we must act soon. So we are hoping that after the consultations today, after the meetings in Cairo, after Kofi Annan’s visit to Damascus and his follow-on consultations, that we will be prepared in the Security Council to chart a path forward. That is what we are committed to and that is what we are hoping and expecting the Russians and others to support us in doing.
QUESTION: Madam Secretary, thank you very much. On Afghanistan, I was wondering how do unfortunate events like this and the Qu’ran burning affect your diplomacy there, and how might that affect the negotiations with Afghanistan?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, first, this was a terrible, awful – I can’t even imagine the impact on the families who were subject to this attack and the loss of children in this terrible incident. I join, of course, with President Obama, Secretary Panetta, and other representatives of our government and the American people in expressing our deepest regret and condolences. A full investigation is underway, a suspect is in custody, and we will hold anyone found responsible fully accountable.
Now, we’ve had a difficult and complex few weeks in Afghanistan. That is obvious to everyone. This terrible incident does not change our steadfast dedication to protecting the Afghan people and to doing everything we can to help build a strong and stable Afghanistan. So we remain committed to the goals that we and our partners have set forth. We remain committed to solid cooperation with the government and people of Afghanistan as they strengthen their own security and improve their democratic institutions. But, we recognize that an incident like this is inexplicable and will certainly cause many questions to be asked.
But, I hope that everyone understands in Afghanistan and around the world that the United States is committed to seeing Afghanistan continue its move toward a stable, secure, prosperous, democratic state. The people of Afghanistan deserve that, and that’s where we will continue to focus our efforts.
And yes, go ahead.
QUESTION: Thank you, Madam Secretary. Kindly can you spell out your understanding of the five points agreed to between Mr. Lavrov and – in Cairo with the Arab ministers? As Mr. Juppe had said, he sensed ambiguity in the interpretation of the Russians of that. What are the terms of reference as far as you see them, particularly related to the political process and references for Mr. Kofi Annan’s mission?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, first, we think that the five points that were discussed in Cairo are not ambiguous. They are clear in the direction that we wish to head. But it is certainly, as Foreign Minister Juppe and others have said, going to require a lot of work to put them into operation.
First and foremost, the Assad government has to end the violence against its own people. There is nothing ambiguous about that. And as I said to Foreign Minister Lavrov today, there is no equivalence to that either. The monopoly on deadly violence belongs to the Syrian regime, and there needs to be an end to the violence and the bloodshed in order to move into a political process. Now, of course, once the Syrian Government has acted, then we would expect others as well to cease the violence. But there cannot be an expectation for defenseless citizens in the face of artillery assaults to end their capacity to defend themselves before there’s a commitment by the Assad regime to do so.
So I think that there’s no questioning that these five points all must move forward, and certainly the reports we’re getting from former Secretary General Kofi Annan is that he is meeting with parties, starting with the Arab League and with the Assad regime, to try to hammer out a way forward using those five points as a framework.
But the United States, for one, is very clear. There must be a cessation of violence by the Syrian regime first and foremost. Then we can move toward asking others, who will no longer need to defend themselves because we will be in a political process, to end their own counter-violence.
So we want to give Kofi Annan the space and time to develop his recommendations. We have the highest respect for him. He has a proven track record of bringing parties to resolution. So our goal is to listen to him. And if he comes back with a slightly different formulation that we think will work, we’re going to be very respectful of that.
Thank you very much.