QUESTION: There has been talk within Syria about the growing reach of al-Qaida. President Obama has worked very hard to stamp that out with the killing of Osama bin Ladin. Can you tell us about what we’re seeing as far as rogue elements, terrorism within Syria that doesn’t come from Assad’s forces?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I think we have start from the premise that Assad is the one who turned peaceful protests into instances of armed resistance. And that’s deeply unfortunate. He likes to blame everything on terrorists and foreigners, but in fact, these are Syrians trying to exercise the rights that others in the Arab Spring are exercising. So the vast majority of the people who are standing up against the horrific assaults of the military machine in Syria are ordinary citizens defending themselves and their homes.
Now, are there opportunists? Well, there are in any conflict. We know that. There are people who see, oh, there’s a conflict; what can I get out of it? Or maybe I can try to convince people to come over to my point of view. But that is such a minority. We don’t want it to grow. One of the reasons why we want to send a very clear message to the people inside Syria, particularly those who are fighting to protect themselves and their families, is that the international community stands with you, and we want to see an inclusive, democratic Syria where members of every ethnic group, every religion, are given a chance to be full citizens.
QUESTION: Madam Secretary, you have said that there will be serious consequences if Assad does not stop killing his people, but this is the moment of truth. The time for excuses is over. But short of military intervention, what is going to stop this man?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, Andrea, I see it as a progression that is too slow and it’s very painful to watch the terrible killing continue by the Assad regime. But out of this meeting today, we have agreed on not only more sanctions, but a means of enforcing them. We now have a sanctions committee. That was quite an accomplishment because this group consists of a lot of countries that are really the mainstays of the Syrian economy. We have more humanitarian aid going in. We have an accountability project underway to catalog all of the atrocities that have been done. And we are increasing the various forms of assistance for the Syrian opposition.
In addition, we are supporting Kofi Annan’s process, but we wanted to have a timeline because we don’t want to give Assad the excuse of being able to negotiate with no end.
QUESTION: Syria’s government says with recent gains by the Syrian army that the battle to overthrow Bashar al-Assad is done and that now it’s a battle to regain stability. Tell me why you think they’re wrong.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I think they’re wrong because what they have done is to create enemies of the regime. Where before, they had peaceful protestors and demonstrators who, inspired by the Arab Spring, wanted the chance to choose their own leaders and participate in their society. The resistance that has been put up by poorly armed fighters who often ran out of ammunition, who had nothing but a AK-47 or some other automatic weapon against tanks and mortars, demonstrates that this is a very long-term conflict.
QUESTION: Let’s look at the opposition. A number of them are expats, people who have lived out of the country for years and years. Why should anybody who’s inside Syria right now trust them? And do they actually know the real situation on the ground?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, what’s happening is that the Syrian National Council is expanding. I just met with four representatives, including a young woman who just escaped from Homs. I mean, she is someone who is bearing witness to the horrors of what the Assad regime did to the neighborhoods of her city. And she had very poignant stories of close friends who were tortured and are in hospital, and if they’re discovered as having been in the opposition, will be killed. I mean, it’s a terrible human tragedy, but she is a witness.
So I think, along with the people who started the Syrian National Council, who are in a position to do so – because they had been driven out by the Assads, father and son, over the course of many years – they’re now being joined and, frankly, their credibility is being enhanced by both civilian and military defections. And we think that’s significant.
QUESTION: So one of the primary functions of the Friends of Syria is to provide support for the opposition, but up to this point, we still don’t see any real coordination and communication among the different both armed and political opposition groups inside Syria. How much of a frustration is that for you as you go through this process?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I’m encouraged by what we heard today, and I met privately with representatives of the Syrian National Council. They are making progress. They have unified around a compact, a national pact, about what they want to see in a new Syria, which is important, because then that sets the parameters for the kind of opposition that will be under their umbrella. They have reached out and included a much more diverse group of Syrians than when I met with them in Tunis or the first time in Geneva. They’re making progress. This is quite difficult, but I am encouraged.