QUESTION: Secretary Clinton, thank you very much. I know it’s been a very long and intense day.
Let’s begin with that critical point that you’ve talked about so many times, that Assad has to step down, leave. Now, it appears that the Russians won that point. There is no direct demand that Assad go.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, Jill, I couldn’t disagree with you more. I think that what the agreement clearly states is that there has to be a transitional governing body that will be constituted of people who are there by the mutual consent of the government and the opposition. Now, unless I am wildly off base, there is no way anyone in the opposition would ever consent to Assad or his inside regime cronies with blood on their hands being on any transitional governing body.
But I said weeks ago that Assad going could be an outcome as well as a precondition, and what was important is that we were on a path with an empowered Special Envoy with the full support of all the P-5 members, including Russia and China, with an approach that absolutely guarantees, if there is a transition that is still the hard work ahead, Assad will not be part of it.
And we’ve had lots of experience in this. I mean, we just went through more than a year with Ali Abdullah Saleh in Yemen, and he kept saying he would go, then he wouldn’t go. And people just kept bearing down and pushing forward and eventually were successful.
But until today, we did not have the kind of roadmap in specifics, with concrete actions, that you could telegraph to Damascus, where I believe they are shocked that Russia and China have signed onto this agreement, which so clearly says goodbye to them in this transition.
QUESTION: But the timing. In other words, this could be down the road; this could be a year from now. What?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, of course, making peace is really hard. And when it happens and how it happens is dependent on so many factors. And what we did today was to make clear that, for the first time, we had agreed-upon approach that satisfied the Russians and the Chinese and the neighbors, who are very anxious, for understandable reasons, about what’s going on in Syria.
Jill, there’s no guarantee that we’re going to be successful. I just hate to say that, because it’s the fact. But I am very grateful that we now have a roadmap that has everybody on board with a clear path towards transition, with a clear set of expectations that have to be fulfilled. And now I believe the internal reality within both the regime and elements of the opposition will begin to move in a direction that, I hope, puts us on an inevitable path.
QUESTION: But how do you get to that transitional body? Because people are fighting.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Right.
QUESTION: I mean, isn’t it unrealistic to think that you’re going to get the body that you say will strip him of his power?
SECRETARY CLINTON: No, because I just look at history. I look at the conflicts that I’m familiar with. I have to smile thinking about Queen Elizabeth shaking the hand of Martin McGuinness, an IRA commander, just this past week. Whenever you start with a process like this, number one, there’s neither a guarantee as to the outcome nor as to the timing, but you are beginning to change the international calculations of everybody who is a party to the conflict.
And that’s what I think will really give Kofi Annan the support he needs. Because now when he goes to Damascus and he says, “I have been instructed by all Security Council members, including the Russians and the Chinese, to begin talking to you about appointing an empowered interlocutor to meet with me and meet with representatives of the opposition. Who are you going to appoint?” and they’re not going to be able to say, “Well, there’s division in the international community, and there are a lot of people who are on our side.” They are pretty much left with Iran.
QUESTION: Do you really believe that the Russians can convince Assad?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Jill, I think that’s a great question, because one of the points that became clear, both in my long conversations with Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov last night in St. Petersburg and then in our larger group today – they have committed to trying, but they’ve also admitted that they may or may not have enough leverage to convince not just one man but a family and a regime that their time is over. But what was important was to get them on board to make this effort on their own, using their leverage, and in support of Kofi Annan. And I think it’s a significant step forward in our efforts to try to figure out the least violent, disruptive, destabilizing way to end this conflict and give the Syrian people a chance at a different future.
QUESTION: So if the Russians are supposed to influence Assad, you are supposed to influence the opposition. How do you do that? What do you say to them?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, not just me, but others as well. I mean, we will have an American presence at the meeting of the opposition in Cairo next week. But the Turks, the Qataris, the Arab League, all who were part of our negotiations to reach this agreement today, will all be there. Because what’s the alternative? I mean, what are they going to do? Just continue to have meeting after meeting, or are they going to buckle down to the hard work of choosing someone to – or several people – to represent them in a transitional governing body to engage in the negotiation. And they’re going to have to finally make a decision about what it means to take responsibility for trying to end a conflict and lead a nation.
We went through this in Libya. The Transitional National Council had both members of the Qadhafi regime, who had fairly recently left, along with longtime oppositionists. So we have seen how important it is to have an organizing focus. We now have that. So at the meeting of the opposition in Cairo, they will hear from a number of different voices that you have to make some decisions about how to be part of this process.
QUESTION: There are some people who say that the Russians want to play this out, that they look at the election schedule in the United States, November there’s an election, they realize that there’s little appetite either in Washington or practically any other capital for military action, and so they’re just playing it out, banking on the fact that nobody is going to really take any type of strong military step. What do you say to that?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I’d say that if we were talking a week ago, based on what we were hearing from the Russians, from the very highest levels, from President Putin on down, we would never have even had the meeting in Geneva, they would not have come under any circumstances, and they would not have participated in reaching the agreement that we reached today. So what happened?
I think they have begun to realize that they are trying to ride two horses at the same time, so to speak. They are constantly saying we have no love lost for Assad, we don’t have any stake in him staying, but we are afraid of the violence and what will come after. So the argument I have made to them consistently is that their failure to be part of the solution is the surest way to ensure we have a civil war with sectarian conflict that spills over the borders.
And I can’t speak for them. I can’t put myself into their internal discussions. But I believe, based on my lengthy conversation last night and our discussions today, they’ve decided to get on one horse, and it’s the horse that would back a transition plan that Kofi Annan would be empowered to implement.
QUESTION: Okay. Could I ask you a quick question on Egypt? President – incoming President Morsi wants to ask the United States to extradite Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman from the World Trade Center attack in 1993 on the basis of – humanitarian basis. What would the U.S. do in that case?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I think it’s very clear that he was given due process. He was tried and convicted for his participation in terrorist activities, most particularly the bombing of the World Trade Center in 1993. The evidence is very clear and convincing, and he was sentenced to life in prison, and we have every reason to back the process and the sentence that he received and will do so.
QUESTION: Madam Secretary, thank you very much.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you, Jill.