QUESTION: And this morning, news that Asad’s forces are trampling another Syrian town. The best response the world has come up with so far is a United Nations statement condemning the violence and the U.S. trying to ratchet up sanctions. America’s ambassador to Syria, Robert Ford, has been sent back there, having been drawn back here for urgent consultations. I met him at the State Department just before he left.
Do they consider you an enemy of the state in Syria?
AMBASSADOR FORD: They’re certainly angry with my trip to Hama. They were very angry about that. I don’t particularly care because we have to show our solidarity with peaceful protestors. I’d do it again tomorrow if I had to. I’m going to keep moving around the country. I can’t stop.
QUESTION: Do you fear, given that Hama in 1982 was the site of tens of thousands of deaths there by the regime, are you worried that that could happen now –
AMBASSADOR FORD: Yes.
QUESTION: — and that is happening now?
AMBASSADOR FORD: I mean, literally, dozens of people have been killed in the last week. I’m personally very nervous about the fate of some of the people I met. I fear that they’re either now under arrest or may be dead.
QUESTION: The violence continues despite the U.S. sanctions and the statement by the UN this week, so I asked the ambassador: Will Asad really feel the pressure from these moves?
How much leverage, though, does the United States have? It doesn’t have many industries there. Unlike with Egypt, you don’t have military-to-military or security cooperation.
AMBASSADOR FORD: First of all, there is just the power, the reputation of the United States. When I visited Hama, that was a statement and it got international attention that the American ambassador would go there. That’s leverage.
In addition, because we have targeted specific individuals and worked with partners, especially in Europe, we are seeing some of those individuals and other people who fear being named on sanctions lists coming to us and saying maybe I need to rethink what I have been doing.
QUESTION: Well, let me ask you about that strategy. You’re clearly bypassing the Syrian Government in that you’re not speaking to state television; you’re using social media, Facebook. You and your spokespeople have used very harsh, one might say undiplomatic, language to condemn the violence. What is your strategy –
AMBASSADOR FORD: I’d like to call it frank talk, Christiane.
QUESTION: What is your strategy?
AMBASSADOR FORD: My whole purpose in being in Syria is to be able to communicate not only with the Syrian Government but with the Syrian people more generally. I will be very frank again: The Syrian television operated by the state, operated by the dictatorship, is not credible and tells all kinds of lies. So we are looking for ways to reach out to the Syrian public through social media, through things like Facebook, and by going out and about in the country.
QUESTION: So you’re going to keep tweaking them. You’re going to keep waving sort of the red flag in front of the bull in the way you can.
AMBASSADOR FORD: It’s important to bear witness to what the Syrian Government is doing. In that kind of environment, where the international press, international television, can’t move around freely, it is really important for diplomats to be able to move around, to understand what the Syrian Government is doing on the ground. The Syrian Government does not tell the truth. They said there were armed gangs in Hama. Well, the only weapon I saw was a slingshot. So it’s important to bear witness and it’s important to relay a message of support.
QUESTION: You want change on the ground. Do you want Asad out?
AMBASSADOR FORD: We have said he has lost his legitimacy. But in the end, Christiane, it doesn’t really matter as much what we say or what the international community says as what the Syrian people say and what the Syrian people do.
QUESTION: It seems obvious what the Syrian people want: They want a democratic transition and they want the fall of this regime. The President of the United States, Barack Obama, called on a longtime U.S. ally, Hosni Mubarak, to leave. He’s not doing that to not such an ally and somebody who’s committing much more violence, Bashar al-Asad. Should the President of the United States say that it is time for Bashar al-Asad to step down?
AMBASSADOR FORD: Well, you’re absolutely right that Bashar al-Asad is using a great deal more violence than was used in Egypt. We have said – and we’ve been very clear on this – we do not view Bashar al-Asad as indispensible. We do not view his continuation in power as important to American interests. We have said we view him and his government as the source of instability and the source of violence in Syria. I think our views are very clear. The President has said his government will be left in the past. The meaning is clear, Christiane.
QUESTION: Many Americans watching this unfolding say, well, look, the United States joined a coalition of a no-fly zone, a military intervention in Libya, for instance. There’s no such thing on the horizon for Syria. Can you explain that?
AMBASSADOR FORD: The Libyan situation is very different from what we have in Syria. Probably the first and foremost thing in my discussions moving around the country and talking to people, even in Hama where there’s this atrocity going on right now, even in Hama when I talk to people there, “What do you think about what the Americans should do, the international community,” they were very clear, Christiane. They did not want American military intervention. I want to underline that. They did not want American military intervention.
QUESTION: What is the United States going to do to ratchet up the pressure to try to influence what’s happening there?
AMBASSADOR FORD: Well, we are going to try to ratchet up the pressure. The violence that the Syrian Government is inflicting on Syrian protestors, from our point of view, is grotesque, it’s abhorrent – not just from our point of view, from the point of view of the entire international community. And so we are looking at additional unilateral measures, but also measures that we can work with partners to get the Syrian Government to stop shooting protestors, to release political prisoners, and to stop these arrest campaigns.
QUESTION: Ambassador, thank you very much for joining us.
AMBASSADOR FORD: My pleasure.
QUESTION: And you can hear more of what Ambassador Ford had to say about America’s attempts to ramp up that pressure on Syria online at abcnews.com/thisweek.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Hello, good afternoon, everyone. It’s a real pleasure to welcome Minister Baird here in his new capacity as the foreign minister. I’ve had the opportunity to meet with him briefly in the past, but today we had a chance to go over the very rich substantive agenda that our two countries are working on together, both bilaterally, regionally, and globally.
Before I get into that, however, I would like to comment on the famine situation in Somalia. As you may know, Dr. Jill Biden will be leading a delegation of high-level American officials, including AID Administrator Raj Shah and Assistant Secretary Eric Schwartz from the State Department, to Kenya to see firsthand over this weekend the situation, because as the situation in Somalia and East Africa so clearly illustrates, we all need to be responding to the very human tragedy that is unfolding.
The United States, through the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development, is working with the international community and governments in the Horn of Africa to address the short-term immediate needs in the region. But at the same time, we will continue to press our implementation of our Feed the Future initiative to mitigate the long-term effects of prolonged drought and food shortages in the future. I would like publicly to express our deep appreciation to Canada for the Canadian Government’s and the Canadian people’s strong partnership and extensive aid in the region.
In certain areas of Somalia where access has been possible, including parts of Mogadishu, and in the refugee centers hosted by Ethiopia and Kenya, we are saving many Somali lives. However, al-Shabaab militants have deliberately blocked the delivery of food assistance in an area of south central Somalia which is under direct or indirect control of al-Shabaab. And that also includes some areas of Mogadishu and its environs.
It is particularly tragic that during the Holy Month of Ramadan, al-Shabaab are preventing assistance to the most vulnerable populations in Somalia, namely children, including infants and girls and women who are attempting to bring themselves and those children to safety and to the potential of being fed before more deaths occur. I call on al-Shabaab to allow assistance to be delivered in an absolutely unfettered way throughout the area that they currently control so that as many lives as possible can be saved.
Now to my meeting with the minister – and I want to express, on behalf of myself and certainly our government, our appreciation for your friendship to the United States. We also are aware of how well known you are for your candor and your ability to cut to the heart of any issue. That was most welcome in our meeting today, and we were able to cover many of our shared goals and commitments.
We are bound together in so many obvious ways, of geography and commerce, culture, values, but it is worth noting that 300,000 people and $1.7 billion in goods and services cross our border every single day. So as close neighbors who work, trade, and interact with one another, we are seeking ways to create jobs for our own citizens, Canadians and Americans alike. Therefore, it’s critical that we ensure our border remains a safe, vibrant connector of people, trade, and energy. And today, the minister and I discussed other ways to expand trade and investment; for example, by reducing unnecessary regulations that get in the way of our businesses doing business.
We also discussed our joint efforts to expand security around the world. I am greatly appreciative of Canada’s contributions in Afghanistan, where Canadian soldiers have suffered some of the highest casualty rates of any coalition partner. And Canada continues to help the Afghan people take responsibility for their own security.
We also appreciate Canada’s contribution to enforcing UN Security Council Resolution 1973 in Libya. And I was very interested in hearing Minister Baird’s impressions from his recent trip to Benghazi.
We also talked about how Canada and the United States can expand our cooperation throughout the Western Hemisphere by leveraging our resources to support economic development, citizens’ safety, and good governance with our neighbors to the south.
Prime Minister Harper has long emphasized his intentions to expand Canada’s engagement in the Americas and the Caribbean, and Canada showed its extraordinary commitment to the people of Haiti in its great outpouring of relief following the earthquake. And there’s much we can do to make sure that our borders to the south are secure, and that means helping Central American countries strengthen their policing and rule of law and reducing corruption. This is – these are areas where Canada’s expertise can make a real difference.
So among the many things we discussed, those are some of the issues that we are working on, but our work continues. I am grateful for the minister’s strong commitment to our robust alliance and our unwavering friendship, and I look forward to continuing our work together.
FOREIGN MINISTER BAIRD: Thank you very much, Madam Secretary, and thank you for the warm welcome here at the State Department. Our two countries continue to enjoy one of the closest friendships and the most prosperous partnerships in the world. Not only do we share a border; we also share people-to-people ties like no other countries on earth, and increasingly intertwined economies, which is why, under the leadership of President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Stephen Harper, we remain focused not only on important bilateral issues, but also on global ones as well.
Secretary Clinton and I see eye to eye on the evolving situations in both Libya and in Syria. In Libya, we remain committed to the NTC and its vision for a free Libya in a post-Qadhafi era. In Syria, we stand united in condemning the actions of the Asad regime and backing calls of the Syrian people for true and meaningful reform.
Closer to home, we discussed the path forward on the shared border initiative. Our government recently received a strong mandate from Canadians to create jobs and to secure the global recovery. To that end, even stronger cooperation between Canada and the United States simply makes sense. We must speed up legitimate trade and travel between our two countries while also enhancing security and protecting our citizens’ privacy.
(Speaking in French.)
I would close by thanking Secretary Clinton for her tireless dedication and innovative approach to global diplomacy, and of problem-solving in the international scene. Canada and the United States share very similar core values in our international relations. I know we will continue to work together in a variety of areas to accomplish great things. We are and we will continue to be great partners. Thank you, merci beaucoup.
MR. TONER: We have time for two questions on each side today. The first one goes to Elise Labott of CNN.
QUESTION: Thank you. Madam Secretary, I’d like to ask you about Syria. You said and the President said months ago that if President Asad cannot lead a transition, he should get out of the way. You’ve said he’s lost legitimacy. If you look at the situation on the ground, particularly in Hama, it’s dire. There are tanks inside the country, and basically, nobody has heard from a lot of their people inside the country. I was wondering what more it’s going to have to take for the United States to call on President Asad to step down? What kind of levers can you push to stop the violence and get him out of the way? And what about the sanctions on the oil and gas sector that you had spoken about? What can the U.S. do to stop this tragedy? Thank you.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I think your description is all too accurate. We’ve seen the Asad regime continue and intensify its violent assault against its own people this week. Sometimes you lose sight of the incredible tragedy unfolding on the streets by just looking at the numbers which are so numbing, but the shooting death of a one-year-old recently by the Syrian regime’s tanks and troops is a very stark example of what is going on.
We think to date, the government is responsible for the deaths of more than 2,000 people of all ages, and the United States has worked very hard to corral and focus international opinion to take steps toward a unified response to the atrocities that are occurring. We stand fully behind the UN Security Council presidential statement, which was agreed to last evening, which condemns the widespread violation of human rights and the use of force against civilians by Syrian authorities. And we call, along with the UN Security Council, on the authorities to end all violence against affected towns, comply with their obligations under applicable international law, allow immediate and unfettered access for international humanitarian agencies and workers.
As I’ve said before and as others in our government have said, President Asad has lost his legitimacy to govern the Syrian people. We continue to support the Syrians themselves in their efforts to begin a peaceful and orderly transition to democracy. I met on Tuesday with a group of U.S.-based Syrian activists and members of the Syrian American community to express our solidarity and sympathy for all Syrian victims of the Asad regime’s abuses. The activists reaffirmed the internal opposition’s vision of a transitional plan for a Syria that will be representative, inclusive, and pluralistic, for a new united Syria with a government subject to the rule of law, and fully respectful of the equality of every Syrian irrespective of sect, ethnicity, or gender. And I encouraged the activists to work closely with their colleagues inside Syria to create such a unified vision.
So we are seized of the concerns posed by what is happening in Syria, and we know that it’s taken time to pull together a broader international coalition to speak out against what is happening in Syria, but we are committed to doing all we can to increase the pressure, including additional sanctions, but not just U.S. sanctions, because frankly, we don’t have a lot of business with Syria. We need to get Europeans and others. We need to get the Arab states. We need to get a much louder, more effective chorus of voices that are putting pressure on the Asad regime, and we’re working to obtain that.
QUESTION: Do you think that there’s not enough international outrage about this? I mean, the U.S. has had trouble at the United Nations pushing for even stronger condemnations, such as a resolution. I mean, are you hampered by what you can do by the lack of international will on this?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, let me say this, Elise. We are working very hard to increase that international will. What happened last night in the Security Council could not have happened a week ago. So in effect, other governments, other people’s voices are starting to be heard, and we think that’s essential.
MR. TONER: Next question goes to Paul Workman of CTV.
QUESTION: Thank you. Secretary Clinton, first of all, I’m wondering if we could talk about the Keystone Pipeline and why the delays in coming to a decision and what concerns you might have about the importation of what’s been called “dirty oil” into the United States.
And for Minister Baird – and both of you, actually – on Somalia, first of all, did you talk about military action against al-Shabaab? And on Libya, would either of you accept to have Qadhafi stay in the country if he steps down? And what do you think of this latest report that he may want to join with the Islamists in order to drive the rebels out?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I will answer your first question, and I will let the minister answer your next three. (Laughter.)
FOREIGN MINISTER BAIRD: That’s called a partnership. (Laughter.)
SECRETARY CLINTON: We are reviewing TransCanada’s permit application for Keystone XL Pipeline to cross the U.S.-Canadian border. As you know, this includes analysis and assessment of multiple factors, as well as reviewing hundreds of thousands of comments that have been received during the public comment period. We are leaving no stone unturned in this process and we expect to make a decision on the permit before the end of this year.
FOREIGN MINISTER BAIRD: On the Keystone Pipeline, this is obviously tremendously important to the future prosperity of the Canadian economy. We had a good discussion about it, and I respect that the Secretary is the decider, so she listened respectfully. We’re pleased that there’s a – the recent announcement about the process, that there will be some public consultation, and obviously look forward to a decision on this. It is a very important project not just for our government, but I think for Canadians and the future of the Canadian economy.
I think while we’re deeply concerned about al-Shabaab’s actions in Somalia at this time, we’re not contemplating military action. Obviously, both countries have an experience from that, some 16, 17, 18 years ago.
With respect to Colonel Qadhafi staying in Libya, I believe when I visited Benghazi the bottom line of the NTC was that he and his family had to leave power. Certainly, we’re supportive of that as a minimum. At the end of the day, though, a post-Qadhafi Libya should – those decisions should be made by Libyans themselves, but I appreciated the comments of the NTC when I visited Benghazi in that regard.
MR. TONER: Next is Kirit Radia of ABC News.
QUESTION: Hi. Thank you very much to you both. Madam Secretary, before I get to my question, I’d like to just follow up on Elise’s question, because I –
SECRETARY CLINTON: (Laughter.) I warned John before we came out here that two plus two did not equal four. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Well, Canada is double the allies. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: That’s right. But I would like to ask you just about whether or not to call on President Asad to go, why not do that?
My question was about Somalia, following on your comments. The recent UNICEF appeal for $300 million has only yielded a couple million dollars contributed so far. What are you saying to allies, to other countries around the world, to try to get them on board? And recently this week, several officials have suggested that the U.S. would be open to some sort of agreement working with al-Shabaab, or elements of it that would be willing to cooperate if they were to allow some aid in. What can you tell us about that? Thank you.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, first, as to the follow-up on Syria, I think I’ve said all I can say, that we are working around the clock to try to gather up as much international support for strong actions against the Syrian regime as possible. I come from the school that actions speak louder than words.
Now with respect to Somalia and al-Shabaab, I want to put this in the broader context. Millions of people are suffering, and those millions of people are in Ethiopia and Kenya; they are in parts of Somalia that are not controlled by al-Shabaab. So there is more than enough work for the international community to do to help save lives without even having to worry about the al-Shabaab controlled areas. So of course, I urge a response to the UN’s appeal.
The United States is now approaching half a billion dollars in support for famine relief, and we have communicated, I have spoken directly with Prime Minister Meles. We have spoken with the Kenyan Government. We are working with a lot of the UN and multilateral organizations as well as the NGOs to try to better organize to deliver the food stuffs that are necessary, particularly to save children’s lives from this famine that they’re encountering.
With respect to al-Shabaab, what the United States has done in the last week is to make it clear our understanding of how difficult it will be to get aid into the al-Shabaab controlled regions. Therefore, we know that al-Shabaab imposes taxes on people who try to bring aid to assist in saving lives from this drought and famine. We know that they make money from kidnapping those who are attempting to provide humanitarian relief. We know how difficult this is. Therefore, we don’t want to add to the difficulty.
If people from the UN or from other organizations are trying to get food into the al-Shabaab controlled region, the United States will not be imposing the penalties that are called for under our laws, particularly, as you know, the Patriot Act, which talks about any material support that goes to terrorists. And if it inadvertently does go to al-Shabaab, we think, unfortunately, the situation calls for us to offer some room for more maneuverability in trying to get the food in. At the end of the day, the best way to get food into those areas is for al-Shabaab to actually care about the people under their control.
MR. TONER: The next question is (inaudible) from Radio-Canada.
QUESTION: Thank you very much. (In French.)
And for Madam Secretary, I’d first like to follow up on my colleague’s question regarding Keystone and what your concerns are for the environmental impact of the extraction of oil from the oil sands. And the question I asked the minister on the differences, really also, and policies between the actions in Libya and the ones in Syria. Can you explain those differences, please?
FOREIGN MINISTER BAIRD: Listen. I mean, obviously, the United Nations Security Council passed Resolution 1973, which gave a significant amount of leeway for allies to come together and to tackle the challenge that we saw on the ground, we’re there very actively protecting civilian lives.
The situation in Syria, the actions of the Asad regime are obviously abhorrent. The way they’ve acted in recent weeks and months, even in the last 48 hours in Hama is absolutely disgraceful. Regrettably, we don’t have the same amount of international support at the UN for this, so I think in the absence of that, what we’ve got to continue to do is to work with like-minded allies. And there’s not a – there’s no country, I think, who can single-handedly tackle this challenge. We’ve got to work aggressively with others.
I think recently Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom have toughened up our sanctions, and we had a good discussion today about what we could do going forward.
FOREIGN MINISTER BAIRD: Ah, excuse. Do you want to do the French answer? (Laughter.)
SECRETARY CLINTON: I would only add to John’s comments about Syria versus Libya. As he pointed out, the response from the international community was very different with respect to Libya, not only with, first, UN Security Council Resolution 1970, but then 1973. You had a call for action to protect civilians from the Gulf States, from the Arab League. So I think that there may be many reasons for it, but the step that we did see made last night in the Security Council is the first step of what we hope will be continuing steps to try to unite the world in both our rhetorical outrage, but in actions that will send a very clear message to the Asad regime, the insiders there, that there’s a price to pay for this kind of abuse and attacks on their own people.
With respect to Keystone, we are planning to issue the final environmental impact statement this month. Then once that final statement is issued, interested in federal agencies on our side, including the Department of Energy and the Environmental Protection Agency, under our laws have a 90-day period to review and provide their views on whether a permit should be issued. We think it’s critically important to hear the publics’ views, and so the State Department in September will host public meetings in all six of the states through which the Pipeline will pass.
We’ve been clear from the beginning that the safety of the Pipeline is one of our highest priorities. We have not only conferred with the EPA, but also with an organization called the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Association. And we have worked diligently to ensure we have full understanding of all of the consequences, including the very important point that the minister made to me about energy security and what that means for our two countries. And we have worked with the applicant, with TransCanada, to develop a set of conditions above and beyond what is required by law to ensure that if the permit is issued, the project will be as safe as it could possibly be.
But because I am very conscious of the role that I play and that the State Department plays, that is as full an explanation as I can provide.
Thank you all very much.