Washington, DC–(ENEWSPF)–August 11, 2011.
QUESTION: Thank you, Madam Secretary. You are in close coordination with all of the European Union countries, and I wonder how much confidence you have that the European nations are going to be able to create a soft landing for their debt crisis that doesn’t wreck the economy here in the United States?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, Scott, I think it’s very clear that the global economy has made us even more interdependent, and we’ve seen that in so many ways over the last three years. We are certainly supporting what the Europeans are trying to do. Our Treasury Secretary and other officials are in constant communication with their counterparts. Obviously, the President has spoken with his, and I’ve spoken with mine. And this is a very challenging economic time for many of us, but I believe that we’ll see actions taken that will provide the so-called soft landing that you’re talking about.
QUESTION: The stock market is terribly worried about Europe right now. I wonder what your confidence level is?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I’m confident that we’re going to weather this crisis, and not just our own country, because I think that we have very strong reasons to be confident, but I think also, our partners around the world, most particularly in Europe. That doesn’t mean we can be complacent, it doesn’t mean that it’s going to take care of itself. It requires concerted action by governments and by businesses in order to reclaim the lost ground and get growth going again, because ultimately, it is about jobs for people. It’s about people feeling that they have a stake in their own future.
And I think we do have to all pay more attention to how we’re going to create jobs in the so-called developed world that are going to be available for the vast majority of middle-income and lower-income men and women, who are being basically marginalized in the way the global economy is growing.
QUESTION: The Obama Administration has described Bashar al-Asad as illegitimate, and I wonder if it’s time for him to go?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, that’s going to be up to the Syrian people, but I can tell you that President Obama and I have been working very hard to marshal international opinion. When we started with our criticism of Asad, people, to be very frank, kind of said, “Well, yeah, the United States doesn’t get along with Syria, so that’s to be expected.” And we have spent an enormous amount of diplomatic time and effort creating what is a crescendo of condemnatory comments from an increasingly large chorus of international opinion.
And what is important is that the Syrian people know that the United States is on the side of a peaceful transition to democracy. We believe that they have the same right as people anywhere to choose their own leaders, to have the kind of democratic institutions that will maximize their individual opportunities. But we also took a long time convincing even our colleagues on the Security Council to issue a statement, which we finally got done about 10 days ago. And then in rapid succession, we’ve seen the Arab League, we’ve seen the King of Saudi Arabia, we’ve seen the Gulf Cooperating Council, we’ve seen a very strong stand by Turkey and certainly our European friends.
So we are building what I think is a much more persuasive case that the international community – not just the United States – wants to see peaceful change in Syria.
QUESTION: You’re talking about U.S. leadership. Why doesn’t the U.S. lead and take that one half step further and say that Asad’s time is done; he has to go?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I think we’ve been very clear in what we have said about his loss of legitimacy. I think we were among the very first to say it. We’ve sent a very clear message that he should be doing what is necessary to end the violence against his own people. But it’s important that it’s not just the American voice, and we want to make sure that those voices are coming from around the world. And the Russians and the Chinese joined our presidential statement, after saying that they would never do anything to condemn the Asad regime.
We’ve issued more sanctions, tougher sanctions. We’re working with our European and other friends. But what we really need to do to put the pressure on Asad is to sanction the oil and gas industry, and we want to see Europe take more steps in that direction. And we want to see China take steps with us. We want to see India, because India and China have large energy investments inside of Syria. We want to see Russia cease selling arms to the Asad regime.
So I come from the school that we want results, not rhetoric. And what we have done for the last several months is – behind the scenes and in front of the cameras – to build the pressure on Asad and the people around him. There’s no doubt in anyone’s mind where the United States stands. We’ve reached out to the opposition, we have been very proud of our ambassador, who has carried the message of our country and our values right into Hama, into the heart of the Syrian repression. So I think we have done what is actually going to pay off rather than just rhetorically calling for him to go.
QUESTION: Asad right at this moment seems to be pressing for the end – attacking his people, attacking his cities in a most vigorous way to put an end to it before the pressure you describe ousts him from power.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, but I think the pressure requires an organized opposition, and there isn’t one, Scott. There is a lot of sort of beginning sprouts of such an opposition. There are local coordination councils around the country. There are very brave Syrians who are standing up and risking their lives, even losing their lives. There are Syrian opposition figures outside of Syria and inside. But there’s no address for the opposition. There is no place that any of us who wish to assist can go. So part of what we’ve been encouraging and trying to facilitate is for the opposition to become unified.
Syria has a lot of divisions, and one of the reasons why this has been challenging for those of us who have been watching from the outside is that there are many communities – minority communities within Syria – who are, frankly, saying the devil we know is better than the devil we don’t. And so they have continued in Damascus, in Aleppo, to support the Syrian regime not because they agree with what is being done, but because they’re worried about what could come next. So part of what we’ve been doing is to encourage the opposition to adopt the kind of unified agenda rooted in democratic change, inclusivity. So if you’re a Christian, if you’re a Kurd, if you’re a Druze, if you’re an Alawite, if you’re a Sunni, inside Syria there will be a place for you in the future.
So I know everybody gets very impatient. They’d like to see change yesterday. Well, we certainly think Syria deserves democracy, but we also know that you have to replace somebody with somebody else, and that somebody else is still in formation.
QUESTION: Last question before Somalia, but relating to something that you mentioned a moment ago: Is the United States going to sanction the oil and gas industries that are involved in Syria?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Yeah. We have very little stake in it, so it’s not – so again, we have such a small stake in what they produce and what they market. The real trick is to convince the Europeans and the Arabs and the Chinese and the Indians and others. Because again, I mean, we’re going to sanction, and we have been upping the sanctions. We’re going to continue to do so. But we want others to follow, because Syria was not one of our major economic partners. It wasn’t anybody that we had a particularly good relationship with before this all started, although we were open to improving the relationship if they showed that they were going to make changes. And obviously, that’s not in the cards right now.
QUESTION: You’re not going to say he has to go?
SECRETARY CLINTON: We are, I think, building the chorus of international condemnation. And rather than us saying it and nobody else following, we think it’s important to lead and have others follow as well.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I have many concerns about al-Shabaab. Al-Shabaab is a terrorist group. Al-Shabaab has been particularly brutal, even barbaric, to the people under their control, even before this famine has so devastated the Somali people. Al-Shabaab has imposed the worst kind of punishments for what they consider to be violations of their particularly perverted, distorted view of Islam. And so they have posed a threat to the United States and to our friends and neighbors. They were behind an attack in Kampala, Uganda because Uganda has been very important in our efforts to try to beat back al-Shabaab, and we’ve made progress, thanks to an organized African effort supported by the United States and others.
But what we’ve seen in recent weeks just beggars the imagination, Scott. I mean, it’s one thing to have a view of religion that is so brutal and totally at odds with anything that anyone else believes, but it’s something entirely different to prevent women and children from getting to a place where they could be saved, where the children could be fed, where women wouldn’t be watching their babies die in their arms. And we have seen no indication that al-Shabaab has a heart. This is Ramadan. If there were ever a time for a group that claims to be adhering to their own form of Islam – they apparently don’t know what Ramadan means, because they are doing nothing to assist the international community or even on their own to assist the people that they control.
And I’ve called on them and their leaders to show some mercy and some compassion. We can get back to squaring off against one another after we save the lives of women and children. So far, we’ve seen no evidence that they’re willing to do that.
QUESTION: Is the United States Government aiding the training of anti-Shabaab militias in Somalia?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, the United States Government helps to fund the AMISOM Mission, and the AMISOM Mission has made the difference between clawing back territory from al-Shabaab and losing all of Somalia to this terrorist group. So we have, for a long time, supported African troops under an African mission to work with the Transitional Federal Government that is in place in Mogadishu. And I have seen progress over the last two and a half years. I met with the head of the TFG in Kenya in August of 2009 and —
QUESTION: The Transitional Federal Government.
SECRETARY CLINTON: The Transitional Federal Government. Look, they have a long way to go. They are only learning on the job, so to speak, about how to govern. Somali-Americans have gone home to Mogadishu to try to help prevent this perversion that al-Shabaab practices from destroying their country.
But Somalia has been in turmoil and living with violence for a very long time now. We all remember, first, President George H. W. Bush and then President Clinton trying to help the Somali people in the early ’90s. And it was a very terrible incident with our soldiers being killed and mistreated. So the world, for a number of years, said, “Look, Somalia is just too violent, too complex. We cannot deal with it.” And at that time, there was a lot of – it was mostly an inter-clan conflict.
But what we’ve seen in the last several years is the rise of al-Shabaab, which proudly claims some affinity with al-Qaida, which tries to work with al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb. And so this then became a direct threat to us, not just a tragedy on the ground in Somalia, but a threat to not only the United States but the rest of the world.
QUESTION: In addition to the African Union forces, are we supporting or providing training or providing the money for training of other militias inside Somalia?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I think we’re doing what we can to support Uganda and others who are part of the AMISOM Mission to do what they need to do to help not only beat back al-Shabaab, but to help train an indigenous Somali force to stand on its own against al-Shabaab.
QUESTION: And training is integral to that?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Of course it is. I mean, part of the challenge is making sure that people are trained to use equipment, to know how to engage in the kind of warfare to deal with the threat of suicide bombers. I mean, there’s a lot that has to be learned. It’s – it is certainly welcome that people would want to stand up and fight for their family and their country, but they need to be able to know how to do it.
QUESTION: When you see these pictures that are coming out of the famine emergency, what do you think?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Right. Well, it just breaks my heart because there is no doubt that some of this is the unfortunate consequence of weather patterns, of drought. But I would say most of it is because of bad policies and bad people, and that’s what really upsets me.
An act of God is an act of God. You deal with an earthquake, you deal with a tsunami. But there is so much more we could do to help in this, and we’ve tried to. We fund something called the Famine Early Warning System Network. It gave us an indication last year that a famine was on the way, and not just because of weather patterns but because of violence, because of conflict, because of inaccessible areas to be able to provide support. So we pre-position food. And we’ve worked with the Governments of Ethiopia and Kenya. We’ve certainly worked to support the UN and both American and international NGOs. But then you see these pictures and you know how many people are dying because they can’t get help where they are, because you have this terrorist group, al-Shabaab, that has no regard for the lives of the people in the areas they control.
QUESTION: How is the United States responding to the emergency?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I think we are responding very effectively in the face of a very large challenge. We’re by far the largest donor, over $550 million that we have put into trying to help save lives. We’re not only providing emergency foodstuffs – particularly what is needed when you’re terribly malnourished and you can’t eat whole food; you have to have nutritional supplements – but also we’re helping with water, we’re helping with sanitation and healthcare, we’re trying to vaccinate people so that there are not epidemics in the refugee camps. We’re supporting Kenya, which has been an extremely gracious host to hundreds of thousands of Somalis who have come over their border over the last years because of the fighting there. And we’re working with the Government of Ethiopia.
But at the same time, Scott – and I want to emphasize this because the American people are very generous and we do respond to tragedies and natural disasters – we have to change the trajectory here. And so what we did from the very beginning of this Administration was to say, look, we are the best at responding to food disasters. The United States is the major supporter of the World Food Program. We’re there with food. We set up this early warning system. We are great at responding to disasters.
But we’ve got to do more to change the underlying conditions. So we started a program called Feed the Future, which represents the best thinking in agricultural productivity, in nutritional supplementation, in marketing of food, everything that goes into what makes for greater self-sufficiency. And Ethiopia and Kenya are two of the countries we’ve been working with over the last two and a half years. What are policies that need to be changed at the governmental level that encourage more food production?
And the last time there was a famine in Ethiopia – I’m old enough to remember, the pictures were very similar to what you’re showing – it affected 12 million people. This year, this famine is affecting about 5 million in the area. Now, 5 million is still an unacceptably high number, but it’s a big improvement because we’ve worked with both farmers and pastoralists to try to help them do more to sustain themselves – drought-resistant seeds, for example, better irrigation techniques and the like. So it’s not just that we’re responding to the emergency, first and foremost. We’re also trying to change the underlying conditions.
QUESTION: Last question: You mentioned the United States has contributed more than half a billion dollars —
SECRETARY CLINTON: Right.
QUESTION: — to this emergency in —
SECRETARY CLINTON: Right.
QUESTION: — the Horn of Africa. Some reasonable people would say this is a terrible, terrible tragedy, but we can’t afford that.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well —
QUESTION: And I wonder what you would say to them.
SECRETARY CLINTON: I would say look at these pictures. And the one thing that Americans are so well known for, not only through our government but through our religious faith-based institutions, through private charities, through individual giving, is our heart. No matter what anybody says about us anywhere in the world, people have to admit that when there’s trouble anywhere, Americans are there. We’re there to help, and we’re there to do the very best we can to try to alleviate suffering. That’s part of the DNA of the American character. We certainly can afford to do what is necessary now.
Obviously, we’re all having to tighten our belts in this tough budgetary climate, but I have the great honor of heading the State Department and USAID, our two civilian agencies that – we don’t carry weapons; we carry food and we negotiate treaties, we try to help governments get better. It’s an insurance policy both against tragedy happening, but it’s also our way of responding when the inevitable – because given human nature, we’re going to face these kinds of terrible calamities – that we show who we are as a people. And I would hate to think that our country would ever back off from that.