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U.S. Department of State

Diplomacy in Action

U.S. Priorities in the Near East Region

Senior State Department Official
New York, NY
September 27, 2012




THE NEW YORK FOREIGN PRESS CENTER, 799 UNITED NATIONS PLAZA, 10TH FLOOR

MODERATOR:  We’re going to start right away.  Not everyone is here.  Other people may join us, but I just feel everyone is very pressed for time, especially [Senior State Department Official].  And we’re going to have this background briefing be only for attribution to a Senior State Department Official, so everybody understands it’s not for attribution to [Senior State Department Official].  Okay. 

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL:  So let me just start with a couple of points, just a quick overview, and then we’ll get right to your questions.  It’s been a big year.  It’s been a big year of the Arab Spring.  It represents enormous change for all of us, especially for somebody like me who’s coming back to the Middle East after having been away from it – in terms of work, for 12 years.

We focus on a set of principles.  We focus on support for universal rights.  That’s the overarching goal.  And in terms of our bilateral programs, in terms of our overarching work now, we’re working on building the capacity of these new governments to do the kinds of things that they want to do, that we all agree are the appropriate things to assure that they’re able to operate in the way they would like to. 

One of the big issues, of course, that we’re working on and have been working on most intensively is Syria.  To start with, as President Obama said in his General Assembly speech, Assad must go.  We are engaging extremely actively with the Syrian opposition – with the Syrian political opposition – to support their efforts to come together, to expand on their transition plan in terms of there being an alternative to Assad.  We are spending a considerable amount of money providing nonlethal equipment to the Syrian opposition inside Syria.  We’re spending a tremendous amount of money also on the humanitarian needs of the Syrian people, both inside Syria and in refugee camps outside Syria.  We can talk a little bit more about what all of that means.

The other issue, of course, that everyone is very focused on is Middle East peace, the Middle East peace process.  We continue to engage the parties at very senior levels toward the goal of achieving a two-state solution.  David Hale, our Special Representative and Special Negotiator, has been in New York all this week and has had a series of meetings with his counterparts.  The best I can tell you at this point is we remain committed to the overall goal of achieving peace between Israel and the Palestinians, and Israel and all of its Arab neighbors.  And we’ll continue working with the parties to achieve two states living side-by-side in peace and security.

Let me just say a word about Egypt.  The Secretary visited Egypt just after President Morsi became President.  We have a very longstanding and close partnership between Egypt and the United States, and we are building on that foundation by supporting Egypt’s transition to democracy, and by working with its new government.  We are working to meet the needs of the Egyptian people – particularly on the economic side, and we remain focused on working closely with President Morsi’s government to pursue these goals in the best possible way based on a set of principles that are important to us and important to Egypt.

Before we go to questions, I just wanted to say one word about Yemen.  President Hadi was in New York.  We are very proud and pleased with the strong leadership he has demonstrated in working to implement the terms of the GCC Council’s – the Gulf Cooperation Council’s --political transition initiative.  I attended with Deputy Secretary Burns this morning the Friends of Yemen meeting in which it was made clear the importance of continuing to provide the economic support that Yemen needs, but also to support its continued democratic transition, particularly toward the national dialogue that will take place in the next couple of weeks.

Why don’t I stop there and see what kinds of issues you all would like to talk about?

MODERATOR:  And just please identify yourself for our transcribers.

QUESTION:  Yeah, Michel Ghandour with Al Hurra television.  We are hearing President Abbas, he was very disappointed from this process, and then he said that he will – or they started already discussions and talking with some states and organizations to recognize Palestine as a non-member state and organization.  How do you deal with this?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL:  He’s already given his --

QUESTION:  Yes.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL:  He’s already given his talk.  As I said in my opening remarks, David Hale remains – has been in very close touch with him.  The Secretary, of course, has been as well.  The goal is to get negotiations underway when that’s possible to do.  The goal remains to try to get to the two-state solution that we’ve been working on for some time.  I think that’s the best – I think I just have to leave it there and – but at the same time assure you that we’re in very close touch with President Abbas, and we know what his views are on these issues.

QUESTION:  But are you planning to help him in this or (inaudible) efforts and --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL:  I’m just going to leave it there.

QUESTION:  But he was very disappointed.  How you will --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL:  We talk with him all the time.  We know what his disappointments are.

QUESTION:  And are you able to help him?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL:  I’m going to leave it there.

QUESTION:  Mina Al-Oraibi, Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper.  I wanted to ask you about Syria.  There have been increasing talks about trying to get a unity government formed with opposition that – also, that there’s no setbacks as far as the Brits are concerned and others, that if they remember the current Syrian Government, to also join such a transitional government, that – the main point being that Assad is not part of such a government. 

Do you think it’s feasible that we can get that sort of unity government going?  And when is your best hope for convincing the Russians to come on board with a Security Council resolution, at least to support (inaudible) Brahimi?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL:  I didn’t quite understand your reference to the UK in that question.

QUESTION:  Today there was a press conference and Foreign Secretary Hague said that we wouldn’t be against a unity government that would have elements from the current Syrian Government.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL:  Oh, I see. 

QUESTION:  And that was spoken about in Geneva and other places --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL:  Right.

QUESTION:  -- but we haven’t really seen that go forward.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL:  Right.  There are a couple of elements here.  First of all, absolutely, the Syrian opposition needs to come together.  They have come together.  Many of the groups have come together around the transition plan that was agreed in Cairo in early July.  The Syrian opposition groups then formed the follow-up committee to take this transition plan inside Syria to gain support – sort of broad civil society support – for this transition plan.

The transition plan is quite detailed.  It does envision a transitional government.  It’s along the lines of what was – of how it was stated in the Geneva communique.  We – all of us, the international community – continue to work very hard to support the Syrian opposition in coming together around some sort of a unified group that can lead Syria in a transition period to make it possible for there to be a transfer of power from Assad to this transitional authority – transitional governing authority, as it was envisioned in the Geneva communique. 

How that will happen exactly, I can’t tell you.  That’s not something that those of us on the outside think that we should impose.  But we certainly want to be as supportive and as encouraging as possible with the elements of the Syrian opposition who have been working on this for some time.

QUESTION:  But so – just so I’m clear, because this idea of having a transitional government – like you’re saying, it’s hard to know how it would happen from the outside, so is the hope that elements on the ground change, that the security situation changes to a point in Damascus that there could be this transition?  Because up until now, the Syrian Government doesn’t – I mean, the Assad regime -- doesn’t show that (inaudible).

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL:  Right.  I can’t tell you how it’s going to happen.  I don’t think it’s for us to dictate how it’s going to happen.  There are all kinds of models for ways in which it could happen.  There’s the Libyan model.  Of course, there’s the Yemen model.  There’s the de Gaulle model.  There’s an Algeria model.  There are all kinds of different ways one could imagine this could happen.  We don’t have a prescription for what the right way is, but we, the international community, are doing everything we possibly can to encourage the Syrian opposition to decide how they’d like to do it and to identify a – potentially to identify a leadership group among them that could form a – some sort of a governing transitional body. 

QUESTION:  And really – sorry, but the Russia point about – possibility of coming out with a –

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL:  Well, here’s the aspect of it that I think is most relevant.  Russia, of course, participated in the negotiation of the Geneva communiqué, so we know it’s onboard with this basic outline.  Our disappointment is that we were unable then to get the elements of the Geneva communiqué agreed in a Security Council resolution.  And in that connection, we all believed that, in order for the Security Council to act as the Security Council, to act as the action body, if you will, of the international community, that that resolution had to include consequences.  So yes, we would call for these elements that were outlined in the Geneva communiqué, but that there had to be a consequence for the participants not implementing them.  And that’s where that was – that’s where the vetoes came.  That’s where the vetoes came. 

So I can’t tell you what the answer is.  I can’t tell you what it will take to get to a Security Council resolution.  I don’t know honestly whether we have to have a Security Council resolution.  What we’ve focused on, the international community writ large, has focused on, is the first part of this, is supporting the Syrian opposition to come together so that the outline that they came up with in the transition plan that is mirrored to a bigger parallel to a degree in the Geneva communiqué can come about.

QUESTION:  Ali Barada from An-Nahar newspaper in Lebanon.  (Inaudible.)  Do you have expectations from Brahimi?  What do you – what’s your expectations?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL:  We have a tremendous amount of respect for Joint Special Envoy Lakhdar Brahimi.  We’ve known him for years, of course.  The Secretary had a very good meeting with him earlier this week, Secretary Clinton.  He is listening.  He’s thinking about what the best way forward is.  I think he deserves the support of the international community in that effort.  He deserves to hear everybody’s good ideas on the way to move forward.  And he certainly knows he has a very difficult challenge.  And from everything that I’ve heard and everything, I think, Secretary Clinton has heard in all of her meetings this week, we all want to support his efforts in whatever way is the most effective. 

QUESTION:  When you share with him some of his ideas, one of the ideas, I heard, is to organize a meeting between the government and the opposition in a neutral country and to try to get to some sort of a ceasefire for a limited time.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL:  Here’s the way I’d like to leave it:  Rather than pick out one idea over another idea other than the general idea of supporting the opposition, what the tactics will be, I don’t think it’s appropriate for me to comment on this tactic or that tactic.  Let’s leave it to Joint Special Envoy Brahimi to decide which of the various ideas that he’s heard he thinks has the most prospective and the most prospect of success, and let’s let him do his work rather than comment from the outside on this or that one.

QUESTION:  Are you trying to convince China separately through bilateral meetings to take a different position than they have?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL:  Let me put it this way:  We have constant conversations with all of our Security Council partners and with many, many, many dozens of other countries on this issue all the time.  So are we trying to convince China and Russia to agree with the rest of us that Assad has to go and that terrible killing by the regime in Syria has to stop?  Yes, absolutely.

QUESTION:  (Inaudible) I’m asking because the main supporter for the Syrian regime, which is Russia, it’s not isolated, despite whatever you have been telling us.  They have China on their side, they have Iran, they have others.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL:  They’re isolated in the Security Council, of course.  But we do spend a tremendous amount of time talking with all the partners except Iran about this.  We certainly see that Assad is quite isolated.  Even the two who vetoed the resolution are quick to tell us that they don’t think Assad has a future in Syria, in terms of leadership.  We have a difference on how and when to hand over and to whom.  But I don’t know anybody who thinks that Assad can survive this.  I don’t know – we haven’t a single conversation –

QUESTION:  How long is he going to stay?  This is the question.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL:  I can’t answer that question.  I don’t know.

QUESTION:  But he’s obviously not going to step down, so --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL:  I don’t know that.

QUESTION:  -- what is the U.S. going to do to make sure that he leaves?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL:  The effort that we have underway is to put as much international pressure on him as possible by demonstrating that he has no future there, that the only way to go is to hand over to a transitional governing authority all the things that I just talked about.  And to do that, we are doing what we can to support the internal political opposition with nonlethal means.  We are trying as best we can to take care of the internally displaced persons in terms of their humanitarian needs.  And we are in detailed conversations with the neighbors about whether there’s anything else that can be done to support the civilian population of Syria.

QUESTION:  But how do you feel about some countries providing arms to the opposition?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL:  We don’t think that increasing the fighting in Syria is a productive way to go.

QUESTION:  That means –

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL:  That’s one of the reasons that we’ve been very strong with the Iraqis about how important it is not to permit the Iranian over-flights that are bringing fighters, materiel, weapons into Damascus, because it’s clear to us that the longer the fighting goes on, the more fertile the ground is for jihadist extremists, IGRC, Quds Force to operate there in ways that will be terrible for Syria and will be terrible for all of its neighbors and for the region.  And we make this point to our Iraqi colleagues over and over again that they should not think of Iran as somehow friendly to Baghdad on this point. 

QUESTION:  A follow-up on this:  That means you don’t agree on Qatar and Saudi Arabia providing arms and weapons to the opposition?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL:  Let’s put it this way:  We’re focused on the political part of this, not the military part.  I think that’s the way I’ll leave it.

QUESTION:  Asaf Selinger from Israeli Broadcasting.  A quick question going back to the Palestinian issue.  My prime minister is going to speak across the street in a couple of minutes.  Probably 95 percent of the speech will deal with another country that starts with the letter I, and 5 percent, perhaps, will deal with the Palestinian issue that seems to take a back seat, at least in Israeli public opinion.  If you needed to prioritize, would you say that -- or, in a way, do you see Netanyahu’s focus on Iran as an ultimatum, not to deal with the Palestinian issue?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL:  No.

QUESTION:  Or –

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL:  I wouldn’t say that.  No.  I mean, we have lengthy, detailed conversations with Israel on the Palestinian question on the Middle East -- on Middle East peace.  First of all, we tend not say that one issue is more important than another.  We may spend more time on one issue than another, but I would argue that we spend quite a bit more time on Middle East peace than on many, many, many other issues over the decades. 

On the Iran issue that you’re talking about, we remain very convinced that we do have time and space for diplomacy and for pressure, for sanctions, that sanctions are working.  We’ve got more sanctions coming down the pike on Iran.  We know that the sanctions are very, very difficult.  They’re having a big effect in Iran, we know that.  That’s well-known, publicly.  And this may well provide the incentive – put it that way – for the Iranians to think in terms of discussing those issues in diplomatic terms rather than any other.

QUESTION:  Can I go back to Syria?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL:  Please.

QUESTION:  You mentioned many scenarios in which the opposition can get together and be more cohesive and have a plan.  As a matter of fact, in the region that’s been one of the criticisms of the opposition, that they’re not united, it’s not really known –

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL:  Right.

QUESTION:  -- what they want to do.  How important is that as an issue for the U.S., especially as other powers claim that – are saying that the U.S. should not be interfering in Syria’s affairs?  How are you communicating that concern to the Syrian opposition?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL:  To the Syrian opposition?  We have a very active team in the State Department who are in touch with many members of the political opposition in Syria, as well as with the Free Syrian Army, by Skype and through other intermediaries.  We are in touch with many members of the Syrian opposition all the time, particularly through Ambassador Robert Ford, who leads this team for us in the State Department.

He must be in touch with many members of the Syrian opposition on a daily basis.  Several of them will be coming to the Friends of the Syrian People meeting that Secretary – the ad hoc meeting that Secretary Clinton is chairing tomorrow.  I think there is no question among dozens, if not many more members of the Syrian opposition, both inside the country, outside the country, and a few who are moving from inside to outside, what it is that our goal is, as far as the U.S., in terms of the importance of their coming together and their – like I said, socializing this transition plan that they agreed on in Cairo in July, and pulling together a political leadership group to begin to make good on the transition plan.

QUESTION:  Well, I mean, from the get-go, the Syrian regime has given the scenario that what’s happening in their country is the result of foreign powers, et cetera, and they have stuck to that, and that actually some people in the region are saying well, there’s truth in that, look what the U.S. is doing, as well other powers.  How do you sort of – I mean, do you think there is some hypocrisy by other world countries by saying that?  Are some saying one thing, yet not doing the other, or is the U.S. open to its assistance to the opposition?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL:  What’s hypocritical is for the Assad regime to say that the only people who are fighting are outside powers.  They know that’s an absolute lie, number one.  Number two, why would they be bombing their own cities if it’s all foreign powers, or foreign fighters over there?  Are there foreign fighters in Syria?  Yeah.  And we’re quite worried about that.  That’s why we’re having the conversations with the Iraqi Government that we’re having.  That’s why we talk with Syrian opposition members inside Syria and say, “Watch out who you’re aligning yourself with.  Make sure that the people who are offering assistance really are your friends, and aren’t just jihadists who are going to try to take over from you when they can.”

But I think it’s highly cynical to say that the United States is interfering in Syria.  That’s nonsense.

QUESTION:  Sorry, just one last thing to go back on your first point about the opposition assistance, and sort of the impression – how critical do you think they understand it is for them to get on track, have a cohesive plan?  How confident are you that they aware of that image of themselves?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: They are completely aware of it.  I think there are many, many of them who are frustrated that they haven’t been able to get together in a more cohesive way.  There are many who are working very hard to do exactly that, but it’s not easy.  We have some sympathy for how difficult it is, quite a bit of sympathy for how difficult it is, not least because there isn’t a history of political activity in Syria.  There hasn’t – they haven’t been able to practice politics in Syria for decades, so it would be presumptuous of us to think that you can sort of snap your fingers and say, “Okay, start working together politically.” 

It takes time, it takes practice, it takes experience.  That’s what’s been happening for some months now, and what we would like to see is that that experience is developing into some cohesiveness around the plan.  And frankly, it takes some selflessness.  It takes some people who say, “I’m not in this for me.  I’m not in this for my group.  I’m in this for Syria.”

QUESTION:  I have a question.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL:  Please.

QUESTION:  I am Dr. Adulazia, a visiting professor at Cairo University.  I was there last month and also I am the Bureau Chief of Kuwait TV. 

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL:  Great.

QUESTION:  I’m going to quote some of the public opinion in the Middle East.  I was there last month.  Most of the Middle East is saying that if it was not election year, the United States would have taken better action to care about the civilian in Syria.  And some of the common public opinion is saying that, “Oh, there is no oil.  So that’s why the United States is leaving Saddam Hussein killed.”

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL:  Saddam Hussein?  Bashar Assad.

QUESTION:  Assad.  Yes.  (Inaudible).

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL:  I thought I missed something.  Okay.

QUESTION:  People also compare between the action that the United States have taken against Saddam Hussein and the action that the United States has taken against Bashar al-Assad.  I think that the image of the United States need to be improved in this region, and I think –

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL:  Well --

QUESTION:  -- that the United States foreign policy is doing not good enough for the region to improve its image, especially now with the freedom that they had experienced for the first time  in their lives.  So everybody can say whatever they want to say, and that’s good --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL:  Of course it’s good.

QUESTION:  -- and bad.  But it’s bad, also, because I remember that there is a lot of them are not aware of what’s actually happening.  They don’t get the firsthand news.  They get what we give them.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL:  That’s why we depend on you to tell them the other things.

QUESTION:  And most of the people – and most of what we give them they get from Al-Jazeera, they get from other Iranian newspaper, any other – (laughter) – you know?  No, really.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL:  I’m sorry.

QUESTION:  You know?  There is no competition.  Look at your channel, Al Hurra.  They have only 50 viewers.  I’m just saying --

QUESTION:  (Inaudible.)

QUESTION:  -- based on statistics, this is very dangerous – yeah.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL:  Let me just make a couple of comments.  First of all, I don’t accept the premise that there isn’t free media in the Middle East.  You all are here, we are grateful for that, this is the only media that I’m doing in an entire week because of the importance that we attach to this.  So let me just start with that.

Second, if I operated on the basis of what people thought about the United States in the Middle East, I wouldn’t ever do anything.

Number three:  You start out by saying that the reason the United States isn’t using military force in Syria is because it’s an election year and because Syria doesn’t have oil.  Those are both, I think, highly cynical comments and don’t take several things into account.  Number one, we operated in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya on the basis of UN resolutions – UN Security Council resolutions and NATO resolutions.  We don’t have the possibility of a Security Council resolution on Syria, even to call for a cease-fire, or even for consequences for a cease-fire.  So we feel stymied right there now.  Not that we would have entered militarily if we knew we had Security Council unanimity, or unity, but we know we don’t, even for the simplest call for a cease-fire and consequences for those who don’t comply with the cease-fire. 

So, we feel quite strongly that we’re operating on the basis of what the international community – to a degree on the basis of the international community, but also because we know we have to operate on the basis of the Security Council, and Security Council resolutions.

I think that takes care of the issue about oil.  We don’t just do things because of oil.  Otherwise, why would we be trying to get the Security Council Resolutions in Syria and have them vetoed by Russia and China?  We don’t need to demonstrate that kind of division.  So I would like to argue that the people, that the countries that should be – should have the negative public opinion in the Middle East are Russia and China.  They’re the ones that are stopping action.  So where’s the consequence to them, in terms of public opinion?

QUESTION:  That’s what troubles me, yeah.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL:  Where’s all of that?  And that I depend on you all, too, to – for opinion, op-ed pieces --

QUESTION:  That’s what troubles me because they boycott the American product, the American restaurant, all over the internet saying, “Don’t buy any American” -- but they don’t understand that the U.S. is supporting all – the resolution at the Security Council.  They never went to demonstrate in front of the Russian or the Chinese –

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL:  Yeah.

QUESTION:  -- embassy in their country, and I think the media is --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL:  I mean, to a degree the United States, Western countries, pay for – we pay in this way for our principled support of free speech, freedom of assembly, and the principles of the UN Charter and the principles that allowed the Arab Spring to flourish the way it has.  And we will defend that – those principles, we’ll defend the support for those principles of all of the countries that have based their revolutions and based the changes on these principles. 

It’s frustrating that the Russians and Chinese don’t have to pay for this.  But we will continue to operate on the basis of our principles.  We will continue to have conversations with each of the new governments where there still is the pressure from human rights activists and others for freedom of assembly, freedom of speech.  We still uphold the rights of those people to speak their mind and to push for the changes that they think is appropriate – to push for the conversations to get those changes that they think are the most appropriate. 

But beyond that, let me just say one more thing about Syria, I, personally, as a senior spokesman for the American Government – I think it’s inappropriate to insist that more American lives – that more American lives need to be lost in order to be seen to be doing the right thing in the Middle East.  We’re finishing two wars in Muslim countries.  We don’t need another one, if you ask me.

That said --

QUESTION:  (Inaudible.)

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL:  -- I think it’s horrific.  I think it’s horrific what Assad is doing to his own country.  That this person can possibly be bombing his own cities, be destroying his people the way he is, be destroying the heritage of his country the way he is, is unimaginable to all of us. 

QUESTION:  I have a question on Lebanon.  What are your concerns regarding the situation in Lebanon – (inaudible) – what’s going on in Syria?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL:  Well –

QUESTION:  And with a little bit of focus on their financial sector (inaudible)?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL:  Right.  First of all, we’re very worried about the spillover effect of what’s going in Syria to all of the neighbors of Syria, as well as to the region.  But Lebanon, of course, is a neighbor and it worries us very much to see the possibility of that spillover effect, particularly the ability of extremists – jihadist and others – to operate in Lebanon because they can get across the border easily from Syria or back and forth.

Let me just speak briefly about – we know that Hezbollah is part of the Lebanese Government.  We think it’s very important for there to be a clear difference – a clear separation -- between the political side of Hezbollah and the military side of Hezbollah.  That’s missing; that hasn’t happened yet.  That has to happen.  It’s dangerous for Lebanon for there to be a -- the possibility that Hezbollah’s military wing can operate in Lebanon.  It’s basically allowing Iran to dictate what happens in a sovereign country, in Lebanon.

In terms of – you asked about the economic sector -

QUESTION:  Before we go to the economic --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL:  Yeah.

QUESTION:  But there is a report today in the Washington Post that Hezbollah is also sending militants to Syria.  You have substantial information about --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL:  We have – we believe this to be true.  I can’t cite for you the details of it, but we see evidence of it.  The Syrian opposition tells us about this.  It’s completely unacceptable. 

We, of course, know that there are flights from Tehran to Damascus.  We believe that there are Quds Force, IGRC people on it – whether there are Hezbollah or not, I don’t know.  But this all a terrible thing for Lebanon; it’s a terrible thing for Syria.

QUESTION:  The financial (inaudible)?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL:  On the financial side we have detailed and good cooperations with the Lebanese Government about the importance of the independence of the financial sector, that Lebanese banks not be connected in any way – contrary to sanctions with Iranian banks.  The measures that the banking sector has undertaken seem to be good measures, as far as we can tell.  I’m not an expert on the banking sector, I stay in touch with my colleagues at Treasury very well and they are giving us quite a good report on the extensiveness and the extent of the measures that the Lebanese Government is taking in order to be sure that the banking sector is independent of connections to Iranian banks or --

QUESTION:  So you’re not worried nowadays at least?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL:  We always worry.  (Laughter.)  That’s part of our constitution is to worry – our personal constitution.  We always worry.  So that’s why we have so many conversations about it.

MODERATOR:  So just one more question from --

QUESTION:  Sorry, I just wanted to get clarification about the meeting tomorrow on Syria. 

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL:  Yes.

QUESTION:  You said that there would be members of the Syrian opposition attending?  Because so far –

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL:  Correct.

QUESTION:  -- what I’ve heard, they wouldn’t be.  So I just -- 

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL:  No, there are several members who will speak.

QUESTION:  Okay.  And they will be from the SNC or --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL:  I’m sorry, I don’t know exactly which groups are represented there.  But they are, I believe, one of the speakers is from the SNC.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL'S AIDE:  I’ll get you the list.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL:  Yeah.  I just don’t remember who they all are.  I apologize.  I’m sorry.

QUESTION:  No, that’s fine.  But they will definitely be there.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL:  The opposition representatives will be there. 

QUESTION:  Okay.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL:  That’s correct.  As well as a member of the UN Humanitarian – UNHCR, right?

PARTICIPANT:  Yes.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL:  Yeah, to -- because the focus of the meeting tomorrow is on the opposition and on the humanitarian situation.  So we want to make sure we have speakers from the opposition and from the humanitarian side.

QUESTION:  One more thing on Syria.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL:  One more, then I’ve got to go.

QUESTION:  You said that you are in contacts with the Free Syrian Army --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL:  Correct.

QUESTION:  -- and do you meet them, or --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL:  We are mostly in touch with them by Skype because we don’t go inside Syria –

QUESTION:  And –

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL:  -- and they’re inside Syria. 

QUESTION:  And is anyone from the Free Syrian Army here or will attend the meeting tomorrow?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL:  I don’t think so.  I think they’re all inside Syria doing their Free Syrian Army thing. 

QUESTION:  Yeah, yeah.  (Laughter.)

QUESTION:  (Inaudible.)

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL:  I mean, they have army things to do. 

QUESTION: And the last thing on --

AIDE:  That’s a definitive no, though.

QUESTION:  Okay.  Definitive no.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL:  Okay.  I’m sorry?

AIDE:  No on the FSA – that’s what you asked, right?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL:  Is the FSA coming?  No.  No.  I know that there’s no representative of Free Syrian Army coming.  No.  That I know.  But whether – I don’t think they’re here either.  I think, like I said, I think they have work to do in Syria.

QUESTION:  Yeah, and a follow-up on our colleague question.   Everybody is waiting for the elections to be done, to see changes in the Administration’s stance --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL:  Which elections?

QUESTION:  American elections.  (Laughter.) 

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL:  Right.  Just checking.

QUESTION:  -- to see change in the American’s stance regarding Syria?  What can we expect after the elections?   Can we expect any changes --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL:  The focus is on what the Syrian opposition wants, not what the U.S. wants. 

QUESTION:  That means --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL:  The Syrian opposition is where the focus should be and is by all of us from outside.  There isn’t going to be some magical change.  I mean, it would be great if the Syrian opposition suddenly figured out how – who its leaders should be, et cetera.  I think they will get there, but I actually think it’ll be before November.  So I don’t think we should wait around for the American elections for the Syrian opposition.

QUESTION:  (Inaudible.)

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL:  I beg pardon?

QUESTION:  (Inaudible) military (inaudible) intervene?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL:  No.  I mean, we’ve said that’s not what we’re going to do.  We’re working on the political support, getting the opposition organized, getting them to have their plan, getting them to form the transitional --

QUESTION:  Do you think they’ll be able to take over by November?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL:  I don’t know.  I don’t know.

QUESTION:  That means there will be no change after the elections from the American Administration’s stance regarding Syria.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL:  On Syria?  The focus is all on pushing the Syrian opposition to do what they need to do because we’re not going to tell them what to do.

MODERATOR:  Thank you all for coming, and just remember the ground rules. Attribution only to a Senior State Department Official.

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