Mitchell Reports | May 30, 2012
>>> the u.s. has been leading calls for friday's special session of the u.n. human rights council this coming pride to respond to the latest massacres in syria . and joined at least a dozen nations in expelling syrian diplomats. but the white house has been adamant that military intervention is not in the cards at least right now.
>> further militarization of the situation in syria could lead to greater chaos. could lead -- could make it harder to achieve the political transition that the syrian people deserve. our position now is to provide nonlethal assistance, to provide humanitarian assistance and to work with our allies and partners to further pressure and isolate the assad regime.
>> susan rice is the u.s. ambassador to the u.p. u.n., of course, and has just come out of these security council sessions. madame ambassador, thank you very much for joining us. what did you hear from geneva from the briefing from kofi annan 's team that just came out of damascus, what did you learn today and what were the reactions of the security council members?
>> well, thank you for having me. first of all, we did hear from kofi annan 's deputy and from the undersecretary-general of the united nations for peacekeeping. both of whom had recently been on the ground in syria and as you know, kofi annan remains in the region. they reported both on the details of the horrific massacre in houla which they attributed principally to the government and its allied militia, but they also gave a broader briefing about the overall security situation, the difficulties in launching a political process at this is taken. we all agree that a political process that would lead to the removal of assad and a democratic transition is absolutely crucial, but with the government increasing the scale and the level of atrocities and widening the scope of it, that is really not realistic at this is taken. so we had a discussion both about the security situation on the ground, the progress of the monitoring mission, the attitude of the government towards this process. of course, that of of the opposition and we discussed the necessary potential next steps among members of the security council .
>> what are those next steps?
>> well, andrea, i spoke on behalf of the united states and i said really there are three scenarios. that are going to materialize. they're mutually exclusive . and i can't see what would happen beyond them. the first scenario and the best scenario is that the syrian regime finally and immediately wakes up and stops the killing and adheres to its commitments under the annan plan in which case we can get a political process going and the diplomatic initiative that kofi annan has been leading remains viable, which is our strong hope. but it is not the most likely scenario at this is taken. the second is that in the absence of the assad regime adhering to its commitments suddenly and definitively, the security council and others in the international community come together and in a unified way to increase the pressure on the assad regime, including through the of sanctions and cap ter 7, the enforcement provision of the u.n. charter . as you know, russia and china have twice vetoed much lesser action than that, and in their statements today, it was not at all clear that their position had changed. so we're going to continue working with allies and partners and other colleagues in the security council on next steps there. but we think that is another way to preserve the viability of the annan plan , the unity of the council and pressure on assad regime so perhaps they come to their senses. the third scenario which unfortunately is the worst scenario is that none of that happens and the violence intense intensifies and spills over into the region. it heightens sectarian fissures and we in effect have a proxy war in which outsiders are supporting the opposition or the government through arms and other means. that would be exceedingly destabilizing and that's why that's not our first choice. our first choice is for there to be a political process. should that not be viable, should the syrians refuse to allow that to happen and the security council is unable to take up its responsibilities, that may be where we end up.
>> madame secretary, with all due respect, even -- i mean "the washington post " and other critics i'm not even getting yet to the romney campaign's criticism, but the washington post says that mr. annan 's mission has become one of the most costly diplomatic failures in u.n. history. nobody believes that kofi annan pigs has done anything but give time to the assad regime and at the cost of the opposition leaders.
>> well, actually i don't think that's the case which is why it was the opposition that made it clear they wanted the annan mission and wanted also these monitors. were it not for their presence, we would not have the objective and fact-based reporting on what transpired in houla the other day. at the same time we have seen where the monitors have been able to stay and deployed there has been a brief and real reduction in the level of violence. but the moirnts themselves as we all knew are not there to prevent the violence and can't enforce the cease-fire. that has to come from the parties themselves. the reason why it has been a wise effort even if it problems ultimately to be futile is because the alternative is the scenario i described of all-out violence, a war that engulfs sayre syria and the fabs in region. if there's a way to avoid that through a political process, that should be something we all work for and try to accomplish. nobody said when we backed the annan plan that it was necessarilily a high probability scenario. but the alternative is much worse. and it would be very much not in our interests for that are third case scenario to materialize. that is why we have put pressure on the assad regime, including additional sanctions today. that is why we have supported the opposition through nonlethal but significant material means. that's why we have put a premium on trying to support the opposition to be ready to engage in a political process at the appropriate time. we'd be much better off with a solution more like what happened in yemen than what has transpired in all-out civil and regional wars in other contexts which we seek to avoid in this context.
>> what has to happen on the ground for the administration to decide that there needs to be weapons and material support to the opposition?
>> i don't want to get into painting different scenarios and hypotheticals. andrea, our view has been that the best way to resolve this if at all possible is not through intensifying the militarization, not by providing further arms into what is already a hot conflict but to try to resolve it through nonmilitary means through a diplomatic and political process. now as i said, that may prove ultimately not to be possible. we haven't reached that point yet. and for this to become a proxy war with countries all over the region and beyond funneling weapons in there is basically conceding a massive fire burning in that region, which for those who are advocating arming the opposition, they ought to consider the consequences of that will approach. also to ask, frankly who are they arming inside of the syrian opposition? you know and we know it is not a unified opposition. it's fragmented. they don't have the common command and control . there are some extremist elements mixed in there. we know much less about the leadership and the intentions of the syrian opposition than we did even of the libyan opposition at the time. and i want to remind you that we did not arm the libyan opposition.
>> let me ask you about some of these outside forces. what is the role of iran in all of this?
>> we think iran is actively supporting its long-time ally, assad , and providing material and other support. and indeed, this he said so publicly orrin a stalt on their own website. they bragged about their engagement in syria . that is one of the reasons among others, they're not the only ones supporting the syrian regime, that this is a conflict of a different character with much broader regional implications should it continue to spin out of control.
>> and what makes us think that vladimir putin who wouldn't even come to the nato summit meeting and has shown no friendliness toward the obama administration, what makes us think that vladimir putin is now going to be helpful in pressuring his political ally assad to give up power?
>> >> first of all, let's be clear. the relationship broadly speaking between the united states and russia over the course of the last several years is much improved over the past. there are areas in which we have real differences. but this improvement, this reset as we call it has occurred with vladimir putin as prime minister and we expect it to continue.
>> now he's president.
>> he is indeed. we expect it will continue. but on this issue we disagree and we are continuing to talk with the russians and pressure them. we'd like to see them mick a voluntary decision to stop providing military support, even if prior agreed contracts to the syrian regime. we think the russians have the greatest stake in fact, in ensuring that the syrian regime meets its obligations under the annan plan so that we're not having to resort to sanctions or having to see the region engulfed in a wider conflict. that's the message we're conveying to the russians . it is their interest and eb deed their responsibility as the syrian government's best friend on the security council to put maximum pressure on the syrian government to adhere to the commitments it's made. that is why it's time that we start talking about and thinking about this problem in these stark terms. there are only three outcomes.
>> do you see any flexibility on the russian part in the meeting today?
>> we'll see where the russians end up. i think they are beginning to look at this situation with the kind of clarity that it deserves and recognizing that if they want to preserve kofi annan 's mission, its opportunity to provide a peaceful political solution which is what they say they do, then either they're going to have to move assad to a very different place than he's been in thus far or join with us and others in maximizing security council pressure on the regime.
>> and finally, reuters is just reporting that the syrian rebels have now given assad 48 hours to comply with the annan six-point plan or else. i don't know what the or else is. what leverage they might have.
>> well, i don't either. i've not seen obviously the report that you're referring to. i can't comment on its validity or veracity.
>> all right, thank you very much, madame secretary, on a busy day and difficult issue. thanks for taking time to join us.
>> thank you.