Secretary of State John Kerry: Busy in Doha (Updates)

UPDATE II:

During the joint news conference with Secretary of State John Kerr and the prime minister and foreign minister of Qatar, Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani in Doha, Qatar, yesterday, the prime minister made the following remarks on providing weapons to the Syrian rebels:

As for the Syrian crisis, I think Mr. John Kerry has answered part of the question when he talked about arming the opposition. As you know, there is a change in the international position and the American position in this regard. They’re talking about weapons. We hope that this happened sometime ago before, because this would have maybe lessened the death and destruction that took place in Syria. But now everybody has reached a conclusion and a conviction that Assad has chosen his own way of ending this crisis. This is something that – which cannot be accepted by the international community when he rains Scud missiles on cities and towns in a manner reminiscent of World War II.

The Washington Post this morning describes the remarks as “Qatar lectures Kerry on arming Syrian rebels.”

Read more here and decide for yourself whether a small, oil-rich nation — which has been ruled as an absolute and hereditary emirate by the same family for a century-and-a-half — should or should not be “lecturing” the United States on which country or which party it decides to provide (or not provide) arms to.

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UPDATE I:

At a joint news conference with the prime minister and foreign minister of Qatar, Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani, in Doha, Qatar, Secretary of State John Kerry once again addressed the Obama administration’s position on sending arms to the opposition in Syria.

Referring to his meeting with the Prime Minister, Kerry said:

Well, with respect to the arms and the transfer, we did discuss. We had a discussion about the types of weapons that are being transferred and by whom. We are aware of what people are doing. I don’t think the United States is engaged in a specific allotment process or designated process, but obviously we are aware. And it is that awareness that informs the President’s decision about what is needed and what the United States is prepared to do at this point in time. In addition, we did discuss the question of the ability to try to guarantee that it’s going to the right people and to the moderate Syrian Opposition Coalition. And I think it’s really in the last months that that has developed as a capacity that we have greater confidence in.

I think I said yesterday you can’t guarantee that one weapon or another may not fall, in that kind of a situation, into hands that you don’t want it in. But in terms of the fundamental balance of battlefield tactics and of effort, I think it’s pretty clear that the Prime Minister shares the belief in trying to do what we need to do rapidly, and to try to effect this most effectively through the Syrian Opposition Coalition, and that’s what we’re trying to do.

The New York Times also comments on the meeting and news conference here and notes:

Mr. Kerry’s comments were the most direct public affirmation to date that the Obama administration supports efforts to arm the Syrian resistance, provided that the arms are sent by other nations and care is taken to direct them to factions the United States supports.

His comments appeared to signal a shift in the administration’s strategy on Syria, as well as a more transparent effort to coordinate American support for the opponents of President Bashar al-Assad with the efforts of other nations.

Read more here and here

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Original Post:
In addition to a full slate of meetings and events in Abu Dhabi, UAE and Doha, Qatar, Secretary of State John Kerry managed to hold five — so far — interviews in Doha with most of the major news media.

In the interviews with Jill Dougherty of CNN, Margaret Brennan of CBS, Andrea Mitchell of NBC, Michele Kelemen of NPR and James Rosen of Fox News, Kerry answered questions on numerous subjects and issues, including: Iran, Egypt, North Korea — and, of course, Dennis Rodman — Israel and the President’s upcoming trip there.

Fox’s James Rosen persisted about Benghazi; argumentatively tried to rehash the Vietnam War “domino theory;” re-debate the Iraq War and rehabilitate George Bush’s role in that war: “And President Bush, does he deserve credit for that?” Kerry praised the troops, as he should — finally time ran out.

Rosen’s full interview can be read here.

The subject that came up most frequently and was discussed most extensively was Syria.

The following are some excerpts from Kerry’s answers to the various reporters.

For the full interviews, please go to www.state.gov.

On the question — concern — of U.S. weapons falling into the hands of extremists:

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, they are getting weapons, Jill. But let me – look, let me begin at the beginning here. The United States, through President Obama’s leadership, began by pulling together a set of sanctions that have had an impact on Assad’s ability to be able to get money to fuel his war machine. Then the President, through Secretary Clinton’s efforts, worked very hard to pull together the Syrian opposition, to identify them, to sort of know who they are, know who we’re dealing with, and then to help them to be able to speak with a unified voice.

Now the President, through his leadership, has instructed me to have this meeting in Rome, pull together the international community to ratchet up the engagement there. Some countries have chosen to do lethal, and other countries have chosen to do other kinds of aid. You have to look at this holistically, and in the whole it is having a major impact.

Now, in the next weeks and months, our hope is that this ratcheting up can avoid the level of killing and provide a window of opportunity for President Assad and the Russians and Iranians and others to get a negotiation that actually saves lives and provides a transitional government.

On a follow-up question as to U.S. intentions on “providing lethal aid”:

SECRETARY KERRY: The President always has options and always has the right to adjust the policy as he goes forward. At the moment, this is the calibration that the President believes is correct, to try to give the opportunity for a diplomatic solution. But the President has made it clear, as has every other country at the table, that we will not allow President Assad to slaughter his people and to continue to rain SCUDs on innocent women and children and to literally destroy his country in the effort simply to hold onto power.

On engaging in direct diplomacy with Bashar al-Assad:

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, we are engaged, in a sense, in direct diplomacy with the international community through the Geneva meetings and the communique that came out of Geneva with the Russians and many other countries agreeing that we need a peaceful solution, and the peaceful solution comes with a transitional government that has full executive authority by mutual consent on both sides.

And following up:

SECRETARY KERRY: What we’ve also made clear is we’re not going to let up the effort to hold President Assad accountable for his random killing of Syrian citizens, for sending SCUDs to destroy hospitals, and shoot women and children in places where he knows they will be at the time they shoot. He is literally destroying his country in the effort to hold onto power. And so this is a vital moment to try to get him to realize he either comes to the table to negotiate, or the opposition is going to get greater and greater support, and ultimately he will have to make that decision.

On the escalating refugee crisis:

SECRETARY KERRY: …I think – look, the President has committed the United States of America, on behalf of the good values of all Americans, to be the largest humanitarian support of any country to this question of refugees. And I think America can be very proud of that. We are helping in Turkey, we are helping in Jordan. And the President is also, I think, determined to make sure that the United States does its part going forward to help to find a diplomatic resolution.

We don’t want this killing. If President Assad could quickly decide to come to the table and negotiate…

On providing direct aid to the Syrian Opposition Council, “Do you think that’s really going to be enough to change Bashar al-Assad’s calculus?”

SECRETARY KERRY: You can’t look at it freestanding, all by itself. The important thing is to look at the series of steps that the President and other countries are taking. The President began by putting sanctions in place. That strips away some of the money that fuels the Assad war machine, makes it harder for him to survive.

Number two, the President worked very hard with Secretary Clinton over the last year to pull the Syrian opposition together, identify them clearly, help them to unify. And then the President has provided more humanitarian assistance and more engagement. He’s been visibly engaged in terms of his clarity about Assad needing to cede power.

Now he has ratcheted it up, and he has ratcheted it up by sending me on a mission to Rome to come together with other foreign ministers in a unified fashion, all of whom have agreed to ratchet up what they’re doing. Now some of them are providing lethal aid. That’s no secret. And so that will increase, together with the U.S. assistance to – directly to the military council as well as to the Syrian Opposition Council – Coalition. So that’s a lot of things happening at one time.

Now, what the President really wants is a peaceful resolution of this. And he feels strongly that the immediate answer is not to empower more killing; it is rather to try to say to President Assad there is a solution. It’s the Geneva communiqué, which offers a transitional government, chosen by both sides, that has mutual consent and then has full executive power to transition the country to a democracy, to a chance for everybody to vote for their leadership. Now if Assad doesn’t want that, then he’s asking, obviously, for yet another ratcheting up of other countries and other efforts.

Finally: Is Assad “crazy enough to think he can shoot his way out of this situation or even use chemical weapons?”

SECRETARY KERRY: I believe that President Assad, until recently, has calculated that he could shoot his way out of it. I think that has been his calculation. And that is why I said in going to Rome we need to take steps to begin to change his calculation.

Now, rather than put everything on the table at once, we’re trying to offer him what is a rational choice, which most people in the world would say is a reasonable way to approach this, so you don’t box somebody in or create chaos in these initiatives. There are real dangers here. We’re trying to avoid the state of Syria imploding. We’re trying to avoid extremism being fed. We’re trying to walk a very careful line, where we know what the preference is. It is a negotiated transition. But if he doesn’t change his calculation, that won’t happen.

Image: Secretary of State Kerry interviewing with Fox News Rosen (Photo State Department)

Author: DORIAN DE WIND, Military Affairs Columnist