Secretary of State
FOREIGN SECRETARY JOHNSON: Good afternoon, everybody. Thank you very much for coming. As everybody knows, the situation in Aleppo is getting worse and worse. There’s continuing bombardment of innocent civilians, 100,000 kids now under a terrible, medieval siege. Casualties continue to mount. And more and more people, as a result of this action by the Assad regime and its supporters, are being radicalized. And so what we’ve done today is we have brought together all the like-minded nations, from the United States and Great Britain to Secretary Kerry, to John, coming – France, Germany, Italy, the Gulf countries, the Qataris, the Turks, the Saudis, UAE – a huge number, all the key players in the region, and there’s a huge measure of agreement on what we need to do.
And it’s a twin-track strategy. So I think the progress that John has made in Lausanne needs to be actively pursued. We need to see if we can get the terrorists, al-Nusrah, identified in Aleppo. I think that’s absolutely the right way forward. But that does not mean we should in any way relent in our pressure on the Assad regime and its supporters, particularly, obviously, the Russians and the Iranians.
So we went through a large list of ideas, proposals to ratchet up that pressure and to keep that pressure on, and they include economic proposals, proposals to make sure that there are new ways of getting humanitarian aid into Aleppo, and of course, as you’ll have seen previously, measures to bring the culprits for the slaughter to justice before the International Criminal Court or some other tribunal.
Now, I’m not going to pretend that in those proposals, there is some magic solution for this appalling slaughter, because the real answer, I’m afraid, lies with those who are perpetrating it, and that is overwhelmingly the Assad regime and its puppeteers in the form of the Russians and, indeed, the Iranians. And it is up to them to seize this moment to recognize the opportunity and, in my view, to show greatness and to show leadership. And no one has tried harder than John Kerry to get the Russians and others to see things that way, and I pay tribute to him and for what he’s done.
But it’s really up to them now to listen and to show mercy – show mercy to those people in that city, get a ceasefire going, get the negotiations going in Geneva, and let’s bring this slaughter to an end.
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, Boris, thank you very much for convening like-minded countries here in London. We’re very, very appreciative for the effort, and it is always valuable when we have an opportunity to exchange thoughts, as we did today, and building on the meeting that we had in Lausanne yesterday.
Suffice it to say that all of us are more than concerned and deeply, deeply disturbed by and outraged by what is happening in Aleppo, which is in the year 2016, in the beginning of the 21st century, a horrendous step back in time to a kind of barbarianism, a use of force that is of insult to all of the values that the United Nations and most countries believe should guide our actions. It’s a humanitarian disaster. This is the largest humanitarian disaster since World War II. And it could stop tomorrow morning, tonight, if Russia and the Assad regime would behave according to any norm or any standard of decency. But they’ve chosen not to. Instead, we see what can only be described as crimes against humanity taking place on a daily basis, when a hospital gets bombed, when children get bombed, when gas – which is outlawed by the Chemical Convention – is used against human beings in Aleppo and elsewhere in the country, as it has been by the Assad regime.
So when a great power is involved in a fight like this, as Russia has chosen to be by going there and then putting its missiles in place in order to threaten people against military action, it raises the stakes of confrontation, and it does so for the sole purpose of supporting the Assad regime, even as it alleges that it is going after terrorists. But every one of us know, because we are equally determined to beat the terrorists, which is why we are engaged in a 67-country coalition that is the principal entity going after Daesh, ISIL. Not Russia. And Russia has not even focused most of its efforts on al-Nusrah, which is al-Qaida; 80 to 85 percent of their bombing has been done against the opposition, the moderate opposition, not the extreme but the moderate opposition in Syria. And they do that in order to support Assad under the guise of fighting terror. But they would be hard-pressed to show the number of times they have actually gone after Daesh, or ISIL, and hard-pressed even, when the facts are laid out, to show how they have in fact bombed Nusrah as opposed to the legitimate opposition.
So no one is fooled by this, and the issue is whether or not we can find a way forward to be able to try to achieve a ceasefire and actually get to the table to talk about the political solution that they say is the only way to settle the fight in Syria. If it is the only way to settle it, then they should show by their actions that that is in fact what they are choosing to do. And yesterday in Lausanne, we had a very frank discussion with the Russians and Iranians there about exactly how we could get there, and there is some work to be done over the course of the next couple of days which might, or one might hope, open the door of possibility to an actual cessation. But it’s hard, and it’s hard because there are still deep beliefs in a lot of people that Russia is simply pursuing a Grozny solution in Aleppo and is not prepared to truly engage in any way.
That will be tested in these next days. We’ll see. But yesterday we had a long conversation about the ways in which we might be able to actually put that proposition of a ceasefire to the test – yet again, but in a different way, yet again – in order to find out whether or not it’s possible.
Now, our job is to exhaust those possibilities. That’s what we’re trying to do. And my hope is that – even today, we had a number of new ideas put on the table. We’re going to continue to work at this because no one has a right to just walk away and allow Aleppo to continue to be bombed without making every effort possible in order to stop it.
Now, some people ask what happens to Aleppo if it were to fall. Well, the Russians should understand, and Assad needs to understand, that that does not end the war. This war cannot end without a political solution. So even if Aleppo were to fall, even if they have utterly destroyed it, which they are doing, that will not change the fundamental equation in this war because other countries will continue to support opposition, and they will continue to create more terrorists, and Syria will be the victim in the end as well as the region.
So we’re going to continue to work at these various options. Is it frustrating that we’re having to have yet another meeting in order to discuss this? Sure, and I’m sure people listening will say we need more than the discussions, and the answer is yes, we do. But we also need to make certain that we’re not lighting a fire under a larger war that excites sectarian confrontation through the entire region or even a greater superpower in other kinds of confrontation, which would also have disastrous consequences.
So this has to be done, I’m afraid, in a tedious, complicated, and sometimes redundant way, with the hopes that we will find the ability to be able to break through. And I’m appreciative to Boris for hosting us today to try to see if out of last night’s discussion, we in fact can find a way forward. We will have additional meetings as a consequence of yesterday and today through our experts, who will sit down to build on the discussions that took place, with hopes that that could in fact open up a possibility.
QUESTION: Gentlemen, when do we get to the point where you say enough is enough, we’re no longer going to be beholden to Moscow for what we’re allowed to do, and you get on and actually do something?
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, a lot of things are being done right now, in fairness. A lot of things. I mean, there is a fight taking place on the ground, and the fight is taking place because people are being trained and people are being armed and people are being empowered to be able to carry on that fight. And obviously, Russia has decided – that’s what I meant by the Grozny strategy – to simply bomb indiscriminately and terrorize every human being, not just focus on the fight against people. So that’s why at the United Nations, that’s why in other fora, we are discussing using every mechanism available to us. But I haven’t seen a big appetite in Europe of people to go to war. I don’t see the parliaments of European countries ready to declare war. I don’t see a lot of countries deciding that that’s the better solution here.
So we are pursuing diplomacy because those are the tools that we have, and we’re trying to find a way forward under those circumstances. Easy to say, where’s the action? But what is the action? I have a lot of people who have a lot of trouble defining that when you really get down to trying to do it.
QUESTION: Does the U.S. (inaudible) –
QUESTION: Sorry, Mr. Secretary, Mr. Johnson —
FOREIGN SECRETARY JOHNSON: Yes, sir.
QUESTION: — you have – well, in Lausanne yesterday, you’ve opened a new or modified diplomatic track. You’re gathering new ideas and consulting experts. Can anything be achieved before Aleppo falls and before President Obama retires?
FOREIGN SECRETARY JOHNSON: Yeah, I certainly think it can, and I don’t – as it happens, I don’t think that the Assad regime, I don’t think that the Russian supporters of the Assad regime are capable of winning this war. I think it highly dubious that they’ll even be able to take Aleppo. Aleppo is not falling. There are 10- or 11,000 fighters dug in there. But there’s also 275,000 civilians who face a barbaric siege. And so our challenge to the Russians is: Do the right thing by humanity. As John Kerry rightly said, this is their chance to go for a solution that I think will be in the long-term interests of the Russians and the people of Syria above all. And that means a ceasefire, it means an immediate ceasefire, and there was overwhelming agreement about that today amongst the like-minded supporters, and it means getting back to the negotiating table in Geneva.
And to the gentleman there, look, no option is, in principle, off the table. But being no doubt that these so-called military options are extremely difficult and there is, to put it mildly, a lack of political appetite in most European capitals and certainly in the West for that kind of solution at present. So we’ve got to work with the tools we have. The tools we have are diplomatic and they – and I think the most powerful weapon we have at the moment is our ability to make President Putin and the Russians feel the consequences of what they are doing.
I thought it was very significant that the French Government this week took a decision to turn what was going to be a sort of triumphal Putin mission to Paris into a discussion about Syria, upon which the Russian president decided not to come. And so they’re starting to feel the pressure, and it is vital that we keep that pressure up. And there are a lot of measures that we’re proposing to do with extra sanctions on the Syrian regime and their supporters, measures to bring those responsible for war crimes before the International Criminal Court. These things will eventually come to bite the perpetrators of these crimes. And they should be – they should think about it now.
SECRETARY KERRY: And let me make it clear: We are considering additional sanctions and we are also – let me make it clear, President Obama has not taken any options off the table at this point in time. So we’ll see where we are in the next few days in the context of the discussions we’re having. Thank you.
FOREIGN SECRETARY JOHNSON: Thank you.