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Background briefing on Syria from US State Department

Special Briefing
Senior Administration Official
Via Teleconference
May 5, 2014

MODERATOR: Thank you so much, and welcome, everyone, to this call on a Monday morning. Appreciate folks jumping on. We will be doing this call on background as a Senior Administration Official. The call and everything in it is embargoed until – at the daily briefing at the State Department today, we make the announcement that you’re going to get previewed on this call. So everything in it is embargoed until – the briefing’s at 1 p.m. Hopefully I’ll get out on time today for all of you, and it’ll be embargoed until then. So thank you for your cooperation.

We are doing this call today with [Senior Administration Official], who I think many of you know. We are going to be previewing the first official trip to Washington by the SOC. And obviously, all of you know President Jarba’s in town, has a whole host of meetings this week. So I’m going to turn it over to [Senior State Department Official] in a moment to talk a little bit about our goals for the visit, sort of how we’re thinking about it, and then we will open it up for questions.

So without further ado, [Senior Administration Official].

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Thank you very much. Good morning, everybody. I did want to just run through a few of the key goals and themes for the visit. Of course, we’re very pleased to welcome the delegation of the Syrian Opposition Coalition which arrived – or started arriving last evening in Washington D.C., and they’re going to be here in Washington through May 14th. The delegation is led by Ahmad Jarba, the president of the SOC. They’re going to be seeing Secretary Kerry as well as other officials at State and Treasury and possibly others, as well as at the NSC. And of course, we all look forward to meeting with the delegation.

I would also add that beyond the U.S. Government, they’re going to be having a very robust set of interactions and meetings with some of the leading think tanks and media organizations. And I think that will be an excellent opportunity for the SOC to increase their profile with the American people, to introduce or in some cases reintroduce the face of the Syrian moderate opposition to the American people, and we’re very excited about that.

In terms of the general themes that I’ll talk about this morning – firstly, of course, reaffirming U.S. support for the moderate opposition; next, just reviewing our perspective on the illegitimacy of the upcoming presidential election announced by the Assad regime; next, we’ll talk a little bit about highlighting some of our coordination with key international partners working on the Syria crisis; and lastly, of course, the urgency of working towards a negotiated political solution.

I think first in terms of U.S. support for the moderate opposition, I think it bears repeating that we are unequivocal in our support for Jarba and the SOC. We did recognize the SOC as the legitimate representative of the Syrian people back in December of 2012, and we have seen the SOC build an inclusive and moderate institution that reflects the diversity of Syria, and it has demonstrated its commitment to serving the interests and the needs of the Syrian people and to working with the international community toward a negotiated political transition that we all hope to see.

And we’re particularly interested in what they’ve done to give a voice to Syrians whose opinions, of course, have been suppressed by the Assad regime for several decades. In recent times, the SOC has helped establish an interim government to enhance the capacity of local governance inside of Syria, increase humanitarian assistance – which, as you all know, is badly needed, and restore essential services in some of the liberated areas.

Now in terms of our commitment to empower the moderate Syrian opposition and bolster its efforts to assist people who need help inside Syria, we are taking some additional measures now to support the SOC, local communities inside Syria, and members of the moderate armed opposition. So I just wanted to go through some of those steps that we’re taking.

First, we are strengthening our ties with the Syrian opposition by determining that the SOC’s Representative’s Office in the United States will be now considered foreign missions under the Foreign Missions Act.

Secondly, we’re working with the Congress now to provide more than $27 million in some new nonlethal assistance, which will bring the total nonlethal support we’ve committed and are providing to about $287 million.

Next, we are also currently increasing deliveries of nonlethal assistance to commanders in the Free Syrian Army to enhance their logistical capabilities. And of course, we recognize that they need to have what they need to change the situation on the ground.

And finally, we have enhanced our coordination with key regional allies to provide assistance to the moderate opposition. And I have been traveling recently, and if there is interest in that, I’d be happy to talk to that.

Moving beyond the U.S. support for the moderate opposition, just a few words about the upcoming presidential election that was announced by the Assad regime: I think as we’ve said earlier, these elections which are planned by the regime totally undermine the Geneva framework. I think we’ve – we and others in the London 11 have called them a parody of democracy, and of course, we don’t think they have any credibility.

And as the London 11 announced in its last statement, which I think was about April 3rd, any unilateral effort by the regime to hold presidential elections would be totally inconsistent with the Geneva communique’s call for the establishment of the transitional governing body, which, in turn, will oversee the kinds of constitutional reforms that will be needed to lead to genuine, free, and fair elections. And this call by the regime for elections now, it rings particularly hollow given that the regime is continuing to attack and massacre the very electorate that it is purporting to represent. And this kind of violent suppression of the Syrian people’s calls for freedom and dignity is, in fact, what sparked the conflict in the first place. So staging these elections under these types of conditions, which are basically intentionally denying the vote to millions of Syrian citizens, whether they’re in Syria or outside, and ignores the calls for change and it’s basically failing to bring the Syrian people closer to the kind of negotiated political solution they seek.

So nothing new on that front, but I do think it bore repeating just how hollow and phony, in fact, that presidential election is going to be.

In terms of our coordination with international partners, we continue to work very closely with the London 11 set of countries to get more assistance to the moderate opposition and to try, as much as we can, to change the realities on the ground so that we could increase the prospect and change the calculus of the regime so that it will feel that it needs to participate in a truly meaningful political dialogue. And we also hope that that would, in turn, push the regime’s allies to press the regime to come ready to discuss a genuine political transition.

We’re also intensifying and improving our cooperation with our partners and backers of the moderate opposition to make sure that extremists – not the moderate opposition, but the extremists out there – are denied the funding and a flow of arms that are unfortunately enabling them to increase their strength.

And finally, in terms of the true endgame here, which is trying to get toward a negotiated political solution, it’s really been our strategy from the very beginning to work with and support moderate elements in the Syrian opposition and the likeminded international partners, whether they’re in the London 11 or outside, to bring about that kind of political transition that would get Assad out of power and lead to a government which is capable of serving the interests of the Syrian people.

And we continue to believe there is no military solution to the conflict and that the only way to address all dimensions of this crisis is to bring this conflict to an end. And to get that, we do need a negotiated political solution. We happen to think it’s the only viable, sustainable option. And that’s why we’ve tried to lead the international community’s diplomatic efforts and we continue to work with all the parties concerned to try to get us closer toward that diplomatic solution.

So in sum, those are some of the key thoughts we have both in terms of the – in terms of his visit and our thoughts regarding the overall situation. And if there are any questions, I’d be happy to take them.

MODERATOR: Great, thank you so much. Operator, can you remind folks how to ask a question, please?

OPERATOR: Certainly. And once again, ladies and gentlemen, *1 if you’d like to ask a question today.

MODERATOR: Great. It looks like our first question is from Jo Biddle of AFP. Go ahead, Jo.

QUESTION: Hi, good morning. Thank you very much indeed for doing this. I had a couple of questions. Before he left from Beirut, Jarba’s office said that he’s going to be asking the United States to provide more sophisticated weapons to the rebels as they try and battle to overthrow President Assad. I wondered if you could speak to that if – when – the nature of your nonlethal assistance, is it getting more sophisticated? Is it stepping up from what you’ve provided in the past?

And I wondered also if you had a reaction to this weekend’s announcements about the agreement in Homs, whether with the participation of Iran in that you feel it was a mistake not to have included Iran in the Geneva talks. Thank you.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Sure. Now, in terms of your first question, we are committed, just as we were before, to trying to build the capacity of the moderate opposition, including through the provision of assistance to vetted members of the moderated armed opposition. As we’ve said before, we’re not going to get into every single type of our assistance, but we continue to make sure that we’re doing what we can to provide them the means that they need.

In terms of the second question, I don’t really want to look back towards that period of who came and didn’t come to Geneva. I don’t yet have all the details of the specific clauses of what went into that Homs agreement. Of course, we’re always very interested in seeing that the humanitarian needs of people, whether they’re in Homs or anywhere else, are met. But I don’t want to address the specific terms and participants in that deal until we have a really good feel for exactly what went into the Homs deal.

MODERATOR: Great, thank you. And it looks like our next question is from Elise Labott of CNN.

QUESTION: Can you hear me?

MODERATOR: Yep, we can hear you, Elise. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Thanks for doing this, [Senior Administration Official]. I was just wondering, to kind of expand on what Jo said and take a bigger-picture look – I mean, what is your endgame here? Because you say that there’s no military solution, but clearly the Syrian people, given the brutality and the force of the regime, is not going to be able to cause some kind of revolution along the lines of we’ve seen in other places. It seems as if clearly there will have to be a decisive military victory by the opposition in order to get rid of these guys. And it just seems both militarily and politically they don’t – with the growth of extremists on the ground, they don’t have the wherewithal to do it.

So what is your endgame in terms of – how do you see this ending? That the opposition is going to overtake both the extremists and the regime and also have the political clout on the ground to avoid some kind of vacuum? And how are they going to do that if there’s not a decisive addition in military sophisticated weaponry? Thank you.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, let me just put a few thoughts out there on that very good question. Firstly, it’s not contradictory to, I think, suppose that for a solution to be sustainable it has to be a political solution. And I think, as what was said on the record to Al-Hayat, I do think and I continue to think that whoever thinks that there will be a sustainable, decisive military solution to this is deluding themselves. Now, that is not contradictory with the understanding, I think, which exists in many places in the international community and among our colleagues in the Syrian opposition, that the current conditions, the current asymmetry does not provide the kind of political calculus needed to get that type of negotiated, serious political process underway.

So I think we and others in the international community are focusing – while we continue to push for a genuine political solution, we also are focusing on doing what we can, together with the opposition, to try to address that asymmetry in various ways, to strengthen the opposition, and also to try to bring increased pressure of various types on the Assad regime.

And now in terms of the broader strategy, again, I don’t think I’ll be telling you anything you don’t know, but we have several goals which we continue to keep in mind and work towards. Of course, countering the violent extremism that you referred to and preventing the establishment of a terrorist safe haven in Syria is there, avoiding the collapse of the Syrian state and its institutions is still there, preventing the transfer or use of CW is still there, bolstering the security and stability of Syria’s neighbors is still there – and in fact that was one of the key areas of focus for my first trip out to the region – alleviating the humanitarian suffering resulting from this horrible conflict is still there, and again, getting that negotiated transition leading to a more representative form of government that is responsible to the needs of the Syrian people. So those goals are still out there. We need to continue to work towards all of them.

Of course, we are frustrated like others that we haven’t made more progress towards them, but I do think that it is consistent to understand that that asymmetry which exists on the ground militarily, unfortunately, between the regime and the moderate opposition is problematic for the emergence of the kinds of political conditions necessary for a serious political process. And we and others are focused on that.

MODERATOR: Great, thanks. Looks like our next question’s from Matt Lee of the AP. Go ahead, Matt.

QUESTION: Hi there. I’ve just got some logistical questions about – or technical questions about the mission. Why hadn’t this been done earlier? And two, does it mean anything with the property – does it have anything – does it affect at all the Syrian Government property and the embassy here that had the operations you suspended, I think, last month? And three, does this mean that the SOC representatives in – or who are going to work in this mission will get diplomatic immunity and other types of privileges?


SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Excuse me. To take those not necessarily in the order you asked it: The third one – on the third part of your question – it will not result in them gaining diplomatic immunity. I think on the first part of your question, I do not believe that – I’m actually sure that it will not result in them receiving control of the properties that you referred to. But this is something that they have asked for for a while now. I cannot speak to the process that – the timing and why it took as long as it did. But I can say that I am aware that it is something they have been pushing for for a while.

You might want to talk with them about the specific issues that they understand it will help them – it will facilitate their work as the SOC here in reaching out to the American people and facilitating that work and easing that work, in terms of their mission here in the United States. But it is something that they have been advocating for. They believe that it is important and helpful to their job, which we support here in the United States, and I’m glad we were able to get there.

QUESTION: Okay. Thank you.


MODERATOR: Great. The next question’s from Nadia Bilbassy of al-Arabiya.

QUESTION: Thank you, [Moderator]. My question is very similar to Elise’s but from a different angle. Since you insist on a political solution, on what basis do you really hope that a new round or Geneva III talks can take place next – Geneva – what else?

I mean, how do you change Assad’s calculus if he’s winning militarily on the ground?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yeah. Well, this conflict has witnessed some ups and downs or twists and turns. I don’t disagree with you that right now there certainly seems to be an advantage that the regime has, and that is very unfortunate, and that is not helpful to getting those conditions. But that doesn’t mean we just throw in the towel.

Now we do think that for those talks to resume, and we – I think we’ve said this before – that the Assad regime does have to accept the specific ideas and plan that Joint Special Representative Brahimi threw out there in terms of the items on the agenda. And that predicated a third round or a resumed second round, depending on how you count, on receiving the regime’s commitment to discuss a transitional governing body with full executive powers, as is mentioned in the Geneva communique, along with other issues.

Now, unfortunately, the regime refused to do so in the first two rounds of the talks. The opposition was ready to talk about all issues on the agenda, and we happen to think that this really has to be the first item on the agenda. We also, to be perfectly realistic and candid – the idea that you have a so-called presidential election and a candidacy of Bashar al-Assad is pretty inconsistent with any real chances for a political transition, so we happen to think that the regime would also need to postpone this upcoming election and help increase the chances that you can have a serious discussion and hopefully an agreement about the establishment of a transitional governing body, which in turn would oversee the constitutional reforms needed to lead to real free and fair elections.

So the main issues that need to be talked about were out there, they were accepted. That is what we hope to discuss in those first two rounds. Now, whether we will get there soon or not I’m not ready to predict, but we certainly hope that we can, together with the international community and with the Syrian opposition, try to work on that calculus despite the current advantage enjoyed by the regime, because we do think we need to get back to that kind of process.

QUESTION: So you honestly believe there is another round of Geneva talks?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, at this point we have to do what we can. I’m not ready to predict or give you a probability about when there will be another round of talks in Geneva or anywhere else, but the basic premise, which is the need for a negotiated political solution and the need to alter the calculus of those who are currently refusing to engage in that, that remains the same.

MODERATOR: Great. Thanks. Our next question is from Lesley Wroughton of Reuters.

QUESTION: Yes, hi. Good morning. One question. It sounds like – you said at the beginning this is to reintroduce the moderate opposition. Why do you find it necessary to reintroduce them? Is this a kind of a reset button? There were reports that the relations between the U.S. and the SOC had cooled under your predecessor, who also said that it was difficult to find a political solution given that the opposition was not united. That’s number one.

Number two is, coming back to – how has the tensions with Russia affected your ability to pull together that political process that you’re still looking for?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Okay, well on your second question, I don’t fancy myself as someone who understands some of those Ukraine and related issues and broader issues in the U.S. Russia relationship. Obviously, they were in the past and they can in the future be an important partner on the whole host of issues, including Syria, and we continue to work with them on Syria CW issues in particular. But even if we do have some friction, that doesn’t mean we have to – we can just become passive diplomatically, either with Russia or with others.

In terms of your first question, I would just say “reintroduction” because a lot of things have happened in this conflict. And I do sense when I talk to Americans outside the beltway and outside the coast and the foreign policy elite, I think there is still a lack of information and awareness, and I sense that there are a lot of Americans who – they – there’s some name recognition for Assad, whether for Hafez al-Assad or Bashar al-Assad, and the bad things the regime has done historically or more recently. I think there’s also some awareness and understanding of the fact that there are very dangerous extremist forces now running with greater ease in different parts of Syria.

So I think I have a sense, and I think the Syrian opposition has a sense – and that’s more important than my own sense – that those two parts of the triangle are – have better awareness and understanding among the American people and probably parts of the European public as well, and that they need to make sure that their part of the triangle also has awareness, namely, who is the moderate opposition, what are they all about, what is their vision, what are they up to right now. So maybe reintroduction wasn’t the best word, but I do sense that they feel that they need to up the awareness regarding that positive part of the triangle, given that people have focused quite a bit on Assad, and they have also focused on ISIL and other extremists.

QUESTION: But do you still believe that Assad does not have a place in the future of Syria?



MODERATOR: Great, thanks. Our next question’s from Karen DeYoung of The Washington Post. Go ahead, Karen.

QUESTION: I just wanted to follow up quickly on Matt’s question on what it means to be recognized as a foreign mission. You suggested asking the SOC why they wanted it and what they get out of it, but I’m asking you: legally and in terms of diplomacy, what does it mean? What can they do in this country that they couldn’t do before?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think it may be not so much a matter of legal prohibition or permission as opposed to status and also to the ease of their work, and how they are viewed by others in the United States and the international community. So it’s – I don’t want to build it up to something that it’s not. It is not recognition of the SOC, that’s true, but it is a reflection of our partnership with the SOC as legitimate representatives of the Syrian people.

And we do believe – and I think more importantly they believe – that it will facilitate their outreach to the Syrian diaspora and the broader American public in the United States.

QUESTION: But – I’m sorry, the term “recognition as a foreign mission.” What does that mean? I mean is it – not mean anything, or is it just something they can call themselves? What does it mean?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I’m not an attorney here, but I do think that there are, in addition to diplomatic representatives, embassies, consulates, there are others here in the United States – I don’t have their list right now – who have this enhanced status as foreign missions. It provides them certain facilities and it also provides them certain responsibilities, as far as I understand, pertaining to the Office of Foreign Missions and the Department of State in general.

So they clearly view this as a step, as an important part of their status, how they are viewed by Syrians and by others, and we’re happy to meet them on this.

QUESTION: I’m sorry, I don’t mean to – well, I do mean to belabor —

MODERATOR: Last one, Karen. We’ve got to move on. Go ahead.

QUESTION: I’m still not getting any sense of what it – you have to know if you are designating someone – if you say it provides them “certain facilities and certain responsibilities,” what?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Maybe it would be good if we got back to you with some further detail.

QUESTION: That would be great. Thank you.

MODERATOR: But legally it goes into the Foreign Missions Act and all of that.

Okay, our next question is from Margaret Brennan of CBS.

QUESTION: Thanks for doing this. Practically, does this change in status do anything for the U.S. to be able to deliver things now that they couldn’t before? Does it have any impact on that whatsoever in terms of the kind of support we can provide? Are there any members of the armed opposition coming to the U.S. who might be meeting with Secretary Kerry or U.S. Government officials? And can you give us any kind of status update on where we are with determining exactly what happened with that toxic chemical attack within the past few weeks?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Okay. In terms of our assistance, I am not aware that it will change our ability and means of delivery of assistance, and obviously we continue to try as hard as we can to make sure that Syrians with various needs get that assistance. In terms of armed members of the opposition, I don’t have the – I don’t think the full delegation has been – they certainly all haven’t arrived yet, and I’m not sure if – given the length of the visit, I’m not sure if all those decisions have been made. So I would refer you to the SOC office here in Washington in terms of further details. But I would not be surprised if one or more people, particularly connected to the Supreme Military Council, do eventually end up being part of the opposition.

In terms of CW, or the chlorine attacks, obviously we welcome the recent announcement by the OPCW, which I think was on the 29th of April, that they are sending a mission to establish the facts around the allegations of the use of chlorine as a chemical weapon in Syria. We’re obviously going to continue to consult very closely with them, and share information with them and our international partners as we work to determine what happened. And like on all related issues, we are very clear that Syria has to cooperate fully with the fact-finding mission. And that’s kind of what I have at this point on that.

QUESTION: So just to clarify, then, because you pointed me towards the opposition guys themselves: the reports and their statements that General Bashir is coming is not something that the State Department can actually confirm at this point?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I don’t think I can confirm that at this point.

QUESTION: But that’s what they’re saying. Are they wrong? Have we granted him a visa?

MODERATOR: We can check on the visa, Margaret.



MODERATOR: Check on that. Yes.

Okay, our next question is from Nick Schifrin of Al Jazeera America.

QUESTION: Thanks, [Moderator], and thanks, [Senior Administration Official], for doing this. I want to go back to the beginning of this, and for fear of beating a dead horse, I really do have to ask again about the asymmetry that you’re talking about. I understand that you can’t exactly detail everything you’re trying to do to change the political calculus, but do you feel, are you confident that you can change that political calculus under the current strategy that the government, that the White House has outlined for Syria? Do you feel like you are given enough wiggle room or enough latitude, if you want to call it that, to actually change the calculus? Because your predecessor definitely doubted that at the end, whether [your predecessor] was, in fact, able to do so.

And just very quickly, you mentioned in passing about stopping the flow of arms to extremists. If you could deal a little bit – if you could detail a little bit more about how you’re planning on doing that if something’s changed there. Thanks.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Sure. On the first question, it’s a very good question. Obviously, I’m not going to Monday morning quarterback anything that my friend said. But I would focus on your word “confident.” Given what a tragic situation this is and how long this conflict has gone on and the tremendous human suffering it has caused, and having lived in Damascus for three years and traveled around the country and met wonderful Syrians from Aleppo and Qamishli and all over that country, it is truly heartbreaking to see what has come about there.

And I’m just reluctant to use the word “confident” regarding anything, whether on the part of the United States, or the international community for that matter. The conflict has gone on for a very long time, a huge amount of humanitarian suffering; unbelievable, grave implications really for the region. So I just – I would caution anybody to be very careful in terms of gaining or expressing a confidence (inaudible) in terms of how things are going. If and when things get better, I think I’d be more comfortable with that particular adjective.

But I would say that we do have to try to do what we can. And as you know, we’re not going to be able to get into all those details; but we do need to, together with our partners in the region and the international community more broadly, to do what we can to address that asymmetry. And there’s – there is probably no single issue – although maybe I’ll be contested on this by some of my colleagues here in this building or in Washington – but I don’t think there’s any single issue that is currently meriting as much debate, senior policy-level discussion, and that kind of thing than Syria. And I think it’s obvious why. It’s a very, very serious situation. Unfortunately, it has not trended in the right direction. It’s extremely frustrating. I think we’ve said that on the record.

So that’s in terms of that. In term – I’m not sure if you had another question there.

QUESTION: I was just – you briefly mentioned earlier talking about how you were attempting or trying to prevent weapons from getting into radical hands, and I was wondering if that was something new that had happened, or changes or tweaks to the policy at all in that?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yeah. I don’t think I would say “changes.” Obviously, we’ve made the point to all our allies and friends in the international community to try to do what they can to prevent assistance from getting to any extremist groups fighting in Syria. And I think more broadly, the – Bob Bradtke, Ambassador Bradtke, has joined the broader effort in terms of working with allies and friends, in terms of preventing, to the extent we can, the flow of the worst types of extremists to Syria. So it’s not a change, but I would say it’s certainly an increasing area of focus.

MODERATOR: Great. I think —

QUESTION: Okay. Thanks.

MODERATOR: — we have time for a few more. The next question is from Barbara Slavin of Al-Monitor.

QUESTION: Hi, thank you very much for doing this. I was at an event with Ryan Crocker last week where he basically said that our strategy had to focus on getting the Alawites on board. So I wondered what you could tell us about how this Syrian opposition, which is Sunni-dominated, is trying and how you are trying more broadly to convince the Alawites that they have a future in Syria post-Assad.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I wasn’t there when Ryan made those comments, and as someone who worked closely with him, including in Syria, I certainly pay close attention to anything that Ryan Crocker says on Syria or anywhere else in the Middle East.

I would only add at this juncture that I think we have had an understanding for a long time in the United States Government, before I was on this, and probably among our key allies, that for that type of sustainable political solution to emerge, all parts of that society, which is extremely diverse, have to feel a stake in it. And that includes the Alawites, by the way. I know that a lot of people in academia and among the expert community have focused in particular on the Alawites given their unique and privileged role they have had in modern Syria. But certainly, at least to me, it is important that all the key stakeholders feel that they will be welcome in a future more representative Syria and the way it is governed.

And that is why, when I go around and I meet Syrians, whether they’re in the formal opposition or outside the opposition, I try to make sure that I am talking to people from all various backgrounds, whether that’s in terms of their sectarian background, ethnic background, religious background, geographic background, class background. And that has included Alawites and others as well. So it is, again, something we focus on.

Obviously, we hope that our friends in the SOC and other parts of the Syrian opposition take the same approach. And frankly, in my time on this particular mission, I have found that there is a profound understanding on the part of the Syrian opposition of the need to have open lines of communication and be able to engage the various parts of that highly diverse society.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MODERATOR: Great. Our last question is from Margaret Warner of PBS NewsHour. Go ahead, Margaret.

QUESTION: Hi, [Senior Administration Official]. Thanks for doing this. Two quick questions: One is the level of attention. You said that there’s great attention to the Syria issue currently in the Administration. Maybe it’s just because we in the press have been more distracted by what’s happening in Ukraine, and then there’s been the peace process. But it doesn’t feel that way to me, at least. And I’m just wondering – is this – are you signaling a kind of renewed attention to the Syria issue or contemplation of a change of direction of any sort?

And the second has to do – again, it’s just a follow up – on preventing flow of weapons and jihadis into Syria. Of course, the Jordanians are now very worried about their own growth of Salafi jihadists, and they have asked for U.S. help to bolster their own border security to prevent the flow of these people back and forth. Is there anything that the U.S. is doing on that front?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: On your first question, “renewed” I think implies that there was some slack there, and I would not sign up to that concept. I think “increased” may be fair because the situation has dragged on and it has worsened. And when things get worse and when they drag on longer, it does tend to increase or get increased attention and increasing at higher levels. Of course, in the case of Syria, I think it already had that very high volume and level of attention in the first place. But unfortunately, things have not gotten better and I think it’s not surprising. Whether you out there feel it, obviously I can’t be the judge of that, but I certainly have and I think my colleagues throughout the Executive Branch have.

In terms of Jordan and their fears, Jordan did – was on my first trip out to the region, along with Turkey, and those are very well-grounded fears. Jordan has for a long time had very serious concerns about threats to its national security from different types of extremists, and we of course try to work as closely as we can with our Jordanian allies across the range of national security threats and issues.

MODERATOR: Great. Thanks, everyone. As a reminder, everything on this call is embargoed until the Daily Press Briefing here at the State Department, so we will be talking about this more, I’m sure, today and in the days ahead as the visit unfolds. So thanks for joining, and have a great rest of your Monday.

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