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Monday, March 16, 2015

DEPUTY SECRETARY BLINKEN'S REMARKS AT RECEPTION COMMEMORATING SYRIAN UPRISING

FROM:  U.S. STATE DEPARTMENT
Reception to Commemorate the Fourth Anniversary of the Syrian Uprising
Remarks
Antony J. Blinken
Deputy Secretary of State
Washington, DC
March 13, 2015

Thank you very much. And, I’m really grateful that all of you could be here, and grateful too for the extraordinary work that Daniel’s been doing every single day. No one has been working harder, no one has been trying harder, no one has been pushing us harder than Daniel to try to get to a better place on this incredibly challenging and incredibly heart wrenching situation that we face in Syria. So thank you.

I’m glad to see everyone here today, but I especially want to say welcome to the dedicated representatives of the Syrian opposition and the Syrian-American diaspora community.

Your leadership, your persistence, your strength in the face of relentless hardship and struggle have given hope to countless Syrians through four long and deeply, deeply tragic years. And, this is an occasion, as somber as it is, to honor your efforts and to honor your commitment.

This anniversary marks the moment when peaceful calls for freedom and dignity were met with bullets and barrel bombs.

When Assad went to war against his own people and lay siege to a proud nation’s rich history and heritage.

Four years ago, Syria was a middle class country of engineers and scholars; of scientists and entrepreneurs; of doctors and teachers.

Today, whole neighborhoods have been bombed out of existence; eleven million people have been forced to flee their communities. In all, nearly half of Syria’s pre-war population has been displaced.

Parents have been robbed of their children; and children have been robbed of their future. In a nation with a strong tradition of education, one of the most heart wrenching things, of the many heart wrenching things, is to know that so many of Syria’s school-aged boys and girls have not been able to step foot in a classroom for more than three years.

Four-fifths of Syrians are now living below the national poverty line. Life expectancy has been reduced by 20 years—from 79 years in 2010 to 55 last year.

And, as you know better than anyone, this humanitarian catastrophe is exacerbated further still by the Assad regime’s intentional and deadly obstruction of life-saving aid.

The regime leverages food and water as a weapon of war. It removes medical and surgical supplies from humanitarian convoys, even as those shipments are authorized for delivery.

The United States holds the Assad regime accountable for these abhorrent actions that violate our most basic humanitarian principles and terrorize the Syrian people every single day.

In this vast sea of suffering, we are grateful for the bravery and commitment that each of you and the organizations that you represent have brought to bear.

Tireless efforts embody that the spirit of compassion and volunteerism that is at the very core our common values. And for that reason, I want to especially recognize Dr. Zaher Sahloul and the Syrian American Medical Society for your truly heroic work to provide medical care inside of Syria. Doctor, are you here? Please.

We’re privileged to support, in ways that we can your work, and we know the extraordinary risks that you and your colleagues face to save lives every single day.

Just yesterday, I was looking at a report that over 600 medical staff have been killed in Syria—97 percent of them by the regime. This is a devastating statistic for a country that once prided itself on its medical education. And indeed, one of Syria’s great exports before the war, were doctors, including doctors to this country, to the United States.

I would also like to recognize, if I may, Ms. Mirna Barq and the Syrian American Council—and also Dr. Yehya Basha and the Coalition for a Democratic Syria—for your tremendous activism and service as an educational resource for the American people and for our government.

We stand with you in your efforts to alleviate the suffering of the Syrian people, just as we stand with the activists, local leaders, and members of the opposition who fight for peace, who fight for justice, and for a comprehensive political solution to the conflict.

Today, I can announce a modest step forward that the Administration is working with Congress to provide nearly $70 million in new foreign assistance to continue our full range of support to the moderate Syrian opposition.

With this additional funding, the United States will have committed nearly $400 million to support the opposition since the start of the revolution. And in two weeks, we will again step up to pledge generously at the conference in Kuwait to fund humanitarian assistance for displaced Syrians and refugees in neighboring states.

So, today, even as we commemorate this fourth anniversary, we all know one thing – it’s four anniversaries too many.

This is a time to pause and to honor and remember those who have sacrificed everything to usher in a better future for their country and their fellow citizens.

We remain committed, as challenging and as difficult as it is, to help Syrians obtain their future through a genuine political solution to the conflict.

We’re committed to degrading and defeating ISIL, which has found fertile ground in this chaos—hijacking the cause of the Syrian people to advance its own agenda and its own agenda of terror.

And we pledge to continue to work together—as partners—to end this war, restore a nation, allow it to welcome home its citizens, respects their rights, and brighten their futures.

Let me just conclude by saying this. These statistics are powerful. They tell us a lot. We try to make sense of them. We try to digest them. But, behind every single statistic is a human being. And I know for the people in the room, these human beings are your friends, your family, your loved ones. And, nothing we can say or do can fully express the pain I know all of you feel every day when faced with this conflict and this tragedy. And I know, too, the tremendous frustration that I would imagine virtually all of you feel at the fact that we are four years in, and it endures. It is a small consolation that many of us share that same frustration, that we continue, as Daniel said, to work at this every day, and we will continue to work at it every day until we get it right.

Thank you. Thank you for everything you’re doing.