Opening Statement of Benjamin A. Gilman
Subcommittee on the Middle East and South Asia
"U.S. Policy Toward Syria and H.R. 4483, the Syria Accountability Act"
September 18, 2002

In his June 24th address on the Middle East, President Bush put Syria on notice, stating that "Syria must choose the right side in the war on terror by closing terrorist camps and expelling terrorist organizations." Yet Syria’s words and actions since then have not been those of a state that shares our commitment both to our twin goals of eradicating global terrorism and fostering stability in the Middle East. Rather, with a few exceptions taken in its own self-interest, Syria has demonstrated that it continues to actively undermine the basis for our campaign against terrorism and our initiatives aimed at ending the violence in Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza.

According to the State Department’s report on Patterns of Global Terrorism–2001, Syria continued to provide "safe haven and logistics support to Hezbollah, HAMAS, Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and other terrorist organizations." Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad has allowed Hezbollah, the Lebanese terrorist group under his patronage, to intensify its military activities along Israel’s northern border. Working closely with Iran, Syria has facilitated the transfer of thousands of rockets and other weaponry to Hezbollah, boosting their arsenal and significantly improving their ability to carry out terror attacks against Israel. Of the seven state sponsors on the Administration’s list, only Syria rivals Iran in its unabashed support for terrorism.

In addition to Syria’s support for terrorism, Syria continues its illegal occupation of Lebanon in contravention of United Nations Security Council Resolutions 425 and 520. Through its occupation of Lebanon, it undermines democracy and development there. It provides protection for criminal enterprises, such as the growth and production of drugs and of Western and Arab currency counterfeiting in the Bekaa Valley of Lebanon, whose profits serve to finance the activities of Hezbollah and other terrorist organizations.

And even as America prepares for what appears to be an inevitable confrontation with Iraq, recent press reports indicate that the Syrians are busy supplying Saddam Hussein with weapons. Syria also continues to serve as a conduit for illegal Iraqi oil exports. Moreover, there is a direct pipeline from Iraq into Syria from which Iraq derives illicit profits. These actions not only constitute a direct violation of resolutions passed by the very body that it serves on – the U.N. Security Council–but they will only help to strengthen Saddam even as he prepares to confront the United States.

Syria’s support for terrorism, aid to Saddam Hussein’s regime, and other illicit activities not only jeopardizes the post-September 11th international consensus delegitimizing terrorism, but it compromises our ability to procure peace and stability in the region.

The United States must respond accordingly.

H.R. 4483, the Syria Accountability Act of 2002, is one such response, and I would like take this opportunity to thank our distinguished Majority Leader from Texas, Mr. Armey, and the distinguished Member of our Committee, Mr. Engel for their leadership in introducing this important piece of legislation, and congratulate them for their good work.

The Syria Accountability Act would prohibit exporting any item on the United States Munitions List or Commerce Control List of dual-use items in the Export Administration Regulations. It would prohibit the provision of any U.S. assistance to U.S. businesses with respect to investment or other activities in Syria, or conducting Overseas Private Investment Corporation and Trade Development Agency programs in or with respect to Syria. It also directs the President to impose two or more on a list of other sanctions against Syria.

The Administration contends that the Syria Accountability Act "ties its hands at a very important moment, and that "this is not the right time for legislative initiatives that could complicate or even undermine" the efforts of the State Department. It is important for the Administration to take into account that many of the of the sanctions are subject to waiver and the entire sanctions regime is obviated if Syria behaves like a normal state. It is also important to note that these are not secondary sanctions, and they do not affect third countries, and, as a result, have little impact on our commercial and diplomatic ties with Syria’s major trading partners.

As the President so eloquently articulated, states and their leaders are either with us or against us in the war on terrorism – there is no room for hesitation, no room for wavering if a regime is to be truly considered an ally in our war on terror. Only when the U.S. comes to adopt this determined approach with regard to the Syrian regime, will that regime be faced with the difficult dilemma of whether to acquiesce to American and international pressure and fundamentally alter Syrian policy, or face further alienation. Normal U.S.-Syrian bilateral relations must be contingent upon the reversal of policies which are harmful to U.S. interests.