Testimony Presented by 

The Honorable Edward M. Gabriel
President, American Task Force for Lebanon 
on the  

Syria Accountability Act (H.R. 4483) 
before the  
House Committee on International Relations
Wednesday, September 18, 2002
The ATFL is a non-profit tax exempt organization that unites American leaders of Lebanese heritage who share a strong commitment to strengthening the traditional ties of friendship and the excellent political, economic and cultural relations between Lebanon and the United States. We are non-sectarian and non-partisan. Our members comprise a highly diverse group of Lebanese American political leaders, and others in the fields of education, law, medicine, engineering, business, government, military and the arts. Our primary operating principle is that at all times, the mission and objectives of the ATFL shall be in the best interest of the United States. 

Consistent with longstanding U.S. policy, the unifying goal of the members of the ATFL is the ultimate establishment of a secure, stable, democratic, independent and sovereign Lebanon with full control over all of its internationally recognized territory. The ATFL also supports the departure of all non-Lebanese forces from Lebanese territory, the disarmament of all remaining militia on Lebanese soil, and the implementation of all United Nations resolutions and international agreements regarding Lebanon. We have consistently urged that the United States government be a positive and constructive influence in supporting Lebanon so that these goals can be ultimately realized. Progress on this front has not always been satisfactory or encouraging. 

There are many aspects of the current United States-Syrian relationship that are problematic from the perspective of the United States. However, we submit that our country’s policy goals on Lebanon and the Middle East are best served through diplomacy and negotiation rather than ineffectual and even counterproductive confrontation. 

Our very careful reading of the proposed Syria Accountability Act has led us to conclude that its passage would be neither in the best interest of the United States nor of Lebanon. The passage of this Act would not increase United States leverage over Syria and Syrian policy in Lebanon; it would decrease it. Moreover, its passage would seriously impact efforts underway by the United States to encourage the Government of Syria to increase its cooperation in the war on terrorism, and to move positively towards implementing many of the goals set forth in the proposed Act through diplomacy and quiet persuasion. 

Let us cite an example where a positive American-Syrian engagement has benefited the United States and Lebanon. On April 15, 2002, Secretary of State Colin Powell met with Syrian President Bashar Assad and was able to negotiate an end to the violence across the ‘blue line’ that could have resulted in a general Middle East war. If the American-Syrian relationship were any more adversarial, this exchange between Secretary Powell and President Assad would likely have been impossible. Moreover, absent a working American-Syrian relationship, Syria would not heed United States concerns over the Syrian presence and policy in Lebanon. 

Despite the most optimistic expectations of its supporters, the Syria Accountability Act will not lead to a Syrian withdrawal from Lebanon. To the contrary, an isolated Syria is likely to intensify its relationship with Lebanon. Experience has shown that unilateral sanctions, such as those envisioned by this Act, do not work. Indeed, several of the penalties to be leveled against Syria by this Act are already in effect; yet, they have in no way altered Syrian policy. 

Additionally, the Syria Accountability Act would directly penalize Lebanon, even though Lebanon suffers from regional constraints on its actions. The Act enjoins Lebanon: to enter into serious bilateral negotiations with Israel to realize a full and permanent peace; to evict all terrorist and foreign forces from southern Lebanon, including Hezbollah and the Iranian Revolutionary Guards; and, only receive United States humanitarian and educational assistance through appropriate private, non-governmental organizations and appropriate international organizations, until Lebanon asserts sovereignty and control over all of its territory and borders and achieves full political independence.  

We understand the need for a strategic, but independent, relationship between Lebanon and Syria. In this context, we would encourage the United States government to engage the parties in discussions on ways to resolve regional issues that would accomplish the intent of the drafters and obviate the need for this legislation. 

From July 23 to July 29, a delegation of American Task Force for Lebanon officers met with a range of Lebanese from various religious communities and political orientations. None of our interlocutors supported the Syria Accountability Act, of which they were well aware. Our interlocutors were supportive of a sovereign Lebanon, but they felt that the Syria Accountability Act would not achieve this goal. Indeed, many of our interlocutors thought the bill would have the opposite effect. 

We ask that everyone concerned take a critical look at the implications for the United States and Lebanon of the Syria Accountability Act.