Statement of Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for
Near Eastern Affairs

David Satterfield
before the

House International Relations Committee
Subcommittee on the Middle East and South Asia

September 18, 2002 

Thank you, Chairman Gilman.  And thank you to all the Members of the Committee for giving me this opportunity to discuss our bilateral relationship with Syria and the potential effect on this relationship of HR 4483. 

Mr. Chairman, let me begin by stating that we are in full agreement with the goals underlying this bill.   No one is more concerned about Syria's support for terrorism than the President.  These concerns are a matter of record and are why Syria has long been designated as a state sponsor of terrorism and subject to numerous sanctions.  We also put a high priority on ending Syria's illicit trade with Iraq, putting a stop to proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, particularly by state sponsors of terrorism, and seeing an independent Lebanon that is free of all foreign forces, including Syrian, and exercises sovereignty over its territory.   

Of concern to our discussions today is what approach most effectively advances the wide range of U.S. interests in the region, including a very important priority – the security of our close friend, Israel.  The President and the Secretary are in the middle of an extremely sensitive effort to stop the Arab-Israeli violence, avoid the outbreak of regional war, and help the parties back on a path to comprehensive peace.  If our efforts on both comprehensive peace and the war against terrorism are to succeed, the President and the Secretary will need flexibility to determine what combination of incentives and disincentives will maximize cooperation and advance our goals.  This is equally true as we look ahead to the range of options before us on Iraq. 

For this reason, we do not believe this is the right time for legislative initiatives that could complicate or even undermine our efforts.  The imposition of new sanctions on Syria would severely limit our ability to address a range of important issues directly with the highest levels of the Syrian government.  It would also render more difficult our efforts to change Syrian behavior and avoid a dangerous escalation of violence in the region.  Of particular importance is our ability to deliver clear messages to the Syrian leadership in order to avert further escalation along the Blue Line between Israel and Lebanon.   

In addition, the President has taken note of Syria's cooperation in our struggle against al-Qaida.  Syria's cooperation in this regard has been substantial and has helped save American lives.  Such cooperation is very much in the U.S. interest and requires high-level, sustained engagement with the Syrian government.  At the same time, the President and the Secretary, most recently during the latter’s visit to Damascus last April, have made clear that more is expected of Syria, and that Syria's support and safe haven for other terrorist groups must end.   The Secretary will reiterate this message in his meeting with the Syrian Foreign Minister next week in New York. 

For the moment, we believe that carefully calibrated engagement with Syria, combined with the very tough sanctions already in place, will be more effective to advance our dealing with the threat from Iraq.  While we are in full agreement with the underlying goals of HR 4483, we do not believe that the proposed bill provides the best mechanism for achieving these goals.   Imposing the new sanctions regime envisioned by the Syria Accountability Act would limit our options and restrict our ability to deal with a difficult and dangerous regional situation at a particularly critical time.  For this reason, we ask that your Committee work to strengthen the hand of the President and Secretary as they seek to lead the region away from violence and towards peace, and not move forward on this bill at this time. 

Thank you very much.   I’d be please to take your questions.