HEARING OF THE MIDDLE EAST AND SOUTH ASIA SUBCOMMITTEE OF THE HOUSE INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS COMMITTEE
U.S. Policy Toward Syria and H.R. 4483, the Syria Accountability Act
CHAIRED BY: REP. BENJAMIN A. GILMAN (R-NY)
WITNESSES: REP. RICHARD K. ARMEY (R-TX), MAJORITY LEADER, UNITED STATES HOUSE OF REP.S; REP. ELIOT L. ENGEL, (D-NY); EDWARD M. GABRIEL, PRESIDENT, AMERICAN TASK FORCE ON LEBANON; MATTHEW A. LEVITT, SENIOR FELLOW, WASHINGTON INSTITUTE FOR NEAR EAST POLICY; WILLIAM A. REINSCH, PRESIDENT, NATIONAL FOREIGN TRADE COUNCIL; ELIAS SAADI, M.D., COUNCIL OF LEBANESE AMERICAN ORGANIZATIONS
2172 RAYBURN HOUSE OFFICE BUILDING, WASHINGTON, D.C.
10:15 A.M., EDT, WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 18, 2002
REP. BENJAMIN A. GILMAN (R-NY): The committee will come to order. Members please take their seats. Due to time constraints, besides my opening statement, we will forego all other openings.
It is my pleasure to welcome our witnesses today, and as soon as they arrive, we'll be able to get started.
In his June 24th address on the Middle East, President Bush put Syria on notice, stating that, and I quote, "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 his own self interest, Syria has demonstrated it continues to actively determine to 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 continue to provide, quote "safe haven and logistic support to Hezbollah, to Hamas, Popular Front to the Liberation of Palestine general command, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad and other terrorist organizations" close quote.
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, providing protection for criminal enterprises such as the growth and production of drugs in Western and Arab currency. Counterfeiting in the Bekaa Valley of Lebanon, whose profits served to finance its 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 have been busy supplying Saddam Hussein with weapons. Syria also continues to service a conduit for illegal oil exports. Moreover, there is a direct pipeline from Iraq into Syria from which Iraq derives illicit profits in the billions of dollars. 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 our nation.
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. Our nation must respond accordingly. H.R. 4483, the Syria Accountability Act of 2002, is one such response.
I want to take this opportunity to thank our distinguished majority leader, the gentleman from Texas, Mr. Armey, and a distinguished member of our committee, the gentleman from New York, Mr. Engel, for their leadership in introducing this important piece of legislation that's before us today. And I want to congratulate them for their good work. The Syria Accountability Act would prohibit exporting any item on the United States commerce control list of dual use items in the export administration regulations. It would prohibit the provision of any U.S. assistance to our 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, and also directs our president to impose two or more on our list of other sanctions against Syria.
The administration contends that the Syria Accountability Act, quote "Ties its hands at a very important moment" end quote. This is not the right time for legislative initiatives that could complicate or even undermine the efforts of the State Department. It's important for the administration to take into account that many of its sanctions are subject to waiver and the entire sanctions regime is obviated if Syria were to behave like a normal state. It's also important to note 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 our president so eloquently articulated, states and their leaders are either with us or against us, in our war on terrorism. There's 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 our nation comes to adopt this determined approach with regard to the Syrian regime, would 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.
We regret that Ambassador David Satterfield, deputy assistant secretary of State for the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs, will be unable to be with us. We now call on our witnesses and it's my pleasure to introduce our distinguished majority leader, who will soon be leaving us regrettably, along with my necessary, involuntary retirement.
It's my pleasure to ask our distinguished Majority Leader, Mr. Armey, the gentleman from Texas, who's had a long and distinguished career in public service, to give us his testimony on his important bill. Thank you for being here, Mr. Majority Leader.
REP. RICHARD K. ARMEY (R-TX): Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Let me say, first of all, it's a pleasure to be here.
REP. GILMAN: Would you press your button on your mike.
REP. ARMEY: My button. Got you. I always prefer to push my own buttons, Mr. Chairman, and I thank you.
But it is a pleasure to be here and it is a pleasure, Mr. Chairman, to be here before you in front of your portrait, which I might say doesn't make you look near as young and handsome as you are in fact.
REP. GILMAN: (Laughs.) Thank you.
REP. ARMEY: It's a particular pleasure for me to be here with my cosponsor, Mr. Engel, a member of your committee. I should caution you, Mr. Chairman, that because I take foreign affairs as serious as I do, consider the subject to one where subtleties matter in the way things are expressed, that I will read my statement. It's been carefully written and I think it really enables me to make the most precise clarity and minimize the chance for things to be misunderstood.
However, as I mentioned to you on the floor yesterday, since I am not a man of your experience and travel, I must advise you that I am likely to mispronounce half of the Middle East in this discussion, and for that I'll make my apologies ahead of time. Let me just say that to be here to speak with Mr. Engel on behalf of H.R. 4483, the Syria Accountability Act 2002 is, I think, a very serious business and, I dare say, we both have taken it quite seriously. Syria has been on the State Department's terrorist list since 1979.
There are seven countries currently on the terrorist list. The United States has sanctions against and has broken normal relations with five of the seven nations on that list. Those five nations are Iran, Iraq, North Korea, Libya and Cuba. The House passed the Sudan Peace Act in response to its concerns with the sixth country, Sudan.
Now I come to speak about my concerns with the seventh and the question whether we should normal sanction-free relations with Syria. As we continue to wage war on terrorism, Syria is a country that enjoys full diplomatic relations with the United States, trade relations with the United States companies and receives significant foreign aid from some of our closest allies while it simultaneously cuddles up to Saddam Hussein's regime, protecting some of the world's most active terrorist organizations within its borders and repeatedly violating international law.
During my testimony today, I will review the threats that Syria poses through its support of terrorism, its occupation of Lebanon, its development of weapons of mass destruction and its illegal importation of Iraqi oil. These are threats to the United States and its allies around the world. Our inaction on holding Syria accountable for its dangerous activities could seriously diminish our efforts in the war on terrorism and our efforts in brokering a viable peace in the Middle East.
Syria should be held accountable for its record of harboring and supporting terrorist groups, stockpiling illegal weapons in an effort to develop weapons of mass destruction and transferring weapons and oil back and forth through Iraq. In his June 24th speech, President Bush made a very clear statement of U.S. policy and I quote, "Nations are either with us or against us in the war on terror." In that speech, he also laid down the gauntlet for Syria. He said, "Syria must choose the right side in the war on terror by closing terrorist camps and expelling terrorist organizations."
A year has now passed and the deadline for this choice has come and gone. The Congress of the United States cannot allow Syria to continue activities that pose a threat to the United States and our allies without consequence. As evidence for Syria's support of terror, let me say that, while Syria publicly condemned the terrorist attacks of 9/11, for decades it has harbored, sheltered and sponsored terrorist organizations inside its borders and within the borders of the areas it controls in Lebanon.
There are reports from reliable news sources, such as the respected Israeli newspaper, Ha'aretz, to the effect that Damascus has allowed some 150 to 200 Al-Qaeda terrorists to settle in a Palestinian refugee camp in southern Lebanon within the last year. We need to take these reports seriously and continuously monitor both sides for evidence of a relationship between the two.
I have been advised that Syria, as a secular dictatorship, likely holds no affection for the fundamentalist views of al-Qaeda. Still it has made common cause for both Sunni extremists in Hamas and Shia extremists in Hezbollah. My concern is whether Syria supports and sponsors any terrorist organization whatsoever. It is a quibble to me to say that Syria supports this terrorist organization but not that one. Even if the question of al-Qaeda support is open in the minds of some, we know for sure Damascus is a haven to more than one terrorist group.
Hezbollah is headquartered in Damascus and they affect a global threat by maintaining a terrorist network in Europe, Africa, South America, North America and Asia. They are the radical terrorist group that until 9/11 had claimed the most American lives in terrorist attacks. It was Hezbollah who masterminded the bombing of the U.S. embassy in the U.S. Marine Barracks in Beirut in 1983. That killed more than 300 people, including 243 Americans. We also know that Hezbollah would not be able to launch attacks against Israel from southern Lebanon without Syrian acquiescence and approval, which brings me to the point of Syria's forceful control of Lebanon.
Since the early 1980s, Syria has maintained an illegal military occupation of southern Lebanon for 25,000 troops operating under the guise of maintaining peace between factions. Syria has created a front line for terrorist incursion into Israel on Lebanon's border. The U.S. National Commission on Terrorism reported last year that the Syrian government still provides terrorists with safe haven, allows them to operate over a dozen training camps in the Syrian controlled Bekaa Valley in Lebanon and permits the Iranian government to re- supply these camps.
It is also widely believed that the Bekaa Valley in Syria- occupied Lebanon serves as the epicenter for training the world's most dangerous terrorists. The Bekaa is a one-stop shop for terrorist training. Terrorists from every corner of the international community come together in training camps to learn how to conduct lethal operations. Terrorists learn how to transform themselves into suicide bombers. They also learn how to utilize various types of weapons including long range Katyusha rockets, high explosive anti-tank mines and modern plastic explosives.
The effects of this comprehensive training can be seen in such devastating acts such as 1996 Khobar Towers bombing. Other attacks originated from Bekaa Valley include the kidnapping and murder of former CIA Beirut station chief William Buckley in 1984. Such groups as al-Qaeda, al-Jihad, Hamas, Hezbollah, the Japanese Red Army, Abu Nidal's organization, Force-17, New People's Republic, the IRA, Chechen rebels, Fatah, the Red Brigade, Palestinian Islamic Jihad and the Medellin Drug Cartel are just some of the terrorist organizations who have received training in the valley and continue to operate there today.
Another factor of concern is serious illegal import of Iraqi oil through the Kirkuk-Banias pipeline in direct violation of U.N. Resolution 661 and subsequent resolutions prohibiting commerce with Iraq's oil and gas sector outside the Oil for Food program. Syria imports about 200,000 barrels of Iraqi crude oil a day, allowing Damascus to sell more of its domestically produced petroleum for profit and totaling approximately 1.1 billion annual profit for both countries.
State Department's spokesman Richard Boucher noted in February 14, 2002, "Syria is now a member of the United Nations Security Council. As such it bears special responsibility with regard to the implementation of U.N. Security Council resolutions. Given the seriousness of this oil pipeline issue, you can be sure that we will continue to press Syria to live up to its responsibilities to respect Security Council resolutions and to ensure that its actions contribute to international peace and security."
Unfortunately, Syria has not lived up to these expectations nor has President Assad fulfilled a personal promise he made to Secretary of State Colin Powell in February 2001 that the pipeline earnings would be placed under the U.N. sanctions regime or alternatively shut down. Western intelligence sources have also discovered that Iraq is using Syria for smuggling in military systems and other banned material to Saddam Hussein.
Iraqi opposition sources believe that Iraq has obtained medium range Scud class missiles through Syria as part of Iraq's effort to bolster its military against U.S. attack.
In addition, recent reports claim that Syria is brokering the sale of sophisticated Ukrainian military radar systems to Iraq. For the past decade, the Syrians have enhanced their ability to manufacture several hundreds of tons of chemical warfare agents per year, including Sarin mustard gas and VX at four separate production facilities. In addition to stockpiling chemical weapons, Syria has received via Iran hundreds of extended range North Korean Scud-C missiles and is building it own ballistic missiles from imported technology. These weapons are deployed in deep well protected underground shelters.
Two years ago, Syria began testing a long range Scud-D missile able to hit any point in Israel from deep inside Syrian territory, often undetectable to Israel radars. The presence of these strategic weapons not only threatens the Israeli cities but also could target Israeli Defense Force military bases and therefore hinder Israel's ability to mobilize its army reserves quickly in the event of a war. Longer range weapons systems allow the Syrians to hide their missiles deep in their own territory while still threatening our friends.
Mr. Chairman, you have already summarized what the legislation requires and I think I've given a fairly comprehensive summary of why we hold this high concern about Syria. The fact of the matter is in the world of terrorist threat you have to recognize that Syria is an actively engaged perpetrator working in collusion with the world's most dangerous terrorist organizations.
First of all, it amazes me that they would be allowed to sit on the U.N. Security Council. But then to have this callous disregard for the requirements of that council is an offense that the U.N. should not tolerate. We in the United States cannot take all the other nations on the terrorist list and hold against them sanctions and let Syria continue unabated and unresponded.
I believe I dare speak for both myself and Mr. Engel. Neither of us would have preferred to have been here today asking this committee to act on this resolution. Both of us would have preferred to have seen responsible behavior from Syria. We were both assured by many people that we ought to withhold from being here today, because as we were so assured, Syria is trying to do better. Well, Mr. Chairman, I don't think Syria is trying to do better. I see no evidence that Syria is trying to do better. For us to hold sanctions against other nations on the terrorist list and turn a blind eye to what is happening in Syria today I think is an oversight that only invites other nations to duplicate their trespasses.
And so I'm here with my cosponsor, Mr. Engel, and I think we can say again both of us here are reluctantly but with resolve, asking this committee to move forward with this resolution. And I think you for your attention.
REP. GILMAN: Thank you, Majority Leader Armey. We appreciate your candid expression and your good analysis of what is occurring in Syria today, and as we are engaged in our war on terrorism it's especially important for us to consider all of the aspects of what you are setting forth before our committee, and we'll assure you that it will get full attention. I know that you have a heavy schedule and have to be excused at this time but we thank you for providing us with your testimony.
REP. ARMEY: Thank you. And my apologies to the committee and to my kind cosponsor but I do have to rush to a bicameral leadership meeting.
REP. GILMAN: Thanks again, Mr. Armey.
I want to welcome Congressman Eliot Engel, a distinguished member of this subcommittee and a representative for the 19th district of New York, which will soon include portions of my congressional district. Welcome, Mr. Engel.
REP. ELIOT ENGEL (D-NY): Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman. And let me say the distinguished majority leader took credit for your portrait, for the discussion about your portrait. I want to go on record as saying that I'm the one that pointed it out to him and certainly that as I take in part of the district that you so wonderfully served all these years, I want to just say that you don't only have big shoes to fill, you have impossible shoes to fill. And as a colleague of yours, I want to just say how much I've cherished your friendship through these 14 years that I've served in Congress, and thank you very much for everything you've done for New York and for America.
REP. GILMAN: I thank you for your kind words. Please be seated.
REP. ENGEL: It's a great honor for me to sponsor this bill along with the majority leader. And it shows how this bill not only has such deep bipartisan support, it's certainly the right thing for us to do.
Mr. Chairman and members of the subcommittee, the people of the United States are beginning a serious debate about undertaking a military campaign to effect a regime change in Iraq. Not only did Iraq occupy Kuwait in 1990, but it is on the State Department's list of terrorist nations and is developing weapons of mass destruction and consistently violates the U.N. Security Council sanctions adopted at the end of the Gulf War. Yet while Iraq rightfully remains a national priority, we are overlooking another country which is committing comparable violations. This country is playing a similarly destabilizing role in the Middle East and this country, of course, is Syria.
Syria has been on the State Department's terrorist list since the inception of the list in 1979, so it's always been on the State Department's list of countries which support, aid and abet terrorism. Syria has occupied and controlled Lebanon for over two decades with 25,000 troops under the guise of maintaining peace between Lebanese factions. It possesses an expanding fleet of Scud missiles which can deliver its arsenal of chemical weapons, and it is in serious violation of the oil and arms sales sanctions against Iraq.
While we have no conclusive evidence of ties between Iraq and Al- Qaeda, ties between Syria and Al-Qaeda are widely reported. According to the highly regarded journalist, Ze'ev Schiff, Syria recently allowed 150 to 200 Al-Qaeda operatives to enter a Palestinian refugee camp. I ask unanimous consent to submit a copy of this article for the record.
REP. DARREL E. ISSA (R-CA): I object.
REP. ENGEL: Okay. Well, I'm sorry my colleague objects but I will state exactly what happened and the allegations, which were more than allegations, in the article. In fact, terrorist groups that thrive within Syria and Syrian-occupied Lebanon have taken American lives. In 1983, Hezbollah killed 241 U.S. Marines in a terrorist attack near Beirut and killed many more in the bombing of the U.S. Embassy annex the following year. Yet today Damascus continues to allow Iran to supply Hezbollah with weapons.
According to Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, and I quote, "Hezbollah may well be the A-team of terrorists. Maybe Al- Qaeda is actually the B-team on the reserve bench." The threat of collusion between these terrorist groups and the government of Syria must be addressed forcefully, especially because of Syria's arsenal of weapons of mass destruction. At the U.N. last week President Bush said, and I quote, "Our greatest fear is that terrorists will find a shortcut to their mad ambitions when an outlaw regime supplies them with the technologies to kill on a massive scale." Unquote. That's a quote from our president. He meant this about Iraq but it applies just as well to Syria.
Under Secretary of State John Bolton said in May, quote, "We are concerned about Syrian advances in its indigenous chemical weapons infrastructure and believe Syria is pursuing development of biological weapons and is able to produce at least small amounts of biological warfare agents." Unquote. That's from Under Secretary of State John Bolton. I share his concerns.
The following commercially available images released by globalsecurity.org show the Syrian Al Safir chemical weapons plant and Scud missile base, protected by a surface to air missile site near the northern city of Aleppo. Mr. Chairman, I would like to take a minute to run the subcommittee through a few of these satellite photos.
Number one. First is a regional map showing where the Al Safir chemical weapons base is. Number two and number three are two maps. This Russian topographical map from 1987 shows the Al Safir base. The Syrian map from 1994 of the same location omits the base. This is the Russian topographical map from 1987 showing the base. The Syrian map from '94 of the same location omits the base. My apologies to President Assad for exposing his nasty secret.
Fourth is an overview of the Al Safir base showing the chemical weapons plant, Scud base and surface to air missile site. This is irrefutable. It's there, under the auspices of the Syrian government. This fifth photo shows tunnel entrances large enough to hide a Scud missile on its enormous Soviet-built MAZ-543 transporter. Again, these aerial photos, not made up, irrefutable in terms of what Syria is doing. Additional photos and close-ups are on the www.globalsecurity.org page and I would urge my colleagues to turn to that to get that because again, this is irrefutable.
Now even with all this damning evidence about the threat Damascus poses to the U.S. and the world, American diplomats suggest that now is not the time to get tough with Syria. The reasons they give vary but the most common is that Syria has supposedly helped the U.S. in our war on terror. But I would say with all due respect, Mr. Chairman, Damascus is at best two-faced, throwing a few small bones of information to American sources while continuing to aid the most violent terrorist groups in the Middle East. This is certainly not an acceptable deal in the post 9/11 world. Syria must be put on alert that we are not fooled by their doubling dealing. In our view there are four critical criteria that Syria must meet before our countries can return to normal relations.
First and foremost, Syria must end its support for terrorism. I can think of nothing more important in the post 9/11 era. It must close the offices of the Palestinian terror groups in Damascus and clean out the Lebanese Bekaa Valley, a hornet's nest of the most deadly terrorist groups in the world. They can do this if they want to. They have shown no desire to do so. Syria must end all contact with Al-Qaeda, stop harboring Hezbollah, a violent terrorist group and other terrorist groups and come into full compliance with U.N. Security Council Resolution 1373 which directs all countries to fight terror.
Secondly and very importantly, Syria must withdraw its armed forces from Lebanon. U.N. Security Council Resolutions 425 and 520 call for the removal of all foreign forces from Lebanon and with strict respect for Lebanese sovereignty. The Lebanese people have a right to have their own government and their own nation and their own country without the stranglehold of Syrian troops occupying that country, in essence making Lebanon no more than a puppet regime of Syria.
The U.N. has certified Israel's withdrawal from Lebanon but the Syrian military occupation remains, stealing from Lebanon its national wealth and political independence. As long as Syria continues its occupation, Lebanon will remain the only satellite state left in the world. One which will be doomed to be the world's hotbed of terror.
Mr. Chairman, and my colleagues, it's time to let the Lebanese run Lebanon. It's time for Syria to get out. It is incomprehensible that Syria became the president of a security council at the U.N. while occupying another country and I'm sorry to say without even a peep out of the administration.
Mr. Chairman, on that point, almost 40 members including yourself, wrote to President Bush opposing Syria becoming the president of a security council. We didn't receive a response but it's something that I think we should continue to emphasize.
Thirdly, Syria must halt development and procurement of weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missiles. The administration has correctly cited as a cause for concern the combination of Iraq's Scud missiles and their weapons of mass destruction. The president has mentioned that as a concern and I fully agree with him. But we should be equally concerned with a Syrian force of hundreds of Scud missiles topped with unconventional warheads that could also wreak unspeakable destruction.
Finally, and of pressing importance to the United States, Syria must halt violations of United Nations arms and oil sanctions against Iraq. As the international community considers a major military operation against Saddam Hussein, Syria's delivery of weaponry to Iraq, directly and immediately undermines American national security interests. Indeed, Syria's illegal exports of 150,000 barrels of Iraqi oil per day have provided the substantial hard currency Saddam Hussein needs to purchase Syrian weapons -- weapons that soon could be used against American and other soldiers.
As the Syrian threat increases it has been our hope that the administration would respond with a new policy toward Damascus. One that gets tough on the Syrian violations and sets clear conditions for Damascus to meet. That's what this bill does. Until the administration does this our own war on terror and national security are diminished every day.
In closing, I would like to share one more quote from President Bush's U.N. speech, quote, "If an emboldened regime were to supply weapons of mass destruction to terrorist allies then the attacks of September 11th would be a prelude to far greater horrors." Unquote. That's our president and I agree with him. As an American and a New Yorker, I do not want to witness horrors worse than 9/11. I urge the administration to get tough on Syria.
I thank you, Mr. Chairman, for holding this hearing today. I thank our majority leader for sponsoring this bill with me and I think it's time for us in Congress to make a forceful statement and to move forward. We will not tolerate Syrian tolerance of terrorism. We will not tolerate Syrian occupation of Lebanon. We will not tolerate Syria making weapons of mass destruction and we will not tolerate Syria's lack of compliance with the oil embargo against Iraq. This bill will make sure Syria is brought into compliance or it will pay the price.
I thank you, Mr. Chairman.
REP. GILMAN: Well, we want to thank you Mr. Engel for producing this measure, for cosponsoring it with our majority leader, Mr. Armey. We thank you for your analysis you presented before the committee. Just one question and I'll turn to my colleagues.
It was in February of 2001 that Secretary of State, Powell, said he had a commitment from President Assad to bring the Iraqi oil shipments under the U.N. approved Oil for Food Plan. Has Syria made any moves in that direction? If not, why has our administration appeared to tolerate that violation of these kind of sanctions that the U.N. has imposed on the part of Syria and Iraq?
REP. ENGEL: Well, as far as we can see, there's been no direction of Syria to change its ways. In fact quite the opposite. Syria is continuing to violate everything that the administration says it wants to see in fighting the wars on terror and in fighting the problems in Iraq. I don't know why our State Department is turning a blind eye. We keep hearing that now is not the time and I say, Mr. Chairman, if now is not the time, when will the time be? As the majority leader pointed out, Syria is the only country on the list of countries which support terrorism, on the State Department's own list, with which we have normal diplomatic relations. I don't understand why and I think it's time to send a very, very strong message to Syria that we won't tolerate these violations any further.
REP. GILMAN: Thank you, Mr. Engel.
REP. GARY L. ACKERMAN (D-NY): Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.
I have an opening statement that I'd like to put in the record if there's no objection.
REP GILMAN: Without objection.
REP. ACKERMAN: I thank Mr. Engel for his leadership on this, together with the majority leader and for making so eloquent and strong a statement. I have a question about what you tried to do at the beginning of your statement which was objected to in an unusual occurrence I think. I can't remember the last time when a member objected to a member placing something in the record.
But were you referring to the article in Ha'aretz, the headline of which was, Syria has allowed hundreds of Qaeda men to settle in Lebanon and which begins, "Damascus has allowed some 150 to 200 Qaeda operatives to settle in the Palestinian refugee camp Ayn al-Hilweh near Sidon in Lebanon. The group, including senior commanders, arrived from Afghanistan through Damascus, Iran and directly to Lebanon. These Qaeda operatives are responsible among other things for the latest outbreak of fighting inside the refugee camp as part of the effort to take over the camp. These details and others have lately been gathered by various intelligence services. Among the new details now known, Mohammad Atta, leader of the Qaeda group that conducted the September 11th airplane suicide attacks on the twin towers in New York, flying the first plane into the towers, visited Syria twice or three times. They Syrians did not give that information to the Americans on their own volition. Osama bin Laden's son, Omar left Syria" --
REP. GILMAN: Would the gentleman yield --
REP. ACKERMAN: -- three weeks before the attack on the twin towers after receiving anonymous instructions to do so." Is that the article that begins that way?
REP. ENGEL: Yes, it is.
REP. ACKERMAN: Thank you. I have no further questions, Mr. Chairman.
REP. GILMAN: Thank you.
REP. ISSA: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
In way of explanation, objecting to an article became necessary, to be honest, because our witness, indeed a dear colleague that attempted to say that in fact it was fact, I took it on myself, as I'm sure many of us have and hopefully Mr. Engel has, to go to the State Department to find out whether or not there was any basis for this. Finding none, I have to say that our information from our State Department does trump an article being considered to be a fact. That doesn't change the fact that many parts of the article are undoubtedly correct and that I am extremely concerned that we are missing the point of how to move Syria's behavior by assuming that a sanction will do some good.
I oppose this sanction act, not because Syria is a good actor, not because Syria is in compliance of U.N. or world body resolutions, but because Syria is in fact a nation we do have diplomatic relations with and one in which our State Department, my president, my secretary of State, have said they are getting movement in a direction they want to get. And the last time I checked, none of us, unless Diane Watson comes in later, has the status of ambassador, nor the training as ambassadors. So I oppose this sanction based on it tying the president's hands.
If I could, Mr. Engel, ask you have you had any briefings as to whether or not this -- the portion about Al-Qaeda being in some way, directly linked to support by Syria is in fact true?
REP. ENGEL: Well, let me first say, Mr. Issa, that the letter to which you refer that I sent around a dear colleague, was done not only by myself but with Mr. Armey, the Majority Leader. It was a joint letter that we both sent around. And while you may disagree with the bill and you may disagree with my statement, quite frankly I'm shocked that you would object to unanimous consent to putting this article in the record.
REP. ISSA: As I said, I'm objecting to an article that has been alleged to be true, in fact being risen to that. And I don't want to -- you've been a good colleague and a good friend. In this particular case we seem to disagree on -- not on the principle of whether Syria is in fact, occupying Lebanon, whether Syria is in fact, trading oil, whether Syria is in fact, a conduit for weapons coming from the Czech Republic, from Belarus and from other former Soviet satellites who also are violating an arms rule. I'm not disagreeing with any of that.
What I am asking you is, this letter came out, it purports a specific small portion of it. In fact, I would say that most of this is very true. There is a big question. If so much as one Al-Qaeda operative is in fact, being harbored by Syria, with any knowledge or support of the government leadership, then there is no question that we need to take immediate and assertive action at a higher level. Perhaps in this sanction. But do you have knowledge from U.S. sources on this subject. Have you gone to the trouble of having a briefing? Or in fact, are we just reading an Israeli newspaper?
REP. ENGEL: No, I think it's a little more than just reading an Israeli newspaper. I think that given Syria's record of support for Hezbollah, of support for terrorism, of letting terrorists have training camps, of having the funding for terrorists. It's not very difficult to make the jump to say that if Syria is supporting Hezbollah and turning a blind eye to its terrorist activities, they're doing the same with Al-Qaeda.
REP. ISSA: Okay, I will take that as a no, Mr. Engel.
REP. GILMAN: Would the gentleman yield?
REP. ISSA: Just one. I would ask Mr. Chairman that all of our opening statements be placed in the record without objection.
REP. GILMAN: Without objection.
REP. ISSA: And I would yield. Thank you.
I guess I'll yield to the gentleman from New York first.
REP. ACKERMAN: Thank you. I'm rather concerned, not necessarily with the issue but with the protocol, which is a broader thing. And the gentleman from California, who indeed is my friend, and for whom I have the highest regard, may be setting the bar a little bit too low. If we are going to object to placing things in the record that we think may or may not be entirely true and censor them ourselves, whatever reason, including that it appeared in an Israeli newspaper rather than some other constitutional document from some other country or our country, I think that the record would be very, very thin. Because we would be spending all of our time to anything that anybody would every disagree with, in whole or in part.
REP. ISSA: Reclaiming my time. Now that we've had sufficient dialogue on the subject, I would ask unanimous consent that this article, in its entirety, be placed on the record.
REP. GILMAN: Without objection.
REP. ACKERMAN: I do not object.
REP. GILMAN: Without objection.
REP. ISSA: The gentleman from California, if you don't mind, Mr. Chairman. REP. HOWARD L. BERMAN (D-CA): I thank the gentleman for yielding and giving his position. I just want to put on the record that the author of this article, Ze'ev Schiff, is one of the most distinguished, well respected and accurate military correspondent, certainly in Israel but I think generally, among the universe of military correspondents. He is widely respected for the accuracy of his reporting and the tremendous breadth and depth of his contacts. And the article, of course, does not say that Syria is currently harboring. It's saying that Syria allowed these people to go through Damascus to the Lebanese -- the refugee camp, the Palestinian refugee camp near Sidon, which is not directly under Syrian control. But this particular reporter is uniquely well respected.
REP. GILMAN: Thank you.
REP. BERMAN: I yield back the balance of my time.
REP. GILMAN: Mr. Wexler.
REP. ROBERT WEXLER (D-FL): Thank you, Mr. Chairman. If I understand it correctly, all of our opening statements have been put in the record.
REP. GILMAN: Without objection.
REP. WEXLER: I want to just simply congratulate and concur with Mr. Engel. I think he laid out a very important and impressive case for the need for this piece of legislation. And I don't think there's any reason to publicly repeat what Mr. Engel has so eloquently laid out. I would simply add one or two additional observations if I could.
And that is why the situation deteriorated to the point that is has in Syria? And unfortunately the only conclusion that one can reach is that while we all had great hopes for Bashar al-Assad, we had a hope that he was a new kind of leader in the region given his background, what appeared to be an impressive education, what appeared to be his stress of improving economic conditions in Syria.
None of that unfortunately, has turned out to be reality. And what has turned out to be reality, at least until this date in Syria, is we have what appears through his actions, to be an immature and irresponsible man who is now being guided not by anything other than the most hard line interests in Syria. And as has been stated by Mr. Engel and Mr. Armey, he individually presents what may be, in my view, the most dangerous obstacle in the Middle East. Both with respect to Iraq, both with respect to Hezbollah and his absolute condemnation by action of any kind of peace process whatsoever.
He in fact, Bashar al-Assad, is one of the principal obstacles to a meaningful peace process. And until we realize that fact and until that fact is reflected in the way the United States deals with him, I am fearful that other avenues of possibilities will never be realized because there is a tremendous drain on these possibilities in the person of Bashar Assad. Everything that the United States, from President Bush on down, has alleged with respect to Iraq at the Security Council in the United Nations, is also true, and in many respects even more true in a greater dynamic, with respect to Syria.
All of the things that the president of the United States is demanding of Yasser Arafat and of his activities can be compounded by many degrees, with respect to Syria. Now I support what we are alleging and asking for action with respect to Iraq. And I support what we have alleged and the actions we are asking, demanding of Yasser Arafat, actually of the Palestinians. But what seems to be not in compliance with the overall American policy is that we are not doing the same thing with respect to Syria, even though in many cases the case is clearer against Syria than it is against the other actors.
And with, I think, one message to our friends in the moderate Arab world, I would ask our friends in the moderate Arab world, though many of us on this committee, not all of us but many of us may have a different view in terms of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But I would ask our friends in the moderate Arab world with the indignation that they sometimes bring to the Israeli-Palestinian debate to bring that same level of indignation, even greater, bring that to the issue of Syrian occupation of Lebanon. There is no excuse why the Arab world is not revolting over the Syrian occupation of Lebanon.
Why are there not Arab conferences? Why are there not TV shows all over al Jazeera television describing what Syria is doing to Lebanon? And that has nothing to do with the United States. It's not caused by America. It's not caused by Western interests. It's not caused by Israel. There are no more even so-called excuses any more. Israel withdraw from Southern Lebanon. That's official. Even the United Nations has sanctioned it. And it's time, I would respectfully suggest to our friends in the Arab world, to put a real spot light on what is occurring, emanating from Syria and the injustices that are being, as a result, perpetuated in Lebanon.
It's time, as Mr. Engel very eloquently said as did Mr. Armey, it's time for the Lebanese for themselves to rule Lebanon. It's time for Syria to get out. It's time for Bashar al-Assad to clean up his act. It's time for him to approach the peace process with a more mature and practical attitude. Until he does so, the president and our administration and the United States should call it what it is. Syria is not a friend of the United States. It is nothing other than an obstacle to peace and it is one of the primary supporters of terrorism in the world and until we fix that, we will not even begin to get a handle of the problem of terrorism that affects us, the United States and our closest allies in the region.
Thank you very much.
REP. GILMAN: The gentleman's time has expired and I thank the gentleman.
We are asking our audience not to express their feelings during the testimony and please note that flash photos are not permitted during testimony.
REP. JOHN COOKSEY (R-LA): Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and it's good to have you in front of the committee, Mr. Engel.
I actually have a series of questions I would like to ask and would like to get through all of them. So any time you can if you just give me a yes or no answer. Is the primary purpose or reason for the Syria Accountability Act Syria's ties to terrorists?
REP. ENGEL: That is one of the primary reasons. The other would be, as Mr. Wexler just mentioned, the occupation of Lebanon, the fact that they are violating the oil sanctions against Iraq and the fact that they are producing weapons of mass destruction. I would say those four pillars.
REP. COOKSEY: Okay, thank you. Well, I abhor terrorism. I think all terrorists are either cowards or crazy or all of the above. Period. It's the most cowardly act that any human being can do to another human being. But I would point out with a very superficial review of history that there is a long history of terrorism in that part of the world. All parties, all countries, all religions, they are all cowardly acts and insane, so I agree and I hope you do.
Now, to comment on President Bashar al-Assad, there is no question that the history was not good under his father. His father was a military man. I've never met his father. I have met the last three prime ministers of Israel and I think they're fine people and have some merit. I've met Arafat and he has his supporters and I have met his leaders. And yet, Bashar al-Assad is a physician and being a physician, I think he has the opportunity to be a kinder, gentler leader and will move Syria in the right direction. I happen to have met with him last year with a delegation in Damascus and I think he is hopefully the type of young new leader they will have over there.
I really think that they need to get rid of people that have either a military background or a terrorist background or political background and have more people from business. I've met all the leaders of Israel -- I mean, of Lebanon. Two out of three of them are businessmen and very successful businessmen. And I hope that that will be the direction that the Middle Eastern countries go to.
My third question, do you think that this is the time to bring this Syria Accountability Act at a time that we are preparing for war against Iraq? And then my last question, a series of questions, is, has the president asked for this legislation? Has the White House asked that this legislation be tabled or defeated? And has Syria directly threatened the United States at this time? Because our primary responsibility as members of Congress is to -- is our allegiance and our loyalty to the United States. So my question is, does Syria directly threaten the United States at this time? And has the president asked for this legislation? A series of questions.
REP. ENGEL: I tried to write down the questions and I hope --
REP. GILMAN: If I might interrupt, we have a distinguished panel waiting for us and I'm going to ask our colleagues to try to be considerate so we can get on to the panel. If you keep your remarks as short as possible.
REP. ENGEL: Yes. Let me say that I don't think there is another country in the world, in my opinion, that harbors terrorists to the depth that Syria does. I think we'd be hard pressed to find it. In fact, I believe that Syria even more than Iraq has been aiding and abetting terrorism and harboring terrorism. Bashar has said -- I think that many of us had high hopes for him. Just like King Abdullah of Jordan -- I think, King Abdullah has risen and shown that he is a young man who's moderate and has vision. Unfortunately, in my estimation, Bashar al-Assad has shown that he is even worse than his father who was no friend of the United States for many, many years. And it's been very, very sad that he has not, unlike King Abdullah, moved up to the task, in my estimation.
I believe this is the right time. I believe as we are facing the threat in Iraq and going after terrorists in Al-Qaeda, this is the right time to say to all countries which harbor terrorists that we are not going to tolerate any more. And finally, the administration does not support this bill, as previous administrations have not supported any bills that the Congress has come up with because administrations generally believe that it is their purview to conduct foreign policy and generally resent anything that the Congress does. When we had the Libya and Iran Sanctions Act, it was also opposed by administration as have all these kinds of act been opposed.
So this is no different. The administration will say that they share our goals, that they think what we're trying to do is the right thing but they don't think this is the right way to do it, this is not the right time. I've heard this from the State Department in the 14 years I've been in Congress. To them, I would say if this is not the right time, when we are embarking on a campaign of fighting terrorism, then I don't know when the right time will ever be.
REP. GILMAN: The gentleman's time has expired.
REP. COOKSEY: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Thank you, Mr. Engel.
REP. GILMAN: Ms. Berkeley and I'm going again to ask our members to please be brief so we can get on to the next panel.
REP. SHELLEY BERKELEY (D-NV): Okay. Thank you, Mr. Chairman and I will also submit my opening statement for the record.
REP. GILMAN: Without objection.
REP. BERKELEY: I want to thank you, Mr. Engel, for coming forward at this time. I agree with you that if not now, when? Not only do I agree with the content and substance for the Accountability Act, I am very thankful for your passion on this issue that I share. I also recall when Assad took over from his father and the belief I had that perhaps this was a turning point in the relationship in the Middle East and with his western education, the people were touting that he might become a kinder and gentler leader. But I see nowhere -- I don't care if he is a doctor, a lawyer, a plumber, a carpenter, this is not a kinder and gentler leader. This is a kinder and gentler terrorist and we don't need another one of those. He is no different from his father, perhaps even worse because he should know better and this is a disgrace that this country isn't standing up to this terrorist and making sure that this type of behavior is not only condemned but eliminated.
So I want to thank you very much. I do have questions but I think I'll hold them for the next panel. And I appreciate the fact that you have the guts to sit here and share with us your concerns.
REP. GILMAN: Thank you, Ms. Berkley.
REP. STEVE CHABOT (R-OH): Thank you, Mr. Chairman. In the interest of time and getting to the next panel, I think I'll hold my questions until the next panel as well.
REP. GILMAN: Thank you very much, Mr. Chabot.
Mr. Schiff. No, he's no longer -- Mr. Rohrabacher.
REP. DANA ROHRABACHER (R-CA): I find myself in agreement and disagreement with the proponents of this legislation. Eliot and my colleague, Mr. Wexler, of course, have made this point that Syria in some way should be castigated for what it is doing and what it has done in Lebanon. And having visited Lebanon. And having visited Lebanon and talked to all the parties in Lebanon, I found all of them grateful to Syria for coming into their country at a time when it was totally chaotic.
I've been to Lebanon several times and I've had a broad range of discussions, as broad a range of discussions you can have. And I don't know, perhaps -- obviously Lebanon should be free and independent of Syrian occupation eventually but let's not forget the tragedy that was going on there prior to the Syrian invasion. That in no way, of course, justifies the Syrian harboring of terrorists, which they obviously do, and so I find myself in agreement with the idea that we have to put pressure on Syria and we should do so officially.
And we should make sure we are uncompromising with what I believe was what you're trying to do here, to make sure they know that if any country harbors warriors who are making war on women and children and blowing up bar mitzvahs in Israel or organizations that set of bombs in Pizza Huts, that country is not -- should not be a friend of the United States and they have to know that they're making war not just on people who eat pizza at Pizza Huts in Israel, but they're making war on all civilized people. So I agree with your goal on trying to put pressure on Syria for that.
But let's again make sure we try to be fair in terms of analyzing what was going on historically in terms of what Syria did in Lebanon. If they want to -- if you want to -- they want to -- if you want them to take us seriously about not harboring terrorists, we have to try to be accurate in terms of what happened historically in Lebanon.
I think there is a difference between Syria and Iraq. Syria does not hold -- Syria's not headed by a man who holds a blood grudge against the United States. Saddam Hussein holds a blood grudge against us and I think that he means to do us harm. Syria is harboring terrorists who attack Israel and as such is not a friend of the United States or a friend of anybody who opposes terrorism. So with that said, I'm probably going to support the legislation but I do think that there are some things that we need to put in a little bit better perspective.
Thank you, Eliot.
REP. ENGEL: Let me just say to my friend and colleague that we certainly share the goals of this legislation in terms of fighting terrorism and getting Syria to stop its support of terrorism. But the Lebanese people who have come to Washington that I've spoken with, particularly the Maronite Christians, don't welcome Syrian occupation of their country. They believe that Syria should leave. Syria in my estimation is in violation of the Taif Accord where they agreed to pull their troops out of Lebanon. And U.N. Resolution 520, passed in 1982, section 4, calls again for the strict respect of the sovereignty, territorial integrity, unity and political independence of Lebanon under the sole and exclusive authority of the government of Lebanon through the Lebanese army throughout Lebanon.
REP. ROHRABACHER: Eliot, can I ask you a question?
REP. ENGEL: And I would just say that the Syrian -- if I could just finish. I would just say that the Syrian army there prevents Lebanese sovereignty and prevents the Lebanese from running their own country. and if you really speak with many of the groups, particularly the Christian groups in Lebanon, they all want the Syrians out of Lebanon.
REP. ROHRABACHER: Eliot, what was the death rate going on in Lebanon in violent killings prior to the Syrian invasion?
REP. ENGEL: Well, I think --
REP. ROHRABACHER: We're talking about a massive bloodletting that was stopped. And listen, I'm not saying that we should forgive Syria for any of its faults, and believe me, I'm with you on their support of terrorism and I have made that point to them personally.
But, you know, I just don't think we're being accurate here. And I have talked to Christian leaders in Lebanon and -- you know, people are shaking their head. I'm sorry, I have. I've been there twice, I've met with all of the Christian leaders. And while they officially are telling us, yes, we want the Syrian occupation to be over, unofficially they are acknowledging that before the Syrians came in people were slaughtering each other in the streets. It doesn't take anybody -- you know, a genius to take a look at what was going on there.
REP. CYNTHIA McKINNEY (D-GA): Would the gentleman yield --
REP. GILMAN: Gentleman's time has expired.
REP. ROHRABACHER: If I just might, Mr. Chairman --
REP. GILMAN: The gentleman's time has expired. I'm trying to preserve time for our panel. And by unanimous consent, a non-member of our subcommittee, Ms. McKinney.
REP. McKINNEY: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I only have one question and I will be brief. I just would like to ask my colleague, on September 25th, the governor of Minnesota, Jesse Ventura, is going to lead a delegation to Cuba. And I'm just looking at this article, Walls around Cuba are cracking. And basically there's a couple of quotes I'd like to read here. One is a question along the lines of what Congressman Cooksey asked, and that is, is there any corporation in America that would cling to the same failed business practice for 40 years? That is speaking about the U.S. embargo of Cuba.
Further, a member of the House goes on to say that the problem with our policy is that we elevate Castro. We allow him to blame us for all the failures of socialism. If we will simply empower people over there through commerce and trade and interaction, we can move around him. So my question is, is there another strategy short of embargo and sanctions that can move United States and Syria where they need to be? And if there is no other strategy, why do you think that there is no other strategy?
REP. ENGEL: Well, let me say that as we -- as Majority Leader Armey and myself pointed out in my testimony, since 1979 when the State Department first put forward its list of countries which aid and abet terrorism, Syria has been on that list since the inception, since 1979. We have heard a series of administrations say, well, let us handle Syria diplomatically and hopefully we can get it to change its ways. In the 33 years -- 23 years, I have not seen any change in the ways of Syria. In fact, I've seen it get worse.
When Hafez Assad, Bashar Assad's father ran Syria and then died, we had all hoped that when the son took over it would be a new generation, Western educated, and that he would not follow the policies of his father. And what we've seen in the few years that he's rules Syria with an iron fist, he's actually worse than his father because his father was stronger and could make certain decisions, where he appears to be very, very weak and relies on the ultra hard-liners in Syria. So I believe they've regressed. And we have no choice, I really believe, but to put forward this legislation to give them the opportunity to change their ways, because they've shown no desire to do it otherwise.
And I do think that the Congress has a responsibility to help guide our country in foreign policy and this is one of the ways that we do it. So I would say that I put forward this legislation really as a last resort, out of frustration that Syria, if anything, is getting worse, not better.
REP. McKINNEY: Mr. Chairman, I promised only one question, but I do have a follow up. I have not visited Syria but if Bashar is weak and significantly weaker than his father, and we make war in Iraq and we make sanctions on Syria, don't we contribute to increased turmoil and tension in the area? And as a result of that, there are discussion that there will be potential for civil war in Saudi Arabia. There's all kinds of things that are being postulated as we embark upon this war. Do we do more damage to the neighborhood or to the region by moving in this way or is there possibly another way, that is through diplomacy, that we can move our two countries to a closer position?
REP. ENGEL: Well, we've tried diplomacy, as I mentioned, for 23 years and it hasn't worked. I mean when I look at countries that harbor terrorism, I frankly think Syria has a worse record than Iraq. I think Syria probably has the worst record of any country in the world, perhaps other than Iran. And so if we're going to make terrorism the goal, it doesn't make sense to me that we're somehow moving into Iraq but we're looking the other way when it comes to Syria. I think, as the president rightly said, that you are either with us or with the terrorists. And we have to fight terrorism wherever it rears its ugly head. And frankly I think that Syria is at the top of the pack when it comes to terrorism.
REP. GILMAN: Gentlelady's time has expired.
REP. McKINNEY: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
REP. GILMAN: We'll now proceed with the next panel. I ask the -- and Mr. Engel, we thank you for your patience and we ask if you'll join our committee back in your normal seat. Thank you for your testimony.
REP. ENGEL: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
REP. GILMAN: We now call panel number III. Unfortunately, Ambassador David Sattlefield, as I mentioned earlier, deputy assistant secretary of State for the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs is unable to be here with us today. His statement will be entered into the record and we'll endeavor to hear him at a later date.
We will now call on the next panel. Ambassador Edward Gabriel, Matthew Levitt, William Reinsch, Elias Saadi. We welcome our panelists and I'll call on Elias Saadi and I am going to ask our panelists if they would restrict their statement to five minutes so we can get through the entire panel. We'll put your entire statement in the record.
Dr. Elias Saadi was born in Youngstown, Ohio in '32. He earned his M.D. Degree from Georgetown in 1957. Has been in private practice in cardiology in Youngstown until retiring in the year 2000. For 30 years, Dr. Saadi's been active in social, religious and political organizations to work for the cause of freedom and democracy in Lebanon.
Dr. Saadi, please proceed.
DR. ELIAS SAADI: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Good morning.
I would like to enter my text into the record and I will summarize my remarks. REP. GILMAN: Without objection.
DR. SAADI: I also enter into the record, a list of organizations that support my position, 14 in all.
REP. GILMAN: Without objection.
DR. SAADI: My name is Eli Saadi of Youngstown, Ohio. I have come here as an American citizen of Lebanese descent to explain my view and that of the vast majority of Lebanese Americans, that this bill is good for America.
Mr. Chairman, we have asked for this bill out of desperation and frustration, due to the lack of a comprehensive American policy to end the Syrian occupation of Lebanon. For 25 years the Syrian Army has occupied once democratic Lebanon and imposed its will through intimidation, persecution, assassination, and brute military force.
Some examples. First, two weeks ago Syria forcibly shut down the opposition television station, MTV, the reason, debating the question of Syrian withdrawal. Two, Syria condones Al-Qaeda's presence in Lebanon and provides support, finances, arms, training and headquarters to Hezbollah, the PFLP General Command, Hamas and Islamic Jihad. In all, 11 terrorist organizations are listed as such by the U.S. government, are based in Damascus but operate out of Lebanon. Third, Syrian sponsored groups are responsible for numerous terrorist attacks against the U.S. including the bombing of the U.S. Marine barracks in occupied Lebanon in 1983 which killed 241 American Marines.
There is also a personal face to this terror, Mr. Chairman. In Lebanon, the Syrian internal police have instilled fear, intimidation, helplessness, in every man, woman and child.
Internal security forces beat, torture and imprison students who voice their support for sovereignty, political reform and free speech. Mr. Chairman, there is urgency to this measure. People are starving and the youth are leaving in droves, forced to choose between emigration and life in a country ruled by the Axis of Evil and their surrogate Hezbollah.
Let's look at the arguments against the bill. The Department of State agrees with the goals underlying the bill that has concerns about its timing. I might ask, what is a good time to stop cooperating with global terrorists? It has never been our national policy to negotiate with terrorists or accede to their demands. Syria may be cooperating today but the past record for 25 years shows that its friendship has been most fickle. It has been said that sanctions never worked and Cuba, Iran and Iraq are held up as examples of their ineffectiveness. But sanctions worked in South Africa and sanctions may yet be the harbinger of the political restlessness that is sure to bring eventual change in Cuba, Iraq and Iran. Symbolic though they may be, sanctions provide a glimpse into an undesirable future for Syria and thus can both be a carrot and a stick.
It has been said that passage of the bill would cost American jobs but it is certain that not passing the bill will cost American lives. This committee should ask also the following question. How much in dollars did the attack on 9/11 cost America? How much would another attack cost and how much trade is enough to make up for the impact of terrorism? In my view, no amount of trade is worth the price of even one American life.
It has been said that Syria will leave Lebanon voluntarily. Let's not fool ourselves. The Taif Agreement clearly called for departure but that day has never come. Nor will it until Syria has a strong incentive. The only language that Syria understands is the explicit language of cause and effect. Such as Secretary Powell's stern warning that if Syria did not stop the skirmishes on the blue line at the Shebba Farms, Israel would. Thus, the bill will strengthen not weaken the administration's position in its negotiations with Syria.
It has also been inferred that sanctions will drive Syria closer to our enemies, Iraq and Iran. I ask how much closer to our enemies can Syria, the sponsor of 11 terrorist organizations, be? It has been said that Syria has provided us with information that has saved American lives. But has Syria given us enough information to save as many American lives as they are responsible for taking, or will certainly take in the future? Absolutely not.
Finally, Mr. Chairman, in the name of freedom and with all of the urgency and fervor that I can muster as an American citizen of Lebanese descent, I urge you to lend your support to this bill. Syria must be made to end its sponsorship of terrorism and its occupation of Lebanon or be held accountable. This act aims to achieve these ends that are undeniably in the interest of the United States of America.
In closing, I ask your indulgence to allow me a personal observation, Mr. Chairman. A small tragic personal note. During one visit to Lebanon, among many I have made, during the heat of the war, I was informed by the intelligence services of the anti-Syrian resistance that I should not travel to Syrian controlled areas of Lebanon. I was told that my activities, my activities in support of a free and democratic Lebanon, had earned me a spot on the Syrian enemies list. That is the sort of regime we speak of today.
In testifying and speaking the truth today, I am certain that I will again find myself on that list, Mr. Chairman. This, for me at age 70, probably means that I will never see my father's home in Lebanon again. God bless America.
REP. GILMAN: Thank you, Doctor Saadi, for your very forceful presentation.
And now we call on Ambassador Edward Gabriel, who possesses an impressive background in international affairs. Ambassador Gabriel served as our U.S. Ambassador to Morocco from '97 to 2001. He is currently the President and CEO of Gabriel Global Strategies where he advises multinational corporations in international business projects. He appears today as President of the American Task Force on Lebanon.
Mr. Ambassador, please proceed and please limit your comments to five minutes. Thank you.
MR. EDWARD GABRIEL: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
I will submit my testimony for the record.
REP. GILMAN: Without objection.
MR. GABRIEL: Mr. Chairman, it's a great pleasure to testify before you because as you know, over the years I have been able to host you overseas and get to know you and become your friend. We will miss you greatly in your position.
REP. GILMAN: Thank you for your kind comment.
MR. GABRIEL: The ATFL is a nonprofit 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 the United States of America and the country of Lebanon.
Our members comprise a highly diverse group of very prominent Lebanese Americans. Political leaders and others in the fields of education, law, medicine, engineering, business, government, military and the arts. I will make note that several of our members are also members of your distinguished body, the House of Representatives.
Our primary operating principle is that at all times the mission and the objectives of ATFL shall be in the best interests of the United States of America. Consistent with longstanding U.S. policy, the unifying goal of the members of ATFL, is the ultimate establishment of a secure, stable, democratic, independent and sovereign Lebanon with full control over its internationally recognized territory.
ATFL supports the departure of all non Lebanese forces from its territory and the disarmament of all remaining militia on Lebanese soil and the implementation of all U.N. resolutions and international agreements regarding Lebanon.
There are many aspects of the current U.S. Syrian relationship which are problematic from the perspective of the United States and they have been voiced very strongly here today. Many and most of the concerns of which I would agree with. However, we submit that our country's policy goals on Lebanon and the Middle East are best served through diplomacy and negotiation. Not, in my opinion, ineffectual and counterproductive confrontation at this point in time.
I speak not only as an American who is responsible for the organization I represent but from my long history involved in foreign policy. Our very careful reading of the proposed Syria accountability act has led us to conclude that its passage would not be in the best interests of the United States not to mention Lebanon. The passage of this act would not increase the U.S. leverage over Syria or Syrian policy in Lebanon and in my opinion, Mr. Chairman, it would decrease it. Moreover, its passage would seriously impact efforts underway by the United States to encourage 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.
I would like to quote from a letter sent September 3rd to one of your members on this committee from President George Bush. In it he opposes this bill and he says, "We both have genuine differences and areas of common interest with Syria, managing our complex relationship with Syria requires a careful and calculated use of all the options we have to advance U.S. interests. Imposing the new sanctions regime envisioned by the Syria Accountability Act, would limit our options and restrict our ability to deal with the difficult and dangerous regional situation at a particularly critical juncture." That was signed by George W. Bush.
If David Satterfield were here, he may tell you what he told me last month. That because of the interaction with Syria and their ability to talk to Syria, quote, "American lives have been saved because of their cooperation on Sunni terrorism, meaning Al-Qaeda." And that is worth mentioning. I also make reference to Colin Powell's visit in April when he stopped the attacks that were almost occurring daily by Hezbollah because of his ability to talk to President Assad.
We believe absent a working American Syrian relationship, Syria would not heed the U.S. concerns over the Syrian presence and policy in Lebanon.
I don't believe it'll happen. Despite the most optimistic expectations of its supporters, the Syria Accountability Act will not lead to a Syrian withdrawal from Lebanon. To the contrary, I believe an isolated Syria is likely to intensify its relationship with Lebanon. Experience has shown us that unilateral sanctions such as those envisioned in this act do not work. Indeed several of the penalties that were to be leveled in this act towards Syria are already in effect. And I ask you what effect they've had.
Additionally, the Syrian accountability act would directly penalize Lebanon, even though Lebanon suffers from the regional constraints of its actions, obviously, and as many people have referred to today.
REP. GILMAN: The gentleman's time has expired. Please sum up if you would.
MR. GABRIEL: Yes, sir.
Let me just jump to my final paragraph, Mr. Chairman.
Finally, let me just tell you. I visited Lebanon, July 23rd through the 29th with the delegation of our members and we met with all the leadership of that country. From the Maronite delegation all the way through of others.
I want to impress you with one thing because it was mentioned by Mr. Engel in his very thoughtful testimony. That perhaps he gave the impression, he didn't say this, but perhaps he gave the impression that the Maronite church supports this act. I guarantee you and I state for the record, the Maronite church does not support this act. As a matter of fact it opposes this act and with that, Mr. Chairman, I will tell you that no-one we met with supported Syrian accountability act. Although they all want Syria out of Lebanon. Thank you.
REP. GILMAN: Thank you, Ambassador Gabriel.
We'll now turn to William Reinsch, currently the President of the National Foreign Trade Council. Prior to joining me in FTC, Mr. Reinsch served as under secretary for Export Administration in our Department of Commerce. Mr. Reinsch also spent over 20 years working on Capitol Hill.
Mr. Reinsch, let me note for our members that we'll continue with the testimony. So if you care to go and vote early and come right back, we urge you to do so.
MR. WILLIAM REINSCH: Thank you very much.
Let me say first, Mr. Chairman, it's been an honor and a pleasure to appear before you many times, probably too many times over the past eight years. I wish you well in your involuntary retirement. The House is not going to be the same without you.
REP. GILMAN: Thank you, Mr. Reinsch, for your kind words.
MR. REINSCH: Like the others I ask that my full statement be put in the record.
REP. GILMAN: Without objection.
MR. REINSCH: USA*Engage which is a broad based coalition of over 670 American companies and trade and agricultural organizations that supports sanctions reform and as well as the NFTC strongly oppose enactment of H.R. 4483. We believe it will undermine U.S. diplomatic efforts in the region while depriving American companies of current and potential business opportunities that help bring our two countries closer together. Like the other witnesses, we share the foreign policy goals the bill seeks to achieve. We believe that the legislation would bring none of those objectives closer to realization. On the contrary, we believe it would further isolate Syria from the U.S. and weaken any progress of forces that favor moving Syria away from a state controlled economy.
There are four principal reasons for our position. First, unilateral economic sanctions. I emphasize, unilateral economic sanctions have an unblemished record of failure. Time and again, the U.S. has responded to adverse overseas development by cutting off trade, investment and financial transactions with other nations as a means of changing the behavior of their governments. Since 1996, the U.S. has imposed 84 new unilateral sanctions. Because of the widespread foreign availability of most items exported by American companies and the globalization of international capital markets, countries targeted by our unilateral sanctions are very rarely impaired in gaining access to the products or financing they seek. At most, they may pay a small premium or have to be content with less quality. Neither is likely to be a decisive factor in altering their behavior.
Second, while this bill is unlikely to have any impact on Syrian behavior, it would disadvantage and displace U.S. firms that are conducting or want to conduct business there. There are almost 400 U.S. firms currently doing business with Syria either directly or as suppliers to other companies. A large percentage of those companies are small and medium size enterprises with operations in 184 congressional districts and 42 states and the District of Columbia. They represent virtually every sector of the U.S. economy including agriculture, construction and engineering, telecommunications, medical products, aerospace, financial services, natural resource extraction, automotive and information technology.
Although Syria is a country of only 17 million people with a per capita income of approximately $2500 annually, it does represent sales, income and jobs for thousands of American employees of these nearly 400 companies. Syria is currently negotiating a free trade agreement with the EU which will increase European competition against U.S. exports. This disadvantage will only be compounded by the sanctions authorized by H.R. 4483. Currently more than Syria's exports are to the EU and over 25 percent of its imports are from there. Sixteen percent of their imports come from Ukraine. While U.S. exports peak at $389 million in 1986, they have declined since then to $224 million thanks in large part both to existing sanctions and European competition. Syria has a free trade agreement with Jordan and the northern border with Lebanon, complicating any efforts by the U.S. to impose sanctions, that increase leverage on Syrian behavior whose impact will be confined to Syria.
Third, in a globalized economy, the flag more often follows trade than the reverse. By introducing our economic systems and standards abroad, American business integrate developing countries into the world economic systems, paving the way for a similar political integration and development of democratic and transparent institutions internally. This legislation would eliminate that possibility by radically diminishing the already limited American commercial contact with Syria, thereby foregoing the significant benefits of economic engagement.
The political significance of an open door to U.S. commerce lies in the supportive plans to market oriented elements in Syria, that can help the country develop in directions more friendly to the U.S. A worsening economic situation in Syria strengthens conservative elements and makes it for the country to move in a positive direction taken by its regional neighbors, Jordan and Morocco. That in turn makes it harder for us to achieve our larger foreign policy goals in the region.
Fourth, the most troubling feature of this bill is the serious limitation it places on the president and the critical flexibility he needs to deal with our country's most serious foreign policy challenge, peace in the Middle East. The bill would impose a statutory, mandatory prohibition not subject to waiver on U.S. exports to Syria of dual use items, including such things as medical equipment, gas processing control systems and equipment related to safety of commercial passenger airplanes. This is a significant expansion and extension of unilateral sanction and Congress' role in opposing them. We believe that the president has more than adequate sanction authority under the International Emergency Economic Powers Act.
In a letter and statement of position to the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations in May, Secretary Powell said that H.R. 4483 would have a negative effect on our efforts to bring down the violence, avoid the outbreak of regional war and help the parties to a path of comprehensive peace. He added new sanctions on Syria would place at risk our ability to address a range of issues directly with the Syrian government and to change Syrian behavior.
Mr. Chairman, I would ask that the text of Secretary Powell's letter and accompanying document be placed on the record.
REP. GILMAN: Without objection. And if you would be kind enough to sum up.
MR. REINSCH: I am on my last section here, Mr. Chairman.
In response to a letter asking about his administration's Syria policy, as Ambassador Gabriel noted, President Bush has written, "Imposing the new sanctions regime envisioned by the Syria Accountability Act would limit our options and restrict our ability to deal with a difficult regional situation at a particular critical juncture." We fully endorse Secretary Powell's desire for carefully calibrated engagement with Syria and we believe strongly that such engagement must include expanded private sector as well as official relationships. H.R. 4483 proposes to move in exactly the opposite direction and would do great harm to our goal of peace in the Middle East. For that reason, we strongly oppose the bill.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
REP. GILMAN: Thank you, Mr. Reinsch, for your testimony.
Mr. Sherman cannot return and asks for two minutes at this time.
REP. BRAD SHERMAN (D-CA): Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
I will point out that yes, we may have, quote, "sanctions against 84 countries" if you want to count that high. But that if you count as a sanction the fact that the United States may deny foreign aid to a country, then Britain and France are also getting sanctioned by the United States because we don't give them foreign aid either. There are close parallels between Syria and Iraq. Both oppress their own people to an incredible degree and in violation of U.N. standards. The city of Hama calls out for a remembrance where 30 or 40 thousand people were killed. Both countries develop chemical weapons. Both occupy a neighboring state or did so in violation of U.N. sanctions, or rather U.N. resolutions. Syria's occupation of Lebanon violates resolution 520 just as when Iraq entered Kuwait, I don't believe there was a resolution in advance but its continued occupation was in violation of U.N. resolutions. Iraq cheats on the Oil for Food program, Syria helps.
So it's hard to find a reason why we are about to go to war with one country and we should do business as usual with the other. The one great difference is that Syria is developing nuclear weapons as well as other weapons of mass destruction. And I would hope that the administration would focus on that difference and would demand the most intrusive kind of inspections because if we've got the most intrusive kind of inspections and demanded effectively that they were not interfered with, then in fact, Iraq and Syria could become indistinguishable and then should be treated identically. Until, of course, we get those inspections, there is that one great difference.
I yield back.
REP. ISSA: For two minutes.
REP. JOSEPH CROWLEY (D-NY): Yes, sir. Thank you. I'm Mr. Crowley, Joe is the first name, similar to --
REP. CROWLEY: That's okay, we look alike. He is from Pennsylvania, I'm from New York. That's the only difference.
REP. ISSA: Joe, it wouldn't be so bad. We were in New York together before but I'm just looking at this thing and reading a script and I got caught. This is the problem with being new to the chair.
REP. CROWLEY: I'll just take a brief minute, not even two minutes, Mr. Chairman, and that is just to say that I have a strongly worded statement in support of Mr. Engel's work and I applaud the work that he's done, himself and Mr. Armey on the Syria Accountability Act H.R. 4483, I will submit for the record.
Let me just state I'm sorry I will not be able to stay for Mr. Levitt's comments but I did appreciate the statements made by the three gentlemen prior to this, particularly Mr. Saadi. The statement, you talked about the fact that sanctions have worked in other parts of the world. In particular, you pointed out South Africa. I can look to others as well and see that there has been -- it's not a panacea. It's not the end all. It's not the only thing that we should be doing.
But I think what's taken place in Syria for the last 25 years has been deplorable. Their support of international and state sponsored terrorism needs to end. What they have done in Lebanon is unconscionable. What they continue to do to the state of Israel again is something that needs to stop. And I believe that up until-- what's herefore been said, aside of what Dr. Saadi has said, no one has given an alternative. No one has said what else we should be doing. If not sanctions, what else?
I think sanctions is a tool that should be used, albeit not for every particular point and again that's not a panacea. But it certainly is a tool that we should be using and I think that, given the state and condition of the Syrian economy, they should be mindful of that as well.
I yield back the balance of my time.
REP. ISSA: In the interest of not having the testimony missed by the members who presently aren't here, the chair will yield himself five minutes and only pick on those who have already given their statements. And then if we don't have a number of members by that time, we'll go on.
I hope that's in your best interest, Mr. Levitt.
MR. MATTHEW LEVITT: That's fine. But don't hesitate in asking me questions too. Bring them on.
REP. ISSA: Okay. Fair enough.
I guess, Dr. Saadi -- Saadi, I'm sorry -- I guess the question I would ask you, purely perhaps because you're of Lebanese descent and had a lot of time there, this bill deals with a broad spectrum of allegations about Syria and asks for many changes in Syria and elevates existing sanctions to a higher level if they don't comply with any and all of them. From your standpoint, if I can ask, you gave a personal statement, I'd like to ask a personal question, if this act were simply to say that Syria must comply with the Taif Accords and leave Lebanon by a date certain or all these sanctions would go into place and remain in place, would that meet your personal belief of what is affecting Lebanon?
DR. SAADI: Mr. Chairman, no, because your statement addresses essentially what is good for Lebanon. As an American, the overriding interest I have is what is good for the United States of America. So the objections in the statement stand. I am approaching this from an American of Lebanese descent primarily, first and foremost.
REP. ISSA: Then if I can reverse the question. If Syria made all of the changes called for but since technically they are guests of the Lebanese government, for better or worse, they stand with an invitation from Lebanon, recognized at least in Lebanon by the three leaders that many of us on this panel have met with. If they were to denounce all violence and all cooperation with all terrorist groups, including and especially Hezbollah, would that meet your requirements?
DR. SAADI: It would go a long way but I have to correct an impression that technically they're guests of the Lebanese state.
REP. ISSA: Doctor, I use the word technically because that, according to all the information I have -- although perhaps with a wink and a nod technically could be used, they do have a historic invitation. Having been to Lebanon myself many times, it is almost irrefutable that at the time they came in, to a great extent the same as the time that Israel came in, there was instability and both were credited, at least initially, with some benefit to Lebanon during its civil war. Am I misunderstanding something in the history that you can say is in the record somewhere?
DR. SAADI: It is not in the record that the Lebanese state every invited Syria in. In the case of Lebanon and Syria's occupation of Lebanon, Syria has acted both as the arsonist and the fireman. That summarizes the 25 years. They got entry into Lebanon by the Palestinian Liberation Army. And when it no longer suited their purposes, they chased them out. They also had some cover over the Arab League military force.
Well, everyone's gone. Why is Syria there? If someone comes in to help you fix something in your house, does he stay in your house forever?
REP. ISSA: Doctor, I appreciate that. So in summarizing your testimony, hopefully accurately -- Tony, please, there's only one person at the stand -- it would be fair to say that even as an invited guest, they have clearly overstayed their welcome.
DR. SAADI: Clearly. But I want to also state that they have been asked to leave officially.
REP. ISSA: By whom?
DR. SAADI: President Amin Gemayel, it's of record, has asked them to leave. The interim prime minister Michel Aoun asked them to leave. They have been asked to -- essentially invited to leave through the Taif agreement, which should have taken place in 1992, 10 years ago.
REP. ISSA: I appreciate that. And if I can switch now to the ambassador, essentially the same of questioning. Because it is important for us to understand if we cannot achieve all the goals of this act, what goals in fact would benefit the United States and/or Lebanon the most. Please, Mr. Ambassador.
MR. GABRIEL: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I think Elias and I and many people who care about the relationship between Lebanon and America share a common goal, and that is to make sure Lebanon remains sovereign and independent. We disagree --
REP. ISSA: Not to interrupt you, but are you saying that they are sovereign and independent today, or would we use the term become sovereign and independent?
MR. GABRIEL: I believe today, on the record, they are a sovereign, independent recognized country of the U.N., however, I do not believe they have the ability to judge their own affairs and therefore need to make sure that Syria has less influence and presence there so that they can fulfill and act like a sovereign that they are obviously given under the mandate of their constitution.
REP. ISSA: Mr. Ambassador, I'll take that as a typically Lebanese statement that they are and they are not. And for the record, I also am of Lebanese descent. I'm afraid -- I want to be fair to all those not here and not abuse the opportunity to be in the chair. But I will make one short statement and allow Mr. Levitt to go on with his prepared statements.
And that is that I think all the panel and perhaps the many people assembled here need to understand that although on this dais there has been and will continue to be a lot of controversy as to what the right solution is to the problem, I would say to a person, there is not a member of this committee who believes that Lebanon is presently able to exercise its own affairs independently or that presently the presence and activity of Hezbollah in the south of Lebanon as the last militia of the civil war is anything but adverse to Lebanon's ability to claim independence and be an active part of the world of peaceful nations.
I'm being advised that perhaps the opportunity for continued dialogue. Mr. Levitt, we'll waive your statements for a moment and come back to them when more of my colleagues are here, but you know, you have an insight into this too and I don't want to limit it because of who's given their testimony.
MR. LEVITT: Well, I don't want to give my testimony by default.
REP. ISSA: Your testimony will -- you'll still have your five minutes when others return.
MR. LEVITT: But I think the bottom line is that their business interests, there are all kinds of interests. Syria is waiting to hear from us. Syria is waiting to here if the numerous presidential and other statements are worth their wait in paper. Do we mean it when we say that there will be consequences, and we've said it numerous times? Do we mean it? When the president of Syria promised Secretary of State Powell that he will cease pumping illicit Iraqi oil and then he doesn't do it, will there be consequences?
The only way to engage Syria today, and this is the right time to do it, we're at the critical juncture to do it, is to show Syria that in fact there are consequences and that this is a war on terrorism. On terrorism means it's not a war just on Al-Qaeda. I don't think the issue should be whether or not we can establish beyond a shadow of a doubt that Syria is allowing Al-Qaeda operatives to travel through Syria and set up camp in Lebanon. According to administration officials I've spoken to, that is the case. But whether or not that is true, that's not the only terrorism that's out there. And we don't pick and choose which terrorist groups are okay and which are not okay.
Syria is more proactive in sponsoring terrorism today that it was under Hafez al-Assad. Bashar has dropped the whole pretense, any pretense of his father's caution. Syria today directly arms Hezbollah as opposed to only allowing the transshipment of arms from Iran. And it is a very, very serious problem. According to the people in the administration that I speak to today, Hezbollah, which is Syria and Iran's primary proxy, today continues to surveil U.S. interests, continues to plot attacks on U.S. interests. The Scapurians (ph) recently unveiled that in 1999 Hezbollah was conducting surveillance on U.S. interests there. It's not just Al-Qaeda.
REP. ISSA: Well, let me follow up on that because I think that's a very important point. I have more than a few times cautioned Lebanon and Syria about the danger of Hezbollah and allowing it to continue not necessarily under the control of any one body but with the money of one or more bodies and with very loose control. To a great extent, as a former soldier, I fear armies but I fear armies without generals even more. And I think that Hezbollah is a good example of one where the money flows, some control is asserted, but quite frankly, this is a terrorist organization that has its own ideas and periodically acts very independently, which is even more dangerous than if they were directed by a particular nation state.
My question, though, on Hezbollah, if Syria were to leave today, what would make Hezbollah go away? What mechanism in this act would the U.S. employ to get Al-Qaeda out of the Palestinian refugee camps? What would we do to clear the minefields to root out Hezbollah and to make the south of Lebanon a similar place to perhaps other areas of the world where an army and a police force enforces? What in this act, if anything -- since it clearly isn't in this act, what would we do and how would we get to a free Lebanon that makes its borders safe with its neighbors?
MR. LEVITT: Well, first of all, I disagree. I think there is stuff in this act that would start us along that road. There is no one thing but I think it would go a whole heck of a long way if we could close down the training camps, both in Syria and in Lebanon. We've completely been overlooking the fact that there are training camps in Syria that are training terrorists today. It would go a long way if we could convince Syria to kick out the leadership of Palestinian and other terrorist organizations which, contrary to Syrian rhetoric which states that they're just there for political purposes, are directly funding terrorist attacks and calling for terrorist attacks, ordering them from Damascus. I think it would go a long way if we could establish that there are consequences of facilitating the Bekaa Valley being a terrorist haven, enabling Ayn al-Hilweh and other Palestinian refugees to become a den of terrorism.
REP. ISSA: Okay.
And I guess, doctor, you had a follow-up statement on that.
DR. SAADI: Yes, Mr. Chairman. I can't let an impression stand that was made this morning about the Maronite Church. The head of the Maronite Church, Cardinal Nasrallah Sfeir, does not enter into the affairs of other countries. The voice of the Maronite Church was heard in Los Angeles in June this year when from five continents there was an assembly which included eight bishops from Lebanon, Maronite bishops that unanimously approved support for this bill. When the bishops went back to Lebanon, they were under enormous pressure and threats.
And, Mr. Chairman, we're under -- we're at a momentous time, and I'll close -- in our history, that is you identified yourself as a Lebanese-American -- you and I as Lebanese-Americans, we have to choose between support for our ancestral heritage and our ancestors or for those forces who have historically oppressed them. But the choice is yours and mine.
REP. ISSA: Thank you, doctor. And just for the record, I'm an American of Lebanese ancestry whose grandfather left because under the Ottoman Empire, Lebanon was not a place in which Christians were free to make equal compensation and be successful financially. And like most Americans of Lebanese ancestry, we tend to be Christians and we tend to be a people who understand the importance of a nation in which Christians have equal opportunity. So I for one am very dedicated toward finding a way to bring a free, independent and militia-free Lebanon and it's one of the reasons that I have concerns about this bill is that it does seem to talk about what is wrong with Syria, most of which is true, but it -- knowing that since 1983 Syria has had a series of fairly significant sanctions and that they haven't worked, I ask why would this make a safe and free Lebanon.
It is the concern I have and I'll close by asking the ambassador, who's been shaking his head feverishly, to comment on the portion of the question which is: if the goal -- and I believe the goal of this act includes very clearly bringing about a free and independent and foreigner-free Lebanon, what in this act beyond saying Syria should leave is actually going to take care of the militias including Hezbollah and the activities that I denounce in the Palestinian camps which Lebanon has a very hard time controlling. Even Israel, when they occupied, had a very hard time controlling. Ambassador?
MR. GABRIEL: Mr. Chairman --
DR. SAADI: We share the same heritage.
MR. GABRIEL: Mr. Chairman, I just don't believe that terrorists and terrorism is going to go away as a result of this act. I don't see the cause and effect of sanctions doing that. What I do see from a sanctions regime is that we're going to lose leverage on the diplomatic front and we're going to be left with punitive and military measures. That's where I think the logic goes with this bill. I would much prefer to see the United States government really have a sense of direction and a very strong strategic position on Lebanon, on Lebanon's sovereignty and territorial integrity and the consequences of what would happen if diplomatic solutions wouldn't work in the future. But I think this is something that the president has to have the purview on and follow. So I would suggest that this is not the way to go, but to force the administration into a much stronger position on a Syrian-Lebanon policy is the way to go and I would to share at some point with members of this committee ideas that we could jointly conceive together.
REP. GILMAN: Gentleman's time has expired.
Mr. Levitt. Matthew Levitt is a senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. He specializes in terrorism and U.S. policy. Prior to joining the institute, Mr. Levitt served as an FBI analyst providing tactical and strategic analysis in support of counterterrorism operations. Mr. Levitt, please proceed. Please limit your remarks to five minutes and you may put your full statement in the record.
MR. LEVITT: Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman. I'd ask that my written statement be included in the record.
REP. GILMAN: Without objection.
MR. LEVITT: And I'll just summarize some key points. The bottom line is that Syria is actively undermining the three most pressing U.S. national security interests in the Middle East. Those are fighting the war on terrorism, liberating Iraq, and the escalating Israeli-Palestinian conflict and resuming peaceful negotiations.
As we've heard this morning, despite intelligence sharing on things like the interrogation of Mohammed Zammar which, by the way, we don't know just the full extent of that cooperation, U.S. authorities have not been given direct access to him. But despite that, as we've heard this morning, there's agreement on five basic points: Syria is pumping approximately 150,000 barrels a day in illicit Iraqi oil, Syria procures arms and military spare parts for Iraq, Syria continues to occupy Lebanon, Syria has advanced chemical and biological weapons programs and is seeking the technology for a delivery system, and, most critically, Syrian support for terrorist groups with global reach has increased since Bashar al-Assad came to power. That sponsorship includes providing safe haven to the leaders of at least seven terrorist organizations on the State Department's foreign terrorist organization list, harboring and training terrorists both in Syria itself and in Lebanon, arming terrorist groups, both via the transhipment of Iranian arms and now directly arming Hezbollah itself and serving as Iran's outlet to terrorist groups in Lebanon, the West Bank and Gaza, and finally allowing Lebanon to become itself a hornet's nest of international terrorist groups including Palestinian groups, Hezbollah, but also Armenian groups, Kurdish groups, Al-Qaeda and many others.
We don't need to go back to 1979 as some others have today to discuss Syrian support of terrorism. Let's just look at what's going on right now. Syria is directly arming Hezbollah, including a new 220 millimeter rocket. At Syria's behest, Hezbollah has increased the terrorist activity in Israel including activity in Israel proper. Israeli authorities have uncovered more than 20 Hamas activists who were recruited in various Arab countries, sent to Syria for terrorist training in preparation of explosives, intelligence activities, hostage taking and suicide operations in Syria itself.
In May, Damascus reportedly offered Hamas direct Syrian financial aid if it renewed suicide bombings. Palestinian Islamic Jihad leader Ramadan Shallah ordered the June 5th, 2002 suicide bus bombing in Megiddo in northern Israel from Damascus. Shallah himself transfers funds, $127,000 in one instance, from Damascus to the personal bank accounts of individual Islamic Jihad terrorists in the West Bank. Members of the al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, Palestinian Islamic Jihad and other Palestinian groups have been undergoing terrorist training in a PFLP-GC camp south of Damascus. Traveling through Jordan, the Palestinian trainees are met at the Jordanian/Syrian border by Syrian officials who check their names against a pre-approved list and escort them to the camps run by Jibril's PFLP-GC.
A former PFLP-GC member told the Jordanian court in February that one of the 13 suspects on trial for plotting to bomb the U.S. embassy in Amman asked him to arrange terrorist training for the group in Syria. Munir al Maqdah is an international terrorist wanted by both Lebanese and Jordanian authorities who's resident in the Ayn al-Hilweh Palestinian camp in Lebanon. According to mainstream Fatah officials, al Maqdah, quote, "Has very good ties with Syria and Iran. These countries pay him millions of dollars."
We are becoming background noise. The president said, quote, "From this day forward, any nation that continues to harbor or support terrorism will be regarded by the United States as a hostile regime" end quote, implicitly offering state sponsors a virtual amnesty if they would stop sponsoring terrorism. Nothing since then. Later that month, the president said, "We fight the terrorists and we fight all of those who give them aid. America has a message for the nations of the world. If you harbor a terrorist you are a terrorist. If you feed a terrorist or fund a terrorist, you are a terrorist and you will be held accountable by the United States and our friends." We're not doing that. It's all talk and they hear it.
In a speech to the United Nations the president said, "In this world there are good causes and bad causes and we may disagree about where this line is drawn yet there is no such thing as a good terrorist. No national aspiration, no remembered wrong can ever justify the deliberate murder of the innocent. Any government that rejects this principle trying to pick and choose its terrorists will know the consequences." Syria picks and chooses. It knows no consequences.
And finally on June 24th the president said that Syria had to choose the right side in the war on terror by closing terrorist training camps and expelling terrorist organizations. Are these empty words? Are they com fahdi (ph), empty words? Are we just background noise? There are four falsehoods, I believe, that people who are against this bill will mention. One is that the bill would curtail the administration's margin of maneuverability.
In fact, the act is an actual manifestation of the president's own warning that those who support terror will be held accountable. Bashar al-Assad is waiting to see if we're serious or if this is just more background noise.
This issue of the margin of maneuverability sends Assad and others the clear message that sponsoring certain terrorist groups may be tolerated in return for some level of cooperation against other groups. Syria believes, for example, it can leverage cooperation related to the interrogation of Mohammed Zammar, an Al-Qaeda terrorist linked to the September 11th hijackings, for American indifference related to its continued terrorist activities. This undermines the war on terrorism. In fact, the Syria Accountability Act builds in both a national security interest waiver and, indicating its respect for the administration's need for respectability, only requires the government to select two of the five most sensitive proposed sanctions.
People suggest that this bill would push Syria into the arms of Iraq. Syria is already there. Just as in the war on terrorism, Syria needs to choose the right side when it comes to Iraq. There's a report coming out today from another think tank indicating that up to half of the $2 billion in illicit funds that are supporting and propping up the Iraqi regime come from the illicit oil trade with Syria.
There are those who say that the bill would undermine Syrian reform, and it's true that when Bashar al-Assad first came to power there was great hope. But let's take a measure. Early measures taken to liberalize the banking industry and crank down on corruption have fizzled. While some civilians have been jailed on corruption charges, the most seriously corrupt element of Syrian society, the Syrian military, has been left untouched. The recent closure of the Lebanese MTV television station is just the most recent manifestation of the Syrian crackdown on Lebanese society and there has been no reform regarding support for terrorism.
When a suicide bomber murders 15 people at a pool hall outside Tel Aviv, Syria's state-controlled radio lauded, quote, "The wonderful and special suicide attacks" end quote, and which they described as, quote, "A practical declaration for the whole world of the way to liberate Arab Palestinian land." In fact, I think nothing undermines the need to establish an independent Palestinian state more than these terrorist attacks.
Just two days before the September 11th attack, Syria's state- appointed grand mufti described, quote, "Heroic suicide operations as a natural and legitimate reaction that must be blessed." September 9th, 2001, Damascus openly flaunts its support for terrorism and is hardly engaged in either domestic or foreign policy reform.
REP. GILMAN: Gentleman's time is expiring. Would you please sum up?
MR. LEVITT: Inducing Syria to abandon its support for terrorism through financial, diplomatic or even military pressure will not be easy even if such measures are coupled with face-saving gestures. Nevertheless it is essential that the United States follow through on its declared policy of zero tolerance for state sponsorship of terrorism. U.S. officials have stated unequivocally that such sponsorship must end, and that the organizations supported by Syria are terrorist groups of global reach. History shows that an even greater risk to U.S. interests will emerge if Washington fails to live up to its word; such a failure will ensure that future pleas to end terror are heard, if at all, as nothing more than diplomatic background noise. Thank you.
REP. GILMAN: Thank you, Mr. Levitt. Mr. Levitt, the European Union's decision to designate the al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine as terrorist organizations, yet Hezbollah remains absent from the list. Is Europe's unwillingness to address Hezbollah's terrorist agenda complicated our efforts to pressure Syria and Lebanon to reign in Hezbollah and put an end to its attacks on Israel? What are we doing to address those concerns with our European allies?
MR. LEVITT: The administration has de'marched bilaterally and multilaterally individual European nations and the European Union on these issues. In fact, in its latest PLAC (ph) report, the State Department took issue with the Palestinian Authority for complaining that the PFLP was added to all these lists and took the PA to task for claiming that there are separate military and political wings of these organizations which is a falsehood. It is a problem that Europe is not as on board as we'd like them to be. There's a problem that the new ambassador to Lebanon openly declared that in his view Hezbollah is not a terrorist organization.
It's no less a problem that U.S. officials have stated that certain types of Hezbollah attacks are something other than terrorism. We are sending mixed messages. And when the president says one thing and we act in another way, we're doing the same thing. We're sending a very different message. Frankly, I don't see how we can approach our European partners and take them to task for basically being two faced on this issue when we're doing the same thing. We've said we're going to hold Syria accountable.
REP. GILMAN: Mr. Levitt, doesn't Syria work against Al-Qaeda in its own interests and could you describe its motivations other than getting a pass from U.S. government?
MR. LEVITT: I'm sorry, I couldn't hear the end of your question.
REP. GILMAN: And could you describe its motivations other than getting a pass from our own government?
MR. LEVITT: The cooperation we receive from Syria is limited to Al-Qaeda. Let's not call it to Sunni extremism because there are plenty of Sunni extremist groups that they sponsor. The Syrian regime is an Alawite regime, it's run by a minority, it's considered an infidel by mainstream Islam, both Shia and Sunni. It has regime stability concerns. So whenever anything comes up that could potentially undermine the stability of the Syrian regime, you can believe they will act. And in this tiny little window we have a shared interest -- not out of shared values but we have an obvious concern with Al-Qaeda and all international terrorism and the Syrian regime has an interest in crushing any type of Sunni -- radical Sunni extremism that might threaten the regime.
Others this morning have already mentioned the gassing attacks of Sunni extremists in Syria. There's a long record of Syrian action against Sunni extremists that it perceived as threatening its regime. If these elements were perceived as not threatening the regime, they would not act against them at all.
REP. GILMAN: Thank you.
Ambassador Gabriel, Syria is, I assume you agree, occupying Lebanon. What are its objectives? What benefits does Syria derive from Lebanon? Isn't it believed by the Syrians that Lebanon is part of greater Syria? Isn't that why there's no Syrian ambassador to Lebanon?
MR. GABRIEL: Mr. Chairman, I believe -- well, what we hear from Syria is that they're in Lebanon because of security needs and interests. They say they were invited there in 1976 as part of the Arab deterrent force and they're simply living up to the security needs for themselves and for Lebanon. But there is a body of intellectuals that will tell you, Mr. Chairman, that Syria has no intention of ever leaving Lebanon. I am of the opinion that it's very important for America to have a very strong position on Lebanese sovereignty and territorial integrity and without American leadership we won't get there. I don't believe, Mr. Chairman, that the sanctions bill will get us there though.
REP. GILMAN: What about Syria's implementation of the Taif Accord? What are we doing to try to get them to implement those?
MR. GABRIEL: What is America doing? I don't think anything, Mr. Chairman. That's one of the questions I would have. What is America doing to push forward on implementation of the Taif Accord? Now, that is a very substantive question that I think we should have and perhaps could lead to the goals and objectives, by the way, that I think we all share here.
REP. GILMAN: Mr. Reinsch, the Syrian press controlled by that country's government seems quite upset about this bill becoming law. If this law would not have any impact on Syria, I assume there must be some reason for their objecting to it?
MR. REINSCH: Well, you'd have to ask them, Mr. Chairman. I assume they would regard -- and I assume their government would regard both as an affront and an insult, but that's between our government and theirs. We don't believe that the sanctions would have an economic impact.
I haven't seen the article you refer to. Did they argue that it would have a large economic impact on their country?
REP. GILMAN: Apparently they are objecting pretty strenuously.
MR. REINSCH: Well, I can see them objecting to the bill. If they objected on economic grounds, I'd very much like to see the article and I could comment in more detail.
REP. GILMAN: Mr. Reinsch, if Hezbollah took action against some of our business interests in Lebanon such as maybe a kidnapping or two, would that change your views?
MR. REINSCH: In situations like that we would expect our government to take the appropriate action.
REP. GILMAN: Thank you, Mr. Reinsch.
Mr. Engel. Mr. Engel.
REP. ENGEL: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Let me first say to Dr. Saadi I'm glad that he restated the position that the Maronite Church supports the leaving of Lebanon by the Syrians, because I think that's important, and therefore thinks that this bill is the most effective way of doing so. We all know when they go back to Lebanon and there's pressure put on them, there are certain things they cannot say. When they're in this country, they can feel more free to express their opinion. And I'm glad you made that point, Dr. Saadi, and I'm wondering if you would care to expand on that?
DR. SAADI: Well, the point can't be emphasized enough, Mr. Engel, that people in Lebanon say one thing and believe another because of fear. And I think Mr. Rohrabacher said he didn't hear anything while he was in Lebanon. I wouldn't expect that he would, because they are under large threats, including death. To state that eight bishops went back to Lebanon from a five-continent conference and were threatened, this is very serious stuff and that's why they don't talk. There's a journalist from MER-TV who this week has been threatened, and his entire family has been threatened.
REP. ENGEL: Thank you. Ambassador Gabriel, I took down some of the quotes that you mentioned. You said that the bill was not in the best interests of the United States, that Syria has supposedly cooperated on the war on terrorism, that we should instead use diplomacy and quiet persuasion. If this bill were to pass we would lose all leverage on Lebanon. It seems to me there's a disconnect here because it may be diplomatic niceties and maybe, you know, with all due respect, that's what you're used to. But the diplomatic niceties have not changed Syrian policy one iota in all these years. Since 1979 the State Department has put them on the list of terrorist nations. You agree that we all want Syria out of Lebanon. You agree that the Syrian behavior is reprehensible. You know, yet you really don't offer anything else but quiet diplomacy, which has failed us for 23 years.
So I would say, with all due respect, I believe that this bill attempts to put some teeth into our policy. And as Mr. Levitt pointed out, quite rightly, I don't believe we can talk out of both sides of our mouth. We can say one thing about the war on terrorism, and then on the other hand kind of look the other way when it comes to Syria. So I would just say other than diplomacy and leverage, which hasn't worked, what would you do?
MR. GABRIEL: Thank you very much, Mr. Engel, for asking that question. I've been wanting to offer my opinions on this. First of all, let me quote from the patriarch of the Maronite Church in a private meeting with me. He is against the Syrian Accountability Act. It is not wise to get Syria out of Lebanon with enmity. If there is no accord with Syria, Syria will intervene with the Muslims all the more. Lebanon's interest is to be good friends with Syria.
I also met with many of the hierarchy of the Maronite Church in this country recently, and they told me -- directly to me in this country, that they really weren't for the bill as much as for the debate --
REP. ENGEL: May I just say --
MR. GABRIEL: -- so I just wanted to state on the record --
REP. ENGEL: Because the question for me is not whether one group is for it or against it.
MR. GABRIEL: Right. I just want to clear the record, Mr. Engel.
REP. ENGEL: Okay. The question is -- you talk about diplomacy and quiet persuasion, and let me just ask you: how has diplomacy and quiet persuasion for 23 years gotten us any closer to the withdrawal of Syria from Lebanon? I mean, it would seem logical to me that pressure on Damascus is needed to get Syria to remove its armed forces from Lebanon. Wouldn't you agree?
MR. GABRIEL: Yes. I'd like to answer that question. I don't argue with you that we have not moved forward very far with Syria, along the lines that you've articulated. But I don't believe, quite frankly, Mr. Engel -- and I'm being clinical about this, not anything else. I don't believe that we're going to see sanctions lead to a change in the way Syria operates in the areas that you're talking about. I don't see it. I only see us losing leverage. And we're left with -- if I may finish?
REP. ENGEL: Well, I don't know what leverage we've had. We haven't --
MR. GABRIEL: The leverage --
REP. ENGEL: -- gotten them to leave Lebanon in 23 years.
MR. GABRIEL: -- measures if we do that, in my opinion, Mr. Engel. I commend you for introducing this bill, because I think the debate is the most important thing we've had. However, I would suggest -- and I would ask a couple of questions. Why has -- if we care so much about Lebanon's sovereignty, why is it that Lebanon's sovereignty is not part of the comprehensive peace settlement? Why isn't it? Why has not America weighed in on the enforcement of the Taif Accords? Why does American policy towards Lebanon always defer to its other primary interests in the region?
Let's be honest with ourselves. We don't have a strong U.S. American policy that guarantees the sovereignty and integrity of Lebanon. And I would like to work with you and others to find that, but I don't think sanctions quite frankly will get us there. All it does is reduce our leverage to move forward and make change of opinion.
REP. ENGEL: Well, precisely.
REP. GILMAN: The gentleman's time has expired.
Mr. Rohrabacher. And I'm going to turn the chair over to Mr. Rohrabacher, since I have another meeting to attend to. I want to thank our panelists for being here and for your extensive testimony, that will be very helpful to our committee as we weigh this measure.
REP. ROHRABACHER: And before the chairman manages to leave, let me just say that it has been my honor to work with Ben Gilman and he has been a shining light of integrity and hard work in this committee. And he's taught me what it means to be a responsible congressman. So, Ben, you will be sorely missed. But we've got a lot of things to do before you get out the door, so -- and now that I've taken over the chair, I'm going to call on my good friend Mr. Berman and let him proceed with his questions.
REP. BERMAN: Ambassador Gabriel, in a way you've made an argument for this bill and the movement of this bill, because you keep talking about trying to get the administration to focus on our very serious problems with Syria. And I think it might be fair to say that it is the introduction of this bill and its movement that will focus that, much as some of the earlier legislation in the previous administration focused the administration on Russian and Chinese proliferation of weapons of mass destruction technology to Iraq and to Iran.
MR. GABRIEL: I absolutely agree.
REP. BERMAN: But as a supporter of the bill, I guess I'd like to ask Mr. Levitt what has -- I recall several things in recent history that were sort of said authoritatively. One was that one thing about the Syrians: when you made a deal with the Syrians, the deal stuck. And primarily the argument was in the context of observing the red lines in terms of Syrian incursions into Israel or shootings. Secondly, we used to count on this incredible hostility between the Syrian regime and the Iraq regime, based on the hostility of similar parties, the Baath parties of both countries and a deep enmity. In fact, Syria joined our coalition in the original Gulf War.
What has happened to deal with that historic rivalry that has changed the situation and allowed this much closer cooperation between Syria and Iraq, including helping Iraq rebuild its military capabilities? And then your -- this notion that Colin Powell went to Syria and said "Be careful what Hezbollah" -- "You'd better constrain Hezbollah and what it's doing, or Israel will deal with them." Now, do you think that Syria then put constraints on Hezbollah because of their desire for better relationships with the United States, or because they didn't want to contemplate what Israel might do in response to continued Hezbollah attacks? How about those three for starters, and we'll see if there's enough time --
MR. GABRIEL: Thank you. Thank you for asking those questions. Let me try them in reverse order, because this is a point I wanted to raise. A number of people have been asking -- or have been commenting they didn't think that this bill would accomplish all the things it sets out to do. And, frankly, that's only one of the two main things that this bill is out to do. The second thing I think that the bill will accomplish -- and there's no question it will certainly take positive steps towards accomplishing this -- is revitalizing the power of our word, of our deterrent word. And the case you cited is a perfect example. When Powell went and he said that he wanted attacks across the Blue Line to stop, the only reason those attacks stopped is because the Syrians knew, because Powell told them -- this was the message: that Israel will retaliate. And you know what? The Syrians know that when Israel says they're going to do it, they're going to do it.
If Powell had said "I want those attacks across the Blue Line to stop or else we're going to get angry and there will be consequences," nothing would have happened I guarantee you. So I do think that this bill will make positive steps towards achieving all these important goals, if for no other reason than because it will show Syria that we mean business. And it doesn't stop there. Then we've got to continue with diplomacy in all these other issues. I don't think this means that tomorrow, after we've passed the bill, the next step is military. That doesn't have to be the case.
In terms of this Syrian/Iraqi relationship, what's changed? A lot has changed in the international arena in the region and in terms of convenience. The oil deal is extremely important. The Syrian economy is in tatters. It's in shambles. The Iraqi oil deal pumps in approximately $1.1 billion annually each to Syria and Iraq. That can't be looked over. You have two regimes that see themselves to one extent or another, certainly in the past year, as being a focus of attention. And I think Syria recognizes, not just because of this relationship but because of the Baathist regimes, et cetera, that our focus on Iraq is going to mean that there will be focus on Syria and that also drives them together.
One of the reasons -- there was a question before about how this has come up in the press and the Syrian press is so animated by this debate and angry about this debate, angry at the possibility of this act passing. I think that's because they fear that this is one of many steps that the United States is taking indicating that after Iraq, Syria is next. Now, that doesn't have to be the case. I think what this act says most forcefully is that you can't have it both ways. We will not tolerate double dealing. You can't work with us on this terrorist group and work against us on that terrorist group.
In terms of Syria's reputation for sticking to its deals, the Israelis were the ones who articulated this most precipitously and they maintained -- and they're right there in the frontline, so I take them at their word. And they're not known to be close friends with the Syrians so if they're saying it, I believe it: that when it came to the Syrians, if you made a deal, you could take them at their word and they would stick to it. Now, it's also important to note that that was referring to Syria under the regime of Hafez al Assad. We don't know what exactly would be the case, if it would be similar or very different under Bashar. Bashar has continued to disappoint, whether it comes to internal reforms, developing a very, very close personal and dangerous relationship with Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, allowing -- facilitating an increase in terrorist activity by Hezbollah and all these other groups. And the fact, for example, that Syria is now directly providing arms to Hezbollah is a huge, huge break in tradition.
REP. ROHRABACHER: Thank you very much. The chair will now take his time, and I mean me. So let me mention first of all, Mr. Ambassador, your conversations with the Maronite leader reflect the conversations I've had in Lebanon. I've taken two trips to Lebanon and met with leaders from every group, and your conversations with the Maronite leader exactly reflects that. And I will say that once the official conversations are over, you just hear people saying, you know, they all remember the massive bloodshed that was going on there 25 years ago, and they do not take that lightly. And when we talk about the existence of somebody strong-arming somebody or assassinating somebody off on the side, these people remember when people were dying by the hundreds on a daily basis. And they have every reason to be concerned that Lebanon not evolve back there.
Now, with that said, let me suggest that I am not supportive of Syria continuing an occupation of Lebanon. I mean, I don't believe in that. I mean, we've got to -- but just be aware there are so many forces at play in Lebanon, I would hope that when -- as this works out with Syria's withdrawal, as it did with the Israeli withdrawal, that it does -- that it's been done in a way that it does not re-ignite that cycle that was going on, where so many hundreds of people were killed. I was in the White House when Ronald Reagan sent the Marines into Lebanon and I -- that was one of my saddest days when those Marines were blown to hell. And I remember the first name on that list: Sergeant David Battle, the first name on the list of Marines who gave their lives in Lebanon.
That man happened to be my -- one of my family's best friends. And my brother grew up with him, I grew up with him, and he's gone and he left two children and that was as a result of the United States being in the midst of that conflict. And we could not end it and be -- and I'm going to just say it. The Syrians went in and that conflict eventually ended. Now, there are undercurrents of repression that no American can accept. But let's not expect the Syrians to listen to us when we're saying things, when we don't give them credit where credit's due.
Now, in terms of the actual purpose of this bill, which is the other half of the bill is aimed at not the occupation of Lebanon, but the support of terrorism. I recently had a visitor from the Syrian government come to my office to visit me, and the purpose was to complain about this piece of legislation. And I will just have to say it: they visited me because I have a reputation of when Israel does something wrong, I don't hesitate to condemn those acts when Israel does something wrong, and thus I have some kind of acceptability in terms of people understanding that I try to be honest about the issues in the Middle East, because there's a lot of people who can't ever say Israel has done something wrong.
But with that said, a Syrian leader came to see me, was complaining about this, and I just said "Well, guess what? Syria is supporting terrorist organizations that kill women and children and there's no excuse for that. So if you want this legislation" -- I will go on record right now. There are Syrian friends who are watching. If you don't want this legislation to go forward, have your government make a statement -- official statement condemning terrorism and suggesting that Syria will no longer support any organization that targets women and children and elderly people and non-combatants.
Now, if Syria wants to continue supporting organizations that attack soldiers, well that's war, okay? They're at war with Israel. That's not terrorism. But I will tell you that when people explode bombs and senior citizens are murdered or children are killed -- or women and children are killed, there is no accepting that, there is no ignoring it, and Syria is involved in that type of support for organizations that are doing that. If the Syrians don't want this legislation to go forward, they can easily stop it tomorrow by having a press conference and announcing that there will no longer be any support -- any place in Syria for an organization that does those deeds.
So I hope someone is listening, and I'm trying to call it as I see it.
With that said, let me suggest also that there are a lot of people who are targeting women and children in the Middle East. And, again, to be fair about, Syria has to expect this act from the United States, but other people should start really examining their soul and trying to find out if there are other countries and other organizations that are killing women and children to achieve their ends as well. That's my definition of terrorism.
And, Eliot, I want to commend you. As I say, I'm somewhat supportive of your legislation although I maybe disagree with the analysis of Lebanon, I do want them out of Lebanon because I believe all people have a right to self-determination and Lebanese people do as well. And I'll be very happy to have any of you make a final comment, one minute comment on what I just said or anything else you've heard in the hearing. We'll just go straight on down and we're going to give you the last word, so go right ahead.
MR. GABRIEL: Mr. Chairman, thank you and the committee men for all this time. I would like to commend Representative Engel for this bill because, as Mr. Berman rightly put, if it wasn't for this bill we wouldn't have this debate. And I mean that sincerely, that it has helped the debate in the foreign policy questioning that we need to have right now and I hope that we can find a common way forward, but I thank the committee for hearing us out.
REP. ROHRABACHER: Thank you.
MR. LEVITT: Thank you. I similarly thank the committee for having this hearing. I think it's very important to discuss these issues in the kind of detail we discussed today. I think it's also important to mention I don't think any of us wanted to have to have a debate over this particular bill. Nothing would make any of us happier than to have a free Lebanon and to have Syria engage in activity other than state sponsorship of terrorism. For the most part this is not out of anger but out of concern. We would prefer to have purely diplomatic relations with Syria. We would prefer to be able to focus on nothing other than business relations, but the bottom line is the business relations that we have with Syria are not even tertiary to the primary national interest concerns that we have regarding the war on terrorism, liberating Iraq, Middle East peace process, et cetera.
These are what are at the front of the agenda right now and with good reason. People's lives are at stake and you just can't play with that. And what we've been doing to date has been allowing Syria to kind of ride the wave of the status quo relationship because they know we're not going to take them to task. We've become background noise and it's to our detriment, not only with Saddam Hussein -- not only with Bashar Al-Assad but with Saddam Hussein, with Yasser Arafat and with others in the region who understand the language of background noise. Thank you.
REP. ROHRABACHER: Say what you mean and mean what you say.
Okay, Mr. Reinsch.
MR. REINSCH: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. As an American who is not of Lebanese descent and is not an expert on either the country or the region, this has been a very enlightening debate for me and I commend the committee for having the kind of dialogue -- or encouraging the kind of dialogue that's taken place. I think it's been thought provoking.
Our view, as I said in our testimony, is focused less on the specifics of the region than on the fact that in our experience, which has been -- we've observed a lot of these things, the kinds of things that the bill proposes simply don't work and they do have costs. We think in this particular case, as I said, that there is an argument to be made, as the secretary of State has made and that the president has made, for leaving them with flexibility to address a complex, fast- moving situation in the Middle East and use the tools they already have available which includes sanctions, rather than to put them in a very narrow straightjacket really as far as sanctions are concerned as this bill would do.
So, despite the enlightening debate, we continue to oppose the bill, Mr. Chairman. Thank you.
REP. ROHRABACHER: Okay.
And now we're going to give the last word to Mr. Saadi, but before I give it to him, just remember that all those compliments about the committee really are to Ben Gilman who has done a terrific job here over the years and I just want to reiterate that.
DR. SAADI: Mr. Chairman, two points. As far as sanctions are concerned, the good thing about the bill is that it provides a road map for Syria to have the sanctions removed. But more importantly, Mr. Chairman, I have to take issue respectfully with your characterization of the Lebanese bloodshed. It seems you and I have a completely different understanding of the history of the conflict. The bloodshed was rarely between Lebanese-Lebanese. It started out as Palestinian-Lebanese, then Palestinian-Syrian against Lebanese, then Iranian extremist fundamentalists against Lebanese, and then finally Syrian-Lebanese war. And then when Syria took all of Lebanon, sure, the bloodshed stopped.
One very important point: in Lebanon today it's much different than in Yugoslavia or Bosnia Herzegovina. In Lebanon today any Lebanese, generally speaking, can go anywhere, north, south, east, west and is not afraid of having been -- to be attacked by his fellow Lebanese. If the war was so bad among Lebanese with so much bloodshed, how could that be true today? Thank you.
REP. ROHRABACHER: Point well made. Now, I said you'd have the last word but I think that Mr. Engel has something he needs to say. The chair is going to use its prerogative to take that back and Mr. Engel has the last word.
REP. ENGEL: I thank my friend and I thank him for his courtesies.
I just wanted to point out that in the other body, the Senate, we have a companion bill sponsored by Senators Boxer and Santorum. I wanted to mention that. And the chairman mentioned the Marines in Lebanon and I couldn't agree more with what he said. And I just wanted to read a letter that was sent to Majority Leader Armey and myself by a mother of one of the young men, our Marines, who was killed in Lebanon. And this is what she writes, it's Mrs. Judith Young from Morristown, New Jersey.
She writes, "Dear Congressman Armey, dear Congressman Engel, I am writing to express my support for H.R. 4483, the Syrian Accountability Act of 2002. When a suicide bomber drove a truck laden with 12,000 pounds of explosives into the Marine barracks, my son, Sergeant Jeffrey D. Young, USMC was one of the 241 servicemen killed on October 23rd, 1983. Hezbollah claimed responsibility. Today Hezbollah, one of several terrorist groups harbored and supported by Syria, remains one of the most dangerous terrorist groups in the world.
Although Syria is prominently placed on the State Department's terrorism list, it is subject to fewer U.S. sanctions than any other country identified as a state sponsor of terrorism. President Bush warned countries to make a decision on terrorism. Either you're with us or you're with the terrorists, and Syria is not with the United States.
I urge you to support H.R. 4483 and hold Syria accountable for their terrorist activities. I also deplore the abduction, detention and transfer of Lebanese citizens to Syria without disclosing their fate and whereabouts as a blatant violation to International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights of 1966. I have personally met the parents of a 17-year-old boy taken by the Syrians in Lebanon 12 years ago. They have no idea when they will ever see him again. Yours truly, Judith C. Young."
And I think that I will let Mrs. Young's words be the last words. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
REP. ROHRABACHER: Okay. By unanimous consent the record will remain open for the insertion of materials at the request of the members of this subcommittee, remain open for two weeks or whatever -- two weeks.
And with that said, I'd like to thank the witnesses. This has been a very, very thought provoking hearing and a very good debate for all of us and for the people of our country. This hearing is now adjourned.