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Public Statements

Syria

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT

Mr. CARDIN. Madam President, I have the honor of being the chair of the U.S. Helsinki Commission representing this body. This is a commission which was established in 1975 in order to implement the U.S. responsibilities in the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. Its membership includes all the countries of Europe, as well as the former Republics of the Soviet Union, Canada, and the United States.

The main principles of Helsinki are we are interested in each other's security. In order to have a secure nation, you need to have a nation that respects the human rights of its citizens, which provides economic opportunity for its citizens, as well as the defense of their borders. We also have partners for cooperation, particularly in the Mediterranean area, that used the Helsinki principles in order to try to advance security in their region.

During this past recess, I took the opportunity to visit that region on behalf of the U.S. Helsinki Commission. I was joined by several of our colleagues looking at the current security issues. Our first visit was to Israel, and our main focus, quite frankly, was on Syria--what is happening today in Syria.

In Israel, we had a chance to meet with the Israeli officials, and it was interesting as to how many brought up the concerns about Syria. They were concerned about Syria's impact on Israel's neighbors and what was going to happen as far as security in that region.

While we were there, there was an episode on the Syrian-Israeli border, and the Israelis provided health care to those who were injured, providing humanitarian assistance. We thank the Israelis for providing that humanitarian assistance.

It was interesting that the Israeli officials pointed out the concern about the refugees who are leaving Syria going into neighboring countries. We know the vast numbers. There are almost 1 million Syrians who have left Syria for other countries because of the humanitarian concerns. About one-quarter of a million have gone to Jordan, about 280,000 are in Lebanon, about 281,000 in Turkey, another 90,000 in Iraq, and 16,000 in Egypt.

Israel is concerned about the security of its neighbors and concerned about how Jordan is dealing with the problems of the Syrian refugees, how Lebanon is handling them. We note the concerns about Hezbollah operations in Lebanon and how that is being handled with the Syrian refugee issue.

We had a chance to travel to Turkey when we left Israel. We met first with the Turkish officials in Ankara, and we received their account as to what was happening in Syria and what Turkey was doing about it. We then had a chance to visit the border area between Turkey and Syria.

We visited a refugee camp named Kilis, where there has been about 18,000 Syrian refugees. We also had a chance to meet with the opposition leaders who were in that camp, as well as later when we were in Istanbul meeting with the opposition leaders from Syria.

I mention that all because the humanitarian crisis is continuing in the country of Syria. The Assad regime is turning on its own people. Over 70,000 have been killed since the Arab Spring started in Syria. While we were there, the Assad regime used scud missiles against its own people, again killing Syrians and killing a lot of innocent people in the process. This is a humanitarian disaster.

I wish to mention one bright spot, if I might. We had a chance to visit the camps, I said, in Kilis, on the border of Syria and Turkey, in Turkey. We had a chance to see firsthand how the Syrian refugees are being handled by the Turkish Government. I want to tell you, they are doing a superb job. I think it is a model way to handle a situation such as this. They have an open border.

The border area at that point is controlled by the Syrian freedom fighters. They control that area. The Turks allowed the Syrians to come in and find a safe haven. The Turkish Government has built housing for the refugees in the camp. We had a chance to see their children in schools. They are attending schools. They are getting proper food and proper medical attention. They have the opportunity to travel where they want in Turkey, freedom of movement. They have the opportunity to go back to Syria if they want to go back to Syria. The Turkish authorities are providing them with a safe haven and adequate help. They are doing this primarily with their own resources.

There is one other thing we observed when we were in this camp on the border. We had a chance to meet with the elected representatives of the refugees in Kilis. They actually had an election. They don't have that opportunity in Syria. They are learning how to cast their votes. They are learning what democracy is about. They are learning what representation is about. We had a chance to talk to these representatives about the circumstances in Syria and what we could do to help.

First, I want to point out there is still a tremendous need for the international community to contribute to the humanitarian needs of those who are affected in Syria. There are approximately 4 million Syrians in need of humanitarian assistance. There are 2 1/2 million internally displaced people within Syria. The United States has taken the lead as far as humanitarian aid, having provided $384 million. Other countries have stepped up but, quite frankly, more needs to be done.

In talking with the opposition leaders--and we had a chance to talk to them in depth when we were in Istanbul--they expressed to us a sense of frustration that there hasn't been a better, more unified international response to the actions of the Assad regime--to what the Assad regime has done to its own people--and to get Assad out of Syria. Quite frankly, they understand--or, as we explained--some countries might be willing to provide a certain type of help; other countries may not. The United States has provided nonlethal help, other countries are providing weapons, still other countries training. But we need to coordinate that. The absence of coordination provides a void in which extreme elements are more likely to get into the opposition, and that is something we all want to make sure doesn't happen.

The message I took back from those meetings is that the United States needs to be in the lead in coordinating the efforts of the opposition. We made it clear, and I think the international community has made it clear, that Assad must go, and he should go to The Hague and be held accountable for his war crimes. He has no legitimacy to remain in power in Syria. That has been made clear and we underscored that point again. We also underscored the point there is no justification for any country--any country--providing assistance to the Assad regime on the military side. As we know, Russia and Iran have provided help. That is wrong. That is only adding to the problems and giving strength to a person who has turned on his own people. But then we also need to coordinate our attentions so we can provide the help they need and the confidence they are looking for so they will have the necessary training not only to reclaim their country but then to rule their country in a democratic way that respects the rights of all of its citizens.

As the Chair of the Helsinki Commission, I pointed that out to the Syrian opposition, that we want to provide the help so they can rule their country one day--we hope sooner rather than later--in a way that respects the rights of all of its citizens and provides economic opportunity for its citizens, for that is the only way they will have a nation that respects the security of its country.

That was the message we delivered, and I hope the United States will join other countries in a more concerted effort to get Assad out of Syria. As I said, I think he should be at The Hague and held accountable for his war crimes and held accountable for not allowing the people of Syria to have a democratic regime.

With that, Madam President, I yield the floor.

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