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Federal News Service - News Conference on The Syria Accountability Act

Location: Washington, DC

Federal News Service April 28, 2004 Wednesday
Copyright 2004 The Federal News Service, Inc.
Federal News Service

April 28, 2004 Wednesday




REP. ENGEL: Good morning. I'm Congressman Eliot Engel of New York, and I am here with my colleague, Congresswoman Ileana Ros- Lehtinen of Florida. And the two of us on the House side were the cosponsors and the main sponsors of the Syria Accountability Act.

On December 12th of last year, of 2003, President Bush signed the Syria Accountability Act. I thought that the Bush administration would implement the bill within a matter of days or weeks. To this date, unfortunately this has not happened.


REP. ROS-LEHTINEN: Thank you so much, Eliot.

It has been a delight to work with you on this legislation-that we don't want it to be just a historical document for scholars to look at many years hence. We want it to actually be implemented and become a law that can have practical application. Because the Syrian regime does have American blood on its hands and we cannot continue to play into their manipulation.

The Syrian regime has been given countless opportunities throughout the last decades to end its unacceptable practices. After the deplorable attacks of September 11th, the U.S. warned Damascus that its well-documented support for terrorism, its efforts to acquire a more deadly and horrific arsenal of conventional and nonconventional weapons, and its continued illegal occupation of Lebanon would earn it the distinction and the status of being a hostile regime and would make it subject to a range of U.S. policy options to address those threats and bring justice to our enemy.

The Syrian regime did not heed our warnings. It scoffed at repeated U.S. requests. And rather than choosing to be on the correct side of history, the regime in Damascus has extended its efforts in support of the global terrorist network.

This grim reality was addressed in the bill that Eliot and I worked on, the Syrian Accountability and Lebanese Sovereignty Restoration Act. Among other conditions it requires that the president certify that the government of Syria has stopped all support for and facilitation of all terrorist activities inside of Iraq, including preventing the use of territory under its control by any means whatsoever to support those engaged in terrorist activities inside of Iraq.

And for all of these reasons, President Bush is seeking to go beyond the scope of the Syria Accountability Act, and we hope that he was going to announce further measures to strengthen and toughen U.S. policy against the Syrian regime. I firmly believe that that's the reason why this delayed decision has occurred.

I fully appreciate and support the president's efforts in this regard, and I'm drafting new legislation along with my colleague, the Syria-Lebanon Liberation Act, which we will introduce shortly. And this new bill provides the next phase of punitive measures against the regime in Damascus, while creating a mechanism to support and empower those pro-democracy efforts in both countries that are seeking to bring about regime change in Syria-restoration of democratic rule in Lebanon as well.

But as I emphasized in a letter to the president in March, we need to take immediate steps to hold the Syrian regime accountable for actions that threaten U.S. security interests and our priorities, and these immediate steps are outlined in our bill.

And I'd like to comment, as Eliot did, about yesterday's incident in the Syrian capital. The Syrian regime is now saying that it will not tolerate terrorism after reports that an armed group set off a bomb in the diplomatic quarter of Damascus. This is a sad charade. All of us who are familiar with the Syrian regime's track record on terrorism know full well that this is just one more political maneuver by Damascus to avoid being sanctioned by the U.S.

And if the Syrian regime is to be believed, it must immediately and unconditionally cease and desist its support for terrorist groups in occupied Lebanon, in Iraq, everywhere. However, even if it ends it state sponsorship of terrorism, it would still be in violation of the two other conditions of our bill. It would still need to stop its proliferation efforts. It would have to immediately end its-and unconditionally withdraw from Lebanon. And only when the president certifies that all these four conditions in our act have been met can sanctions be removed.

The United States government will not be manipulated. We will not be fooled by the Syrian regime into believing this latest facade and charade. So we look forward to working with the president to bring justice to our enemy, and I sincerely hope that the reason for the delay has been that the administration wants to go beyond our bill and seek even more punitive measures against Damascus.

Thank you very much.


REP. ENGEL: We'll be happy to take any questions anybody might have.


Q Congresswoman, you mentioned this new bill that you're drafting. Can you talk a little bit more about that?

REP. ROS-LEHTINEN: Sure. Well, the-it's the Syria and Lebanon Liberation Act, and the goals are to strengthen sanctions against the Syrian regime, to support a transition to a free and democratic rule in Syria, and the restoration of sovereignty and democratic rule in Lebanon.

It seeks to codify the sanctions that are required to be imposed on Syria by previous legislation in the past. It seeks to isolate the Syrian regime internationally by calling for sanctions on individuals and foreign countries providing assistance to Syria, which in turn enable the Syrian regime to continue its terrorist activities and its efforts to acquire and develop threatening conventional and unconventional weapons. And it calls for a series of diplomatic efforts-bilaterally, internationally-to achieve the goals of the bill, with special emphasis on the U.N. Security Council, the U.N. Commission on Human Rights and the International Atomic Energy Agency.

And it also establishes a program of assistance to independent human rights, pro-democracy forces in Syria and Lebanon. They need our help. And it establishes a program of grant assistance to independent broadcasts to Syria and to Lebanon so we can spread the message of hope and freedom and democracy unfiltered, like the news is in Syria totally biased with a propaganda message.

Q Would it be binding, the -- (off mike)?

(No audible response.)

REP. ROS-LEHTINEN: And we will work together to see if the president, whoever that may be-I hope it's President Bush; Eliot hopes that it's another president. But we hope that the president will put that into effect as well and not take so long.


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