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Hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee - Syria: U.S. Policy Options


Location: Washington, DC

I join the Chairman in welcoming our distinguished witnesses and appreciate their testimony as we consider policy options toward Syria.

Since our last hearing a month and a half ago, the world has witnessed the continued violent suppression of protestors and dissidents by the regime of Bashir Assad, and clashes between government forces and the armed opposition, as the people of Syria seek to create their own Arab Spring.

Though the situation in Syria remains fluid, there have been important diplomatic developments. A cease-fire has been agreed to, and this week United Nations cease-fire monitors have arrived in Damascus. Nonetheless, violence continues, underscoring the difficulty of the circumstances in Syria.

It remains to be seen whether this cease-fire is durable and how it contributes to the goal of a genuine transition in Syria. Assad has defaulted on his word in the past. He will be judged on his actions and not his promises.

In the first instance, the Syrian authorities and opposition forces must guarantee the safety of the initial UN advance team of observers -- and the supervision mission that will follow -- so that they may carry out their responsibilities. Their ability to report on actions on the ground represents a critical step in limiting the bloodshed in Syria.

A sustainable cease-fire, of course, is only the beginning. The international community has called on Assad to withdraw his forces from population centers, to facilitate the provision of humanitarian assistance to the Syrian people, and to implement the other elements of the Annan peace plan.

The situation in Syria presents many challenges for the United States. Even as we are hopeful that the violence will cease and that a political process to address the legitimate aspirations of the Syrian people will be put in place, the outcome of events in Syria will have profound effects on its neighbors -- including our close ally Israel, and on ethnic conflict and the broader stability of the region.

We must also remain mindful of the security concerns presented by events in Syria. Terrorist groups may try to take advantage of Syria's political instability. Sectarian conflict could expand to draw in Syria's neighbors. And I remain deeply concerned about Syria's substantial stockpiles of chemical and conventional weapons. As it develops U.S. policy toward Syria, our government must also focus its policy, intelligence, and counter-proliferation efforts on confronting and containing these threats.

But as I have said before, we should not overestimate our ability to influence events inside the country. If the United States or other Western nations insert themselves too deeply into this conflict, it could backfire and give credence to the Syrian regime's claim that outside influences are the source of all their troubles. While the administration should not take any options off the table, we should remain skeptical about committing military forces to this conflict, for both Constitutional and practical reasons.

As Congress works with the administration to develop and implement options in this complex situation, I will be interested to hear from our panel what courses of action they would recommend that would advance American national security interests, are most likely to produce an outcome favorable to the people of Syria, and would contribute to peace and stability in the region.

I look forward to your testimony.

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