Washington, DC – This morning, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry (D-MA) delivered the following statement at a hearing to assess the situation in Syria and all the international options available to address the crisis.
“I am convinced the Assad regime is doomed. But the longer the endgame, the messier the aftermath. The prospect of a full-fledged sectarian civil war is a stark reminder that a terrible situation could become still much worse, with potentially devastating consequences for neighbors like Israel, Lebanon, and Jordan and adverse implications for the broader Middle East.”
The full text of Chairman Kerry’s hearing statement, as prepared for delivery, is below:
Thank you, everyone, for coming. We are here to discuss the ongoing situation in Syria.
Syria sits at the heart of the Middle East, straddling its ethnic and sectarian fault lines. All the region’s important powers have a direct interest in what happens in Syria, as do non-state actors like Hezbollah and Hamas. Al Qaeda, through its affiliate in Iraq, is apparently becoming involved. As many as 9,000 civilians have died, and many tens of thousands more have been displaced from their homes. Homs has been subject to indiscriminate shelling for three weeks now: hundreds have died and the city is running critically low on food and medical supplies.
I am convinced the Assad regime is doomed. But the longer the endgame, the messier the aftermath. The prospect of a full-fledged sectarian civil war is a stark reminder that a terrible situation could become still much worse, with potentially devastating consequences for neighbors like Israel, Lebanon, and Jordan and adverse implications for the broader Middle East.
So where do we go from here? America has little direct leverage on Syria, but the recent Friends of Syria Conference in Tunis was an important moment that could galvanize the international community against the Assad government. The last year has shown that when the world acts with one voice behind the cause of freedom, a tyrant’s grip on power does not seem so fierce. That is why the Russian and Chinese veto at the United Nations Security Council was so disappointing – it gave Assad a political lifeline to continue to use violence against his own people.
We need to let the Russians and Chinese know that while we would like their positive involvement in putting a halt to the conflict, we are ready to do much more if they continue to block all progress at the Security Council. The Arab League and GCC have ramped up their political and economic pressure. The EU and Turkey – just a year ago a close friend of Syria – have done the same. The UN General Assembly in recent weeks voted 137 to 12 to condemn the crackdown. Two weeks ago, the Senate passed – unanimously – a resolution introduced by this Committee condemning the regime for its brutal crackdown and expressing solidarity with the Syrian people.
There are still serious questions about the various opposition organizations, including especially the Syrian National Council and the Free Syrian Army. They share the goal of getting rid of Assad and they’ve come some distance in the last year. But they have not yet unified in the way that the Libyan Transitional National Council did. I believe it is time to redouble our efforts to engage with Syria’s political opposition to try to shape their thinking and to strongly encourage them to coalesce into a coherent political force. With the creation of the Friends of Syria group, there is now a multilateral mechanism for supporting the Syrian National Council and other political groups with technical assistance.
But many Syrians remain on the fence, especially members of the Allawite, Christian and other minority groups. They’re horrified by the regime’s atrocities, but terrified by the potential for broad-scale sectarian strife. Thus, it is absolutely vital that the SNC do everything it can to unify politically, to put national aspirations ahead of personal ambitions, to categorically reject radicalism, and to reassure religious and ethnic minorities that they will enjoy full freedoms in a tolerant and pluralist post-Assad society. The nascent Syrian opposition needs to understand that the international community’s political support is contingent upon their ability to speak with one voice that represents the full diversity of Syrian society.
A debate has started in Congress and in the region about whether – and how – to support the Free Syrian Army. It is critical that we proceed with extreme caution and with our eyes wide open. There are serious questions to be answered about the Free Syrian Army, but it is not too soon to think about how the international community can shape its thinking and encourage restraint. We should encourage the Free Syrian Army to subsume itself under the leadership of Syria’s political opposition.
Finally, I am deeply concerned about the disposition of Syria’s biological and chemical weapons and its lethal conventional weapons systems. I know that the Administration is fully seized with the challenge of ensuring these stockpiles not fall into the wrong hands and I would urge my colleagues to be fully supportive of these efforts.
To help us work through the complexities of the situation, we are joined today by two talented and accomplished members of America’s diplomatic corps. I am pleased to welcome Assistant Secretary of State for Near East Affairs Jeff Feltman and US Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford. Secretary Feltman knows the region well, having served as Ambassador to Lebanon, and understands the broader implications this crisis could have.
Ambassador Ford has worked tirelessly to engage with the people of Syria during his tenure. He had to leave the country once in October because of threats to his safety, but he returned and continued his efforts until the embassy had to close last month because of the continued deterioration in security. We thank you both in advance for providing your insights and, Ambassador Ford, we thank you especially for your brave commitment to your post.