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Syria Transition Support Act Introduced by Menendez, Corker Passes Senate Foreign Relations Committee

Bipartisan Legislation Approved by a Vote of 15 to 3

Bill Provides for Lethal Aid and Training to Vetted Syrian Opposition, Sanctions Weapon Sales and Petroleum Sales to the Assad Regime, While Delivering Humanitarian Assistance and Planning for a Post-Assad Syria

WASHINGTON, DC – The Syria Transition Support Act, bipartisan legislation introduced by U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Menendez (D-NJ) and Ranking Member Bob Corker (R-TN) passed the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. The legislation plans for a post-Assad Syria by offering humanitarian assistance to the Syrian people, limited lethal and non-lethal assistance and training to vetted Syrian groups.

“The situation in Syria is critical for Syrians, for the region, and for the U.S. effort to counter extremism.  More than 80,000 Syrians have died in the last two years, the number of refugees now tops 1.5 million; the conflict is spilling over into Lebanon and Iraq; and extremists groups with links to al-Qaeda are exploiting the conflict and gaining ground in a state with large chemical weapon stockpiles.  The time to act and turn the tide against Assad is now.  This legislation will provide critical support to the Syrian opposition through provision of military assistance, training, and additional humanitarian support.”

"Given the risks to the U.S. and the region from an extremist takeover in Syria, I thank my colleagues for advancing our bill that seeks a better outcome by establishing a more focused U.S. strategy without new spending or authorizing American military force.  This effort has always been about more than the arming and training of vetted opposition groups; it is about shifting the momentum on the ground toward moderate forces while helping them build consensus for a new government post Assad,” said Corker.  “In order for the necessary political transition to take place, moderate forces must gain the upper hand, and Assad must doubt his chances of survival.  This bill moves that effort down the road in a serious, measured way, so I hope it is something my congressional colleagues and the president will embrace. ”

The Menendez-Corker legislation includes six key elements.

  • Authority to provide arms, military training and non-lethal supplies to the Syrian armed opposition: Groups that have gone through a thorough vetting process by the U.S. government, meeting certain criteria on human-rights, terrorism, and non-proliferation, would be eligible.  A presidential waiver is included allowing for the distribution of anti-aircraft defensive systems with strict limitations. 
  • Creation of a $250 million transition fund each year through FY2015 drawn from funds otherwise appropriated for regional transition support: To assist the civilian opposition in early transition institution building and maintenance of existing institutions, such as preserving security institutions, preventing regional spillover, promoting government formation, supporting transition justice, and reconciliation efforts. 
  • Sanctions on arms and oil sales to Assad:  Targeting any person that the President of the United States determines has knowingly participated in or facilitated a transaction related to the sale or transfer of military equipment, arms, petroleum, or petroleum products to the Assad regime.
  • Broad authority for humanitarian assistance: To ensure the administration is not hampered in its efforts to provide humanitarian aid to the Syrian people.  This section does not authorize any new or additional funding.
  • Administration strategy: Requiring the administration to work with Congress and keep it fully apprised of strategy towards Syria, including working through the international community and Russia to find a political settlement.
  • Amendment to the Syria Accountability Act: To allow for sanctions removal once a transitional government is in place and certain terrorism and WMD criteria have been met.