ASSISTANT SECRETARY FELTMAN: Thank you. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Chairman Kerry, Ranking Member Lugar, distinguished members of the committee, thank you for holding this important hearing.
I appeared before your regional subcommittee in November to discuss the crisis in Syria. And since that time, our European friends have joined us in sanctioning the Central Bank of Syria, impeding the financing of the regime’s brutal crackdown. The E.U. has completed its implementation of its embargo on oil purchases from Syria, halting a third of Bashar’s government revenues.
The Arab League suspended Syria’s membership, with many Arab states downgrading diplomatic relations and freezing Syrian bank accounts. The Arab League put forth a political transition plan for Syria. Over 137 countries — excuse me — supported a UN General Assembly resolution condemning the Syrian regime’s violence and supporting the Arab League transition plan.
More than 60 countries and institutions met in Tunis as Friends of the Syrian People to endorse the Arab transition plan, to demand an immediate end to the violence, and to commit to practical steps to address the Syrian crisis. The Syrian opposition in Tunis articulated a clear, credible transition plan and addressed minority fears directly and convincingly.
We announced $10 million in immediate humanitarian assistance, with millions more from other countries. The UN, the Arab League have appointed a joint high-profile envoy, Kofi Annan, with a mandate from the Arab League initiative and the UN General Assembly resolution. And just this morning, the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva overwhelmingly passed a strong resolution, which is the council’s fourth, essentially describing the situation in Syria as a manmade humanitarian disaster. And we all know the identity of the man responsible for that disaster.
Now, these are just some of the examples of regional and international resolve. But nevertheless, as both of you have described, we’ve also seen that the Assad regime has intensified its vicious campaign of attacks against the Syrian people. The situation is, frankly, horrific, including indiscriminate artillery fire against entire neighborhoods, and today’s reports from Homs are truly alarming.
Large numbers of Syrians are living every day under siege, deprived of basic necessities including food, clean water and medical supplies. Women and children are wounded and dying for lack of treatment. Innocent people are detained and tortured, and their families left to fear the worst.
Yet, despite the regime’s brutality, the people of Syria demonstrate enormous courage. Their determination to continue protesting for their rights, mostly still peaceful protests, is an inspiration and a testimony to the human spirit.
Now, as assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern Affairs watching the upheavals in the Arab world, I’m humble enough to say that we don’t know for sure when the tipping point, the breaking point will come in Syria. But it will come.
The demise of the Assad regime is inevitable. It’s important that the tipping point for the regime be reached quickly, because the longer the regime assaults the Syrian people, the greater the chances of all-out war in a failed state.
All of the elements of U.S. policy towards Syria are channeled toward accelerating the arrival of that tipping point. As I referred to at the start, through the Friends of the Syrian People group, we are translating international consensus into action.
We are galvanizing international partners to implement more effective sanctions and to deepen the regime’s isolation. We’re supporting the Arab League’s and now the UN General Assembly’s call for an immediate transition in Syria. We’re moving ahead with humanitarian assistance for the Syrian people, demanding that attacks cease and access be granted. And we’re engaging with the Syrian opposition on their vision for Syria’s future, a proud and democratic Syria that upholds the rights and responsibilities of all of its citizens regardless of their religion, their gender or their ethnicity.
Now, together, we’re working to persuade frightened communities inside Syria that their interests are best served by helping to build that better Syria, not by casting their lot with a losing regime, a corrupt and abusive regime which has been a malignant blight in the Middle East for far too long. The goal of the opposition and the Friends of the Syrian People alike is as follows: a Syrian-led political transition to democratic government based on the rule of law and the will of the people with protection of minority rights.
I would like to close my opening statement by echoing this committee’s praise of my fellow witness and friend, Ambassador Robert Ford.
Ambassador Ford’s courageous actions on the ground in Syria these past months have been a great credit to him, to the foreign service, and to the United States. He repeatedly put himself in harm’s way to make it clear that the United States stands with the people of Syria and their dream of a better future. And I want to thank this committee for its leadership in supporting his confirmation.