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tv   U.S. Policy in Syria After ISIS  CSPAN  January 11, 2018 10:04am-12:03pm EST

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[ indistinct audio ] >> the foreign relations committee will come to order. we thank our distinguished witness for being with us today. we regret the department was unable to send a witness.
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this is the committee's second hearing of congress on the syrian conflict but it's been raised during many of our meetings. to date, more than 400,000 people have been killed in the syrian conflict, more than 12 million people, roughly half of all syrians, are displaced and the assad regime bears overwhelming responsibility for this destruction and extremism it has spawned. however, none of this would have been possible without the support of iran and russia, both of which intervened on assad's behalf to extend influence in a region and counter the u.s. and its partners. with the support of the u.s. and coalition partners the syrian democratic forces succeeded in sweeping isis out of raqqah in october. of course, despite losing much of its territory in syria and iraq, isis remains a major threat. and there's also the ongoing danger posed by al qaeda, syria, and affiliates which maintain
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significant influence in opposition-controlled areas. so it's worth highlighting two recent developments. first, the u.s., russia, and jordan signed a memorandum of principles on november 8 maintaining the administrative arrangements in opposition-held areas in southwest syria. yet iran and its proxies have deepened their foothold in southern syria, potentially exacerbating the conflict and risking further instability by threatening our ally, israel. second, for the past two weeks the assad regime has pummelled idlib and a damascus suburb which are the so-called deescalation zones. these attacks have killed dozens of civilians and displaced tens of thousands so far. i hope ambassador satterfield will provide details of what the u.s. is doing to counter iran's activities in southern syria and assess the current prospects for resolving the syrian civil war
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diplomatically. with that, i'll ask our distinguished ranking member if he wishes to make any opening comments. >> thank you, mr. chairman, and thank you for calling this hearing on the u.s. strategy in syria after isis. we couldn't have a more distinguished witness before us in mr. satterfield, it's wonderful to have you here and we look forward to our discussion today. there are many issues involving syria in which this committee has primary responsibility on oversight. the use of force, the fact that we're using a 2001 aumf and what happens -- many of us question whether that really applies to isis but what happens after isis is defeated? where is the authorization to maintain u.s. troops in syria? we see a rapid increase in the number of u.s. troops, i believe the number now is close to 2000, at least it's been reported about that. what is the role for u.s.
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development assistance working with other countries. we know there's no other military-only solution here. how will american diplomacy play out? what is russia's role here in the future. will it be effective in preventing mr. assad from being held accountable for his war crimes? where is our concern about iran and developing a land bridge between tehran and beirut which certainly affects israel's security. on each of these issues, the administration appears to view syria through a military lens, make decisions on troop levels and military mission s in a policy vacuum. for example, at a pentagon press briefing last year, the american public was informed that the united states will sustain a conditions-based military presence in syria after the defeat of isis. however, the administration has provided no information to congress or the american people about the conditions under which u.s. forces will leave syria. are those conditions political? military?
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i hope to gain insight into this issue during the hearing today because our young men and women in uniform and their families deserve to be fully informed as to what they're fighting for and when the fight will be over. i am deeply disappointed and i share the chairman's concern that the department of defense declined this committee's invitation to testify. this committee has jurisdiction over the authorization for the use of military force and has already spent significant time debating whether the 2001 aumf covers successors' entities like isis given that the authorization drafted almost two decades ago was intended to provide authority to target al qaeda in afghanistan. now the administration is arguing that even after isis is defeated our forces will still remain in syria to make sure that isis cannot return, at the same time, u.s. forces have significantly increased without any public explanation. considered together, the notion that the u.s. forces must stay
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in syria to mitigate against isis' return while simultaneously ramping up u.s. forces seems like the prelude to another forever war with no congressional authorization. if we learned anything from the experiences in the last decade, it's that the military fight is not even half the battle. long-term sustainable ends of conflicts demand political agreements, international donors, stabilization activities, reconciliation initiatives, development expertise, accountability of local leadership and, above all, patience, constant diplomatic and political engagement. there is no sustainable solution in syria, even after isis is defeated, without a long-term political solution. now the people of syria, so many of whom risked their lives to challenge the assad regime are forced to look to other places for help rather than washington and the geneva.
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this is another instance where the trump administration is willing to cede ground to russia. i hope it's not lost on those committed to a stable, prosperous middle east. working through moscow, we only bring further instability more aligned to iranian influence, increased human suffering and the same old top-down corruption. meanwhile, russia is enabling iran and iran's militia to make themselves at home in syria setting the stage to exploit lucrative contracts. russia's president vladimir putin the man who assured bashar al assad's survival is flying around the middle east with -- completing deals for base access and weapons deals. with the united states absent from the scene, the governments across the region are rolling out the red carpet for mr. putin. this is not a situation that benefits the united states or
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the people of the region who want to look to the west but are compelled to look east. i hope mr. todaychairman that wl get a better understanding of a winnable strategy in syria. >> thank you. it's rare that i would make comments after yours, i will say that there's a lot of progress made and i think we'll be in a place to have a markup and we're doing it in a way to engender support on both sides of the aisle. as it relates to what's happened in syria, to me, after watching our people in action, i think what we saw here was a seamless handoff between one administration to another and obviously the generals were given more flexibility with the
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new administration but what i saw was a seamless handoff in doing away with the caliphate. so to me thus far as it relates to isis this is something that has been successful. now we're left with a country that we have to figure out how to deal with and i want to thank the ambassador for being with us today. he's ambassador david satterfield, one of our most distinguished diplomats. he most recently served as director general of the multinational force and observers in the sinai peninsula and previously served as u.s. ambassador lebanon. we thank you so much for being here. look forward to your testimony and vigorous questions. thank you so much. >> thank you very much, mr. chairman, ranking member cardin and members of the committee. appreciate the opportunity to
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testify today. we have made significant progress since 2014 when isis first emerged swept across iraq and syria, inflicted suffering on thousands of civilians in the region with impact far beyond. however, despite the advances made, our job is not yet done. we remain focused on the enduring defeat of isis and other terrorist organizations, countering iranian influence and malign behaviors, presenting the use of wednesday, ensuring the safety of syria's neighbors and ultimately resolving the syrian conflict and humanitarian crisis through the deescalation of violence and a political resolution, and there must be a political transformation and resolution that is in accordance with u.n. security council resolution 2254. as of today, coalition-backed efforts have liberated over 98% of the territory previously
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controlled by isis. with over 7.5 million people now free from isis domination in iraq and in syria. while russia may deem and announce that the fight in syria is over, the u.s. and coalition partners do not regard this as a finished effort. the u.s. is committed to the total and enduring defeat of isis, al qaeda, other terrorist groups in syria and the region ensuring that they cannot regenerate and return. thanks to the generosity of the congress and the american people, the u.s. has provided nearly $7.5 billion in humanitarian assistance since the start of the syrian crisis, about $1.5 billion over the last ye year. this critical aid assists nearly four million syrians in need every month that country. in eastern syria with support from our colleagues in the department of defense, the state department and usaid lead
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recovery effort designed to help consul date our military gains, provide life saving assistance to conflict-afflicted civilians and stabilize the liberated are areas. as this committee well knows, unlike in iraq, we do not have a trusted government partner to work with. we are not working with and we will not work with the assad regime unt regime. until there is a credible political process -- and by credible we mean chosen by the syrian people -- without assad at its helm at the end of the process the u.s. and our allies will not support large scale efforts to reconstruct syria. on july 9, over six months ago, the u.s., jordan, and russia, made an arrangement, memorandum of principles to reduce violence in southwest syria. on november 8, the u.s., russia
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and jordan signed a formal memorandum codifying principles that spritrengthened this earli effort. then shrines the commitment of the u.s., russia, and jordan that non-syrian foreign fighters, including iranian and iranian proxy forces, hezbollah, must withdraw from areas within the cease-fire lines delineated by this agreement. on november 11, president trump, president putin issued a joint statement on syria in da nang, vietnam. they endorsed the memorandum of principles and reaffirmed the u.s. and russian commitment to a pluralistic and free syria. they also reaffirmed their commitment to syria's sovereignty, unity, independence, territorial integrity and non-sectarian character and they urged all syrian parties to participate genuinely, actively in the geneva political process.
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on november 29, russia had to coerce the syrian regime to attend meetings in geneva. the opposition, however, came prepared and ready to discuss matters. all of these efforts are fully in line with implementation of u.n. security council resolution 2254 which calls for a new syrian constitution and for parliamentary and presidential elections under u.n. supervisions in which all syrians including those displaced outside syrian borders can participate. a stable syria absolutely requires the departure of president assad and his regime they have inflicted suffering and countless death on people, including the use of chemical weapons. this regime is a magneter the er the -- magnet for terror incapable of leading syria. our allies have come to russia with a path towards the syrian political transition, towards a political solution, on many occasions and we call on russia
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again today to pressure the regime to work seriously towards a political resolution to this conflict. thank you, mr. chairman, i welcome your questions. >> thank you for being here. i was going to typically defer to senator cardin first because of the last portion of your stateme statement. we are now not demanding that assad leave. instead, as i understand it, we' we're embracing the u.n. resolution as putin has recently done, is that correct? >> that's correct, mr. chairman. >> and that would mean there would be an election that would take place? >> there would be a constitutional reform and revision process and then there would be an electoral process. that electoral process would be fully under u.n. monitoring and supervision. >> is it true that -- it's my sense that people like you and others believe that if that process occurs as has been laid out and as supported right now by russia you believe that the way assad would go is through a
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democratic election where he would lose? >> mr. chairman, we cannot conceive of a circumstance which genuinely fair electoral process overseen by the u.n. with participation of the syrian displaced community could lead to a result in which assad remained at the hem, yes, slm. >> is there any chance there would be in syria a real election that people had the opportunity to vote and it wasn't corrupt? >> this is that goal, exactly what russia and the international community are formally committed to see achieve. the task to make it real is the challenge before us all. >> thank you so much. senator cardin? >> thank you, mr. chairman, ambassador, thank you. just about everything you said i agree with and i like the way you emphasized the importance of mr. assad leaving but let me express some skepticism with
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russia's involvement and try to understand how we are prepared to deal with what is likely to come about and that is russia's goals of not having a free syria. they want to have a footprint in syria. they're comfortable with mr. assad. they certainly are -- looks like they are setting him up to be immune from being held accountable for his war crimes. how do we -- i agree with senator corker's inference.
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>> that's first tool. second tool is money. syria needs reconstruction. the bill varies in estimate, but let's say between $200 billion and $300 billion plus to reconstruct. the international community has committed itself not to provide that reconstruction assistance until those goals -- constitutional reform, u.n.-supervised elections -- are
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realized. that's a powerful incentive because our assessment is russia, iran. syrian regime don't have those funds, aren't going to be able to contribute, but they want a certain stability and they want authentication and that's what we're withholding until we see the progress made. the second and final comment i'd make is translating everything we do, u.s. and the international community, through the u.n. through the legitimacy of the security council and resolution 2254. this is the counterweight to sochi, to russian initiative which is would control and contain a track on their own. it won't have ledge m legitimat otherwise. >> mr. assad must be held accountable for his activities and that cannot be compromised
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in a final political settlement. are you still committed to that goal? >> we are, senator. >> thank you. let me mention another area that has been a major concern and that's iran's footprint in syria. it seems pretty likely that russia would be sympathetic to iran having a footprint in syria moving forward. there's great concern among both jordan and israel with their security interests and iran's presence in syria. what type of game plan do we have to make sure that we minimize that risk fact or and protect our traditional security arrangements with both israel and jordan? >> senator, the presence, the activities of iran in and through syria -- by through syria a mean a greater qualitative enablement of the hezbollah threat in lebanon -- is the primary strategic
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challenge that we and our partners face in and through syria and i would add iraq as well. we would hope russia would recognize that russia's long-term strategic interests risk assessment risk calculus, should not weigh iran as a positive factor, that iran poses a challenge and a threat to russian interests as well. >> do you think we can convince russia of that? i agree with you, i just don't think -- i think it's just the reverse with mr. putin. i think he likes having a proxy of iran in syria. >> senator, i think the focus has been right now from the russian point of view on stabilization in syria, securitying the success victory of the regime, putting an end to the chaos and violence there which the russians see as threatening their interest. the question is at what price over the long term. and an enhancement in a permanent sense of iran's role cannot be any regional or
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transregional interest. but you asked what we're doing about this challenge. first step was the defeat of isis. as long as isis remained a potent fighting force in syria the bandwidth, the space to deal with these broader challenges, including iran and assad and the regime simply wasn't there. that bandwidth is being freed up now. with the u.n. process, with international support for a credible electoral and constitutional reform process we see political transition in syria as a potentially achievable goal. we don't underestimate the challenges ahead. this is going to be hard, very hard to do. assad will cling to power at almost every cost possible. but with respect to iran, we will treat iran in syria and iran's enablement of hezbollah a a separate strategic issue. how do you do it? you do it in all places it manifests its which is not just syria but iraq, yemen, the gulf,
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other areas where iran's malign behaviors affect our and our allies' national interests. difficult challenge but not impossible and it is one we are seized with right now. but having a politically transformed syria will in and of itself be a mitigating and minimizing factor on iran's influence and the opposite is also true. >> thank you, mr. chairman. >> thank you, before turning to senator young, with the russian concerns about assad, do you think russia cares greatly about assad himself or just having a syrian leader period that they can deal with? >> senator, i have worked with the syrian puzzle since 1983. my view is that the russians above all, as the soviets before them, treasure stability and fear chaos. assad represented, represents in
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their eyes, i believe, a source of stability at a very high price and we would argue ultimately instability as a generator of further violence, radicalism and terror. but i think that's the prime motive. it's not assad qua assad, it's stability and an end to threatening chaos. >> mr. young? >> good to see you again mr. ambassador. i think a lot of hoosiers will be watching this hearing with great interest. i on january 2 attended a ceremony for the 38th sustainment brigade of the indiana national guard. we're sending 250 of our best men and women in uniform into kuwait to support our operations in iraq and syria and these hoosiers, all americans, demand the best possible strategy for our operations there.
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i asserted in a letter to secretary tillerson in february of 2017 that my own belief is that if we're going to defeat terrorist groups, we're going to have to address the legitimate concerns of sunni communities on the ground and governance needs moving forward. something that's already been spoken to. this won't be easy. i understand that. but do you believe the current strategy is optimized and properly resourced so far in order to ensure that we accomplish those objectives? >> senator, you're quite right in signaling that without an address of sunni concerns there's going to be a resurgence of violence. some of those concerns are being addressed, others can be addressed better by governments in the area. but the issue itself very much forms part of our dialogue with every state in the region and with our partners from outside.
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>> is there a particular milestone or two that you are watching to ensure that our existing strategy remains on track? >> there is. we watch very carefully iranian maligned behaviors throughout the region. you and i have discussed yemen in particular in this regard but there are other places that we wat watch. in terms of our aggressive efforts to roll back these efforts, to deny iran the ability to deploy, proliferate, support these efforts we are more actively engaged today than at any point in the past 15 years. it is a big challenge ahead of
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us on many fronts and we need the full cooperation of our partners in the region as well as in europe and elsewhere as we move ahead. yes, there is indeed a strategy here. >> you mentioned yemen, you opened the door so i want to thank you and your team for your excellent diplomatic work on this front. do you have a really quick update on humanitarian assistance and its delivery or lack thereof? >> i do, indeed, senator. we very much appreciate your efforts and those of your colleagues in helping us with this initiative. we have now full access to commercial and humanitarian goods through two ports, that means in particular fuel moving. we have already seen a reduction in the price a and an increase in the availability of basic fuels throughout yemen as we expected would be the case. i spoke with the saudis yesterday to assure there would
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be no further closures of these ports and we will continue to work over the days ahead with the saudis, with the people from emirates on this issue. the four cranes should arrive at 10:00 p.m. on this sunday evening and be installed the next day . that is a major accomplishment and we deserve, including the congress, credit for having made that possible. >> you write that assad has used sarin gas against his own people. you also write of the need to diminish the iranian proxy hezbollah and iranian forces in syria. is it accurate that forces are in syria at least in part to help keep a man in power who's
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murdered many of his own people with sarin gas? >> that is absolutely correct, senator. >> okay, i hope the people of iran heard that. this radical and oppressive regime in tehran is not only failing to respect the human rights of their own people, the civil rights of their own people but they're also using the resources that are causing some of this ferment in tehran and have driven much of these recent pretests to keep a man in power who has murdered his own people and that's, i think, notable in light of the history where saddam hussein used gas against iranian civilians back in the '80s. thousands of iranian citizens were killed through the use of
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chemical weapons, inflicting just some horrible scars on that nation, on many families and the people of iran need to know that their own regime is complicit in and directly involved in these activities. >> senator, i'm glad you raised that because one of the most interesting aspects of the statements made, slogans used by the protesters in iran over the past two weeks has indeed focused on the involvement of iranian money and iranian forces outside iran and one of the protesters' slogans was "not syria, not iraq, have a thought for us." that is iranian citizens at home. so i think there is a recognition, perhaps more than we assumed, of exactly what the nature of iran's external engagements are and what the price being paid for those engagements really is. >> thank you ambassador.
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>> senator menendez? >> thank you, mr. chairman, thank you, ambassador. let me just say in your opening statement you noticed last year the state department announced the memorandum of principles between the united states, russia and jordan that included a equipment to "remove" iranian-backed forces including hezbollah and other irregular forces. now, since then we have seen iran maintain its land bridge into syria through iraq, increase its own and proxy forces deeper into syrian territory pushing up to the border with israel, meanwhile, russia has subsequently described iran's presence in syria as "legitimate, insists they never committed to supporting the withdrawal of iranian forces. last month, national security adviser mcmaster indicated that as much as 80% of assad's fighting force may be provided by iran and iran seems keen on pursuing a land bridge --
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continuing land bridge to iraq so i heard your testimony that we, the united states, didn't have enough bandwidth but is it the policy of the united states to actively remove iranian-backed forces from syria? >> senator, it's absolutely our policy to see syria able to move forward free of all foreign forces and that specifically includes iranian forces, fighters brought in from outside iran to fight with them and hezbollah elements. >> and so some of us are waiting to see the administration's iran strategy, to be very honest with you. this congress gave the administration some rather sweeping authorities with strong congressional approval, many which have not been used yet. many which have not been used
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yet. so we're waiting to see what this strategy is but how can we effectively counter iran now after essentially focusing elsewhere. it seems that our fourth coming counteriran strategy is a contradiction to what we've been doing in syria. how do you reconcile? hezbollah has a more viable military force in lebanon, how does that factor into the iran strategy? >> senator, it was the violence precipitated by isis, the chaos that resulted in syria's product of that violence and seizure of territory that allowed iran, hezbollah and other elements to advance the interest in their physical presence. it's why the elimination of the isis threat was the critical condition precedent to being able to credibly deal with iran. but with respect to the borders and to the land bridge issue, we
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s see minimal movement by iran across land borders and this is in significant measure a product of our own presence, our own activities not just on the syrian side of that border but also on the jordanian and in particular iraqi side and iraq cannot be eliminated as a critical element in our iran strategy. we have worked very closely with prime minister abadi, with the legitimate forces of his government in baghdad to counter iranian aspirations. it's been a hard struggle, particularly over the period since the kurdish referendum. >> let me just ask you this. you say there isn't much of a land border but i would beg to differ, that -- there isn't much or there isn't any, the reality is, this is a constant challenge. but let me ask you. i asked you specifically whether it's the policy of the united
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states to actively remove iranian-backed forces from sy a syria. how so? you gave me a generic answer, we don't want to see foreign entities inside of syria. well, russians are a foreign entity inside of syria so specifically as it related to iran, if that is the policy of the united states to diminish its influence and to remove iranian-backed forces from syria, how so? with force? with troops? with diplomacy? which one of those? >> senator, a combination of measures. first and foremost, aggressive sanctioning and measures undertaken by the u.s. and our partners to deny the physical tools, the ability to move assets and the ability to finance iran's activity -- >> well, when are those going to happen? we've given the administration a whole new host of sanctions that they simply have not used so if
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we didn't have the bandwidth then, i hope we have it now because we're engaged here after the fact. a much more difficult set of circumstances to change the dynamics on the ground as it relates to iran so i hope we'll see the pursuit of sanctions we gave. we gave sanctions on ballistic missiles, human rights missions, sanctions for the destabilization of the region for promoting terrorism. i have to be honest with you, i haven't seen those used so it's time to use them. >> senator, i would be delighted to provide you with the list of designations and sanctions taken by this administration. it's an unprecedented quantity of such sanctions. we'll be happy to detail them. >> i'd love to see the details because i think much of what was done was done under previous authorities. there are more far-reaching
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authorities than the separation has and i can't wait for them to use them so we can get on the an iran strategy. thank you, sir. >> thank you very much, mr. chairman, thank you very much, mr. ambassador, appreciate you being here today. we talk about u.s. seeing assad as chaos, russia seeing assad as stability. what, if any, shared interesteds are there between the united states and russia right now in terms of syria? >> when we discuss exactly this issue, where our areas of consonance with the russians, the first thing we come up with is you want to see stability, you're concerned about chaos and the projection of risk violence, sunni extremism to the caucuses, to russia proper. we understand that, we can share it but how does the perpetuation of a regime whose behaviors have provided the fuel for the eruption of that sunni violence and extremism serve any medium or long-term russian interests? it's this point that we continue to reinforce with our colleagues
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in russia, we done understand the long-term strategic thinking of russia, if there is a long-term strategy being applied here. but whether or not they concur or agree, our position with respect to russia is we cannot and will not legitimize a russian alternate political process independence of and not supported and endorsed by the secretary general. >> there's a very good story, voice of america did a report about russian foreign minister defends the syria peace conference and you mentioned what's coming up in sochi, the efforts there. i wanted to talk about that. lavrov said this is going to be great, there's broad support among the syrian people, we have 40 sirrian rebel groups saying they're trying to circumvent the peace process. they will not attend the sochi talks. the rebels had a mediator in the peace talks has to be a neutral
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and honest broker but russia says, hey, that's not the problem, let's come to sochi and solve the problem. i view this as a way away from the united nations and not what we're looking at talk about what we're trying to do. >> senator, the russians have claimed this to the secretary general, to the secretary, to the president is that they have no intention through sochi or any other channel of going beyond 2254 and the u.n. process in geneva. well, that's fine rhetoric, but it needs to be demonstrated and there are significant doubts, reservations about whether sochi is a one and done and translate outcomes to geneva, which is one possible option or like a second track, nominally part of geneva but under russian control and direction and only informing
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geneva and the u.n. when outcomes are derived. it's the latter option which i believe the secretary general would not and cannot support and we could not either. >> because the voice of america goes on to report the u.n. brokered peace negotiations in geneva right now involving russia, turkey, iran, have made only minor progress toward ending the issues there and it does seem there's trying to be a hijacking of efforts by sochi and the russians to turn attention away and maybe even slow down and prevent the kind of progress you're looking for in geneva. >> senator, there is a tactic in other areas of you don't have the ability to move your process forward so only we can take charge. well, that's a setup because we, russia, have ensured that the regime will not take a serious position in geneva and we see that. there is a real test before the russians and i don't say this in a confrontational manner. the russians have significant
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influence over the syrian regime. if they wish to demonstrate their credibility to the united nations, put the u.s. aside, they have every opportunity to do it in the next days and weeks in switzerland by demonstrating that the regime is prepared to seriously negotiate, not just show up with the opposition, and we'll see that and be able to make judgments based upon it but we have not seen it to date. >> so getting back to the first question, concluding with this is do we right now have any shared interest in syria with the russians? >> we continue to seek demonstrations that the russians do recognize that beyond the defeat of isis -- which is a shared interest and one we don't challenge -- defeat of al qaeda and al qaeda-affiliated elements, another shared view, that on the big issue iran, the political direction of syria that we do have a shared view and that remains to be shown.
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>> thank you, mr. president. mr. chairman. >> thank you mr. chairman. >> thank you for the upgrade. [ laughter ] >> i would actually like to begin by adding my concern to those that you and the ranking member have expressed about the unwillingness of the department of defense to send a witness to this hearing. i serve on the armed services committee and we have heard consistently from secretary mattis and that he and secretary tillerson talk on a regular basis almost daily and that they are working closely together to address the conflict areas we have in the world so it seems that it's in everyone's interest to present that united picture before congress as well as to do it privately and so i think we should lodge a very deliberate -- send a letter expressing our concern to the department of defense about
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their unwillingness to be part of this hearing and i hope you and the ranking member will consider doing that. >> thank you. ambassador, thank you for being here. do i understand from your testimony and from what you submitted in written form that our strategy in syria is to defeat isis and then successfully implement the man ran du -- memorandum of principles and then implement 2254? is that what we're assuming is our strategy? if that's the case can you help me understand how we think we're ever going to get 2254 implemented without some further action with russia or on the ground in syria that will allow us to make progress and force
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people to understand how we conclude this conflict? >> senator, our strategy in syria is based on many elements. defeat of isis is the first out of the box, it's a necessary pre-condition. second element is basic stabilization, bring down the level of fighting, particularly in the north and northeast, stabilize the humanitarian situation. >> okay, i guess i would stop you there and ask you how we think that is going to happen because recent reports show that the fighting is moving into idlib province where there had been for a period of time a lock of conflict. >> senator, the northeast is not idlib, the northeast is the area controlled by the syrian democratic forces partnered by the united states, the north and the northeast. idlib is in the west or northwest. idlib is a deeply troubled area with an al qaeda affiliate largely in control.
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we are working on stabilization in the north and northeast very successfully and with a minimum of u.s. physical presence, about 2,000 u.s. military and seven soon to be ten foreign service colleagues. this is a highly efficient operation and it's working on the ground. but those are only the first steps. the 2254 political process, the process the entire national community of like-minded states signed on to is the key. it's the key to addressing assad and his departure. it's the key to resolving the question of foreign forces in iranian influence and what are our levers? what are our tools to move that forward? they are denial of legitimacy and authenticity by the regime or its supporters in moscow or tehran and with holding of reconstruction funds which are vital to the regime and we think moscow's interests over the long
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term. those are potent levers. >> i agree that that certainly sounds good but it's hard for me to see what progress we have made on going to get to that political solution. and i guess the other question that i have for you is, there was a recent report that shows that a number of top u.s. officials, brett mcgirk, it lists you as one of those that favors favors winding down our activities in syria and leaving moscow's diplomatic efforts to address the remaining challenges. is that -- do you think that's an accurate report? and why are we interested in leaving the field to moscow?
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>> with all due respect to the publication in which that quote appeared, it is not accurate in any respect. that does not represent our position, because it excludes a critical element, the need for a political transition which requires international as well as strong u.s. backing. it does not take into consideration the detailed exchanges with moscow at the level of the president, the secretary, i and my colleagues, which are very much focused on what russia needs to do if it is to be seen at all as credible in the yeyes of us, the like-minde, and in the eyes of the united nations. those are not accurate quotes. >> thank you. i appreciate your clarifying that i'm still not clear on how
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we think we're going to move russia to accomplish what you've laid out in terms of syria. >> it is interesting as a listen to questioning. there seems to be on one hands concerns by members of the committee that we have 2,000 troops there and then concerns that we may be leaving the terrain to syria. i hope we can move onto having more of a central thought here. but i do observe there seems to be a push and a pull. what i've seen happen in syria is a seamless handoff from one administration to another. and as a country, tremendous success as it relates to dealing with the califate. to me that component of it, regardless of how you may feel about either administration,
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should be something we should cherish and celebrate and now figure out what we do going forward. it was a continuation of a policy that led to success. >> i would just point out that we need to know what the military mission is, we need to know what the diplomatic issue is. isis is losing its califate and its threat has become less se fea severe. >> as i understand, the troops that are there are not involved in contact, is that correct? >> there are still contact activities going on. the califate is not over yet. that campaign continues. the level of fighting has
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significantly diminished since the days of urban conflict. but the fight goes on and there is combat activity. >> most of their efforts are in support of those that are on the front lines. >> they are in facilitation of those who have consistently carried this fight since the beginning. >> very good. >> thanks for your service. i'm looking at your written testimony to confirm that i thought you say, that reconstructing syria is going to cost somewhere in the order of $200-300 billion. who has that kind of money? >> i can tell you who doesn't, the syrian regime, moscow and tehran. who does? the international community, companies, international financial institutions. they've got the money collectively, but that money is not going to flow into a syria
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which has not gone through a political transformation and transition. >> did the state department estimate how much it's costing on an annual basis iran and russia to be engaged in syria? >> we can get back to you in another setting with estimates on those numbers. >> will that be classified? >> classified. >> senator menendez was talking about potentially new sanctions. i just want to go back in history, the resistance of the last administration to impose sanctions on iran based on their nuclear activities. how long did it take those sanctions to bring iran to the table? >> senator, it took some three years of concerted effort, first to bring russia and china, who are critical consumers and thus valuable in the iranian economy to come on board. and then to progressively tighten through continuous
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periodic review of the sanctions against the hydro carbon sector. that was the hardest of all the challenges to get full consensus on activity sanctioning, to the disadvantage of members like china and russia, of hydro carbons. when we got it, it finally worked. >> having relaxed those sanctions -- by the way, do we have a final figure of how many dollars have flowed into iran because of the jctpoa? >> we can provide you that number. >> any chance of having the same kind of coordinated leveling of sanctions in the next round if iran -- in other words, in terms of putting pressure on iran to get out of syria, any chance of having that same kind of coordination. >> very frankly no.
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russia would not agree to participate. >> we can talk about all the sanctions to level against iran to have some kind of magic effect of getting them out of there, but the fact that we entered the nuclear agreement, we relaxed those sanctions. iran has not used that money to benefit its people. >> senator, iran has always demonstrated an aggressive attempt pre-jcpoa and post to project its influence, to support its proxies. it is not a factor of the jcpoa. >> sanctions against iran is not going to get them out of there, correct? >> unless one was capable of assembling the kind of unified international sanctions regime,
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which means russian full par participati participation, to effect hydro carbon flow to hurt iran deeply at the top. i believe while we are obliged to sanction, to designate as aggressively as we can, that's going to be a very difficult goal. >> so russia is pretty well in control there with assad in place. only if we get rid of assad is any kind of money going to be flowing into syria. i don't see any of those things happening any time soon, do you? >> as i said, this is a difficult challenge. but you talk about the factors involved here. we believe that moscow wants to see more than a transitory faux stability under the fist of
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assad established in syria. that's really what moscow wants. then they're going to need international support and that's not going to come under the present circumstances. >> we'll need russia to cooperate with us to get iran out first. >> we're going to need russia to put pressure on the regime to abide by security council resolutions and participate in political discussions in geneva. why should russia do that? because minus such engagement, there's going to be no money coming into syria or legitimatization from the broad international community either for russia or for syria. and we believe that is meaningful for russia. >> thank you. i note that you've referred several times to the u.n. security counsel 22-54.
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when i take a look at article iv of that, it has this wonderful vision of a syrian-led process that will produce a new constitution, free and fair elections, that will be held within 18 months. 18monts has long expired. it would include the dvoting, al wonderful and beautiful. we have a geneva process spons r sponsored by the u.n. it just seems like there's no
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real traction towards the vision laid out in 2254. there's a lot of chaos and messiness, i guess. how do we get from this goal of cooperating to assault isis, which was kind of a clear objective -- now that is largely accomplished, how do we actually get traction towards the vision of 2254? >> it's a mix of approaches. the first is to try to engage both in a positive and a negative sense of the russians to undertake the responsibilities that they've committed to.
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the negative side is what doesn't come if they don't cooperate, no international support for syria, no legitimatization of what russia and the regime are doing. and with respect to the u.n., we're not leaving the u.n. alone. working side by side with the secretary general, with his special representative for syria, to make of geneva more than the place for minimal at best progress. and all those tracks are in place simultaneously. >> you say that russia has committed though and you say that with an emphasis that sounds like they really committed. yet, why would we have the astona process for example if they were really committed to the u.n. geneva process?
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i'm somewhat cynical. >> astona was intended with the recognition of the united nations as observers to do a different thing. it was to bring down the levels of fighting last year and establish de-escalation zones. that was it. the moment it became clear to the united nations and to us that it was moving beyond that very tightly focused objective to broader political steps that challenged geneva, we ceased our participation, lowered the level. so did the united nations. >> i think you've described in part where my cynicism comes from.
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let's turn to those de-escalation zones. the u.s. agreed to a zone in the south near jordan in the southwest near jordan. and the goal was to protect from foreign influence. but on various reports it has allowed iran and hand al qaeda forces to entrench. it doesn't sound like the vision of a zone free from foreign influence is being realized. is there a way to correct the misdirection of the goal of this de-escalation zone? >> the goal of bringing down the level of violence, which was extraordinary and threatening both to jordan and israel at the time the official zone was established before the memorandum of principles was signed, was largely achieved.
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i will note with the recent exception of a small pocket to the northeast of that zone where there was extraordinary levels of violence and presence of al qaeda associated forces, by and large fighting and violence in the de-escalation zone came to a close. there is an isis pocket or an affiliate of isis in that area which is not covered, no protected by, not shielded by that zone. and there have indeed been activities conducted against the leadership of the isis affiliate in that small zone. at the time the memoranda of principles was signed, all of us involved, jordan, the united states, israel, recognized that we have a key objective here, to get a commitment on the part of the russians to a goal which was extremely important for all of
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us, the displacement of both republican guard force and hezbollah positions. not all that many in terms of people, but challenging because we saw no reason for those forces to be there associated with the conflict in syria. we believe they were there to prepare for an enduring presence and an enduring threat to jordan and israel. we, israel, the jurordanians ha repeatedly noted to our russian colleagues that many of those positions remain in place. the russians acknowledge that is, in fact, the case. this is not a satisfactory outcome. all of us in our separate and collective dialogues with moscow continue to reinforce this is a commitment by russia and we expect it to be fulfilled. it has not been comprehensively
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to date. >> thank you. >> thank you for being here and thank you for your commitment to the united states and our future. i have to admit i'm frustrated. it's kind of like watching remoniremu remonr reruns of the news for years. assad has always been a bad guy. if i'm hearing right -- and i want you to correct me -- i'm very correctable. my wife will tell you that in a heartbeat. russia is the problem to get the point of a solution in syria, is that not correct? >> both russia and iran have the fundamental support for the assad regime that has allowed that regime to survive. each of them presents a unique challenge. russia from the standpoint of that ongoing support militarily
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and politically for the regime, iran because of its behaviors in and through syria. >> when you say russia and iran as if they're two different countries, and they are, but they're basically the same player in terms of their interest in syria, is that not correct. >> we certainly hope that's not correct. we hope and we base our approach to russia on the assumption, which we don't hold out there as a vague concept but pointedly note to them, that their interests should not be the same as that of iran. we cannot imagine how russian security interests over the long-term match the ambitions and drive of iran over the long-term. if there's a short-term interest of coincidence here, that's something for russia to justify
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and explain. >> when i say russia and iran are the same, they have parallel interests if not uniquely aligned interests. i know we don't want a two-track process. we'd like to see one process. until we get to one process, you can never hope to have one solution. is there a catalyst that we can cause to take place, an action of some type that might prompt the necessity of making the decision to stick with one or the other and not both? >> as i noted, we have lowered significantly the level of our participation in astona. it has moved well beyond the purposes for which it was created. how do we bring this to a single track?
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the answer is, the secretary general, not the u.s. government -- the secretary general of the united nations has the power to legitimatize or not, support or not any purported process or track said to support the geneva 2254 process. the russians are gaming this. our position has been clear to them. the u.n.'s position has been made very clear to them. they have an opportunity in the days ahead in switzerland to demonstrate a different credible intent which can give some credibility to their assertions about sochi.
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whether they do that or not is up to them. >> until the russians are committed to a one-track solution, there's not going to be a solution in syria, is that a fair statement? >> i think that's a very fair statement. >> russia is the key to getting to a one-track to get us to a solution? >> it is indeed, sir. >> if we elevate their role in carrying that out, we might have a chance to get to one
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negotiating point for a future. >> senator, we have been trying at every level of this government and the u.n. and the international community to put russia squarely in front of exactly that responsibility. >> thank you for your work. >> senator coons. >> thank you, chairman corker. thank you for this hearing, thank you for your leadership. along with senator rubio, in passing the syrian war crimes accountability act, i think is the important that we continue to make clear to the world community we intend to hold accountable assad and his regime for their horrific crimes against humanity. thank you, senator, yesterday for releasing an important report that details russia's
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malign actions to undermine democracy throughout the western world. ambassador, thank you for helping us better grasp some of the contours of administration policy. i am struck that the department of defense declined to be represented in this conversation. i will agree that there was a seamless handoff from one administration to the next, but qualify that by saying with regards to the fight against isis, specifically the califate. that piece seems to have gone remarkably well. but i do not see a seamless handoff, if anything the opposite, when it comes to refugee policy and support for refugees, the resources needed by the department of state and u.s. aid in order to do very difficult work not just in syria and the region but globally.
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and the willingness to use the sanctions authority this committee and this congress gave this president strongly, bipartis bipartisan new sanctions authority to push back against russia's interference in our election, and their actions in syria and their refusal to use new sanctioning authority against the ballistic missile program, human rights violations and regional support for terrorism. there have been some designations and i welcome them. i only hope there will be more. the situation in southwest syria, which were just discussing, by which iranian proxies now have a dozen positions just over the border from our vital ally israel and jordan is not just untenable, unacceptable. and i appreciate the optimistic view that's been laid out about a positive path forward through which there might be u.n. sanctioned and supervised free
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and fair elections involving the millions of syrians outside of syria and displaced within syria and a credible process for free and fair elections. but there are moments when aspiration seem s delusional an i am concerned that there are clear signals that this administration intends to declare victory against isis and remove friouve itself from the confli conflict. we seem divided about the importance of remaining engaged on the ground. i think this is a valuable conversation for us to have with you, sir, as well as senior representatives from the department of defense and other entities within the executive branch that are vital to our really understanding the situation. but i am alarmed that iran has successfully injected hezbollah and succeeded with russian support and sponsorship in sustaining assad and in
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transforming some of the syrian forces -- excuse me, some of the shia militias in syria, they are beginning to turn them into hezbollah in syria for the long haul. let's just assume there's a real chance that russia isn't acting in good faith here and isn't going to meet its commitments and let's just assume that our leverage, which i respect of withholding a commitment for reconstruction dollars is insufficient. how do we prevent a situation in syria that mirrors the tragic situation in iraq where isis emerged because there was a vacuum. how do we prevent this from happening? >> we absolute contemplate the kind of alternative outcome that you just laid forward. the president has committed at a matter of strategy that we will
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not leave syria. we are not going to declare victory and go. that is not my opinion. that's the president's strategic judgment. we're going to stay for several reasons. stabilization and assistance in the vital north and northeast, protection of our allies, the syrian democratic forces who have fought so valiantly against isis in the northeast, try to work to help transform the political structures in that area to a model for the rest of syria and capable of being credibly represented in a new syrian state. but for other reasons as well, including countering iran and its ability to enhance its presence in syria. and serving as weight, a force able to help us achieve some of those broader objectives that we've been speaking about during this hearing. now, your posit of what happens if all of these approaches fail to succeed, i rarely comment for
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reasons you'll understand on hypothetica hypotheticals, but i will say this. any meaningful strategy towards iran's behaviors will require a full toolbox of measures involving all of the agencies of the u.s. document and ideally active support from critical allies in the region and outside. >> thank you. in conclusion, i really appreciate the great and strong work of the chair and ranking. i only hope that the president uses the tools given to him by congress to demonstrate engagement against iran and does not leave the iran nuclear agreement which i think would further distance us from our vital partners in that work. there is a constructive path forward here. we'll know within days whether he's choosing to take it.
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thank you. >> thank you. response to senator coons, i'm not so sure that the committee is divided on engagement on the ground. rather than that, i think the frustration here is that people are willing to do that. we want to know what we're doing, what's the objective, what's the strategy. i've been listening to this for years and years on this committee. nothing ever changes. it's just murky. before you can resolve a problem, you've got to understand it. you've got to have some clarity on it. it's just not here. i've listened over and over again -- and i preeshappreciate candid statement that you and your colleagues have approached the russians on what do you people want, where are we going here. and it's confounding, it really is. the longer you deal with the russians, you conclude how inept
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they are. we had as you know on the intel committee we're doing a longstanding deep dive into what the russians did as far as our elections are concerned. without going into the classified stuff in the most recent public hearings we had, the russian ineptness was stunning. if indeed they were trying to affect the elections, they were running ads that ran against each other, that were counter to each other. again, itswhat's their objectiv what is their strategy. what do you personally believe the russian strategy is? >> in a different setting, i
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would be happy to elaborate on the multiple layers of what we assess to be russia's objectives. >> without understanding that, we can't really get our arms around a strategy to move forward on our behalf. >> we try to reflect in our dealings with the russians all of the assessed interests they have in syria. but in this open session, i can simply say i believe and note the russians want to be able to present to their own people a victory in syria, a political victory that's clean and nicely tied and wrapped, and a military vehicle that's equally clean and comprehensive. neither of those two objectives, frankly, are reflected in the reality of syria at this moment, neither that military victory nor a political victory. the best course for russia would be to work in active support of
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geneva, of 2254 where they will have allies, colleagues and support to achieve a meaningful political resolution in syria which at the end of the day doesn't threaten russian interests at all. we would argue it supports them in the long-term. hor . >> certainly they can't be so inept as to understand that those are transitory. they're not achievable in the near future, in the long future or anything else given the state department on the ground right now. >> we try to point that out to them. >> thank you. appreciate that. good luck. once isis came into the picture in syria, it gave us an opportunity to have a clear objective and to do something
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about isis. and we did it. and there's a lot of people that are concerned about slippage as we shift gears going somewhere else. i think that's a lengitimate concern. i don't know how that plays out. the one thing that we do know is that certainly isis is going to rear its ugly head somewhere else. where do you think that's going to be? >> it's not a matter of speculation. what we've seen in northern iraq and northern syria, central syria as well, is isis has suffered tremendous defeats, not just loss of territory and assets but also loss of fighting cadre in many of the urban battles. many of its core leadership avoided the fight, left, moved to areas that were not as directly challenged, the y echa.
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they remain present and coherent in northern iraq and northern and central syria. we are seeing reassertion of an isis challenge. six small towns along the euphrates were taken from proregime forces by isis elements. this fight is not over. i'm speaking about the real combat fight here. we are convinced that with time they can indeed be enduringly defeated, to use that rubric. >> thank you, mr. chair. i agree with comments that the chairman made earlier that it is a good thing for us to step back and sort of celebrate the battlefield successes of u.s. military and coalition partners
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against isis. i do view that as somewhat seamless between the two administrations with continuity of military leadership, continuity of the basic on the battlefield plan. it's hard to celebrate too much because the scale of the humanitarian disaster is so great. we know isis is going to continue to try to create problems. it is important to recognize the good work done by troops and coalition and also the state department and the u.s. humanitarian commitment, ngos, mercy corps, the syrian-american medical society. so a whole lot of folks, both our defense, our diplomatic, but also our american ngo comment have done yeomans work. it is important to recognize that. i've had a set of concerns to
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just put on the table about sort of legal authorities for military action going forward. the missile strikes against syria in april of this year, i inquired formally of the administration about legal justification for the strikes. they eventually provided a letter giving a domestic justification but no international justification. we had a woofnderful hearing recently. i didn't think the domestic justification was sufficient. but he did point out that the letter gave no international law justification for the u.s. military strikes and we're still waiting for an answer nine months later. i'm additionally concerned when i read reports that the 2,000 troops that we have in syria, their mission may morph to be sort of a counter iran mission. we're going to have some
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additional legal questions about that. i wrote a letter to the secretary of state and secretary of defense raising some questions. i'd like to introduce it for the record. >> without objection. >> the one question i wanted to ask you about was the kurds. the kurds in northern iraq have been some of our best partners. they're having their own sets of challenges with the iraqi central government your expertise and your jurisdiction encompasses a pretty wide swath. the kurds in northern syria have been excellent partners with our military and others, but the work we've done with the kurds has created all kinds of tensions with turkey. i wanted to get your sort of big picture forward looking thought about the way we handle a continuing partnership with the kurds in honor of the work they've done and their place in the next chapter of syria with this challenge we have with turkey's suspicion of any
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partnership that we have with kurds in northern syria. >> senator, we very much understand the turkish government's and security forces concern of the pkk association of many of the elements of the syrian democratic forces. as we deal with stabilization in the north and northeast with the sdf, part of that stabilization is the emergence of a different kind of local based political structure cwhich cannot be labeled kurdish in an ethno centric mix. we see receptivity in how they transition and move beyond what they have been in the past and the associations many of them have had in the past, which
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turkey finds so objectionable. now, that participation of the peoples of the north and northeast of syria, there's a big swath of population, of assets, both hydro carbon and agricultural and people. they need to be part of the future of syria. they want to be part of the future of syria. on this point, there is a coincidence between the secretary general's concerns, russian concerns and our own, is that how do you see this political transition in the north and northeast take place in a matter that mitigates the turkish concerns about kurds qua kurds. we are very much focused on this but this is a work in progress. but what's good is that the sdf leadership understands it's an issue and are working on it
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aggressively. >> thank you. just on the outset i'm encouraged to hear that irrespective of jcpoa, there seems to be a consensus that that does not grant iran immunity of nuclear activity. i think it's really important that -- by the way, it's also important for us to make clear those shia militia in the region and hezbollah and syria, they are agents under the control of the iranian regime.
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we should make abun tadantly cl on the front end that we hold iran directly response for the loss of life or property. this little game they play where they use other people to attack us and one degree of separation is something we should make clear we will hold them responsible for it. that's important to lay on the record. on this issue of syria, it is good news. you see the map of the isis territory held two years ago at this time and what it is today. it's great news that isis territorial control has rapidly eroded over the last year under this administration. here's the bad news. it hasn't been replaced by things that are much better. al nusra, they're still around, under pressure but still around. we know that hezbollah has a very vibrant presence in syria.
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we know that assad forces are reinvigorated. what are the motives of these two countries? iran's are pretty transparent. they want that land bridge over to hezbollah which will be a major contributor to the next israel/hezbollah war. they seek to present themselves as a better, more predictable regional partner and power broker than the united states. it's an argument they've made to egypt, libya, iraq and jordan, even syrian democratic forces have been to some extent seduced
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by this promise. as you look at all this, the fundamental question is what is our seat at the table in syria? what gives us a seat at the table in any future conversation about the future of syria? >> our presence in a significant -- >> which presence? >> our military presence associated with the sdf in a critical and significant piece of syrian territory. >> we're grateful that you're here today, but hence the problem. you just said what gives us a seat at the table and some negotiated path forward in syria is our department of defense presence and they're not here today. >> in part, senator. >> what's the other part? >> the other part is our role in the international community. we lead, we shape, we direct the like-minded community. >> like the united nations?
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>> no. i'm speaking of the like-minded nations on syria, some dozens of countries which hold in their hands the potential resources to rebuild, reconstruct syria and who politically hold the power to deny or to grant legitimacy for any resolution in syria. >> so our seat at the table is the department of defense from whom we did not hear today on an issue where the guys with the guns matter. that's number one. and number two is our ability to get other nations around the world to join us as leverage on the syrian regime. okay. my other question is, so what is our argument both to those within syria and the region -- what do we say to saudi arabia, to egypt, to turkey, to jordan, what is our argument that the united states is a more reliable, more predictable and more decisive regional partner than vladimir putin? what do we say to them when we reach that test? >> it's the united states that protects the emirates, qatar,
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saudi arabia, the gulf. with our systems, with our technicians, with our military personal against the threats that iran's behavior poses every day to those states. it's our commitment, not russian importunin importunings. i would include egypt as well on this, resides squarely with the united states. russia would like to present a different picture. they play a weak hand very well, but it is a weak hand and we should not overreact to the fact that at the end of the day we are the party to look to for fundamental defense, fundamental support, not moscow. >> so in closing, the core of that argument we make to our regional allies is we sell you weapons systems and we provide
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in some cases basing capabilities in your countries? >> we help them defend themselves against a very real threat in a fashion which no other party can -- >> through the department of defense? >> through the combined efforts of the u.s. government including the military. >> who is not here today. thank you. >> thank you very much, mr. chairman. thank you, ambassador, for being here. very briefly, to the chairman's comment about some members of this committee being uncomfortable with an increased military presence, more involvement in syria while also raising concerns about a decreased diplomatic presence, you know, i think to many of us those are two very consistent worries in the sense that to the extent we have additional troops on the ground, the worry would be that they are placed at greater risk if we are at the
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same time withdrawing from the didn diplomatic and political conversations that are most relevant. that if those conversations result in the place becoming more rather than less dangerous and we have thousands of troops on the ground, it endangers those troops. i think some of us can do a better job of trying to marry together those concerns. to senator rubio's line of questioning, i just don't think it's credible to suggest that our seat at the table right now comes through any means other than our military presence. we have signalled in so many different ways that we are no longer interested in being in the lead with respect to the political and economic future of syria, whether it's these diplomatic talks that are happening without the united states or the state department's insistence on a 30% cut to the funds that they are appropriated to try to do big reconstruction and stability deals around the
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world. i think we've telegraphed to the region that we are not going to be a player in the way that we have been in the past diplomatically and politically. and thus our primary leverage there comes through the insertion of more and more troops, which continues to beg the question as to why we don't have a representative from the department of defense here. in their absence, let me ask you a question about the future disposition of our troops. how do you explain what the conditions for the withdrawal of american military presence is there -- we are in a combat role. we have 2,000 troops in the middle of the most dangerous place in the world, regardless of whether they are on the front lines shooting the guns. they are in combat, given how close they are to very, very dangerous places. so what are the conditions by which we bring those troops home? is it the military defeat of
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isis? is it the withdrawal of iranian and iranian backed forces? is it free elections and political stability? how do we communicate to our constituents what the end game is for military presence there? >> the president, as i noted, is committed to remaining in syria, to achieve all of our strategic goals there. now, remaining means in a political, diplomatic, military sense, not based on calendars, but based on assessment of conditions. the enduring genuine defeat of isis is one of those conditions, stabilization efforts moving forward successfully in the north and northeast in that major piece of syria is one of those conditions. and one of them is our broader assessment of where the political transition, where the iranian projection of influence in and through syria stands.
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there is no specific calculus for this. there certainly are not hard, quantitative numbers that can be attached. >> i would argue that you are operating under a flawed presence, which is there is any future for syria that does not involve a substantial role for iran. it worries me that you are telling the committee that our military presence in syria will run so long as all of our conditions are met, including the withdrawal of iran and iranian forces. >> senator, what i said is among the assessments we will be making is where broader issues in syria stand. >> so what is the functionality of military presence vis-a-vis our non-isis priorities in syria? >> senator, that would have to
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be provided in a different setting. >> wait a minute. that won't pass muster. i'm sorry. you can generally state what the purpose of our military is beyond isis without getting into any kind of classified materials. >> we are deeply concerned with the activities of iran, with the ability of iran to enhance those activities through a greater move to move material through syria. >> i would just interject here. it's hard to understand your response with even the most broad use of an aumf covering anything close to what you're saying. >> i take your comment, senator. >> i would share those concerns to the extent that your answer suggest that is the futus thas t
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suggest that is the futus tha tf the u.s. military in syria will be aimed at addressing iranian and iranian backed military presence. i think that's an important conversation for this committee to have. thank you. >> let me also say that i think that one of the things that would have added to this discussion and inquiry we've had here is have the department of defense here. i hope that you will take that back. i know that you and secretary tillerson and secretary mattis have these discussions all the time. i think it would be important to have them here and have them with the american people. in senator murphy's question about seeing where the end is in this, you talked about we have to make sure that all of our strategic goals are accomplished.
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can you tell me what those strategic goals are? >> they are first and foremost the enduring defeat, elimination of isis as a threat not just today but into the future. >> let me stop you there because i think everybody who has discussed this believes that isis is going to morph into one thing or another over time. and so how do you -- how does this not become an unending war? >> through the next step which is stabilization and a political transformation in syria, which is the only measure that is going to present exactly what you described. those are the critical goals for syria, but the goal with respect to iran is the progressive
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constraint, diminishment of iran's ability to project in and through syria its maligned behaviors and influence. >> could you explain for us what you believe iran's interests are in syria, why they're in syria and what their reasons are for doing what they're doing in syria? >> first and foremost, to have a platform from which they can more aggressively support hezbollah and the hezbollah missile challenge, which is both a threat to israel and also a defensive asset for the regime in tehran to build a greater and more permanent presence in syria itself that will endure beyond any transition in regimes so that iran is in a position to wield influence or threat of influence over regional parties outside of lebanon, jordan, saudi arabia.
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it's a platform for behaviors not confined to lebanon. >> shifting in another direction, we've also opened up a genie by supporting kurdish forces in the region. does the state department or the pentagon have a plan to ensure that arms provided to kurdish forces do not end up in the hands of the kurdistan workers party or the pkk, a recognized terrorist organization? >> yes, senator. we have been extremely attentive to that issue. but i will remind that at the time the kurdish forces, the sdf stepped forward as partners in this fight, they were the only ones to do so. no other state, no other party, despite our offers, were willing to take up this battle. but we fully understand and
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appreciate the issue of the pkk and the terrorist threat to turkey, to others in the region. >> and how do you expect turkey to react if arms do end up in the hands of the pkk? >> i would expect turkey will make its own conclusions with respect to its own defense interests, which is why we are as attentive as we are to the issue of weapons provision, reprovision to kurdish and other elements associated with them in the north. >> as you're very family, president trump recently recognized jerusalem as the capital of israel. and there are plans to start moving there. this is a very contentious issue. amo in your opinion, has this decision helped or hampered our
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relationships with countries in the region, and how are terrorist organizations in the region using this u.s. action to recruit new members? >> i believe virtually all of the states in the region have made it a formal governmental level clear their concerns with this decision. and i would not characterize their position beyond the eloquence with which they have already presented it. >> thank you, mr. chairman. >> thank you. just to follow up on the questi questioning, i do think we should have a classified briefing to talk more fully about what our military may or may not be engaged in. >> absolutely. >> i would say i don't think you view us as not being diplomatic involved in syria? >> absolutely. >> i don't think secretary tillerson feels that either. so i think any allegations to that end is felt differently at least by the state department.
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maybe people think we're not robust enough. >> if i may briefly on this exact point, we are deeply involved diplomatically at every level with every player in this situation. there has been no diminution. you measure ef fas ficacy by th quality of the engagement in the by the number of shoes on the ground. that's a lesson learned in iraq. i believe we are quite effectively deployed in syria in terms of partnering with the military force in the north as well as our engagement in jordan. our geneva channel discussions with the russians, this is thorough engagement of our diplomatic assets around the world. thank you for the opportunity. >> just again a follow-up on
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senator murphy's line of questioning, we do need to sit down and talk privately about what may be contemplated. the defense department, with all due respect, did give us tremendous runaround as it relates to this hearing. the reason that was given for them not being here is they had not yet briefed the senate armed services committee. until they had done so in syria, they didn't feel they could come here. it also may sound like just based on your answers there's maybe a little contour change in what their efforts are on the ground. i think we certainly need to hear more fully that. i would agree that if it's what you said -- and i'm not sure exactly what you said, but if it's what you indicated, certainly the authorizations are not there for that kind of activity. so thank you so much for being here. there will be follow-up questions.
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hopefully you could answer -- those will come in by the close of business. we thank you for your service to our country and your great testimony today. >> thank you, senator. >> meeting is adjourned.
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as we leave this hearing a live look at the u.s. capitol where both the house and senate are hoping to finish work for the week today. the house working on and approving a six-year extensionings to certain foreign intelligence measures known as fisa. authority was set to run out on january 19th. it now moves over to the senate
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for deliberations. the senate today continuing work on judicial nominations. see the house live as they begin to wrap up the day to our companion network c-span and the senate on our companion network c-span2. president trump are remarks about the fisa act today. he tweeted out house votes on controversial fisa act today. this is the act that may have been used with the help of the discredited and phony dossier who so badly surveil the trump campaign. i personally directed the fix to the unmasking process since taking office. today's vote is about surveillance of foreign bad guys on foreign land. we need it. get smart. from the president today. join us later for a discussion with former secretary of energierness moniz expected to talk about nuclear security threats, the future of the iran nuclear agreement and the situation with north korea.
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beginning today at 4:00 eastern on c-span. also you can see it on or listen live at the free c-span radio app. later today, the american constitution society looks at the judicial nominations process and the trump administration. watch live coverage of that beginning at 6:15 p.m. eastern also on c-span. >> we thank our distinguished witness for being with us today. we -- regret the defense department was unable to send a witness. the second hearing on the syrian conflict but it's an issue that has been raised during many of our other meetings. to date, more than 400,000 people have been killed in the syrian conflict, roughly half of all syrians are displaced.
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and the assad regime bear is overwhelming responsibility for this destruction and extremism it has spawned. however, none of this would have been possible without the support of iran and russia, both of which intervened on au sad's behalf to counter the u.s. and its partners. with the support of the u.s. and coalition partners, the syrian democratic forces succeeded in sweeping isis out of the capital of raqqa in october. of course, despite losing much of its territory in syria and iraq, isis remains a major threat. there's also the ongoing danger posed by al qaeda syrian affiliates which maintains significant influence in opposition controlled areas. so it's worth highlighting two recent developments. first, the u.s., russia and jordan signed a memorandum of principles on november 8th, maintaining the administrative arrangements in opposition held areas in southwest syria.
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yet, iran and its proxies have deepened their foot hold in southern syria exacerbating the conflict sectarian nature and risking further instability by threatening israel. for the past two weeks, the regime has pummeled the damascus suburb which are the so-called deescalation zones. these attacks killed at least dozens of civilians and displaced tens of thousands so far. i hope ambassador saterfield will provide details of what the u.s. is doing to counter iran's activities in southern syria and assess the current prospects for resolving the syrian civil war diplomatically. with that, i'll ask our distinguished ranking member ben cardin if he wishes to make any opening comments. >> thank you, mr. chairman. thank you for calling this hearing on the u.s. strategy in syria after isis. we couldn't have a more distinguished witness before us
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in mr. saterfield. it's wonderful to have you here. we look forward to our discussion today. there are many issues involving syria which this committee has primary responsibility on oversight. the use of force, the fact that we're using a 2001aumf and what happens, many of us question whether that applies to isis but what happens after isis is defeated? where is the authorization to maintain u.s. troops in syria? we see a rapid increase in the number of u.s. troops. i believe the number now is close to 2,000, at least it's been reported about that. what is the role for u.s. development assistance working with other countries as we all know, there's no military only solution here. how will american diplomacy play out? what is russia's role here in the future? will it be effective in preventing mr. assad from being held accountable for his war
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crimes? where is our concern about iran in developing a land bridge between tehran and beirut which affects israel's security. on each of these issues, the trump administration appears to view syria through a military lens, make decisions on troop levels and military missions in a policy vacuum. for example, at a pentagon press briefing last year, the american public was informed that the united states also sustain a conditions based military presence in syria after the defeat of isis. however, the administration has provided no information to congress or to the american people about the conditions under which u.s. forces will leave syria. are those conditions political? military? i hope that to gain insight into this issue during the hearing today because our young men and women in uniform and their families deserve to be informed what they're fighting for and when the fight will be over. i am deeply disappointed and i share the chairman's concern
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that the department of defense declined this committee's invitation to testify. this committee has jurisdiction over the authorization for the use of military force and has already spent significant time debating whether the 2001aumf covers successors entities like isis, given that the authorization drafted almost two decades ago was intended to provide authority to target al qaeda in afghanistan. now the administration is arguing that even after isis is defeated, our forces will still remain in syria to make sure that isis cannot return. at the same time, the u.s. forces have significantly encreased without any public explanation. considered together, the notion that the u.s. forces must stay in syria to mitigate against isis return while simultaneously ramping up u.s. forces seems like the prelude to another forever war with no congressional authorization. if we learned anything from the experiences in the last decade, it is that the military fight is
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not even half the battle. long-term sustainable ends of conflicts demand political agreements. >> we are going to leave this portion of the senate foreirela committee. if you'd like to see it, go to our website type i.c.e. in the search box. going to go live to the heritage foundation for a discussion on the possibility of israeli, palestinian peace, also expected to discuss u.s. policy relevant to the process and the broader middle east region. live here on c-span3. >> italy and the southern europe task force command. join me in welcoming luke covey. . >> thank you, john. welcome, everyone, here to the heritage foundation this afternoon to discuss a very important


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