MAKING SYRIA ACCOUNTABLE (Senate - August 03, 1992)

[Page: S11396]

Mr. DeCONCINI. Mr. President, I was greatly disturbed by the contents of a July 28, 1992, op ed the New York Times. The author, David Twersky, chronicled the friendly relations that exist between the United States and Syria. The serious issues raised in the article are concerns which I have shared for many years.

I was also deeply troubled at the contemporaneous release of the latest Amnesty International on Syria entitled `Syria: Indefinite Political Imprisonment.' Both point to the continuing repressive policies pursued under the Assad regime and the need for increased vigilance and pressure on the part of the world community. We must continue to lead the steady drumbeat for Syria to respect human rights and allow the most basic of civil liberties for its people.

As a result of the release of the American hostages in Lebanon last year, President Bush chose to portray Syria as a nation that is now entering the international community as a willing, peaceful, and law-abiding member. I wonder how the President comes by with such wishful thinking. While he may choose to see the Syrian Government any way he pleases, the reality of the situation is clear--the government of President Hafez al-Assad remains as uncooperative and terror-based as ever.

Syria's continued occupation of Lebanon, support for terrorist groups, and drug trafficking are but a few of the atrocities that members of the current administration choose to overlook as they, in Twersky's terms, `cozy up to Syria.'

When I was in Damascus in 1989, I presented President Assad with a list of the names of political and religious prisoners--mostly Jewish--which I asked to be freed from the oppression that they are forced to endure at the hands of the Syrian Government. These people, along with other minorities in Syria, are forced to abide by laws in a society with few personal freedoms. They must live in poor conditions, unable to leave Syria, even for travel, or to speak freely. As I expected, I have never received a response to my letter. Yet the terror continues.

This spring, I wrote to Secretary of State James Baker and discussed published reports of drug trafficking in the Bekaa Valley actively supported by Syria's military through its de facto occupation of Lebanon. The State Department estimates that 49 metric tons of opium have come from the valley. A story in the New Republic stated that, `Between 20 percent and 35 percent of heroin imported into the United States comes from Syrian-occupied Lebanon.' And yet we maintain a dialog with Syria.

Mr. President, what more must Assad and the Syrian Government do before this administration realizes that any form of cooperation that the Syrians choose to offer eventually is turned to a Syrian advantage in consolidating gains made elsewhere. I sincerely hope--for the sake of a real peace in the Middle East--that the Bush administration wakes up before it is too late.

I ask that a copy of the July 29, 1992, opinion piece from the New York Times, entitled `The Risks of Cozying Up to Syria,' be printed in the Record at this point.

The article follows:

The Risks of Cozying Up to Syria


When will Congress focus a spotlight on the Administration's crazy tilt toward Syria? Senate hearings into the seamy underside of U.S.-Syrian ties, set for this week, have been postponed because of concern that Damascus might cut off the emigration of Syrian Jews.

This delay, which came after Jewish groups urged Senator John Kerry to hold off until more Jews leave Syria, means Syrian Jews are being held hostage, to guarantee Congressional silence about the U.S.-Syrian relationship. This reflects the hollowness of Syrian moderation.

Concern about Jews remaining in Syria is understandable. But if we are to avoid disaster, the Congressional inquiry into accusations of Syrian involvement in terrorism and drug trafficking and into Syria's arms buildup should go forward. The Bush Administration is making the same mistake it made with Iraq in the late 1980's. In both cases, the Administration decided that a brutal dictatorship was crucial to peace efforts. The U.S. looked the other way as Saddam Hussein harbored terrorists and built a huge arsenal--as President Hafez al-Assad of Syria is doing now.

Washington's see-no-evil approach is aimed at securing and sustaining Syrian support for U.S. policies in the Mideast. This support contributed to the anti-Iraq front, the peace process and to Syria's decision to allow a controlled exodus of its Jewish population. This has been accomplished without the U.S. removing Syria from the State Department list of terrorism-sponsoring states. (Taking Iraq off the list in the early 80's was the biggest error in U.S. policy toward Baghdad.)

But nothing has come free. Evidence of U.S. complicity or disinterest in Syria's drug trafficking, terrorism and expansionism is mounting. State Department officials have described Syrian missile acquisitions as `defensive' and equivocated about the narcotics problem. When the Justice Department indicted two Libyans for the Pan Am 103 bombing, Mr. Bush appeared overanxious to let the Syria off the hook, declaring that it had received `a bum rap.' Congressional investigators say the Drug Enforcement Administration has not cooperated with inquiries into Syria's ties to narcotics trafficking.

With the postponement of hearings, the Senate investigators will have to wait to explore the following reports and accusations, among others:

High-level Syrians involved in narco-terrorism visited Washington last fall, and two Syrian generals were given a tour of D.E.A. facilities last year. The secret visitors were said to have included Yussef Haider, a man with links to drugs and terrorism, and Mohammed Machlauf, his business partner and Mr. Assad's brother-in-law.

A Senate staffer said the F.B.I. told her someone named Haider was here last year at the time in question--just as the Administration was seeking to negotiate the release of hostages in Syrian-occupied territory in Lebanon and to persuade Damascus to attend the peace talks.

There is evidence of Syrian involvement in Lebanese heroin trafficking and terrorism, and questions about Syria's possible links to the Pan Am 103 bombing are unresolved. Senate investigators are looking at documents, including letters of transit purportedly sold to drug dealers by Syria's Defense Minister.

Pentagon and Congressional experts complain that the State Department has refused to confront Syria on its purchases of ballistic missiles. Syria has spent most of the $2 billion in grants it received from the Saudis on weapons, including Scud-C missiles from North Korea and M-9 missile equipment from China.

It is bad for America, and for the Syrian Jews the U.S. helped set free, to let these and other questions go unasked.