tv House Foreign Affairs Hearing on President Trumps Syria Strategy CSPAN May 22, 2019 10:43am-12:00pm EDT
trillion infrastructure plan. we'll keep you posted on any developments. we'll stay live on capitol hill here on c-span and take you to a house foreign affairs committee hearing with james jeffrey, the special envoy for syria on your screen there answering questions this morning about the president's strategy in the region. >> i guess the pressure we continue to put on. mr. mccaul: the senate is marking up the caesar bill today which will put pressure on assad, which is good. i just don't know how you get all these various factions in a coalition of some form of governance. mr. jeffrey: we have tried in other countries with some success and some cases, iraq is today a functioning democracy, with an awful lot of effort, to be sure.
on any election involving assad, i think you're absolutely right, based upon history with those areas that he can control with his secret police, but as i said, half of the population is not under his control and the u.n. mandates specifically everyone votes, including the diaspora under u.n. observation and it's one thing the u.n. does well is observe elections. so i think he would be quite surprised at the results of any election, if he behaves in the future as he has in the past. and it's one reason why we're pushing for elections. you don't get to a resolution of this conflict without 2254 and the center of that is a free and fair election. mr. mccaul: let me close by saying, i chaired the homeland security committee for six years. 2014 through 2016 period was terrifying. the number of external operations being plotted, i'd say 95% of which we stopped. now we have the collapse of the
caliphate. i want to commend you for your great work in that effort. but i do agree, while their governance has been taken away, they're still imbed and are still a threat and i see the threat actually moving to places like northern africa and the region as well. so we have to maintain a watchful eye on them. mr. jeffrey: i agree. having just had the job for three months, i can't take credit for destroying the caliphate. i will say it has been american leadership through two administrations, it has been an 80-country and organization coalition, a true international effort and the courage of the people on the ground, particularly in syria and iraq, to have done the fighting that has led to this result. it's a good example of how we can succeed by, with and through the international community and local partners and it's a good model for the
future. mr. mccaul: thank you, sir. i yield back. mr. engel: thank you. mr. deutch. mr. deutch: thank you, mr. chairman. thanks, ambassador jeffrey, for testifying to your service to our country, we're grateful. as i told you when you appeared before the middle east subcommittee last fall, many of us were encouraged by your employment, the syrian conflict has led to the deaths of half a million people, displaced people, created a humanitarian crisis that's destabilized neighboring countries in the region. likely for decades to come. the war created a vacuum that allowed iran to expand its influence around the middle east and threaten israel and since its military intervention in 2015, russia has used its foothold in syria to assert its interesting throughout the region, expand its political, military and economic influence, attempt to reclaim its status as a great power, offer itself as an alternative to the united states leadership. but -- and because of russian and iranian assistance, the assad regime has remained in power, continues its assault on
syrian, including reports of chemical weapons attacks just yesterday. preventing the return of tsitsipas and ending the syrian conflict through political solutions are keys to stabilizing the middle east, that's clear. i commend where you are efforts to do so. i'm concerned that your very serious efforts are perhaps being undermined by what appears to be a chaotic policy coming out of the white house. in your testimony in november, russia presses for a premature withdrawal of u.s. and coalition forces. such an untimely departure would enable isis to return, allow iran to fill the vacuum, increase the threats to syria's neighbors such as israel, jordan and turkey. our presence enables us to prevent isis' insurjens and helps galvanize diplomatic efforts. we are making progress toward
these goals, foremost among them the enduring defeat of isis. but in december, 2018, just a few weeks after you testified, president trump announced the rapid and complete withdrawal of u.s. troops from syria, giving little notice to international allies, partners on the ground, his decision, you recall, prompted the resignation of secretary of defense mattis, special envoy mcgerk and the administration now publicly says that it plans to keep anywhere from 400 to 1,000 troops in syria. the question is, do you believe the current number of u.s. troops is sufficient to achieve the goals that you articulated, defeat isis, remove iranian-backed forces from syria and achieve a political solution? and in november you argued the military presence bolsters diplomacy and did the president's announcement in december undermine the very serious diplomatic efforts that ou've been engaged in? mr. jeffrey: we continued our talks -- first of all, i stand
by what i said in november. we continued our diplomatic talks with our partners and allies. once again, we were not withdrawing from syria or from the northeast. we never said that we would withdraw from the south, for example. we were withdrawing ground forces from the northeast but we were keeping our military and, if you will, diplomatic presence there, and our expectation was that a coalition partners would -- our coalition partners would, in the spirit of the burden sharing that this administration, i think, is very commendably pursuing with all of our allies and partners around the world, would take on a bigger role. mr. deutch: if i may so, what's the status of that? six months later, the president announced the rapid withdrawal of our troops, the hope was that our coalition partners were going to step up. so what commitments have we seen there? mr. jeffrey: they are stepping up. we're still working and the lead is secretary shanahan and
chairman dunford. they are stepping up. we do a lot of supporting work with the foreign ministries and the chancellors throughout europe and elsewhere in that regard. we don't have the final figure yet. but i am absolutely confident that we'll be considerably more than the numbers and countries we had before, which we don't talk about personally -- officially here because we let them do it. but -- mr. deutch: i'm sorry. i don't have a lot of time. is the current number of troops sufficient to achieve the goals that you've played out? mr. jeffrey: yes. mr. deutch: and let me just ask about one other thing. the 11 million, 12 million syrians have left their homes, half of them, over six million, to other countries. we talked a lot about the role of our military on the ground in syria. we haven't talked enough about the other kind of american leadership, which is to confront the crisis of the six million syrians who have fled
the country and the other six million who are internally displaced. isn't there a greater role for the united states to play in setting an example for the rest of the world in opening our shores to more of those refugees? is that something we should consider? is that -- what kind of message would that send as we attempt to work our way through this crisis? mr. jeffrey: the message we're sending, and i'm glad you raised this, the message we're sending is american leadership on this crisis. specifically we have provided the -- provided, the united states, almost $10 billion since this conflict began, to deal with the refugees and the irment d. -- i.d.p.'s. we deal with both. we deal inside syria, we deal in regime areas, nonregime areas. we dealy turk -- deal in turkey, lebnond and jordan. we're by far leading the international community in that. we believe that it's best that
these people return to their homes, for these people to be settled to the extent they need to be settled away from their homes, as close as possible to syria, within syria in safe areas. and our goal is to continue that humanitarian assistance while pressing for a way to get them back home. mr. deutch: no greater role for to us play here. mr. jeffrey: our greater role is to encourage the international community by our example to solve this conflict and to take care of the refugees and i.d.p.'s until it's off -- until it's solved. russell wilson thank you, mr. chairman -- mr. wilson: thank you, mr. chairman. ambassador, thank you for being here today. can you describe iran's current entrenchment in syria, how much troops and proxies does it have on the ground, and are they articipating in the offensive? mr. jeffrey: thank you, congressman. iran has thousands of advisors.
quds force elements under suleimani of the iranian revolutionary guard corps which this administration has recently put on the terrorist list, long overdue. and they provide in some respects the leadership of a much larger number. i don't have the specifics but it certainly would be in the 10,000-plus category of iranianbacked proxies from third -- iranian-backed proxies from third countries. the most prominent is the hezbollah movement from lebanon who been active fighting the assad forces. what concerns us even more is iranian power projection systems. long range missiles, drones, radar systems, air defense capabilities, that you do not need to fight an internal civil war against a lightly armed opposition force. that's not what those forces are there for. they're there to threaten syria's neighbors beginning with israel. in terms of the conflict, we haven't seen a significant iranian presence, we've seen
russian air presence and we've seen syrian ground presence, but the iranians are very active in other areas, holding other parts of the overall front in the country. mr. wilson: there's increasing concern about assad's involvement and exploitation of the u.n. activities in syria. for example, is it true that the u.n. food and agriculture department has given more than $13 million to the syrian ministry of agriculture for seed and fodder, and additionally is it true that the u.n. spends approximately $10 million annually for the four seasons hotel in damascus which is observed by the assad regime money launderer, urrently under e.u. sanctions? mr. jeffrey: thank you. i can confirm that the u.n. does have headquarters in the four seasons hotel and that he is the owner of it or at least the controller of it. and we're looking very carefully at faz.
the e.u. has commendably already sanctioned him. i can't commit to the $10 million figure. i'll have to look at it. the u.n. does provide some assistance to government agencies in syria, as do other international assistance agencies, also to the syrian red cross. but in most cases these are fairly well monitored and managed to ensure that it is not being diverted to the rejeel. but we will look into that -- regime. but we will look into that specific contribution as soon as we can. mr. wilson: thank you very much. do you believe that we can adequately defeat isis operational capabilities in syria while assad remains in power? mr. jeffrey: no. i won't say assad remains in power, while assad's policies remain anything like what we have seen now, we will be able an isis-stabilized
area in the northeast with the policies we have now, but in the rest of the country, we see isis quite active. they have a presence in idlib and a presence in the southern desert on the other side of the euphrates. we have seen very low capability of the assad regime to defeat isis militarily and assad's policies to his own population are the main ac sell rant to recruiting for -- ac sell rent to recruiting to isis throughout the country. mr. wilson: what's the best way to hold assad and his associates accountable for their crimes against the sishia -- syrian people? what efforts are we making to document his crimes and hold members of the regime criminally responsible? mr. jeffrey: there is a report that's coming up today from the syrian justice and accountability center, there is a u.n. independent agency that is monitoring these things, of all of the conflicts i have been involved in, congressman, and that's a fair number, this is the one that has the most involvement by the u.n., by the
international community more generally and by syrian citizens, by local citizens themselves, and trying to hold this regime accountable. the record is very clear and this is part of the reconciliation and political process. mr. wilson: that's very encouraging. i yield back my time. berber thank you, mr. chairman. as the -- mr. bera: thank you, mr. chairman. as the chairman stated in his opening comments, what's happened in syria really is a .ragedy there's been missed opportunities. e are now in a mess.
the frustration i have, i agree with the goals you've laid out. but what we're looking at is not something that's going to happen in a year or two years. what we're looking at is a sustained commitment over yours -- years if not decades. particularly when you look at the reconstruction, if the goal is to allow the syrians that have fled to rush to their homeland -- return to their homeland, this is going to be a long, sustained, international effort. and the president's failure to engage congress, because presidents are here two years, maybe another four years, etc., but congress will be here for a long time, and we've got to have this sustained commitment and partnership and what frustrates me is the interagency joint decision making process. i was in the region last december. we met with brett mcgerk and our commanders in the field, everything was going well. we came back the next week and
a policy shift was tweeted out that said we were withdrawing. clearly no one knew that. yet to the best of my knowledge, the special envoy didn't know that that was coming, secretary mattis didn't know, general voy tells had talked about the fact that he was informed about it and we can't have policy that, you know, i'm not questioning the decision, that's up to the president. but if we're going to do this, we have to have the full team on the same page working together. so that's just my statement. i think the members of congress here share your desire to find a solution over the long term for syria and it is in our interest to do that. given where we are today, you know, assad currently controls about 70% of the country. his forces look like they're
continuing to make advances. this is not someone that we like. this is a brutal dictator. he should be held accountable to his crimes. but is there a solution at this juncture politically that doesn't involve bringing assad to the table? and what is our strategy and how do we do that? . mr. jeffrey: any strategic involves the syrian government. if he decides he has to stand for elections in 2021, somebody else to come to the table, that's how the u.n. works. but there is a big price if they don't come to the table. as i indicate canned in my opening remarks, we're pretty confident that package of measures we and the international community are imposing on the assad regime are making them think about options and making their supporters, both russia and iran, think about ways to get out of this mess rather than
stay in it because it's dangerous and very costly for everyone. beginning with assad, iran, and russia. that's the general way forward. but we will continue this pressure until we do get a conclusion that meets our and our partners and allies' security interest. that is essential to us. i think that, again, presence in syria, including the northeast, while in the long run we are planning on leaving there. for the moment we're keeping a residual force. that's response of concerns from our allies and concerns from the u.s. congress. we adjusted the policy a bit and will continue to listen to both you and people around the world who are working with us in this collective effort. there is agreement on the end state to try to do the best job we can. mr. berra: thank you for that. again -- mr. bera: thank you for that. again going forward as you go
to the administration and share with them, look at congress as an ally and share with the administration, both democrats and republicans, in a bipartisan way, on this committee, share that goal of trying to find a peaceful resolution here and understand that long-term sustained commitment. we're allies not adversaries. mr. jeffrey: we all appreciate that. thank you. chairman engel: thank you, mr. bera, mrs. wagner. mrs. wagner: thank you for your time and lifetime of service in the diplomatic arena. i know we're all talking about this but i want to continue with some additional questions in this arena. in september, a could he lossial humanitarian crisis was averted when turkey and russia helped broker a cease-fire between the assad regime and opposition groups. the last remaining stronghold. yet russia and assad escalated
violence in the months since the so-called truce was agreed to. killing at least an additional 170 civilians and displacing thousands more. a few days ago russia, again, claimed that syrian government forces would, quote, unilaterally cease-fire in inlet. but opposition forces say that shelling and air attacks have continued. i am deeply concerned about the safety of the three million civilians there. what does this development mean for civilians and displaced persons? mr. jeffrey: if the fighting continues and in particular if it gets worse, because it is only in a very small section of eater idlib, it's across the - across into the hama province. we're concerned about this. we're concerned first about the use of chemical weapons which we're still looking into, but
at any time this regime is willing to consider chemical weapons to aid its ground attacks because it has the world's worst infantry fighting against people who really will fight for their lives and freedom. secondly, we're very concerned about the refugee flows. beyond that, and president trump summed it up back in september as you indicated, which gave impetus to the agreement 10 days earlier putin rejected a cease-fire. the president came out on the record and said it would be a reckless escalation of this conflict if there was a massive advance by the syrian forces. so beyond the chemical weapons, beyond refugees, a major military shift on the ground is not conducive to a settlement of this conflict. there can be no military solution. that is our position. we have been working with the u.n. two security council meetings in the past 10 days. a statement by the stem cell research of the --
secretary-general of the u.n. britain, france, germany issued a same. we're mobilizing the international community. we're working closely with them and they are working closely with us to put pressure on russia. that was a major purpose of the trip to sochi last week. and it's having some effect. mrs. wagner: i know russia is playing a central role in the talks. the regime's preferred peace process. opposition groups have said they doubt russia's trustworthiness but have been willing to take the risk in the hopes of ending the war. considering russia's willingness to continue strikes on civilians during even this cease-fire, their doubts are more than justified. how can can russia credibly broker a peace agreement and as turkey provided a counter balance at all? mr. jeffrey: we don't turn to russia to broker an agreement. we turn to the u.n. to do it. it's the u.n.'s job. the u.n. has appointed a
special envoy. garrett peterson. mrs. wagner: they are trying to broker this deal. it seems untenable to me. mr. jeffrey: ewee haven't seen much success in the so-called talks. we continue to urge all parties to put their emphasis into the u.n. effort that is headquartered in geneva. we work closely with the russians. the russians at times, they did broker a cease-fire with turkish president erdogan over the weekend. we did see a deminuewation of the fighting -- diminution of the fighting at least and if experience is any guide, see several other pathetic, sorry, and much broken cease-fires that will eventually slow down the conflict. that for us is what victory looks like in this awful war.
mrs. wagner: i know it'sfall. i know civilians have said they fear mass extermination. again by the regime as assad salivates his territorial gains. can you assess any more those concerns, anything you anticipate the state department will be able to do to prevent these further mass atrocities, sir? mr. jeffrey: again we have our military presence in the region, and while its purpose is to defeat isis, our military presence inside syria, we have -- we support the turkish military presence in the northwest as a way to maintain the stability without the regime pushing in. we support israel's effort, very strongly, including -- while not official, over syria against iranian targets. as well as the diplomatic and economic measures that i have talked about here. it's a very broad gamut of activity that is we're trying
to manage and orchestrate here. mrs. wagner: thank you, ambassador. my time has expired. chairman engel: thank you. mr. espaillat. mr. espaillat: thank you, mr. chairman. thank you, ambassador, for coming before us to testify. the long haven't drawn out civil war in syria and the -- e long drawn out and violent civil war in syria is extremely concerning to all of us. i am particularly concerned with the involvement of all the actors in this established cop flict that has led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of syrians and unleashed a major exodus of folks that have been maimed with dirty bombs and all kind of nasty warfare.
you have russians, let's go through this. and the trump administration has a friendly if not complicit relationship with the russians. you have the iranians, who just yesterday president trump said they don't -- they have not shown any evidence of an attack, but yet went ahead and threatened them. you have turkey which president trump just lowered their tariffs on steel from 50% to 25%, sending them to the 2018 levels. you have the saudis and m.d.s. and of course we all know about the can can sewingy -- can khassoggi incident and chopped into pieces. it seems to be an ongoing
relationship with the white house. you have can can qatar selling arms as well as -- you have can tars selling arms as well as -- can qatar selling arms to terror groups in syria. auf all these extern aal actors -- you have all these external actors with which we have sometimes a good relationship and sometimes a threatening relationship. this is a mess. can can you unravel this for us -- can you unravel this for us? can you tell us where we stand as a nation? are the russians our friends or our enemies? we know they hacked into our election, maybe getting ready to hack in again. is iran a circumstance ally to us and sometimes an enemy? turkey who has shown to be very brutal with its opposition and the kurds. could you go down these
countries, russia, iran, turkey, saudi arabia, and a tar and just unravel this for us? this is a mess. mr. jeffrey: you have just described my workday, mr. congressman. mr. espaillat: i didn't mean to start your day in a bad light. mr. jeffrey: as a diplomat you know i'm going to tread gingerly into my response to your question. will say that we believe that russia can can play an important role in resolving this conflict just as it played an important role in making it worse. and that was the reason that secretary pompeo went to sochi and that president putin met with him because president putin also from everything i heard in the meeting and seen otherwise would like to find a solution to this conflict because it is a dangerous one for russia. they have lost troops. they have lost a lot of airplanes. and they are in a fairly
precarious situation with a real loser of an ally in -- ally in assad. turkey is a nato ally. turkey on most issues related to syria is closely aligned to us. that's very important. it's a a country of 80 million population. right in the center of the middle east. the 17th largest economy in the world. it's crucial for almost anything we try to do in the region. and in most areas we play very well with them on foreignpolicy. we're concerned about the relationship turkey and our s.d.f. partners in the northeast which is why we're working this discussion or negotiation with the turks on a safe zone. we think we have made some progress and we're looking forward to making more. again, if i go down the list of allies that we have human rights -- mr. he paia: saudis and can can can qatar seem to be fueling and giving arms to some of the
rebel groups. what role do they play in this? mr. jeffrey: let me start with iran. you raised iran. there is no doubt, including in the white house, that iran is an extremely dangerous expansionist force in the region. almost everything we're doing in the region to some degree, certainly yemen, lebanon, iraq, syria, bahrain, elsewhere is focused on iran's expansionist agenda and threat to our partners and allies. our partners and allies throughout the region, you have named some, they all have their faults but none are trying to expand throughout the region the way iran is. and most of them are trying to do whatever desperate measures it takes to provide for the security and safety of their own populations. we disagree with their choices sometimes, but we think in all case that is we're dealing with it is sincere with one major exception, that's iran. mr. espaillat: in the interest
of time, mr. chairman. thank you. this is a mess, ambassador. it shows how poor our foreign policy efforts are as a country. we're involved in a serious mess there. don't know how we can unravel this. thank you. chairman engel: thank you. let me just also acknowledge many syrian american groups who have played such a positive role in trying to end the carnage in syria, it's really been helpful to me and to others on the committee as well. mr. wright. mr. wright: thank you, mr. chairman. ambassador, thank you for your outstanding service to our country. you mentioned israel before. . i wanted to ask you if you could talk about the landscape of security interest in israel -- for israel and syria. and what we're doing to work with israel to help them navigate those issues and protect israel's interest. could you speak to that?
mr. jeffrey: certainly. srael is a major player in the middle east. its own secure and work with other countries, for example, to defeat isis, and to push back on iran is absolutely vital for our overall strategy for the region. by the same token israel is also under immediate threat by iranian forces in syria who, if they can can be allowed to -- if they can be allowed to embed themselves in that country would be able open a third front next to lebanon and gaza. therefore the israelis are determined at every level not to let that happen. we're supporting them 1,000%. i have met twice myself and once with mike pompeo with prime minister netanyahu. since september.
so that shows you the intensity of the meetings. our national security advisor bolten and our defense chiefs are constantly working with the israelis to try to coordinate our policies. we share what we're doing with them in great detail. they do with us, they an important player in our overall effort to try to bring this conflict to a close. mr. wright: i wanted to ask you because i believe one of the is what ons of syria what when america abdicates. i believe one of the worst cases of absolute coward dess by an american president occurred in syria when obama drew a redline, they crossed it, and he walked away. what happens when that happens, when america abdicates, is people die. thousands died. and so what i want to hear from you is, does this president
understand what happened there and will he keep the promise he makes with regards to any redline that might be drawn in the future? mr. jeffrey: i took this job on the assumption that this administration would stand by its commitments and would hold the line on syria. so far i believe it is absolutely done so. mr. wright: thank you. i yield back. >> would my friend yield? mr. wright: yes, i've yielded back. >> would you yield to me? mr. wright: yes, sir. >> i thank my friend. i want to follow up on something you said, mr. jeffrey. a little earlier you seemed to be characterizing the fighting quality of the syrian army. mr. connolly: and i wanted to give you an opportunity to expand on that. were you saying without chemical weapons they actually would not have success on the battlefield? mr. jeffrey: without -- i
think it was napoleon once said the worst the infantry the more important the fire support. fire support can be russian aircraft. can be barrel bombs from syrian helicopters. and fire support can be chemical weapons dropped not only on military targets, which itself is illegal, but deliberately on civilians. mr. connolly: i understand that. what i was getting at i thought there was an implicit criticism of what you said, maybe accurately, about the fighting quality and readiness of the syrian army without those things. mr. jeffrey: yes. they are incapable from what we have seen of defeating isis, they with rutch russian help took land and kept losing it. they have not done particularly well in this campaign against idlib. they are not an effective fighting force because as far as we can tell they don't
believe in the leadership they are supposed to die for. mr. connolly: that's important testimony. the narrative is assad's about to prevail, as if that army is a conquering successful army and it's really a much more complicated story. mr. jeffrey: every day we come to our jobs in the state department and in the u.s. government working on syria, our goal is to ensure that assad regime does not gain another inch unless we have a a political process. everybody wins not just him. mr. connolly:thank you so much. i thank my friend, mr. wright, or yielding. >> mr. wright's time has virtually expired. i call on the gentleman from texas. o >> thank you, chairman. since 2015 russia's been involved -- has involved itself in syria in order to support assad's government. recent reporting reveals russia and turkey have been
cooperating to contain u.s. influence. russian forces along with iranian backed shiite ma shisha have succeeded in stemming local insurgent groups that the united states supports. we remain focused on the geneva process. with russia, iran, and turkey have independently hosted their own peace talks, but we're not a party. mr. castro: my question is, in last week's meeting between secretary pompeo and president putin, did syria come up? if so, what was discussed? mr. jeffrey: certainly. first of all generally speaking we don't see russia and turkey conspiring or copting -- cooperating to our disadvantage in syria. we're aligned with turkey on most issues. we don't like the process very much because although we're invited, we're not a member of it. generally turkey takes the side of the opposition in pretty much shares with us their
positions in the process. we just don't think it's an effective mechanism. it's not that we criticize turkey's role. in terms of russia, what we talked about, again, as i outlined in my comments, is a step by step implementation of a constitutional process which is under the u.n., then elections, and then a gradual a freezing of this conflict, again the u.n. resolution, 2254, december, 2015, calls in paragraphs five through nine, for our step by step cease-fire with u.n. monitoring and management. and then an overall process that will bring the country back to something resembling normalcy. that's what we have talked about with the russians when we said we're willing to work with you on this. obviously the russians have had bases in syria for a long time. the bases are not in question on our part or anybody else's. they have interest in a stable ria that does not become a
refuge for terrorism. nor do we. so we have these common interests with them. our difference is in, in particular, the iranian presence, the russians have turned a a blind eye to it. we don't see them having interest in -- mr. castro: first you said, i think you said, you don't see turning why on act aing contrary to u.s. interests. do you believe that russia is acting contrary to u.s. interests with respect to syria? mr. jeffrey: i think russia's support for the assad regime is a mistake. i think that there are other ways for russia to achieve, this is what we talked about in sochi, there are other ways for russia to achieve what we consider its minimum interest which is to maintain its long-term military presence and to have the stable syria that is not a homeland for terrorists. we share those two latter goals. we just don't think that pursuing this by the assad regime and a military victory is the way to get it. mr. castro: you also mentioned, i believe you mentioned, that
russia turned a blind eye to iranian activity in syria, is that right? mr. jeffrey: a blind eye to long rang systems that threaten israel and eventually saudi arabia, jordan, and turkey. russia knew that iran was coming in, because iran had already been in there when russia intervened in the fall of 2015. that iran would provide essentially first class infantry to make up for the problems of the assad fighting forces such as hezbollah movement out of lebanon and some of the maliciousas -- mr. castro: in the fact we disagree on assad, what other differences between the united states and russia with respect to syria? as far as the administration's concerned. is that the totality of our differences? mr. jeffrey: basically it is the future of the assad regime. we think that this regime needs to subject itself to the u.n. process, free and fair elections, a new constitution or reformed constitution, and a
nationwide cease-fire. we think that that is a political result that will meet russia's interests and meet ours. we're still trying to persuade them of that. r. castro: i yield back. >> the chair recognizes himself for five minutes. just building on the gentleman from texas' inquiry. i assume one of the things the russians also want is to maintain and expand their naval base on the mediterranean. would that be an additional thing? mr. jeffrey: they have -- what we particularly see as commercial interests, the russians have had one or another form of military presence in syria for many decades. hey have done some additional, basically, legal negotiations with the syrians on extending the base and that kind of thing. activities they can can do there. not all that dissimilar from he we spend our lives' diplomats trying to do for our d.o.d.
partners. mr. sherman: you don't think russia regards their pressence in northern syria as an important asset for the russian navy? mr. jeffrey: they do. but they have done that for many decades. mr. sherman: they would like to maintain it. i think the chairman was right when in one respect he was on the right side of history when he introduced the free syria act back in 2013. this is the first piece of legislation which would have armed and trained the syrian opposition and the democratic elements thereof. we're now in a much worse position than we were then and we're in a much worse position than we would have been had we followed his lead at that time. now have the syria civilian protection act, passed this committee, pending in the senate.
and ambassador, i believe that the administration generally supports this bill. it provides for sanctions on those individuals involved with assad in construction, airline, energy industries. how strong would we expect it to be? mr. jeffrey: we do support the caesar act. we're very grateful for everything this house has done to impose sanctions on the assad regime. this is a joint legislative executive branch effort. and it is borne -- as i said in putting the regime under tremendous economic and political pressure. it is reinforced our diplomacy, and the more of it you can can do for us, the better we'll be able to perform. mr. sherman: i want to return to the focus on turkey, erdogan
seems to want a 20 kilometer strip along northern syria. he says that's to ensure his own -- the security of turkey, but it seems to be for the purpose of suppressing syrian kurds. who are the bulk of the fighters for the syrian democratic forces. if we actually do completely withdraw, what is the threat of a turkish massacre of syrian kurds? mr. jeffrey: it's not a question of a massacre of kurds. turkey has a very large kurdish population that are not being massacred. many of whom vote for erdogan and vote for people who are opposed to him, but what it is is a turkish concern about a second what we call in the middle east world, condo mountain. it's an area in northern iraq where the p. can k.k., which is
a separatist terrorist movement has had a headquarter supported at times from various outside powers and projected terrorist attacks into turkey since 1984. turkey has very legitimate concern about a second condo mountains being created in northern syria. we understand that concern. the president has talked to president erdogan about that. he cited it publicly. we think a safe zone at turkish request is for 30 commerts -- kilometers. we don't think we can do 30 kilometers. we're going back and forth with them how deep the safe zone would be. mr. sherman: you're saying we would recognize the right of turkey to occupy northern syria for how long? mr. jeffrey: i didn't mention anything about the right of turkey to occupy anything. what i said is a safe zone which would -- mr. sherman: everybody's for safety. what does it mean? mr. jeffrey: a withdrawal of
those force that is are a socialated in one or another way with the p.k.k. from that zone. and then how we and turkey would ensure that the zone remains -- mr. sherman: the y.p.p., our most essential allies against isis, would be excluded from this zone but otherwise not massacred? mr. jeffrey: the y.p.g., the idea would be that the y.p.g. forces would withdraw and leave local forces and turkey and the united states to figure out what we would do in the safe zone. mr. sherman: not sure that's a workable approach, but my time has expired. i recognize the gentlelady from pennsylvania, ms. wild. ms. wild: thank you, mr. chairman. thank a you, ambassador jeffrey, for being here today. as our chairman, mr. engel, often states, one of the nice things about the foreign affairs committee is that we often have bipartisan consensus on issues and i think that
concerns about this region of the world, particularly syria, is one of those areas that we share a lot of concerns across the aisle. i thank you for the work you have been doing. i do have some very specific and i have a number of questions i'd like to run through them. first is there's been a lot of discussion of this victory we had over isis that a was announced in march of this year. how secure do you believe that victory is? mr. jeffrey: over isis as a state, which at one point was as large as england with 35,000 conventional or quasi conventional forces under its control and well more than five million people in its sway, that is a huge inconsequential victory because it was right there in the middle of the middle east in key areas abutting baghdad and the oil areas in the south of iraq and into much of syria.
so we should be very, very proud of the people beginning with those on the ground who did the fighting and destroyed the caliphate. that is a very important, necessary, but not sufficient step to end the isis threat. because isis has ways has does al qaeda to infiltrate various opposition movements, islamic groups throughout the middle east and beyond. we're watching that very closely. we have a very active program of going after them wherever they are. ms. wild: isn't it true many of the isis fighters have moved to iraq where they will be able to operate more clandestinely. mr. jeffrey: there are certainly in excess and estimates go back and forth, but i would say in excess of 10,000 isis fighters who are now operating clandestinely between syria and iraq and frankly they go back and forth thout a whole lot of problem
crossing that very pourous border. ms. wild: how is the reduction of troops going to assist us in identifying and doing something about those individuals you just mentioned? mr. jeffrey: most of our troops and most of the very important coalition troop contingent in the fight against isis in iraq and syria are staying on iraq. the president made that clear. ms. wild: how many troops are we talking about? mr. jeffrey: i try to avoid numbers. because i'm not d.o.d. i'll cheat a a little bit and say we have some significant thousands of u.s. troops in the single digits in iraq. and our coalition presence is quite strong as well. in syria, we don't talk about the numbers because we're in the process of a withdrawing. ms. wild: i understand that. doesn't it cause frustration for our european allies to ommit to continuing to support
our operations in the area if they don't know what our level of commitment is? mr. jeffrey: in dealing very much withure peaian partners and -- with european partners and allies, our basic commitment to pain tain security and stability in the region as a whole and a pursue vigorously the fight against isis, nobody doubts that. we took the lead in the coalition. we did the vast majority of the air strikes. we provided at one point probably close to 15,000 troops on the ground as special forces teams and advisors. we spent many tense of millions of dollars thanks to this house in defeating isis. they all made significant and important contributions, but nothing like what we did. so they all understand that. would they like more predictibility? would they like us to be more
solicitous of their various concerns? absolutely. have i seen this in my entire career since 1977? i have also seen it. ms. wild: would you agree with me we have to avoid abrupt statements of abrupt withdrawal from the region in the future? mr. jeffrey: i'll try -- ms. wild: would you agree we need to avoid those statements of abrupt withdrawal? mr. jeffrey: consultations with our allies before we take decisions is always very important, congresswoman. ms. wild: my last question is, what are we going to do about the tens of thousands of captured isis fighters in the region that are in, as i understand it, makeshift prisons? mr. jeffrey: right. that a came up earlier. having had some experience elsewhere with terrorists held in midded eastern detention, i'm pretty confident that the
s.d.f. is doing a good job holding these people in these facilities. and the facilities generally we have eyes on in terms of humanitarian provisions and that sort of thing. both for the detainees and for the displaced people of which we have 74,000 in the camp in northeast syria. we watch this very carefully. there's about somewhere in excess of ,000 foreign terrorist fighters. -- 2,000 foreign terrorist fighters. those are people who fought with isis not from eric and syria. probably 6,000 or 7,000 more from syria and iraq also being detained. mr. sherman: the gentlelady's time has expired. ms. wild: i'm not sure eyes on is enough. don't have further time to inquire about that. thank you very much. mr. sherman: i recognize the gentleman from michigan. >> thank you so much, mr. chairman. and ambassador jeffrey, thank you for your fantastic long career and service to our nation and for appearing before us today.
i wanted to return to something that at least one of my colleagues asked you about, and you have talked about, which is secretary pompeo's meeting with mr. putin in sochi, which you attended. mr. levin: i wanted to ask whether the assault on idlib came up during this meeting. the russian -- mr. jeffrey: it did. mr. levin: how did the conversation go? mr. jeffrey: to the extent i can can talk about confidential diplomatic exchanges at the highest levels, it was a very by secretary pompeo on the need to bring this battle to a close. the sooner the better. we received assurances from the russians, some of which they seem to have been trying to carrier out in the days since
we were in sochi. trying to slow down or stop any military conflict with dozens of groups on the ground is not easy. we have had a lot of experience, much of it bad doing it elsewhere. we did believe we made some progress with president putin. mr. levin: as you know bert than i, the situation there has been very bad. we have a lot of evidence that russia and syria together engaged in a week long bombardment, including targeting hospitals and civilian infrastructure. people are fleeing toward the border with turkey. we don't see any real evidence of change here. and then yesterday reports indicated that assad may be using chemical weapons again. is that true? do we have evidence of that? and what can you tell us about it?
mr. jeffrey: we're still looking into that. we do not have any confirmation that korean, the -- chlorine, the substance alleged, has been used but we haven't finished our review. in terms of trying to measure sincerity on a battlefield, it's kind of tough. the fighting in idlib has generated a large movement of civilians. we're trying to get this thing stopped. but it still is a very small portion of the idlib region that is subject to these attacks, to the ground attacks. air attacks are going on all over and we have called upon the russians to halt them repeatedly. mr. levin: it's very frustrating for us here to hear this. you with mr. espaillat earlier, you were going back and forth what a mess this is and so forth. this is a humanitarian disaster
in a string of humanitarian disasters that have just devastated the people of syria. what more can we do to stop this? mr. jeffrey: continue doing what we're doing. mr. levin: we specifically here in the congress. mr. jeffrey: first of all pass the caesar act. continue the very generous humanitarian spending. as i said it's almost $10 billion. thirdly, if the administration at some point needs stabilization funds, has not asked for them, but you have put it into several budgets, that's very helpful. oversight is always a good thing. meetings like this. maybe difficult for administration witnesses, but they are very important. but finally, i will say in defense of what we're doing, that at one point several years ago, in fact pretty close to the present, you had idlib's happening all over syria. right now we have it happening
in less than 74 square kilometers. that is unfortunately by the miserable standards of this conflict, progress, sir. mr. levin: i aa appreciate that. i credit it. i want to aa socialate myself with representative wild's comments about how this particular committee strifes to achieve bipartisanship. -- strives to achieve bipartisanship n that spirit i feel like successive administrations have not had the clearest policy towards syria. serning governing by tweet has been a disaster. we need to have a strongerer policy towardser syria that advances u.s. interests and protects human rights in syria. we're not there yet. my time's expired. thank you, mr. chairman. i yield back. mr. sherman: in the spirit of bipartisanship, i recognize mr. yoho. mr. yoho: thank you, mr. chairman. ambassador jeffries, thank you for being here and the work you have done. this is, again, one of those situation that is you wish
would just end and end soon like you said. i think you said it must end and must end now. my question to you is, can a political solution occur with assad remaining in power? mr. jeffrey: i tried twice to answer that earlier, con man, badly, then i corrected myself. i'll be careful -- congressman, badly, then i corrected myself. i'll be careful. a political solution is highly unlikely with a government acting the way the current assad government acts. whatever it takes -- whatever political process and diplomatic process is necessary to get that government to behave differently towards its own population and to its neighbors, that is an absolutely essential precondition for our resolution of this conflict. mr. yoho: is there anyone in
the batting cage, so to speak, ready and willing to take over? i know we were talking about free and fair elections. with the players as you pointed out in your testimony when i turkey, ussia, iran, israelis, not so much worried about them or us. and i think you got to throw isis in there still behind the scenes. is it possible to have free and fair elections where somebody could stand up that would be the future ruler of that country? that would put the syrian people and the country of syria first. mr. jeffrey: first of all physically, it gets back to my defense of what we're doing now with the idlib thing and 74 kilometers. three weeks ago there was essentially no fighting anywhere in syria and only a few terrorist attacks. by the standards of the low
standard of that part of the world, you have an environment that would allow free and fair elections in most places. certainly compared to what i saw in iraq in 2005. in terms of could it be carried out, the u.n. is ready. the u.n. is good at this. the u.n. certainly can can can carry it out among the population not under assad's control and doing it under ose areas in assad's control is part of the art of the negotiation to get the syrian government to agree. mr. yoho: my concerns are, one of the questions i had, was when you look at -- when syria was supposed to get their chemicals of mass destruction, and john kerry worked that deal out with the russians, claimed they were all gone, we know they are not. russia was supposed to be the guaranteor that they were gone, yet russia backs assad and they are still being used. this administration's going to have to make a decision if the report that came out that they
are still use aing them of what we're going to do. with people like rush why in there and iran, the last thing they want is a democracy in that area because it weakens their form of government. if you have players like russia, who is a a member of the u.n., that's supposed to be part of the security council, that's sporesed to enforce these things, we see over and over again, look at north korea, they voted with the sanctions. they don't enforce the sanctions. they work against the resolve of the problem. as long as russia is there and/or iran, don't see a peaceful solution coming out that's favoring stability. i don't see anybody willing to stand up. so i see a drawn out conflict. more importantly to me is if we look at the western hemisphere, that's not what this meeting is about, but i have some same players in venezuela. then you throw in the cubans.
and they are propping up a ma cure heo like they did assad because it worked in syria. there was no way assad was going to be able to stay in power with the atrocities. over 10 million people have left. run out of that country out of fear. over half million have been murdered. there's got to be a better solution to this. i wish the u.n. had more bite in them to where we can could come together and a say let's bring an end to this. any thoughts on that? better way of doing this. mr. jeffrey: in a a nutshell, syria the u.n. has been a good objective and competent interlock cue tar, the o.d.w.c. not only documenting the use of chemical weapons but reporting on who, plain the regime, has used them. again the u.n. special envoy, the current predecessors, have been very balanced. the teeth of the u.n. is something that the
international community has to give to the u.n. that vare russ from issue to issue. on this one, the -- varies from issue to issue. on this one the commute is united behind the u.n. on fixing syria. but the problem is getting russia to go along. mr. yoho: thank you. thank you for your time. mr. sherman: i recognize the gentleman from minnesota. >> thank you, mr. chairman. thank you, mr. ambassador. your career and dedication to service, to our country is remarkable. as someone who lost his fatherer in vietnam in 1969, i'm particularly grateful to you. thank you. my first question is retrospective. i'd a like to hear your thoughts on what we should have done, what we could have done to alleviate the conditions that have led to this umanitarian disaster in syria. mr. jeffrey: my focus, of
course, is on looking forward. mr. phillips: as is mine. mr. jeffrey: what i try to do is draw lessons from this and try to be as a apolitical doing eam them as i can because i deal with different audiences with different backgrounds. the first one is america needs to play a leadership role as soon as possible. with a few delays we got it with the defeat of isis. previously here he was the first in the obama administration to get it and you saw quite effective coherent internationally well supported campaign backed by the congress that did at least the initial job of defeating the caliphate. e have not had that same consistency, that same unity on the syrian problem since 2011. we're trying to put it together now. that's why we're working with
you. we're working with the international community. and again i think we're making progress. mr. phillips: moving to the here and now. i'd love a a concrete example or examples of how our policy has been successful so far, especially anything you may not have mentioned yet. concrete examples. mr. jeffrey: i have been trying as far as i have for the last hour to give you every single one i could think of. i will start off with repeating myself. the battle lines have been basically frozen since last year. almost a year now. that was not the case before. and that underlines the argument which even the russians say there is no military solution. we were hearing that -- those words and we're hearing the thunder of guns and barrel bombs indicating that assad did think there was a a military solution. he may still think about that, but we in the international community are doing everything we can to make it clear there isn't. that's the first and most important thing. secondly, we have managed to maintain this international coalition. at the end of march the arab
league met. there was a a major effort by assad and his friend to allow assad regime to come back into the arab league where it was thrown out in the beginning of the conflict. they got nowhere. that a was an example of diplomacy, beginning with our arab league friends who did a really great job leading that effort. that was supported by the rest of us. the european union has passed very, very tough sanctions. we heard one example of them on the torious ally of assad's- -- the owner of the four seasons. coy go on. there are a lot of examples. mr. phillips: is the d.o.d. collaborating with state and usaid to fulfill our strategy objectives in any meaningful ways? mr. jeffrey: well or better than any of the conflicts i have been involved with. secretary shanahan, secretary
-- acting secretary shanahan and the secretary coordinate several times a week along with john bolden. i have a dialogue particularly on the safe zone with general dunford and centcom commander speaks with us all the time, yes. mr. phillips: prospectively, in light of this experience, where should we be turning our aa tension? what manner to circumstances perhaps in the middle east or elsewhere that have similarities that we can prevent? mr. jeffrey: more generally you have two basic forces in the middle east. at the 100,000 foot level. you have an american-led collective security system that's based primarily on the states of the region. preserving both our interests anti-terror, anti-w.m.d., flow of oil, allies and partners,
and you then have forces for one or another region who want to overthrow that order and establish something like an in iran's case, hedgey moany, and in the russians a return to the 19th century. a half dozen powerful countries run the place and go back and forth and everybody else gets what they can can. we're very strongly supporting this idea of a collective security system led by the people of the region that was the logic of the president's riyadh speech two years ago, but with american leadership and american basically skin in the game. that's what we have now. mr. phillips: thank you. i yield back. mr. sherman: the gentleman from kansas is recognized. >> thank you. mr. ambassador, thank you. turkey, what are turkey's
objectives with respect to syria? how strong is our die lying with turkey to coordinate our objectives compared to theirs? mr. jeffrey: turkey's objectives like all of the countries are directly involved is to survive the horrific syrian civil war. turkey has been impacted beginning with 3.5 million refugees where turkey has spent many tens of billions of dollars doing by all standards a commendable job taking care of these people it's welcomed into its midst. secondly, turkey has a whole series of threat emanating from syria. i discussed the threat in the condo mountains where the p.k.k. to establish an offensive capability out of northeastern syria or elsewhere for that matter. secondly, turkey has a very strong emnity with the assad regime. and turkey has a traditional,
we're talking about many hundreds of years, rivalry with iran for power within the northern middle east. and turkey is generally not he very happy with russian moves to itself. turkey has to deal with all these things and it deals with them in a variety of ways using military presence in the northwest. using negotiations with us on the northeast in the safe zone. negotiating with russia while also, we see this in idlib, essentially reinforcing its positions. turkey has troops in idlib, not pulling them back even though some have been wounded by syrian regime fire. generally pushing back to what the russians and syrians are trying to do. while at the same time negotiating with the russians and the iranians to try to end the conflict. generally turkey supports the opposition as do we. generally turkey is trying to
change the behavior of the syrian government. we agree with it as well there. all in all we coordinate with it. our president -- president trump has had multiple phone calls with president erdogan. i accompanied secretary pompeo when we met with president err do dough began in in the fall. >> thank you. obviously we know iran -- we know the assad regime is backed by iran. how is our recent show of force u. talking in terms of the u.s.s. abraham lincoln, prepositioning b-5 bombers, a couple in the area. mr. watkins: a couple more -- how does that change the balance of power? how does that influence the
situation? mr. jeffrey: i can can't talk about the military balance of power by adding up airplanes and weapons loads. i can say that that diplomatically every time we take a step like that, it tends to reassure our partners. that's what much of my focus on is ourer partners and how our partners evaluate what we're trying to do. so that moves like this are generally well regarded by the vast majority of countries in the middle east because the vast majority of countries in the middle east are our allies and partners. in terms of iran's perception, we're still sweating this out. acting secretary shanahan and pompeo were up here yesterday going through this in great detail. they know better than i. from the standpoint of syria, any time the united states shows a willingness as we did, because this was clearly just retaliatory, this was not preparation forcer a military conflict. i think the two secretaries
made that clear, this tends to make the other side think twice before it acts in an aggressive fashion towards us our r or oiler part us or our partners. that's a good thing. mr. watkins: i yield back my time. >> thank you, mr. chair. thank you, ambassador jeffrey, for your long career of public service in both republican and democratic administrations. as we all know, the president launched cruise missiles into syria and did he that because assad used chemical weapons on civilians. and that is a heinous war crime, isn't that right? mr. jeffrey: that a is correct. >> the u.s. takes very seriously war crimes whether committed by our adversaries or allies, isn't that right? mr. jeffrey: will i limit myself to we certainly took that particular war crime seriously. mr. lieu: you served in the u.s. army and were you taught to obey the law.
mr. jeffrey: of course. mr. lieu: u.s. goes to great lengths to make sure our own personnel don't engage in war crimes, isn't that right? mr. jeffrey: that's what i was trained to do and that's whatdy. mr. lieu: the reason we do that is not just because it's the moral thing to do. it's because if we start engaging war crimes and violating the war of foreign conflict, it not only invites retaliation, it's a great recruiting tool for terrorists. correct? mr. jeffrey: i am trying to see where you're going congressman. i have to agree with everything you say. mr. lieu: earlier this year army first lieutenant michael behenna was pardoned by donald trump. he was convicted of war crimes. he was convicted by military jury for driving an unarmed iraqi prisoner into the desert, stripping him naked, and shooting him in the head and chest. do you think it was appropriate for the president to do that?
mr. jeffrey: i do not see a conflict between the pardoning of people who have been convicted of crimes regardless of the crimes, and the underlying legal and moral issues. mr. lieu: proper report something the president is thinking about pardoning acontiguousal people charged with war crimes. one is navy seal chief edward gallagher. he was charged with killing, murdering an unarmed civilian girl, murdering an unarmed old man, stabbing a defenseless teenage captive, and then indiscriminately shooting machine-gun fire into a neighborhood. what kind of message does it send to our adversaries if they know that the president is going to pardon people who commit war crimes or charged with war crime. mr. jeffrey: pardoning is a legal and constitutional authority granted to the president. the president is elected by the american people. and the president takes decisions --
mr. lieu: i get that, sir. i am asking you the message that will be sent. mr. jeffrey: i would decline to comment further on that. mr. lieu: republican congress member dan crenshaw has stated that he believes, as i do, that a military jury should first decide whether chief gallagher has engaged in these war crimes. in fact, seven navy seals reported him to navy authorities because of his alleged heinous acts. do you believe that a military jury should have the first opportunity to look at evidence in this case before the president pardons him? mr. jeffrey: again, this is not my area of expertise nor what i'm here to talk about today. it's my belief that we should adhere to our constitutional and legal procedures and processes in each and every case as a general rule. mr. lieu: let me move on to the troops in syria. how many troops do we have