Washington, DC – Congressman Howard L. Berman, Ranking Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, released the following statement in response President Obama decision to increase pressure on Syrian President Bashar Assad by calling on him to step down and signing an Executive Order to toughen sanctions against Damascus. Earlier this month Congressman Berman, along with Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and 221 bipartisan signatories, sent a letter to the President urging the tightening of sanctions on the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad.

“The Obama Administration is right in calling for Syrian President Bashar Assad to step down and to levy a number of additional strong sanctions on the Syrian regime. For months I have been stating that President Assad lacks the legitimacy to rule the Syrian people. His refusal to reform, his wanton slaughter of his own people, and his support of terrorism and regional instability have made Assad unfit to lead. Assad’s criminal actions against the Syrian people must stop immediately, and he must be held accountable for his crimes. Now that the Administration has told the Syrian President to get out of the way, I encourage President Obama to lead the international community in punishing the Syrian regime for its horrific human rights violations and continue to push for accountability. I urge other states – especially the EU and Syria’s neighbors – to take their own measures to isolate and end the Asad regime and help the Syrian people begin a transition to democracy as soon as possible.”

Note: On August 5th, U.S. Rep. Howard Berman (D-CA), Ranking Member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, along with U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and 221 bipartisan signatories, a majority of the House of Representatives, sent a letter to the President urging the tightening of sanctions on the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad.

Text of the letter is as follows:

The President

The White House

1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW

Washington, DC 20500

Dear Mr. President:

We write to urge you immediately to implement additional sanctions on the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad. We appreciate the measures you have taken to date—including imposing sanctions on al-Assad, his family, and his associates— but we believe it is time to significantly increase pressure on the regime. No government should be allowed to inflict such suffering on its people without a stern response from the United States and from the broader international community.

Specifically, we request that you implement a number of key sanctions outlined in P.L. 108-175, the Syria Accountability & Lebanese Sovereignty Restoration Act of 2003. As required under this law, President George W. Bush implemented two of the available sanctions—a ban on exports to Syria other than food and medicine and a ban on Syrian aircraft landing in or overflying the United States.

We are pleased that you have maintained these sanctions, but we believe the time has come for implementation of further sanctions under the Syria Accountability and Lebanese Sovereignty Restoration Act, specifically:

Section 5(a)(2)(B)—a prohibition on United States businesses from operating in Syria; and

Section 5(a)(2)(F)—blocking transactions in any property in which the Government of Syria has any interest, by any person, or with respect to any property, subject to the jurisdiction of the United States.

Additionally, we urge the application of the full range of Iran, North Korea and Syria Nonproliferation Act sanctions on any foreign entity that knowingly transfers to Syria goods, services, or technology that materially contribute to Syria’s efforts to develop nuclear, biological, or chemical weapons, or ballistic or cruise missile systems. Finally, we also request that you identify and implement additional sanctions to send a clear message to the Syrian government that it cannot murder civilians with impunity.

We share your concern for the Syrian government's unconscionable brutality and violence in response to calls for real political reform. According to available figures, almost 2000 Syrians have lost their lives and thousands more have been injured. In addition, thousands of refugees have fled to Turkey.

The Syrian people deserve a government that represents their aspirations and respects their basic human rights. It is clear that Bashar al-Assad is not willing to implement genuine reforms and that he lacks legitimacy to lead the Syrian people. As such, the United States and all responsible nations must hold the regime accountable, and pressure them to end the brutality. Implementing additional sanctions would show the Syrian people that we stand with them in their struggle for democratic freedoms, while also making it clear to the Syrian regime that it will pay an increasing cost for its gross violations of human rights and dignity.

Thank you for your continuing concern, and we look forward to your response.