Washington DC - Congressman Howard L. Berman, Ranking Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, delivered the following opening statement at today’s full committee mark-up of HR 2106, the Syria Freedom Support Act.

The statement as prepared for delivery follows:

Madam Chairman, I want to thank you for working with me closely on the Amendment in the Nature of a Substitute and on this Manager’s Amendment to accommodate many of my concerns. I am now a cosponsor of this bill, and I encourage my colleagues to support it as well.

Madam Chairman, the Arab Spring has brought both hope and bloodshed. We’ve all seen the video clips from Syria. They are heart-rending, especially the barbaric bombardment of Homs. Bashar al-Asad’s ceaseless pounding of that defenseless city – as well as his similar actions throughout the country – have proven conclusively that he is nothing but a chip off the old block of his late father.

I have spoken previously about the fact that our interests and our values are in perfect sync in seeking the collapse of the Asad regime. Asad’s downfall would almost certainly lead to more humane governance in Syria. It would also likely mean the demise of the Iranian presence in Syria and would be a blow to Hezbollah’s cynical sway in Lebanon.

This bill will certainly help us accomplish the first by tightening the financial noose around Asad’s neck – already tied very tight by the Obama Administration. As for the second part of the equation – building a peace-loving democracy in Syria – I now believe that this bill, with the changes to which the Chairman has so graciously consented, does not impede that prospect, either.

We want to make sure that our actions in this body, to the extent possible, provide incentives for democratic forces, not discourage them. In that regard, I want to thank the Chairman for agreeing to modify the bill so the President has the flexibility to make sure that the sins of Assad will not be automatically be attributed to a successor regime.

No issue concerns me more deeply than that of the disposition of Syria’s weapons of mass destruction. We should all be worried that, in the aftermath of civil war and weakened central control, Syria’s stockpiles of chemical weapons, biological agents, and precursors could leave the country and fall into the hands of terrorist groups.

In order to meet this threat, we have added to the bill a provision that would authorize the President to use the existing authorities of the Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction program and the Nonproliferation and Disarmament Fund at State to work with officials and scientists in a post-Assad Syria; it would also allow him to transfer whatever funds and drawdown whatever U.S. resources necessary in support of this objective.

We have also added a provision that would deny visas to executives, shareholders, and other senior officials of companies – many of them from Russia and China -- that continue to arm the Assad regime, knowing full well that their weapons will be used to sustain the regime’s murderous assault on its own people.

And we have added a third provision, similar to one in CISADA, that would impose severe sanctions on foreign banks that engage in or facilitate transactions with Syria’s security services or its armed forces or that facilitate withdrawal of foreign currency reserves for the Syrian government.

Finally, Madam Chairman, as you know, I will also be offering an amendment that will call for Bashar al-Assad and senior regime officials to be referred to an international tribunal to be tried for crimes against humanity and other gross human-rights violations.

Madam Chairman, we and our staffs have put in a lot of hours to produce a bill with the worthy objectives of ending the tyranny of the Assad regime and replacing it with a humane successor. In pursuing those efforts, I know we have all been ever-mindful of the memory of the tens of thousands of innocents killed by the Assad family and of the remarkably courageous men and women who continue to protest daily throughout Syria and who do so in the face of some of the worst brutality imaginable.