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tv   Hearing on Turkey in Northeast Syria  CSPAN  October 22, 2019 7:26pm-8:03pm EDT

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the united states committee is an order and we have an interesting hearing today with all of our interest and participation here today and i'd like to say good afternoon to all of those of our guests that are gonna be very enlightening in the discussion from earlier today and the situation we have it's quite fluid that will help us get up to date which is difficult as fast as the situation is moving
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this hearing today is intended to assess the geopolitical and humanitarian impact of turkey's cross-border attack on u.s. interests in the middle east, determined how best to salvage u.s. interests moving forward and evaluate the state of u.s./turkey relations. before we talk about the current state of affairs in syria, it's important to recall the path that brought us here. to begin, the syrian civil war is a complex, multisided conflict that has drawn in russia, iran, the u.s. nato allies, and other entities. over the course of this eight-year-long conflict, syria's brutal dictator, ai bar shal ai said, with the support of russia and iran, has relentlessly bombed cities and towns across syria, resulting in over 500,000 deaths and leaving over 10 million people displaced. we are all aware that many confirmed uses of chemical weapons by the russia-backed assad regime, adding to the humanitarian suffering in violations of international law. the syrian, russian, and iranian regimes
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now hope to build upon the successful defeat of the self declared islamic caliphate. these are the circumstances we find ourselves in today. beginning in 20e11, the islamic state took full advantage in the chaos in syria to gather its strength. the group's ascendence was accompanied with a nearly unprecedented level of cruelty. by 2014, isis gathered enough strength to spill over the syrian border into iraq. isis captured huge swaths of territory and declared the formation of its so-called caliphate. the world watched as the yazidis faced slaughter. iraqi soldiers were marched to mass graves. women and children were sold into slavery. execution videos made by isis were packaged as recruitment materials. after several false starts, the united states led a
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syrian, kurd, and arab fighting force in a 91-nation coalition, intent on defeating the caliphate. with a limited number of boots on the ground, u.s. and coalition air power, coupled with an effective kurd-based air force forced the territorial defeat of isis. it's come at great cost. nearly 11,000 syrian kurds have been reported killed and many more wounded. that brings us to the present day. turkey's relationship with the region's kurdish population has been fraught for centuries, particularly over the last three decades. u.s. support for syrian kurdish fighters in the war against isis created massive tensions in the u.s./turkey relationship. turkey views the syrian-kurds as an extension of the insurgency group known as the kurdistan workers party, or the pkk, which has fought in insurgency against ankara for the last three decades. the u.s. has worked for months to help address turkey's security concerns. let me be clear.
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turkey's misguided invasion into northern syria now threatens to unravel all the progress the u.s. and our partners have fought so hard to achieve. isis is defeated, but elements remain that could reconstitute and pose a threat to u.s. national security interests, and those of our allies in the region. our counterterrorism concerns emanating from syria and the surrounding region remain very real, continuing regional conflict and instability, coupled with opportunities to establish sanctuary space, creates conditions for isis revival with a potential to attack the u.s. homeland and our allies. absent continued counterterrorism pressure, isis is likely to return, whether in syria or elsewhere. only through vigilance will we keep ourselves safe. partnership with the kurds will remain an important part of that strategy. turkey has assured us they'll continue to battle the islamic state. to say the least,
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i remain skeptical of turkey's counterterrorism guarantees. we have tread this ground before. we have offered turkey the opportunity to combat isis and its affiliates. turkey has promised to provide forces to combat isis, but turkey has failed to follow through with those forces. worse, sometimes the forces in question had questionable ties to jihadist or al qaeda linked groups. the fact of the matter is turkey's primary concern is its decades'old struggle against pkk. in addition to sacrificing our gains against isis, turkey's actions threaten further instability and chaos in a country that's already suffered years of destruction and devastation. reports of syrian and russian troops occupying abandoned u.s.
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positions underscores that turkey's actions have opened the door to assad and his russian and iranian backers. additionally, the humanitarian toll of this incursion has been swift and severe. the u.s. withdrawal has created an opportunity to be exploited by russia. indeed, on the day the u.s. brokered cease-fire is set to expire, president erdogan met with president putin to discuss the future of syria today. u.n. security council resolution 2254, the framework for a political resolution in syria, a cease-fire, formation of a constitutional committee and free elections remains very much in doubt with putin's high level of involvement. we should very strongly discourage unhelpful paralleled talks. isis detainees and foreign terrorist fighters, many of them at makeshift prisons, add to the complexity. we've already seen reports of breakouts at the camp, further release or escape of battle-hardened terrorists, particularly high-value individuals, will only serve as a strategic boon to isis.
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finally, there's the broader issue of u.s./turkish relations. prior to the syrian invasion, turkey's increasingly autocratic posture and dangerous tilt towards moscow was a cause for serious concern. that remains a concern today. turkey has imprisoned americans and u.s. consulate employees, has jailed more journalists than anywhere else in the world. it also recently purchased and accepted delivery of the russian s-400 missile defense system despite the loud protests of turkey's closest allies. now we're forced to confront a turkey that acts blatantly against u.s. national security interests and brutally attacks u.s. regional partners over our moes strenuous objections. while i appreciate efforts to reduce the violence through negotiations, if turkey maintains its aggressive path, it must bear a cost for undermining u.s. security interests. that's precisely why ranking member menendez and i have written legislation to sanction, block arm sales, and impose costs on turkey if it
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continues it's ill-advised syria invasion. i took a little liberty by saying the ranking member and i. there were many members of this committee who had input into this. i want to compliment the staffs, both the majority and the minority, for working so hard on a bill that we think is a good bill. it is still a work in progress. we have a number of other fronts that have been opened up with other bills being offered. in fact, some members of this committee have partnered on some of those bills. i would urge when these kinds of things happen that we try as best we can to act as a committee. we are much stronger when we are together, and i think that a bill that comes out of this committee with a real push from the vast majority of the committee, it would be very helpful. and we hope to be able to move the bill that we are working on and continue to work on today in the very near future. ambassador jeffrey, das
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palmer, i would appreciate hearing your thoughts on this current crisis and its future implications. i appreciate your time, and thank you for your attendance here today. i hope you can provide some guidance on how the administration intends to tackle this difficult situation and provide some ideas for a constructive path for the united states congress to take moving forward. with that, senator menendez. >> thank you, mr. chairman. first of all, let me thank you for holding a hearing as quickly as this one. i think that the urgency of now, as it relates to syria and our interests, cry out for a hearing like this, and i appreciate and applaud your quick response to it. i want to thank ambassador jeffrey and deputy secretary palmer for coming before the committee. ambassador, i understand you came out of retirement for this post. i'm not going to suggest
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you need a mental check. and i applaud your commitment to serving our country. i think it's incredibly important. ambassador jeffrey, we understand that you and ambassador satterfield and the rest of our core of military leaders on the ground spent the past months'work of diplomacy, balancing an increasingly belligerent nato ally. and a force to defeat isis however, your recent efforts, in my view, were hamstrung from the outset since december of last year when president trump made abundantly clear that he was more swayed by president erdogan's manipulative threats and persuasions than advice from his own diplomatic and military corps. indeed, the president's decisions over the past month are yet another betrayal of u.s. foreign policy to russia. a betrayal of our kurdish partners who fought and died alongside us in the battle
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against isis, who are now throwing in their lot with the russian and iranian-backed syrian government. the regime that barrel bombed and gassed its own citizens and uses isis as a political tool. a betrayal of our ally, israel, as the current chaos further empowers iran's pursuit of a land bridge from tehran to the mediterranean. and a gift to isis, which has been given the time and space to regroup, as well as thousands of civilians continuing to flee even under this so-called cease-fire. everyone in the region is recalibrating their relationship with the united states. as thousands of kurds who we once called partners pelt u.s. troops with rocks and potatoes, president erdogan held a press conference with president putin today in sochi, where he said we will continue
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to make big steps with my dear friend mr. putin to provide the long-lasting peace and stability to syria. the betrayal is fully in view in that press conference where russia has agreed to join turkey in cutting a swath of land for turkey that ultimately at the end of the day is a cleansing of kurds who have historically had these as part of where they have lived going back in time. as the pause and hostilities expires as we sit here, it's clear the united states has been sidelined. russia and the murderous assad regime are calling the shots. we don't even have clarity about whether, where, and how many u.s. troops might remain. if there was any doubt before, erdogan's intentions are clear. an ethnic cleansing mission in northeastern syria at the expense of broader regional stability, including the fight against isis and a partnership
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in cooperation with the united states and other nato allies. nato members commit to upholding principles laid out in the articles of the north atlantic charter, including solidarity with allies in the alliance as well as dedication to democratic principles and practice. in recent years, turkey's behavior has belied nearly every single one of those principles. purchasing the s-400 missile defense system from russia and developing increasingly close relationships with the kremlin. i know that i hear the majority leader and even some of my colleagues suggest we have to worry about not pushing turkey into russia's arms. they're there. they bought the s-400. they could have bought the u.s. patriot missile system, interoperable as a nato ally. they were meeting with russia and iran about the future of syria. and they strike a deal with russia to ultimately pursue their interests. erdogan
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has cracked down on human rights and eroded democratic institutions in his country. the most journalists imprisoned anywhere in the world is not north korea, iran, or russia. they're in turkey. and erdogan's aggression in the region extends to the exclusive economic zone of cyprus, where turkish military ships bully international energy companies conducting legitimate exploration activities. and over the weekend, "the new york times" reported on turkey's interest to pursue nuclear weapons. this is not the behavior of a constructive democratic actor or nato ally. but i'm hoping we can use today's hearing to get a full assessment of how the united states is now pursuing our interests on the ground in syria. the president's effective abandonment of american interests in syria, opening the door for turkey's
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incursion into northeastern syria, has unequivocally harmed american national security, potentially increased the threat of terrorism against the homeland, and against americans and solidified russian and iranian political and military power across syria and beyond. the american people are smart enough to see through the president's hollow claims of fulfilling a campaign promise to bring american troops out of the middle east. he simply moved most of the troops from syria into iraq, where reports today say that leadership in iraq is saying they cannot stay there. and has also sent thousands more troops to saudi arabia over the past year. how is that getting out of the entanglements of the middle east? so as we must, when presidents do not, the congress has stepped in to put america's interests first. i was pleased
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to join senators young, murphy, and gardner from this committee in introducing a resolution condemning turkey's actions, calling on the president to reconsider his decision, and for a comprehensive strategy against isis. moreover, as the chairman has mentioned, we have worked on legislation actions but calling on the administration to submit a comprehensive review of our counterisis strategy. humanitarian and stabilization assistance for kurds in syria in areas libertied from a isis and accountability for crimes against humanity as well as sanctions in russia as well. so, mr. chairman, i look forward to this hearing. and i look forward to working with you to move this bill to the committee and to the floor. i think the fierce urgency of now continues to dictate that we move expeditiously. >> thank you, senator menendez i couldn't agree more and also
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we do need to work together because it obvious that a once strong ally in turkey and fellow member of nato has gone in a bad direction and wound up in a bad place. i think it's best to work together to do this and there is good signs there is involvement from every member of this committee. ambassador jeffers jeffery, thank you so much for joining us today. the honor lk james jeffery, a special representative for syria engagement and special envoy to the global coalition to daeft isis a senior american diplomat with variety of experience having served as deputy national security adviser from 2007 to 2013. as well as the united states ambassador to turkey from 2008 to 2010. ambassador, i think you're about as well qualified as any person to sit in that seat and help us wrestle with a very difficult situation a and a situation much different than
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what you found it when you were dealing with turkey. so with that, the floor is yours. >> thank you, mr. chairman. mr. chairman, mr. ranking member, members of in committee it's an honor to be here. i have submitted a written statement for the record. what i would like to do is summarize our views in the next few minutes and then answer questions. as you have symbioticed, the focus of today's hearing is a tragic situation in northeast syria and including the u.s. turkish agreement to bring about a cease fire on the 17th ofoctober and the just announced a few hours ago russian turkish agreement for a cease fire in other parts of the northeastern strip. but to understand what has happened, how the trump administration has responded and what lies ahead, it is important to keep in mind the underlying situation. specificrily the most horrific destabilizing and dangerous conflict of the 21st century asthe senator just
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mentioned the syria haves a war raging since 2011. devil's brew mixes together the three champion of. assad, organizably worse than saddam or chaffedy. ideology state of the march on iran and islamic terror to al news ray. exploited by russia. thus all actions in syria are driven by our core object he was defeating islamic terror, restoring syria to a civilized state, and ensuring the removal of all iranian commanded forces from that country. some argue these object he was are too ambitious. but frankly we have no other choice than to pursue them in order to lead the world out of the crisis. now in dealing with today's situation in northeast syria turkey is obviously the immediate heavy. it acted unwisely and dangerously as you have indicated despite as i'm ready
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to despite warning after warning and incentive after incentive from this administration to choose differently including a package of economic and security commitments and a visit to washington. as a result, millions of vulnerable syrians are syria democrat forces sdf forces in the israel, jordan and iraq and the gulf and in the end turkey itself through this intervention are all made less secure and isis made more emboldened. but in digging out of this mess let us remember with turkey's actions we face another all too common regional phenomenon with the nato state. a major neighbor to a conflict feels that it's existential security is not advanced by american policies and acts against them. as we in the administration you in congress
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and partnered allies around the world strive to overcome the crisis it's critical to keep in view the larger issues and objectives. thank you very much. >> thank you very much, ambassador. with that, we'll hear from mr. matthew palmer mr. palmer is a deputy assistant secretary, bureau of european and eurasian affairs, a member of the seen year foreign service and overseas u.s. policy with the trikt to western balancesens and eejen. serby. the u.s. mission and u.n. and national security councils. as i understand it you're going to forgo opening statement and the both ever are you going to take questions
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from the dsh from the committee. am i correct on that. >> that's correct, mr. chairman, thank you. >> thank you. >> so with that, first of all, i want to say mr. jeffery, i appreciate your focused on trying to get in a better place than where we are. there's been a lot of debate about what was a precipitating factor. would you grow with me with assad having amassed 30,000 troops on the northern border and the heat having been turned up as much as it had in recent weeks and months that this invasion was inevitable into syria? >> it was a very real possibility,
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mr. chairman. it was not inevitable. first of all, we told turkey what exactly would happen. they would not get very far in in offensive and they have not gotten very far. as you see they are in cease fire agreements with us and the russians. we told them exactly how this would play out. it made sense to scramble, scramble the entire situation in northeast syria in order to do something they couldn't attain which is to put together under their own control a 32 kilometer-deep, 440 kilometer-wide, security zone as they called it in northeast syria somebody else's country. rather we offered again the incentives my colleague and i can go into more detail on in terms of important bilateral relationship as well as the security zone that we set up and got turkish agreement to in august to allow with the agreement of the sdf, our partners in the northeast we referred to them as kurds but it's a kurdish arabic group one portion of the kurds supporting it but we call it the sdf i think that's the best term with the sdf in agreement to allow patrolling of turkish and american joints units down to 30 kilometers and the withdrawal of the ypg, the more if you will wkk other thanned part of the sdf from the immediate area of the border. that was a deal not only on the table we were executing until turkey decided in october to go for broke with this offensive despite as i said warnings not to do this up to president trump. >> thank you, do you what is your prognosis as far as tempting to put the genie back in the bottle and back up to
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what was offered to them in the first place. >> i have to caution everybody, that i've been wrong at least as much as i've been right in predicting on syria. i think we're in a better place than we were a week ago. we have an agreement with turkey that's about to actually as i'm speaking the 120 hours that we agreed on thursday for the ypg forces to withdraw from an area that was controlled by turkey. that was a trm we used. where the turkish forces had been as of last thursday, essentially the central 130 kilometers of this 440-kilometer zone in the north of syria between the euphrates and iraq. the ypg was to withdraw during that period. the turkish military was to maintain what was called a pause. at the end of that that is now the turkish military is to go to a halt, a more permanent essentially cease
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fire, although the turks did not want to use that word. meanwhile, we promised during the 120 hours not to put on any new sanctions on turkey under the executive order on sanctions on syria that we distributed on the 14th of october. and with this commitment if it is met by the turks we will then lift the sanctions we did put on three turkish ministers and two turkish ministries. meanwhile taking a page from what we had done. putin and erdogan got together in sochi to come one a similar cease fire in many regards for the rest of northeast syria accepts the turk got less the ability to are patrol with the russians 10 kilometers deepest and a particularly not believable russian commandment to get the ypg out of that area. turkey
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has not gained much from in but in the process has scrambled the entire northeast yunt undercut efforts against isis and brought in the syria and isis forces in a way that's tragic for everybody involved. >> senator menendez. >> ambassador did you advise the administration to greenlight in essence the turkey intentions desires to invade in syria? >> i certainly did not, senator. but nobody in the administration greenlighted the the trurkish invasion. >> in december when the president made the remarks that, well, you know, indicated he wanted to get out, which caused the senate to cast a vote to try to dissuade him as well as colleagues particularly on the republican side to speak to the president, wasn't that already the beginning of the end and then the decision? were you
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consulted about the removal of troops as precipitously as they were. >> the president then in february modified his decision and agreed that we would keep a residual force on. furthermore in coast when the president said he would withdraw ground troops from the area he said he would maintain them in the south of syria and that we would maintain air support over the. >> but that's all changed. he is talking about taking everybody out. now maybe leaving a couple hundred about oil fields. my question is, were you consulted about the withdrawal of troops as was recently done? >> i personally was not consulted before. >> you were not let canned even though you are the special envoy in the context of syria. let me ask you this. isn't it
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fair tories that the sdf has been a reliable partner in the fight against isis. >> absolutely senator. >> isn't it fair to say that we can't achieve an enduring defeat of isis through air power alone without ground forces. >> we need ground forces. they do not necessarily have to be american, senator. >> that's right. and this is this is exactly the point. it was the kurds who were largely our ground forces. it's the kurds that lost about 11 to 13,000 of their people. it's the kurds that were detaining over 10,000 isis fierts and families for us. it doesn't have to be us. but when you betray the person who-the entity you were fighting on the battlefield with and leave them when you are finished using them say you're on your own, it's a hell of a way to send a global message that in fact don't fight for the united states because when they're finished with you they'll let you die on the battlefield. isn't it true that u.s. troops would be at risk of significantly higher casualties
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in fighting a resurgeant isis without sdf partners or similar partner. >> absolutely, senator. >> isn't it true the sdf now sought political and military progression fro bashar al assad the iranian backed gov. they've come to agreement in certain areas to coordinate. that's true. >> isn't it true that we are that we have a greater risk of creating a vacuum where iran can ultimately position itself to build the long sought land bridge to the mediterranean, a threat to our ally the state of israel. >> at this moment with we are looking at military, political and economic options to avoid that under the new circumstance. >> i don't know our options when we get out, we don't have any guarantee on air space we can use air space for any missions whether anti-isis or
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defending israel. i don't know what guarantees we have. isn't it fair to say that iran is not an agent of russia russia is not telling iran thank you for g got fighting get out now. >> you're right i were and russia have divergent interests in syria. unfortunately both allied against our interests and supporting assad. >> now what is our counter in the midst of facing according to the department of defense inspector general that there are still 14,000 to 18,000 isis fighters, despite the conversation consistently about ending the caliphate and these other 10,000 that are detained which if the kurds have to just defend themselves they're not going to be busy detaining isis fighters. that's potentially a 30,000 hardened force if they reconfigure together.
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>> sure. >> what is our plan to defeat them and to end that threat? >> one, they and it's for the record, it's the sdf which is about 507% arab. it's the arab-cudd kurdish coalition that's maintaining control of all of the detainees, the 10,000 you mentioned that's an accurate figure. the 14,000 to 18,000 are scattered in three areas. as you look at it, iraq particularly the is sunny arab yarts nars, the northeast and the rest of the syria more or less under the control of syrian government or on the turks in the the northwest. in the assad controlled areas of syria isis is running amok without much control. we do some airstrikes into there but it's not an area we can have a whole lot of action on. other than to monitor it and as i said strike when we have a good target. in the northeast that's the area we are focused on and we continue to work with the sdf. that's our plan. the sdf leader. commander mass loum has committed he wants to continue working with us that's what we are okay being looking at the option urgently for in in iraq we're working with the iraqi government and coalition of
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some 20 or 30 nations from around the world to keep isis under control there. >> now, ambassador, i have a deep, deep respect for your service. and you're dealt a hand you're dealt with and that's what you do as a career person. but let me just say you know, they're running amok under the assad control area. we still have the expectation the sdf as they fit for their lives is going to be fitting isis for us. that's an incredible expectation. and in iraq the forces that we are transferring out of syria we're told by the iraqis they're not going to be able to stay. i do not see a strategy or a plan that will make sure that the homeland is secure against a potential of a resurgence of isis a threat to the national interests and security of the united states. i hope to see it. but i don't see it as of
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now. which is why we have asked-we think it's only fair that all members get a briefing from the secretary of defense, the secretary of state and the cia director about the dynamics of this. and we can't seem to get a briefing. something is wrong when we have such a major national security interest and members of the united states senate both democrats and republicans cannot get a hearing. i hope you send the message back to the administration, that's not acceptable. >> yes, sir. >> we're going to break here a few minutes. there is two votes. we'll vote on the end of the first one which is now passed. and the beginning of the second one. and then we will reconvene due to the importance of this hearing and everyone when they get their thoughts in. so with that, the committee will be at ease..
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