U.S. Will Continue to Assess Syria, Panetta Says

WASHINGTON, March 7, 2012 — The Syr­i­an regime will fall, and the Unit­ed States will help to speed that day through polit­i­cal and diplo­mat­ic efforts, Defense Sec­re­tary Leon E. Panet­ta told the Sen­ate Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee today.

Though now is not the time for U.S. mil­i­tary boots on the ground in Syr­ia, Panet­ta said, the Unit­ed States will con­tin­ue to eval­u­ate the sit­u­a­tion there.

Syr­i­an Pres­i­dent Bashar Assad must stop his attacks on his own peo­ple, the sec­re­tary said, as Syr­i­ans try to fol­low in the foot­steps of oth­er Arab nations that have over­thrown despots in the past year. Assad’s forces are indis­crim­i­nate­ly mur­der­ing those opposed to the regime.

“He must step aside and allow a demo­c­ra­t­ic tran­si­tion to pro­ceed imme­di­ate­ly,” Panet­ta said.

The regime has lost what­ev­er legit­i­ma­cy it once had, and the sit­u­a­tion demands an inter­na­tion­al response, the sec­re­tary said, not­ing that the Unit­ed States has been lead­ing efforts in the inter­na­tion­al com­mu­ni­ty to pres­sure Assad to stop his vio­lence against the Syr­i­an peo­ple and step aside.

Panet­ta acknowl­edged that some say it is time for U.S. mil­i­tary inter­ven­tion, while oth­ers wor­ry that this would get the Unit­ed States embroiled in anoth­er long-term com­mit­ment in the Mid­dle East. Mil­i­tary action like the inter­ven­tion in Libya is not a one-size-fits-all mod­el, he said.

“Each sit­u­a­tion — by virtue of the pol­i­tics, geog­ra­phy, and his­to­ry of each coun­try — is unique, and demands a unique response,“Panettatold the Sen­ate com­mit­tee. “There can be no cook­ie-cut­ter approach for a region as com­plex and volatile as the Mid­dle East.”

The sec­re­tary stressed that Amer­i­can response in the region is gov­erned by three prin­ci­ples.

“First, we oppose the use of vio­lence and repres­sion by regimes against their own peo­ple,” he said. “Sec­ond, we have sup­port­ed the exer­cise of uni­ver­sal human rights — which include the right to free­dom of expres­sion, the right of peace­ful assem­bly, the right to free­dom of thought, con­science and reli­gion, the pro­hi­bi­tion against dis­crim­i­na­tion, and the right to vote through gen­uine elec­tions that express the will of the elec­torate. Third, we sup­port polit­i­cal and eco­nom­ic reforms that can meet the legit­i­mate aspi­ra­tions of ordi­nary peo­ple through­out the region.”

These prin­ci­ples have shaped the Amer­i­can response to events in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, and now, Syr­ia, he said.

The Unit­ed States is forg­ing an inter­na­tion­al con­sen­sus that the Assad regime’s bru­tal­i­ty must end and that a demo­c­ra­t­ic tran­si­tion in Syr­ia must begin, Panet­ta said. Rus­sia and Chi­na have blocked the Unit­ed Nations Secu­ri­ty Coun­cil from tak­ing action, but the U.N. Gen­er­al Assem­bly has sup­port­ed the Arab League’s tran­si­tion plan for Syr­ia.

The Unit­ed States is send­ing emer­gency human­i­tar­i­an assis­tance to the Syr­i­an peo­ple, with an ini­tial com­mit­ment of $10 mil­lion, the sec­re­tary said. The Unit­ed States is work­ing with the Friends of Syr­ia and oth­er anti-Assad groups to help in strength­en­ing the oppo­si­tion. There cur­rent­ly is no effec­tive oppo­si­tion group that can han­dle a peace­ful, order­ly tran­si­tion to a demo­c­ra­t­ic gov­ern­ment, Panet­ta told the sen­a­tors.

“We are review­ing all pos­si­ble addi­tion­al steps that can be tak­en with our inter­na­tion­al part­ners to sup­port efforts to pro­tect the Syr­i­an peo­ple, end the vio­lence, and ensure region­al sta­bil­i­ty, includ­ing poten­tial mil­i­tary options if nec­es­sary,” he said.

Panet­ta empha­sized that the prob­lems in Syr­ia have no easy solu­tions.

“We believe that the best res­o­lu­tion to this cri­sis will be a peace­ful, polit­i­cal, demo­c­ra­t­ic tran­si­tion led by the Syr­i­an peo­ple and along the lines sug­gest­ed by the Arab League,” he said. “We believe there is still an oppor­tu­ni­ty to achieve that goal.”

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)