By Alexander Bolton - 04/01/12 07:15 PM EDT
The top-ranking Republican and Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee said Sunday that they would not support arming rebels in Syria, signaling that Congress could oppose any such effort by the administration.
Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.), the chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, said it would be risky to arm the rebels, members of the Sunni Muslim population in Syria.
The United Nations estimates more than 9,000 people have been killed in the uprising that has pitted Sunni Muslims against Syria’s ruling Alawite sect, a branch of Shia Islam, to which President Bashar al-Assad belongs.
Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger (Md.), the senior Democrat on the panel, suggested Syrian defense forces could give weapons of mass destruction to terrorist groups in retaliation or the rebels could form allegiances with terrorists, such as al Qaeda, a Sunni Muslim group, after winning power.
“They have a cadre of weapons that are very dangerous. And we are concerned, just like we were in Libya, that if they — if these weapons of mass destruction, if the chemical or biological weapons get in the hands of — of terrorists or other groups, that could be very detrimental to the Middle East. But also to — to the national security of the United States,” he said.
Rogers said he did not see the Assad regime losing control of the country any time soon, in part because of support from outside powers.
“We don't really see Assad's inner circle crumbling. Remember, they're having a lot of victory supported by external forces like Iran, like Russia,” he said.
Rogers said there are other ways to help the rebels and highlighted working with the Arab League.
“I think the Arab League is willing and ready to step up, to take more aggressive action against Assad in Syria. We should be a part of that in a support role that I think is much better for the United States in the long run,” he said.
He said that strategy would be preferable to “sending in arms and hoping for the best.”
Ruppersberger said the United States could not be expected to come alone to the defense of Syria’s rebels.
“At this point, there's so many hotspots that we need to have the whole region come together. We just can't have the United States come there by themselves,” he said.