House Intelligence Chairman Mike Rogers slammed the Obama administration's outreach to Syria's Islamist rebels to encourage them to support a peace conference early next year, just one day after senior officials indicated religious fighters may play a key role in reaching a diplomatic solution to end the bloody conflict.
"You should draw lines around organizations that would cut the heads off of children to prove their political point," the Michigan Republican told National Journal Daily. "When you don't have a course of action that helps change the battlefield, for a diplomatic solution, you end up going to the parties who are … radical Islamists. That's not a very good way to conduct diplomacy."
Islamic militants, Rogers said, "want a safe haven in eastern Syria and—we know this with a high degree of confidence—to conduct operations external to Syria. You don't negotiate with terrorist groups that have that kind of mind-set."
The Wall Street Journal reported this week that the U.S. and its allies are holding direct talks with Islamist militant factions in Syria, as secular groups Washington backed in the war against strongman Bashar al-Assad continue to lose ground to religious fighters and the regime. The primary target of this Western and Saudi outreach is the Islamic Front, a new rebel coalition of religious militias excluding the main al-Qaida-linked groups in the country.
Rogers' comments come one day after Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said "all parties" must be represented to reach a diplomatic solution in the war-torn country. "This can't be achieved by just [limiting ourselves to] narrow strips of interest," he said Wednesday.
Separately, just days before nuclear negotiations are set to resume in Vienna, Rogers slammed the Obama administration's recent deal with Iran, saying talks are doomed to fall short of ultimately dismantling that country's nuclear program. Considered a major diplomatic breakthrough to resolve the decade-long dispute, the deal, reached late last month, was hailed by U.S. officials as a first step toward a lasting, comprehensive agreement on Iran's nuclear program—though Israel and Iran hawks in Congress have unleashed a barrage of scathing criticism because the deal could enable Iran to keep enriching some uranium. "No, I don't believe that there will be any dismantling for their program," Rogers said, "and I do not believe it's in the world's interest to allow Iran to have the capability to enrich and process uranium."
"It's a terrible deal," he continued. "That's why bipartisan members of the House and Senate oppose it, why our Arab League partners oppose it, why Israel opposes it, why some in European parliaments have said, 'This is not a good deal.' When you have lost your friends, you've lost your Congress, and you've lost Israel, maybe you should rethink your strategy," he said of the Obama administration.
Key points within the Nov. 24 deal include keeping Iran's uranium enrichment below 5 percent (far below weapons-grade levels) and neutralizing its stockpile of 20-percent-enriched uranium in exchange for some $7 billion in sanctions relief. "They're going to oxidize that 20 [percent-enriched] uranium—which can be un-oxidized and reconverted to fuel in 30 days," Rogers worried.
The best idea for a nuclear deal, Rogers said, is the United Arab Emirates' program. "It allows a peaceful program and all the enrichment and processing to take place outside the country; … the fuel is brought into their facility, the waste product is taken out of the facility," Rogers said. "That's the gold standard for a peaceful nuclear program."
This article appears in the December 6, 2013 edition of NJ Daily.