House Intel Chair Slams U.S. Outreach to Syria’s Islamist Rebels

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers, R-MI, speaks during a press conference to release the Committee's report on the security threat posed by Chinese telecommunications companies Huawei and ZTE October 8, 2012 in the House Visitors Center of the US Capitol in Washington, DC. 
National Journal
Sara Sorcher
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Sara Sorcher
Dec. 5, 2013, 3:27 p.m.

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.”

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