During a television interview Sunday, Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.), chairman… (Manuel Balce Ceneta / Associated…)
WASHINGTON – U.S. intelligence agencies don’t see signs that Syrian President Bashar Assad is losing his grip on power, said the chairman of the House intelligence committee during a television interview Sunday.
“We don’t see Assad’s inner circle crumbling,” said Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.), chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence on CNN’s "State of the Union" with Candy Crowley.
In fact, the Syrian leadership believes they are “winning” against the armed rebels trying to topple the government, said Rogers, citing U.S. intelligence reports.
The United States and the international community have been under heavy pressure to act as Syria's brutal crackdown on armed rebels has left thousands dead. According to the United Nations, some 9,000 people have died in Syria since a protest movement inspired by the Arab Spring gave way to violent clashes last year.
After a meeting about the Syrian conflict in Istanbul on Saturday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that Syria would face “serious consequences” if the government did not stop killing “fellow citizens.”
But what those consequences may be is unclear.
The Free Syrian Army, an armed faction of the rebellion, has repeatedly called for the international community to give them heavy weapons to oppose the tanks and missiles of the Syrian military.
The United States has stopped short of arming the Syrian rebels. Clinton said Saturday that the United States and other nations are sending “communications equipment” to aid the opposition.
Speaking in Washington on Sunday, Rogers said that arming the rebels is probably not a good idea, mainly because we just don’t know who they are."
U.S. intelligence officials are concerned about members of Al Qaeda in Iraq moving into Syria to assist the rebellion.
The Assad regime also continues to be propped up with support from Russia and Iran, as both countries see Syria as a critical “toe hold” in the Middle East, Rogers said.
Speaking of Iran’s uranium-enrichment program, Rogers applauded the White House for tightening oil sanctions to deter Iran from pursuing a nuclear weapon. But the Obama administration needs to do more to “clearly demonstrate that the military option is on the table,” he said.
Rogers suggested steps such as launching U.S. military exercises in the region as a show of force.
U.S. and Iranian officials are scheduled to meet in Istanbul on April 13 to discuss steps Iran might take to assure the international community that it is not pursuing a nuclear weapon. Those discussions will demonstrate how serious Iran is about changing course.
“It is up to Iran’s leaders to make the right choice,” Clinton said on Saturday. “So far they have given little reason for confidence. What is certain is that Iran’s window to seek and obtain a peaceful resolution will not remain open forever.”