The Cable

House Intel Chairman: If Syria readies WMD, we must attack

MANAMA, Bahrain - The red line for U.S. military intervention in Syria must be if Syria deploys their chemical weapons, not if they actually use them, according to House Intelligence Chairman Mike Rogers (R-MI).

Rogers set his own red line for U.S. military intervention at a different place than the administration of President Barack Obama here at the 2012 IISS Manama Security Dialogue Friday evening. The administration has repeatedly and publicly warned that if Syrian President Bashar al Assad used his store of chemical and nerve agents, that would prompt an unspecified international response. Rogers said we can't want for that to actually happen.

"As a coalition, we will have the moral obligation (to intervene) if we can say with even a moderate degree of certainty that these weapons have been prepared and are put in an arsenal for use," Rogers said. "There are things that we should do, that would meet the world's moral obligation to prevent the use of chemical weapons that would take the lives of tens of thousands and injure millions of Syrians."

If it looks like Assad has deployed chemical weapons, the U.S. and its partners will have only days, not weeks or months, to respond and prevent their use, Rogers said. Pressed to say if he really meant that must include military intervention, Rogers said he did.

"I don't see any other way of making sure those weapons aren't used," he said.

Rogers also called for the United States to get more active in trying to bring an end to the Assad regime, not just helping the opposition organize. He said the U.S. has to ramp up its activity to identify rebels who can be given arms responsibly and then ramp up the training and arming of those specific rebel groups.

"I think the time is now for us to have a much better coalesced effort to take down Assad. I will tell you this from our intelligence, the most dangerous days of desperation are starting to take hold inside the Assad regime," Rogers said.

On the panel with Rogers was Mustafa Sabbagh, secretary general of the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces, the new opposition leadership organization put together last month in Doha with the help of the State Department.

Sabbagh said that he thinks the U.S. will recognize his council as the legitimate representative of the Syrian people at the next Friends of Syria meeting to be held next week in Morocco.

"We do expect from the USA a similar recognition," he said, referring to the fact that several other western countries have already recognized the groups. "I did not hear that there were any conditions set by the USA for this recognition."

Sabbagh seemed confident that the Assad regime will fall sooner rather than later. He pledged that the new government would be moderate and inclusive and he said his council plans to stand up a military council in the coming days to serve as a single conduit for arms to the moderate elements of the armed Syrian opposition.

"Our revolution is going through a critical phase and is going through a huge challenge, especially as it relates to the human needs of people who are going through cruel killings," he said. "We are accomplishing tangible progress and we every day we feel the regime is about to fall."

Turkish Deputy Foreign Minister Naci Koru said that the 135,000 Syria refugees inside Turkey were becoming an increasing concern. But he said firmly that despite Turkey has requested and been granted the deployment of Patriot missile batteries to be deployed along its border, the Turkish government has no interest in participating in any no fly zone over Syria.

"We are not thinking about a no fly zone in the area," Koru said. "At the moment we are not working on this actually. There is no plan like that."

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The Cable

Full coverage of the 2012 Manama Security Dialogue

MANAMA, Bahrain - Officials and experts from 28 countries have convened here in Bahrain for the largest annual conference on Gulf and Middle East international relations, where the crisis in Syria is expected to dominate the agenda.

Your humble Cable guy is on the ground in Bahrain at the 2012 IISS Manama Security Dialogue, as part of the U.S. delegation to the conference, which is being led by Deputy Secretary of State Bill Burns. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton elected not to attend this year; she was the star of the last Manama dialogue in 2010. Clinton will be in the region this month, however, visiting Tunisia and the UAE next week.

Other top U.S. officials here in Bahrain include Central Command head Gen. James Mattis, Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Beth Jones, Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor Michael Posner, Naval Forces Central Command head Vice Adm. John Miller, and Ambassador to Bahrain Thomas Krajeski.

Sen. John McCain, ranking Republican on the Senate, Armed Services Committee, is leading a six-person U.S. Congressional delegation, which also includes Rep. Mike Rogers, chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, and Reps. Charles Ruppersberger, Kenneth Michael Conaway, Devin Nunes and Rodney Frelinghuysen.

"This has been a very carefully prepared Manama dialogue," John Chipman, director general and CEO of the International Institute for Strategic Studies, told The Cable. "One of the big issues the Manama Dialogue will discuss will be the shape of the Syrian opposition."

The Manama Dialogue was begun in 2004 as a counterpart to the IISS Shangri-La dialogue, which is held each June in Singapore. There was no Manama dialogue in 2011, due to the internal conflict in Bahrain that began in early 2011 and continues to this day. But following two private Sherpa meetings held in February and October of this year, the parties decided mutually to convene the Manama dialogue again this year, Chipman said.

"This is not seen by most of the governments attending of a bilateral meeting in Bahrain but rather a convening of international officials being held in Bahrain," said Chipman, acknowledging that the political situation in Bahrain is politically delicate for the dozens of high level attendees from around the world.

Some of the other attendees expected to make news this weekend include Mustafa Sabbagh, secretary general of the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces, Afghan Foreign Minister Zalmai Rassoul, Chief of the French Defense Staff Adm. Edouard Guillaud, head of the Iraqi Department of Foreign Relations Falah Mustafa Bakir, Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh, Turkish Deputy Foreign Minister Naci Koru, and British Foreign Secretary William Hague.

We'll be blogging from Bahrain all weekend so watch this space.