U.S. lawmaker warns on arming Syria rebels, chemical weapons

WASHINGTON Wed May 30, 2012 9:21am EDT

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Republican chairman of the House intelligence committee on Wednesday warned against arming Syrian rebels and said the United States should make sure the country's chemical weapons do not fall into the wrong hands.

"I'm not sure arming is the right answer here, mainly because we're just not exactly sure who the bad guys are and who the good guys are right now in Syria. So you don't know who you're giving weapons to," U.S. Representative Mike Rogers told CNN.

Rogers split with his party's presumptive Republican presidential nominee, Mitt Romney, who is calling for arming Syrian opposition groups and has criticized the more cautious approach of Democratic President Barack Obama.

The United States and other Western countries expelled Syrian diplomats on Tuesday after the weekend massacre of more than 100 people in the town of Houla. The White House said military intervention at this point could lead to "greater chaos, greater carnage."

"Let me tell you what keeps me up at night: We know of at least a dozen or so sites that have some very serious chemical weapon caches - and that's just what we know of - in Syria," Rogers told CNN.

The United States needs to "make sure all the right steps are taken so that we don't lose these weapons caches and something more horrific happens," he said.

Western countries believe that Damascus has the world's largest remaining stockpile of undeclared chemical weapons - including mustard gas and the deadly VX nerve agent - which President Bashar al-Assad maintains as a counterbalance to the undeclared nuclear arsenal of Syria's enemy Israel.

Rogers advocated working more closely with the Arab League and putting more pressure on Russia, which has refused to halt arms sales to Syria and has blocked U.N. sanctions on the government for its 14-month assault on opposition activists.

"Russia needs to decide if they're going to be on the side of the rest of the world," he said.

(Reporting by Doina Chiacu; Editing by Jim Loney)

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