Intel Chairman: White House Paying 'Heavy Price' for Foot-Dragging on Iran, Syria

WASHINGTON – The chairman of the House Intelligence panel criticized the Obama administration’s policies on Iran and Syria, saying the administration paid a “heavy price” for the deals.

Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) said the administration wasted time on getting a deal to stop Syria’s chemical weapons program, which averted a U.S. strike, and in the process antagonized many of the U.S. allies in the region.

The United States and Russia reached a deal in late September calling for the destruction of Syria’s chemical arsenal by the middle of next year. A conference meant to broker an end to the Syrian conflict is scheduled to begin on Jan. 22 in Geneva, Switzerland.

“I think it is a positive sign if you take it for what it is,” Rogers said about Russia’s role in the Middle East.

Any deal that brings Russia to the table could be “a double-edged sword,” Rogers said last week at a conference hosted by the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. He warned the United States should tread carefully on any agreement with the Russians so that U.S. interests and those of its allies in the region are protected.

“The Russians cleaned up on us on exactly what they got in that particular deal,” Rogers said. “We paid a pretty heavy price with our allies for getting that deal and candidly not including our allies in the negotiations.”

Rogers, who supported a bill allowing the U.S. government to provide weapons to Syrian rebels, said the U.S. needs some “skin in the game” in Syria if it wants the Geneva talks to be successful.

He said that any deal would entail bringing everybody to the negotiations, and right now the U.S. cannot guarantee that the rebels will attend the Geneva conference.

“The Russians can bring Assad, but the U.S. really can’t bring the rebels to the table,” Rogers said.

The relationship between the Obama administration and centrist opposition groups in Syria has deteriorated along with the influence and power of these groups inside Syria. On the other hand, Islamist groups have gained ground since the first Geneva conference in June 2012.

“The conditions on the ground have changed over the last two years. Two years ago we had a whole set of options…today our options just aren’t that good,” Rogers said.

U.S. officials and its allies have met with Islamist militias to persuade them to support the second conference, fearing the talks will not yield a lasting accord without their backing.

If it is just the United States and Russia at the table, then there will be no deal that holds on the ground in Syria, Rogers said.

“That’s why I supported at least trying to have some relationships with the rebels in a way that’s positive to the U.S.,” he said.