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CNN "State of the Union with Candy Crowley" - Transcript

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CROWLEY: Joining me now Congressman Mike Rogers. He is the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. And Congressman Dutch Ruppersberger, the ranking Democrat on the same committee and friends. Good heavens. Miracles do occur.

(CROSSTALK)

CROWLEY: I know. It really is. I want to read you something that Hillary Clinton is -- from her to be delivered remarks to the Friends of Syrian People. And she said today, "Our message must be clear to those who give the orders and those who carry them out. Stop killing your fellow citizens or you will face serious consequences. Your countrymen will not forget and neither will the international community." Now this war has been going on -- this rebellion has been going on for a solid year. Is Syria -- is the Syrian government even moved by remarks by this? Because it sounds pretty much like what we've said all along.

ROGERS: I don't think they are. I think they've got two things that you don't -- you didn't see in other places like Tunisia and Egypt. You have external forces who are supporting them...

(CROSSTALK)

ROGERS: ...significantly. Iran and Russia. Both have stepped up to the plate and can't afford, in their minds, can't afford to lose Syria as their toe-hold. And in the Iranian's case it's a proxy for them as well.

CROWLEY: And isn't -- isn't the truth that we don't want to get involved in something like this? It would be like lighting a match in the Middle East at this point. We don't want to get involved in this.

RUPPERSBERGER: Well, the United States can't be sheriff of the whole world. We can work together. I think the formula that was used with Libya where NATO came together. Where you had the Arab League. But I think what's happening with Assad is that he is using the same formula that was used -- used in Iran. He's playing hardball with his people. He's killing his people and right now the opposition is not as strong as oppositions in other areas, such -- such as in Egypt.

CROWLEY: So, is arming the rebels a good idea for the U.S. to get involved in?

ROGERS: I think we both agree that's probably a bad idea. Mainly because we just don't know who they are. They haven't...

(CROSSTALK)

ROGERS: ...well I understand that. We think that there are other things that we can do that we haven't quite engaged in yet and that probably need to happen short of arming the rebels. And remember, giving a whole series of weapons to people who we don't know who they are, there are some bad actors there as well, probably doesn't bode well for us in the long run.

CROWLEY: OK.

RUPPERSBERGER: Syria's also a lot more sophisticated as far as their weaponry is concerned...

CROWLEY: Then Libya?

RUPPERSBERGER: ...in Libya and other areas in -- in the Middle East. But also they have a cadre of weapons that are very dangerous. And we are concerned, just like we were in Libya that if they -- if these weapons of mass destruction, if the chemical or biological weapons get in the hands of -- of terrorists or other groups, that could be very detrimental to the Middle East. But also to -- to the national security of the United States. CROWLEY: So it is better not to arm this group than to allow him to crush the opposition? Which is likely going to happen if there's no -- I mean he already is.

ROGERS: Sure, but I don't think we're saying that. I think there's other ways and some other things that we can do. Let me give you an example. Through the Arab League. I think the Arab League is willing and ready to step up, to take more aggressive action against Assad in Syria. We should be a part of that in a support role that I think is much better for the United States in the long run. And then we can do some other things from the United States perspective to put pressure on the Assad regime so that you have -- you do it in concert with each other without sending in arms and hoping for the best. I think that has not worked well for us in the past and I think in this particular case, wouldn't work well for us either.

CROWLEY: Is there any sign -- I know one of the things we looked for in Libya, there were signs that the inner circle was crumbling. Any signs of that with Bashar al-Assad?

RUPPERSBERGER: I think from the beginning that most of the leadership have been very loyal to Assad. But Assad makes sure that the way he runs his government, that he has people around him, including his representative to the United Nations, including the ambassador to the United States, that they are always focused on their plan, and that plan is to keep dominance over their people. It's unfortunate that so many people have been killed there. It's wrong. But at this point, there's so many hot spots, that we need to have the whole region come together. We just can't have the United States come there by themselves.

CROWLEY: Alone. And there's -- and we should add, there's absolutely zero American support for such a thing, so --

RUPPERSBERGER: I would think so at this point.

ROGERS: We don't really see Assad's inner circle crumbling. Remember, they're having a lot of victory supported by external forces like Iran, like Russia. So they, in their minds, they -- this is all a zero-sum game for them. They realize that, if they --

CROWLEY: They don't think the world is coming.

ROGERS: They really don't. They believe that they're winning, and we certainly believe that, through intelligence collection, they believe they're winning this.

RUPPERSBERGER: Remember, they're getting support from Iran. Iran does not want Syria to fold at all. Hezbollah is very close to this area, and Russia has been supporting them also. So they do have their allies.

CROWLEY: Let me move you to Iran, since they're in the region and obviously involved in that, and something that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Saturday.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HILLARY CLINTON, SECRETARY OF STATE: What is certain, however, is that Iran's window to seek and obtain a peaceful resolution will not remain open forever.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: Also sounds like something we've been saying now for three or four or five or six years. When does it just look like bluster? And this comes off, we should say, the president has tightened up sanctions, is trying to move the world towards cutting off oil profits to Iran and further squeeze them.

When is the line? When is the time? That there is action other than sanctions?

ROGERS: I will tell you this, that one of the problems with this -- and we both agree we needed to move sanctions forward; I applaud the president for moving up a July date to going after petroleum, huge, that's very important. Continue that pressure.

But as long as Iran does not believe that they are serious when they say all options are on the table, the window is closing, they're going to continue to do what they do. And so I think we need to increase the sanctions as -- and this is an important step. There's more to do.

CROWLEY: As the president has done.

ROGERS: Absolutely, at the request of Congress -- and then clearly demonstrate that the military option is on the table. Not that we should use it, but they need to understand that we're serious. If it's all going to work --

CROWLEY: How do you do that? How do you -- ?

ROGERS: I would argue you could do exercises. You could predeploy certain weapons systems.

CROWLEY: Saber rattle?

ROGERS: Well, you know, walk softly and carry a big stick. They need to believe in the big stick part, and if they don't believe it, it won't work, and that's the part of the equation we've got to put back together.

RUPPERSBERGER: Personally, I think the sanctions are clearly working. They're having an effect on Iran's economy like they've never had before. There's a very important meeting that's going to occur April 13th and 14th, meeting with Iran to make a determination of how they're going to cooperate. United States of America is the strongest country in the world. Iran knows this.

I think, when they threatened to close the Straits of Hormuz, we sent in our aircraft carrier, and they backed down. So I think that we have to have the leverage.

And I think, again, the formula that we used in Libya is what we need to do to make sure that they don't get nuclear weapons. But President Obama basically said that containment is not an issue, containment meaning get the nuclear weapons and then we'll contain. That's off the table.

CROWLEY: Not going to happen.

RUPPERSBERGER: So we have to be strong and let them know we mean business.

CROWLEY: Finally, let me ask you, the president this week was caught in a microphone, in a meeting with the president of Russia, where he sort of leaned over and said, hey, could you deliver a message to me -- to Putin, incoming president -- and tell him on this whole missile defense thing, I can't do much now. I've got more flexibility after the election.

Were you at all bothered by that, Congressman Ruppersberger?

RUPPERSBERGER: Well, to begin with, whatever you're saying off the record, who knows what the meaning was? I have confidence that the president is making the right decisions. There's a lot of issues that are out there in the Middle East and everywhere else. Also with respect to Russia, Putin, as we know, is a strong leader. He was former KGB. And so we have to work our relationship with his. Politics, a lot of things happen in politics. People are trying to get elected. So I'm not going to make a judgment what he said. I have confidence in the president and that he is going to do the right thing to protect our country 100 percent.

CROWLEY: I've got to leave it there. We've run out of time.

ROGERS: I disagree.

CROWLEY: OK. And you disagree. You were uncomfortable with the remark?

ROGERS: I'm very uncomfortable, and what it means for the United States and what it means for our missile defense posture and our allies' reaction to it, all very troubling.

CROWLEY: Congressman Rogers, Congressman Ruppersberger, thank you so much.

ROGERS: OK. Good, thanks.

RUPPERSBERGER: Thanks.

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