US National Intelligence Director James Clapper told Congress on Tuesday that the agreement concluded last year to dispose of Syria's chemical weapons has strengthened President Bashar Al-Assad. The chances of the opposition ousting him are now "weak", he claimed. Clapper made his remarks while testifying before a U.S. House of Representatives intelligence committee hearing, but he did not explain exactly how Al-Assad has been strengthened by the weapons deal.
Before the United States and Russia concluded the deal to dispose of Syria's chemical weapons, the Obama administration seemed on the brink of launching a military strike against the regime in Damascus in response to its poisonous gas attack which left hundreds of dead. President Obama called upon Al-Assad in August 2011 to step down from power following the brutal suppression of anti-government protests by Syrian security forces.
According to the intelligence chief, the Assad regime will probably remain in power in the absence of a diplomatic agreement for a new transitional government, which many observes regard as elusive. "I foresee more of the same," said Clapper, "a sort of a perpetual stalemate where…neither the regime nor the opposition can prevail."
Department of State spokesperson Jen Psaki commented on Clapper's testimony, saying that the US government "is very clear and understands that Al-Assad received help from foreign fighters and support from Iran". However, she pointed out that the Syrian peace talks, which resumed in Switzerland last month, increased the pressure on Damascus. The UN Security Council resolution calls upon Syria to comply with this agreement. "We'll see whether they will fulfil their promises," she added.
Reuters reported last week that Syria has handed over only five per cent of its chemical weapons arsenal and will not meet this week's deadline to send all of its toxic gases outside of Syria to be destroyed. Clapper said that the arms removal is at a "slow pace" and that two shipments totalling about 53 metric tons had left Syria so far.
Under questioning from Committee Chairman Mike Rogers, the director of the CIA, John Brennan, said Al-Qaeda linked militants have established training camps in Syria and Iraq and use them to launch attacks in the region and beyond. "Syria presents a number of challenges to US national security interests in terms of the potential spill over of the fighting inside Syria to neighbouring countries, but also, and increasingly so, concerns on the terrorism front."