By Elise Labott reporting from Manama, Bahrain
The Republican chairman of the House Intelligence Committee on Friday warned the Obama administration it must act more urgently to prevent Syria's government from using chemical weapons.
Rep. Mike Rogers told attendees at the IISS Manama Dialogue conference in Bahrian that the United States has a moral obligation to act immediately if there is concrete proof chemical weapons are loaded and being readied for launch.
Recent U.S. intelligence suggests the Syrian government has started mixing chemical weapons compounds and loading them into bombs, though the bombs are not being moved to any delivery devices, CNN's Barbara Starr reported.
Visibly frustrated, Rogers argued the United States and the international community were way behind in acting to prevent use of chemical weapons, saying there was a robust debate in Washington on what constitutes a red line for military action - before Syrian President Bashar al-Assad moves to use weapons or after the weapons are launched.
President Barack Obama said this summer that any effort to move or use chemical weapons was a red line.
"A red line for us is we start seeing a whole bunch of weapons moving around or being utilized," Obama said. Though he prefaced that remark by saying the concern was the weapons falling into others hands. With the new intelligence, administration warnings have focused not on moving, but on using the weapons.
Rogers' sense of urgency was reflected by others at this influential Middle Eastern meeting.
There was a sense among attendees, especially among representatives of the Syrian opposition in attendance, that the al-Assad government was growing ever more desperate - making it more dangerous. The recent reporting about how the leader's military is preparing chemical weapons was a subject of much discussion in the hallways.
The intelligence chairman from Michigan also seemed to be softening his own stance about arming the Syrian rebels.
Rogers said the United States still needs to better understand who they would be providing arms to, and to ensure they don't end up in the hands of extremists.
But he said he believes the United States should be much more involved in arming, training and providing intelligence to rebels to ensure that the rebels are acting in a proper way and not working to closely with extremist groups such as al-Nusra.
Rogers suggested the prospect of arming the rebels could be a matter of discussion at the upcoming Friends of Syria meeting next week in Morocco, which Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is attending. This sentiment was echoed by other diplomats at the conference.
Mustapha Sabbagh, one of the leaders of of the new Syrian opposition coalition, said that procrastination and reluctance of the international community to get involved militarily has led to further militarization and radicalization of the conflict. He urged the world to do more.
Sabbagh called on Russia and Iran to stop supporting the 'killing machine' of al-Assad's government.
"I would be very embarrassed for Russia when the file is opened about their involvement in Syria," he told the delegates.