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(Washington, D.C.) – As fighting in Syria continues and hundreds of thousands flee across the border to Turkey, U.S Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) today pressed foreign policy experts on a variety of Syria-related issues including the threat of chemical and biological weapons, the role of the international community in the crisis and the composition of Syria’s opposition parties during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing.

“We must be vigilant in closely monitoring Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile and continue to work with the international community to ensure that planning is fully underway to address the possible proliferation of these dangerous weapons. As a number of senior U.S. officials have stated, we could face a ‘nightmare scenario’ if these weapons fall into the wrong hands,” Shaheen said. “The Assad regime must know that the world will hold him accountable if these weapons are transferred to terrorist organizations or used against the Syrian people.”

Shaheen also addressed concerns about the lack of cohesion among Syria’s opposition groups, noting that the United States needs to more closely assess who these anti-government groups are and work with the international community to determine if and how it is appropriate to aid them. Shaheen also pressed experts about the implications and costs associated with the creation of “safe zones” inside Syria, as well as the specific role Turkey should play in the current situation.

Today’s hearing witnesses included: Martin Indyk, Vice President and Director of Foreign Policy at the Brookings Institution; James Dobbins, Director of the International Security and Defense Policy Center at the RAND Corporation; and Andrew Tabler, Senior Fellow in the Program on Arab Politics at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

Shaheen has repeatedly pressed for U.S. officials to maintain great vigilance over the security of Syria’s chemical arsenal. She joined a bipartisan letter to the Secretaries of State and Defense in February which highlighted her concern that a collapse of the Assad regime could lead to the uncontrolled spread of both chemical weapons and shoulder-fired missiles capable of bringing down commercial jets. She reiterated those concerns at a hearing in March with U.S. commanders in the region, and again at a second hearing with Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta.  These efforts follow on similar efforts Shaheen led last year to highlight the danger of weapons proliferation following the fall of Gadhafi in Libya.