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(Washington, D.C.) – At a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing today, U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) questioned General James Mattis, Commander of U.S. Central Command, about the security of Syria’s vast weapons arsenals in light of the rising violence in that country.  Experts estimate that Syria has one of the largest chemical weapons programs in the world and senior U.S. officials have described a “nightmare scenario” if these weapons fall into the wrong hands as a result of the collapse of President Assad’s regime.

“What happens if those weapons are left unsecured—could they potentially disappear and be used throughout the region?” Shaheen asked Mattis at the hearing.  “Is there any suggestion that Assad might actually use these weapons against the people of Syria?”

“If left unsecured, [Syria’s chemical weapons] would be potentially a very serious threat,” said Mattis, who oversees U.S. military operations in Syria as head of Central Command.  “I think it’s going to take an international effort when Assad falls, and he will fall, in order to secure these weapons.  I don’t think he will use them on his own people.  We have not seen any effort to use [them] yet, but we’re watching very closely.”

Shaheen also asked Mattis whether planning was underway to address how the international community might make sure Syria’s weapons are secure, if the Assad regime falls.  In February, Shaheen joined fellow Senate Armed Services Committee members Susan Collins (R-ME) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) in a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta urging them to ensure that such planning is underway.