WASHINGTON - Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) on Sunday portrayed the current conflict in Syria as one between the government of President Bashar Al Assad, who Paul said "has protected Christians for a number of decades," and "Islamic rebels," who Paul said "have been attacking Christians" and are aligned with Al Qaeda.
"I think the Islamic rebels winning is a bad idea for the Christians, and all of a sudden we'll have another Islamic state where Christians are persecuted," Paul said on NBC's "Meet the Press."
Paul was likely referring to a string of incidents in Egypt in recent weeks, where supporters of the deposed government of former president Mohamed Morsi have burned Coptic Christian churches to protest what they see as Christian backing for the military overthrow of Morsi's government.
Earlier on Sunday, Secretary of State John Kerry said that tissue samples from Syria showed evidence that sarin gas was used to kill at least 1,400 civilians outside Damascus on August 21 -- an attack the White House says Assad's government carried out.
Paul, a first-term senator and vocal opponent of U.S. intervention overseas, including U.S. foreign aid, said the U.S. should pursue a negotiated settlement where "Assad is gone, but some of the same people [from Assad's regime] remain stable," because, he said, "that would also be good for the Christians."
Paul urged the U.S. to engage more fully with Russia and China, the two permanent members of the UN Security Council which support Assad. Both countries have thus far promised to veto any UN-led intervention in Syria. Paul acknowledged, however, that Assad is not a U.S. ally, either.
Paul also said that U.S. intervention would imperil U.S. allies in the region, including Jordan and Israel. Paul said he'd like to ask John Kerry, "'Do you think if it's more likely or less likely that we'll have less refugees in Jordan or if Israel will suffer an attack" if the U.S. decided to strike Syrian military targets.
Paul did, however, praise Obama's last-minute decision to seek congressional approval for U.S. military action. "The one thing I would say that I'm proud of the president for, is that he's coming to Congress in a constitutional manner and asking for our authorization," Paul said. "That's what he ran on."
Paul himself is openly considering a run for president in 2016, and his emphasis Sunday on the condition of Christians in the Middle East may be part of an ongoing effort to appeal to American Evangelical Christian voters -- a group that his father, former Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas), had trouble winning over when he ran for president in 2012.
So far this year, Rand Paul has traveled to Israel, spoken to a number of evangelical groups, and invited the Christian Broadcasting Network into his home for a special half-hour program called "At Home with Rand Paul."