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19 Sep, 2013 20:08

Kerry presses for urgent, peaceful disarmament of Syrian chemical weapons

Secretary of State John Kerry on Thursday again blamed Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad’s regime for a chemical weapons attack outside of Damascus last month and pressed for the United Nations to act on eradicating that arsenal immediately.

In a brief address that afternoon, Sec. Kerry said that the recently released UN report regarding the August 21 strike in Syria confirmed the White House’s allegations that Assad and his army were responsible for the attack.

Thanks to this week’s long awaited UN report, the facts in Syria only grew clearer and the case only grew more compelling,” Kerry said from Washington. “The UN report confirms unequivocally that chemical weapons, including the nerve agent sarin, were used in Syria.”

An international debate over the Aug. 21 incident has dominated discussions between world leaders in the weeks since, and the United States appeared on the verge of launching a limited strike against Assad’s regime to reprimand him for the alleged use of chemical weapons until a deal largely brokered in part by Russia yielded an agreement in the making that will require the Syrian leader to relinquish his arsenal and sign the Chemical Weapons Convention prohibiting the use of those warheads.

Assad appeared on Fox News Wednesday night and admitted to having chemical weapons, though remains adamant with regards to denying responsibility for the Aug. 21 strike.

This fight about Syria’s chemical weapons is not a game,” Kerry said Thursday afternoon. “It’s real. It’s important. It’s important to the lives of people in Syria; it’s important to the region.”

Speaking of the chemical weapons prohibition, Kerry said, “it’s important to the world that this be enforced.”

The UN’s findings, Kerry insisted, “Confirms what we have brought to the attention of our Congress, the American people and the rest of the world,” citing evidence obtained by the international body linking the munitions and launchers involved in last month’s attack to Assad’s regime.

But although the UN report did not outright tie Assad’s army to the Aug. 21 assault that kill more than 1,400 Syrians, Kerry suggested that evidence collected from outside of Damascus — including witness reports, interviews and physiological and environmental samples — ties the attack to Assad.

Anybody who reads the facts and puts the dots together, which is easy to do and they made it easy to do, understands what those facts mean,” Kerry said.

The report, he added, contained “several crucial details that confirmed that the Assad regime is guilty of carrying out that attack, even though that was not the mandate of the UN report.”

We, the United States, have associated one of the munitions identified in the UN report, the 122mm improvised rocket, with previous Assad regime attacks,” he said.

There is no indication, none, that the opposition is in possession or has launched a chemical weapon variant of these rockets, such as the kind that was used in the twenty-first of August attack.”

There is “clear and compelling evidence that the surface-to-surface rockets used in this attack containedthe nerve agent sarin. We know the Assad regime possesses sarin, and there is not a shred of evidence however that the opposition does,” he said.

And rocket components identified in the ground photos taken at the alleged chemical weapons impact areas,” he continued, are “associated with the unique type of rocket launcher that we know the Assad regime has.”

So there you have it. Sarin was used. Sarin killed. The world can decide whether it was used by the regime — which has used chemical weapons before, the regime which had the rockets and the weapons —or whether the opposition secretly went unnoticed into territory they don’t control to fire rockets they don’t have containing sarin they don’t possess to kill their own people,” the secretary said.

Kerry’s remarks came less than a day after Assad admitted to Fox News that he holds on to an arsenal of chemical weapons and would be willing to destroy it following weeks of international discussion that has pitted lawmaker against lawmaker and nation against nation on the eve of what for long appeared to be an imminent US strike.

Earlier on Thursday, White House press secretary Jay Carney mocked Assad for denying responsibility for the chemical weapons attack last month and said that the US remains interested in working with the Russians on a framework to implement a program that would identify, verify and remove from Assad’s control the chemical weapons stockpile in that country.

When asked if US President Barack Obama would agree to help pay the estimated one billion dollars Assad told Fox dismantling the arsenal would cost, Carney said, “This is obviously a complicated piece of business.”

As the international community waits for an outcome, though, Kerry urged the UN to act quickly. Assad suggested that dismantling his arsenal could take up to a year, but the secretary said the UN’s Security Counsel “must be prepared to act next week.”

It is vital for the international community to stand up and speak out in the strongest possible terms about the importance of enforceable action to rid the world of Syria’s chemical weapons,” Kerry said Thursday.

Time is short. Let’s not spend time debating what we already know,” he added. “The complete removal of Syria’s chemical weapons is possible here through peaceful means, and that will be determined through the resolve of the United Nations.”