September 1st, 2013
09:03 AM ET
11 months ago

Kerry: 'Signatures of sarin' found in Syria

Updated 3:20 p.m. ET, 9/1

(CNN) - Blood and hair samples from eastern Damascus, Syria, have "tested positive for signatures of sarin" gas, Secretary of State John Kerry said Sunday, arguing that with "each day that goes by, this case is even stronger."

Kerry said on CNN's "State of the Union" that the U.S. obtained the samples independently from "first responders" and through an "appropriate chain of custody"," not the United Nations chemical weapons inspectors.

"We know that the regime ordered this attack, we know they prepared for it," Kerry said. "We know where the rockets came from. We know where they landed. We know the damage that was done afterwards. We've seen the horrific scenes all over the social media, and we have evidence of it in other ways, and we know that the regime tried to cover up afterwards, so the case is really an overwhelming case."

Fast facts about Sarin gas

On Saturday, President Barack Obama said "well over 1,000 people were murdered" in the August 21 attack. The president proposed what he said would be a limited military action against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad; however, he plans to seek authorization from Congress before taking any further steps.

Obama's recoil on striking Syria draws criticism from both sides

Sarin–a clear, tasteless and odorless nerve agent–is one of the most toxic chemical weapons. Dr. Sanjay Gupta, CNN's chief medical correspondent, said a fraction of an ounce of sarin on a person's skin could be fatal.

"It can be absorbed across the skin, it can be absorbed into the lungs, across the eyes. It's pretty gruesome stuff," he said on CNN's "Piers Morgan Live." "It is so indiscriminate...So you don't even know that you've been exposed, necessarily, until you suddenly start to get sick. And then, it starts pretty quickly and can degrade pretty quickly as well."

Top U.S. officials have said there's no doubt that the Syrian government was behind the attack, while Syrian officials have denied responsibility and blamed jihadists fighting with the rebels.

While British and U.S. intelligence reports say the attack involved chemical weapons, U.N. officials have stressed the importance of waiting for an official report from the U.N. chemical weapons inspectors.

The inspectors left Syria on Saturday, carrying evidence that will determine whether chemical weapons were used in the attack last month. Those results could take up to three weeks.

Could Syria strike back if United States, allies, attack?

In a series of television interviews on Sunday, Kerry defended the president’s decision to seek authorization from Congress before taking military action, saying the move will make the United States “stronger in the end” should the country decide to move forward with a strike.

“It's amazing to me to see people suddenly standing up and taking such affront at the notion that Congress ought to weigh in," he said on CNN. "I mean, I can hear the complaints that would have taken place if the president proceeded unilaterally and people say, ‘Well why didn't you take the time to consult?'”

Addressing concerns that a congressional vote may not take place until next week, Kerry said military action against Syria is not something that needs to happen as soon as possible, like previous situations.

“Since it is not an emergency overnight, as we saw in a place like Libya, where people were about to be slaughtered. Since we have the right to strike at any time if Assad is foolish enough to engage in yet another attack, we believe that it is important before this takes place to have the full investment of the American people and of the Congress,” he told CNN's chief political analyst Gloria Borger.

It's unclear how both chambers of Congress will vote on military action in Syria, as the debate is expected to intensify in the coming days. Congress returns from recess on September 9, but some are calling for lawmakers to come back earlier for a special session so a decision can be made sooner.

Critics have accused the president of being weak and not taking the initiative to launch a strike on his own. Kerry reiterated that Obama has the right to make that call "at any point in time" but added he's "confident" Congress will "do what is right."

"I personally believe at a time when the institutions of governance are being doubted by many people, I think this is a very courageous decision. I think it is a big presidential decision, and no one should misinterpret it, particularly Assad or the opposition," he said.

With the British Parliament voting last week against joining a military invention, Kerry argued the United States still has a "coalition of more than a few" and predicted broader support "as the evidence comes out."

"I think voices will grow over the next days as people see the evidence, and that evidence is becoming more powerful every day," he said.

Asked about the risk of Congress potential voting down authorization, Kerry insisted on "Fox News Sunday" that he doesn't believe that will happen on Capitol Hill.

"I can't contemplate that the Congress would turn its back on all of that responsibility and the fact that we would have in fact granted impunity to a ruthless dictator to continue to gas his people. Those are the stakes," he said. "And I don't believe the Congress will do that."


Filed under: John Kerry • State of the Union • Syria
soundoff (162 Responses)
  1. War01

    During the US Civil War, the North blocked foreign nations from supporting the South. If Syria uses this comparable strategy, they can challenge the US approach and complain of hypocrisy when US starts this limited war against them.

    If US and other nations do nothing, history repeats itself again like in the holocaust by the Nazis. The greater good should take precedence, but it will be difficult to define the "greater good" in this complicated issue with Syria. Several people will suffer regardless of the final decision. We don't know which faction to trust or resume the state of affairs in Syria if the current regime falls.

    September 1, 2013 02:35 pm at 2:35 pm |
  2. The fact of the matter

    "Congress will do the right thing." Of course they will. They always do, don't they? [sarcasm off]

    September 1, 2013 02:41 pm at 2:41 pm |
  3. Harleigh Kiffer

    Perhaps since the President has declined to act as President, it is time for Vice-President Biden to take the oath of office and act.

    September 1, 2013 02:53 pm at 2:53 pm |
  4. Len

    Why do I see no reporting or questioning of the report by Dale Gavrak of the AP, BBC and NPR that syrian rebels admit to mishandling the chemical weapon that went off and killed the Syrians? This story seems to be suppressed in the main stream media. Isn't this important enough to either confirm or refute before we take any military action?

    September 1, 2013 03:05 pm at 3:05 pm |
  5. Andrey Ilin

    Mr. Kerry
    In Russia we prefer to say: "Trust, but verify".

    If the United States have obvious and indisputable evidence, then why not present them to the rest of the world? Show us everything, please.

    Otherwise, it looks like cheating. This is similar to Nazi Germany attacked Russia "in self-defense." in 1941.

    September 1, 2013 03:08 pm at 3:08 pm |
  6. Sunny

    Congress do the right thing??? What does that mean? Congress has only one thing in mind, how to embarrass the President and take back the White House. Any decision on Syria will be based on the degree of political impact it will have on Democrats and Obama, and will have nothing to do with Assad, sarin gas, or Syria.

    September 1, 2013 03:24 pm at 3:24 pm |
  7. John

    "Congress will do the right thing" The next article "Congress on the fence" I suppose this means Congress will do the right thing, straddle the fence. How true this is.

    September 1, 2013 03:32 pm at 3:32 pm |
  8. JiminNM

    The right thing is to do just like the British Parliament and send Kerry and Obama packing and tell them if they come back again they will be impeached.

    September 1, 2013 03:33 pm at 3:33 pm |
  9. Bill Greger

    We have to act... and if we don't they are all watching you think
    taking the risk of attacking is bad what about the problems if we don't
    act now in Syria is way worse Syria is not what we have to be worried
    about. If we want to look weak after everything we have done in this war
    against terror everyone that had died would have died in vain this is
    the time to be strong more than ever and show these people what there up
    against and that killing women and children are not right and anyone
    that backs Syria for what they have done is just is guilty. We need to
    make they right decision here cause if we don't we midi-swell kiss
    America good by cause they won and it wont be long till the bad guys get
    that USA is just talk now and then you know they will attack us.

    I hope we make the right decision we have to make it and it is hard after
    everything we have bin through in this war but we cant give up now my
    friends and family that has died during this war cant died for nothing.

    We have to fight for what is right...

    September 1, 2013 03:41 pm at 3:41 pm |
  10. Link

    True enough, we are not the " World Police", but if Syrians will use chemical weapons on their own people they will use them on anyone. Do we wait for them to launch chemical weapons on Isreal? On the United States? If that happened I have no doubt that there would be a nationwide outrage – everyone demanding to know how it was allowed to happen.This was an atrocity, a
    violation of human rights and a war crime. How can anyone, any government, not respond?
    We must never forget that "all that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing."

    September 1, 2013 03:42 pm at 3:42 pm |
  11. raphael

    There is no mention of any information indicating that the Syrian gov't is responsible. Unless we are 100% certain that the Syrian gov't and not the rebels are responsible, then we should not fight a war. Also, there is no indication that Syria has any intention to use those chemical weapons on the U.S. The U.N. report does not point fingers.

    September 1, 2013 03:53 pm at 3:53 pm |
  12. sisterchef

    I think Congress may just punt this back to the oval office. And I am afraid that the whole thing is a ploy to pull other nations into the mess of Syria. The UK said "no," to getting involved. Why can't the US? Why do we always have to beat those damned drums?

    September 1, 2013 03:54 pm at 3:54 pm |
  13. healeyfan

    I wonder if the ICC (The Hague international criminal court "war crimes tribunal") will weigh in if it is proven Assad gave approval for the use of chemical weapons. Seems appropriate. If Assad is deemed having committed crimes against humanity, we hopefully would no longer be the "coalition of the one" in going in and taking him out. Crimes against humanity is an international issue and should be addressed by the international community....period.

    September 1, 2013 04:04 pm at 4:04 pm |
  14. Maxie

    It is a civil war. Obama is backing the al Qaeda rebels. Al Qaeda is our enemy. Supporting an enemy is treason!!!! We have no proof that Assad used chemical weapons. There are some indications that the rebels did this. The only reason we are in this situation is because Obama opened his big mouth and set up a red line. Now he's trying to cover his butt by dumping it on congress. Until we have definitive proof that Assad did this and the support of NATO, we should do nothing. It's not the credibility of the United States that is in question, it's Obama's. We are no longer the world's police force. We can't afford it.

    September 1, 2013 04:25 pm at 4:25 pm |
  15. Politico

    Well, I thought as Secretary of State Kerry would take action on this. I guess his action is to stand in front of a podium and speak. Sure would have thought Obama would hire someone with an ability to act, not just speak. I heard that as a Muslim, Obama does not want to take action against any Syrians.

    September 1, 2013 05:09 pm at 5:09 pm |
  16. annette howey

    The American taxpayer and soldier will be paying once again for a war so that the American weapons contractors, bankers, client hires and politicians can line their pockets. I honestly believe that the Syrian government did not do this.

    September 1, 2013 05:10 pm at 5:10 pm |
  17. boungiorno

    careful what you wish for might get it yourself

    September 1, 2013 05:20 pm at 5:20 pm |
  18. Some1tired of the lies

    An AP reporter, reported the rebels mishandled gas provide dby the saudis. the saudis are paying rebels also. Look it up

    September 1, 2013 05:28 pm at 5:28 pm |
  19. liberal disease

    so why wait, you never cared what congress thought before...

    September 1, 2013 05:37 pm at 5:37 pm |
  20. TheTraveler

    "I can't contemplate that the Congress would turn its back on all of that responsibility and the fact that we would have in fact granted impunity to a ruthless dictator to continue to gas his people. Those are the stakes," he said. "And I don't believe the Congress will do that."

    If there is one thing Congress is very, very good at, it's turning their backs on responsibility. All one has to do is look around at the sorry shape the US has gotten into over the last 30 years or so and it's more than evident. People will blame the President, past and present, but it's the CONGRESS who should be scrutinized far, far more than the Executive Branch. The CONGRESS is supposed to represent the will of the people, and they have failed miserably at their duties. How any of those in Congress can stand and justify their 6 figure salaries is beyond me with the rest of the US going butt over teakettle down the tubes both socially and fiscally.

    September 1, 2013 05:42 pm at 5:42 pm |
  21. Daily Llama

    If we respond with a military act – and I'm skeptical that we should – and a single civilian gets killed ......... every bit of good we hope to accomplish will be brutally over-reported and exaggerted by the world media.

    This is a no-win situation any way we look at it.

    The Nobel Committee must act with immediate urgency to retract and withdraw the "peace price" awarded to the most undeserving recipient – ever.

    September 1, 2013 05:50 pm at 5:50 pm |
  22. RLee

    President Obama had already decided to take military action agianst Syria without Congressional approval. Then at the last minute he decided to seek congressional approval. Now what if Congress does not grant their approval? Then what? Will you override Congress and charge full steam ahead down that slippery slope and take the US into yet another possible middle eastern campaign? I pray that you w...ill have the same resolve as British PM David Cameron. Yes. The US has the most powerful military on the planet. And the active US President is the most powerfuly head of state on the planet. But does that mean the US has to act as big brother for the planet? I have an alternative plan of action: Prayer. Wouldn't it be somenthing if the most powerful head of state on the planet called for a unified corporate prayer for the answer to Syria and all other foreign and domestic affairs.

    September 1, 2013 05:51 pm at 5:51 pm |
  23. Sharron

    What is it that you are trying to accomplish? Syria has had so much time and they have moved the chemical weapons, air force and anything else of importance. There is no element of surprise. Obama says we are not trying for regime change. Even if you did kill Assad and put in the rebels, they are Al-Queda, really dumb to do that. The only reason Obama wants to do anything is because he opened his mouth several times about the red line which they have crossed with chemical weapons on several occasions. What Assad did is beyond words and there is a special place in hell for him one day. You could not bomb the chemical weapons even if you knew where they were because if you did, you would most likely kill hundred of thousands of humans. This is all about Iran and Russia. Russia in entrenched in Syria. They have the largest port built outside of Russia in Syria. I am sure there are sleeper cells in the United States and if we do bomb Syria, they will awaken. The only thing Obama is doing at this point is trying to save his face after he had his episodes of "diarrhea of the mouth". The cruise missles will just basically land in the sand. Maybe take out a few buildings and that will be it. This is about Obama's ego.

    September 1, 2013 06:21 pm at 6:21 pm |
  24. dick4sanchez

    Really? when have we been able to count on congress to do the right thing?

    September 1, 2013 06:23 pm at 6:23 pm |
  25. El Chapo

    Have we paid for the last war yet? How can we afford another one? Oh that's right! China paid for the last one. Darn.

    September 1, 2013 06:24 pm at 6:24 pm |
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