September 1st, 2013
09:03 AM ET
10 years 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.

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"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. john.nosetip

    Does any rational person believe these folks? If we are testing samples someone please make a stop in Fallujah and see if DU shows up.

    September 1, 2013 09:52 am at 9:52 am |
  2. TJ

    More than 100,000 people have been killed in the Syrian civil war. Why the moral outrage now? A death is a death, whether it be by Sarin gas, mortar, bomb or bullet. When the United States unleashes its strikes on Syria and kills hundreds or thousands, will the manner which people are killed be more ethical or moral because they came from cruise missiles?

    And what about the U.S.'s own hypocrisy in regards to chemical weapons?

    Foreign Policy Magazine AUGUST 26, 2013

    CIA Files Prove America Helped Saddam as He Gassed Iran

    The U.S. knew Hussein was launching some of the worst chemical attacks in history - and still gave him a hand.

    The U.S. government may be considering military action in response to chemical strikes near Damascus. But a generation ago, America's military and intelligence communities knew about and did nothing to stop a series of nerve gas attacks far more devastating than anything Syria has seen, Foreign Policy has learned.

    September 1, 2013 09:53 am at 9:53 am |
  3. James

    Last time we rushed the gun we had bad intel. It happens all kinds of bad intel out there. Now we need to make sure that mistake isn't being made again. After all to many possibilities could have happened.

    September 1, 2013 09:53 am at 9:53 am |
  4. Bryan

    This whole mess is like open mike night at the improv

    September 1, 2013 09:54 am at 9:54 am |
  5. James

    Iibya was a mistake however Syria would not be.

    September 1, 2013 09:54 am at 9:54 am |
  6. us_1776

    As soon as I saw the videos of the victims and their symptoms I could tell right away that this was a nerve gas attack.

    Anyone who has been in the military and trained in combat knew this immediately.


    September 1, 2013 09:57 am at 9:57 am |
  7. turley


    September 1, 2013 09:57 am at 9:57 am |
  8. Dixie

    This is a no win situation for Congress. We must stop chenical wepons at the same time we don't have a full picture of the fallout from action. It was a mistake to remove our trops from Iraq because this only allows syria to go forward with this use of chemical warfair. They were much more careful while we were in country.

    September 1, 2013 10:02 am at 10:02 am |
  9. Essjay

    Too many bullies in the Middle East. Who wants to rule, and for what? Just to say, "my rules are better than your rules"? You can't even tell who the bad guys are. It really might take the Second Coming to straighten things out.

    September 1, 2013 10:05 am at 10:05 am |
  10. bdivad

    How can a case that the Secretary declared as certain at the beginning become even more stronger? A problem with the Secretary leading with his conclusion on about Day 1 and not letting the American people in on his "evidence" is that, for many of us, it destroys his credibility and suggests other agendas.

    Further, how has Mr. Kerry tracked the source of the sarin and excluded all explanations beyond a shadow of a doubt? What standard of proof are you working off of, Mr. Kerry?

    The rush to judgement is sickening. And none of this, even if the use of chemicals was authorized by the Assad government, is a good or lawful or smart basis for America to cherry pick this conflict (as opposed to all the bad stuff governments do to their people all over the globe) and go to war here. Are you Secretary of State or Secretary of War? War has become way too easy. Try some hard work diplomacy and do some good or please step down.

    September 1, 2013 10:07 am at 10:07 am |
  11. mike

    we all know that sarin was used, the key question is who used it. Maybe the regime, maybe the rebels. Why the us didn't response while 2 UN key inspectors told that was the rebels who used sarin recently? Why is Kerry 200% sure that was the regime even they don't have proves?

    September 1, 2013 10:12 am at 10:12 am |
  12. JimBob

    If the information Obama is working with is legitimate and overwhelmingly damning, then Congress should readily come to the same conclusion. No harm in passing this decision through additional eyes. Smart move for Obama. I do think that Congress should be summoned back from recess early for this. I know that I've been called back to work from vacation/holiday for critical decisions – these people are no different.

    September 1, 2013 10:13 am at 10:13 am |
  13. Rick McDaniel

    That doesn't change the fact, the US has zero support, to get involved. period.

    September 1, 2013 10:15 am at 10:15 am |
  14. Ishmael Finn

    "Independently obtained evidence" from an "appropiate chain of custody" and not an authorized investigative body does not denote guilt. This standard would not be acceptable in a court of law, it should not be acceptable as a pretext for an act of war.

    Furthermore, Several Arab League members including Saudi Arabia, Qatar, UAE, Oman and Kuwait are signatories to the Chemical Weapons Convention in 1993. The Arab League has the forces and treasury to engage Syria, this is their neck of the woods and their people. Let them solve the problem in Syria militarily, not the United States.

    September 1, 2013 10:16 am at 10:16 am |
  15. jerry

    UN chief inspector swiss mrs. carla del ponte already told it was the rebels. Obama should bomb al qaida and not syrian regime. but but the plot was to destroy even it was the rebels obama will bomb the regime

    September 1, 2013 10:16 am at 10:16 am |
  16. Jim

    How did they get John off of his boat on a labor day weekend? I bet this story was given to CNN days ago.

    September 1, 2013 10:21 am at 10:21 am |
  17. Tom Murphy

    Kerry has no credibility, see video "John Kerry Lacks Integrity and Credibility" and all this war talk is illegal, it is illegal to make threats of force and attacking would also be a crime.

    September 1, 2013 10:21 am at 10:21 am |
  18. Mark


    If the information Obama is working with is legitimate and overwhelmingly damning, then Congress should readily come to the same conclusion. No harm in passing this decision through additional eyes. Smart move for Obama. I do think that Congress should be summoned back from recess early for this. I know that I've been called back to work from vacation/holiday for critical decisions – these people are no different.

    It puts the ball in their court. And now it will Congress that is damned either way – good, on that one point I think Obama made the right move; while he has authority to move without their approval, it is still better this way. Still, the worst part is the lost of trust from years of foreign policy that has done little more than lie and engage in highly questionable and often illegal conduct. Why should we trust them now?

    September 1, 2013 10:25 am at 10:25 am |
  19. Peace

    I agree with you that the congress should be summoned back and deal with the issue as soon as possible. BUT this congress has no difference from The United Nations. They are both paralysed. Who can't see that this issue is quite a pressing one? I can assure you if the President could had ordered the attack this weekend, you could had heard by now the congress screaming wherever they are.

    September 1, 2013 10:35 am at 10:35 am |
  20. tricia02

    i wasnt for an attack on seria till i saw the pictures of the babies laying dead in the streets still holding their dolls tight and some with pacifiers still in their mouths and some with their bottles this broke my heart and i say go get em...

    September 1, 2013 10:36 am at 10:36 am |
  21. John

    The most dangerous comment of all was Kerry's comment that the President has the authority to launch weapons against a sovereign country engaged in actions within its own borders without anyone else's permission. Congress can declare war, NOT the President.

    September 1, 2013 10:37 am at 10:37 am |
  22. Clarke

    Who knows, maybe Bush was right, maybe they just moved the chemical weapons from one country to another. Let us see what our great Congress will do with this!

    September 1, 2013 10:39 am at 10:39 am |
  23. Mark

    Can only hope the Tea Party tells Obama NO

    Just like Libya. Wasted money, still do not like us, and got a bunch of Americans KILLED!

    September 1, 2013 10:40 am at 10:40 am |
  24. TOLDYOU.

    has this been confirmed on a credible news source?

    September 1, 2013 10:47 am at 10:47 am |
  25. Alexander

    The administration needs to focus on determining without doubt – which side of the conflict in Syria is in fact responsible for the recent and previous chemical attacks. This is very important to stop the use of chemical weapons in Syria. If Obama punishes the wrong side, this will only incentivize the other side to use MORE chemical weapons. It is like using negative reinforcement in training cats.

    Meanwhile the Administration for some strange reason never bothered to look into ALL versions of the origin of the chemical attacks. This is contrary to the facts that the Turkish border guards have already intercepted chemical munitions carried by the rebels into Syria.

    Besides, Assad regime does not benefit from using chemical weapons, he has plenty of conventional ammo to rain on the heads of his enemies and general population. The rebels, on the contrary, if all tracks is covered well, have to benefit a lot from such use.

    September 1, 2013 10:53 am at 10:53 am |
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