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John Kerry: Evidence of nerve agent sarin in Syria

- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 1, 2013

Secretary of State John F. Kerry pledged Sunday that the Obama administration will persuade Congress to authorize the use of military force in Syria, attempting to bolster his case with new information that traces of the deadly nerve gas sarin was found in Damascus.

Mr. Kerry said in no uncertain terms that intervention against the regime of Bashar Assad is not only in the interest of the Syrian people embroiled in civil war, but is also necessary to head off potential ripple effects in the region and send a message to the world that the United States will not tolerate foreign leaders' using chemical weapons.

"I don't believe that my former colleagues in the United States Senate and the House will turn their backs on all of our interests on the credibility of our country, on the norms with respect to the enforcement of the prohibition against the use of chemical weapons, which has been in place since 1925," he said.

He also said Sunday that indications of the nerve agent sarin were found in blood and hair samples of first responders in the Syrian capital of Damascus.

At the same time, Mr. Kerry said he was well aware of an American public weary of war after a decade of military adventurism in the Middle East.

"This is not Iraq. This is not Afghanistan. There is nothing similar in what the president is contemplating," Mr. Kerry said on ABC's "This Week."

He also disputed charges from Syrian media that President Obama's sudden decision to seek authorization from Congress signaled the first steps of retreat on the United States' part and from Russian President Vladimir Putin that it's "utter nonsense" Mr. Assad would order such a chemical strike on his own people.

"I think this evidence is going to be overwhelming," Mr. Kerry said. "If the president of Russia chooses yet again to ignore it, that's his choice. But the United States and our friends need to make the decisions that we need to make based on the rational presentation of that evidence. We will lay it out there for everybody to judge."

One friend, at least for the moment, is staying on the sidelines. Despite a plea from British Prime Minister David Cameron, the House of Commons rejected a resolution last week to support military intervention if warranted by the findings of U.N. weapons inspectors.

Mr. Obama spoke Saturday with French President Francois Hollande, who supports foreign intervention in Syria. France's parliament is scheduled to debate possible action later this week. On Sunday, the Arab League said in a statement that the U.N. and the international community "are called upon to assume their responsibilities in line with the U.N. charter and international law by taking the necessary deterrent measures."

Mr. Obama last week made overtures similar to Mr. Kerry's, arguing that a limited military intervention is in the interests of the United States, the Middle East, and the entire world — while trying to reassure what polls show to be a skeptical American public.

"I know well that we are weary of war," he said. "We've ended one war in Iraq. We're ending another in Afghanistan. And the American people have the good sense to know we cannot resolve the underlying conflict in Syria with our military."

Mr. Obama's process, if not his specific policy, won him praise from Sen. Rand Paul, Kentucky Republican.

"His policy was that no president should unilaterally go to war without congressional authority, and I'm proud that he's sticking by it," Mr. Paul said Sunday on NBC's "Meet the Press."

In August 2012, Mr. Obama famously declared a "red line" that would change his equation on Syria "if we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilized."

"That would change my calculus," Mr. Obama said then.

Mr. Paul thought otherwise.

"I think the line in the sand should be that America gets involved when American interests are threatened," he said. "I don't see American interests involved on either side of this Syrian war."

On the flip side from libertarian-leaning senators like Mr. Paul, GOP Sens. John McCain of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina said they cannot support isolated military strikes that are not part of a broader strategy to remove the current regime from power.

Mr. McCain said Sunday that he and Mr. Graham plan to make a trip to the White House on Monday to discuss the administration's plans.

"We have to have a plan. It has to be a strategy. It can't just be, in my view, pinprick cruise missiles," Mr. McCain said on CBS' "Face the Nation."

Mr. Kerry, a longtime colleague of both men in the U.S. Senate, says he's confident that those two — and others — will come around.

"I am convinced that we can find common ground here with them and others so that they're convinced that the strategy that is in place will, in fact, help the opposition; that there will be additional pressure; and at the same time, that this is not just an isolated pin prick but something that can have a profound impact on Assad's ability to use these weapons, which he has been using and will use again if we don't do something about it," he said on "This Week."

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