WASHINGTON — Secretary of State John Kerry on Thursday called on the U.N. Security Council to move swiftly to approve a U.S.-Russia deal to eliminate Syria’s chemical weapons, saying there is no time to argue with those who remain unconvinced the Syrian regime carried out a chemical attack last month that killed at least hundreds of civilians.
Kerry didn’t mention Russian President Vladimir Putin, but his remarks were a clear attempt to rebut Putin’s statement that Russia has strong grounds to believe that Syrian rebels — not President Bashar Assad’s troops — were responsible for the Aug. 21 attack.
At a conference in Russia, Putin said of the attack: “We have every reason to believe that it was a provocation, a sly and ingenious one.” He said those who perpetrated the attack relied on “primitive” technology, using old Soviet-made ammunition no longer in the Syrian army’s inventory.
While a recent report by U.N. inspectors did not ascribe blame, the United States, Britain, France and others believe the report’s findings offer conclusive evidence that the attack was conducted by the Syrian military. Assad, in an interview this week with Fox News Channel, denied his regime was responsible for the attack.
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The United States, Britain and France pointed to evidence in the report — especially the type of rockets, the composition of the sarin agent and trajectory of the missiles — to declare that Assad’s government was responsible. Moreover, they said there is no evidence that opposition forces possess sarin gas.
“So there you have it. Sarin was used. Sarin killed,” Kerry said. “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 that they don’t possess to kill their own people.
“And then, without even being noticed, they just disassembled it all and packed up and got out of the center of Damascus controlled by Assad. Please. This isn’t complicated.”
In his Russia speech, Putin said he cannot vouch that Syria will surrender its chemical-weapons arsenal and suggested that Israel could help ensure the success of the U.S.-Russian deal by surrendering its suspected nuclear weapons.
“Syria came into possession of chemical weapons as an alternative to Israel’s nuclear weapons,” Putin said at the gathering of political analysts and experts here in Valdai, about 250 miles northwest of Moscow. “The technological superiority of Israel in the region is so obvious that it doesn’t require nuclear weapons, which makes (Israel) a target and creates a special problem for it.”
The United States wants a new U.N. Security Council resolution now under discussion to make the U.S.-Russia agreement reached last week in Geneva legally binding in a way that is verifiable and enforceable.
Russia, which has rejected three resolutions on Syria, would be expected to veto a U.N. move toward military action, and U.S. officials have said they do not contemplate seeking such an authorization. Russia holds veto power in the Security Council, along with the other permanent members — the United States, China, Britain and France.
Before the Security Council can act, members of the world’s chemical-weapons watchdog must meet and approve the deal that Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov agreed to in Geneva last Saturday to put Syria’s chemical stockpile under international supervision for later destruction.
That meeting of the executive council of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, based in The Hague, Netherlands, is scheduled for Sunday, a spokesman said.
Material from the Los Angeles Times is included in this report.