Speaking ahead of the General Assembly of the United Nations next week, Secretary of State John Kerry said Thursday that the Security Council must be prepared to act to rid the world of Syria’s chemical weapons.
The world is watching to see whether the international community can avoid military action and achieve the complete removal of chemical weapons through peaceful means, Kerry said in a statement ahead of his trip to New York next week.
“We really don’t have time today to pretend that anyone can have their own facts,” Kerry said, referring to Syrian President Bashar Assad’s denials that his military forces were responsible for deploying sarin gas in a horrific attack that sparked threats of a U.S. strike and was confirmed this week by a scathing United Nations report.
“This fight about Syria’s chemical weapons is not a game,” Kerry added. “It’s real. It’s important.”
Kerry said that any doubts that still existed about Assad's regime being behind the Aug. 21 attack were dissipated by the U.N. report, whose findings he said were categorical and convincing.
"Despite the regime’s best efforts to shell the area, destroy the evidence, the U.N. interviewed more than 50 survivors -- patients, victims, health workers, first responders," he said, adding that other evidence analyzed -- such as hair and blood samples and munitions consistent with previous Assad attacks -- confirms the opposition was not behind the attack.
"Please," Kerry urged, "this isn't complicated,” he said, adding that it is vital for the international community to "stand up and speak out."
"Let’s not spend time debating what we already know,” Kerry concluded.
Earlier Thursday, Russian President Vladimir Putin said he could not be certain that a plan for Syria to hand over its chemical weapons for destruction will be completed.
The agreement, brokered last weekend by the United States and Russia in Geneva, forestalled the threat of an American military strike on Syria.
“I can’t say whether it will be possible to finalize these projects, but all that we have seen is reassuring that it will be done,” Putin told a gathering of foreign journalists, businessmen and policy experts.
He added: “Responsibility for Syria lies on all, not just Russia.”
The United Nations concluded this week that rockets loaded with sarin gas were fired into a suburb of Damascus, the Syrian capital, on Aug. 21. Syria has been mired in civil war for more than two years.
The United States says it has overwhelming evidence that Assad's forces fired the rockets. Assad has denied his forces were involved, and both he and Putin have suggested it was the work of the rebels. The U.N. report made no finding on who used chemical weapons.
Putin last week published an Op-Ed in The New York Times criticizing the United States for, among other things, military adventurism. On Thursday, he questioned the presumption that Syrian “evil” needs to be punished.
“What’s evil there?” he asked. “That Assad’s family have been in power for 40 years?”
The U.S.-Russian deal calls for Syria to provide a full accounting of its chemical weapons and allow U.N. inspectors to start working no later than November. It envisions the elimination of Syrian chemical weapons by the middle of next year.