The United Nations is due to release a much-anticipated report on an alleged chemical weapons attack in Syria on Monday, just days after Russian and American officials cobbled together a deal to rid the country of such arms.
The report comes as Secretary of State John Kerry sought to drum up international support for the U.S.-Russian pact announced Saturday. It would allow Syria’s stockpile of chemical weapons be removed or destroyed by next year.
The U.S.-Russian agreement forestalled, for the time being at least, threatened American strikes in retaliation for the alleged Aug. 21 chemical weapons attack in the suburbs of Damascus, which U.S. officials blamed on forces loyal to Assad. The White House contends that 1,429 people died in the incident.
More than 100,000 Syrians are thought to have died in Syria's civil war since President Bashar Assad cracked down on protests against his government and violence spiraled in 2011. Some 2 million Syrians are now thought to be refugees in neighboring countries.
A U.N. chemical weapons expert, wearing a gas mask, holds a plastic bag containing samples from one of the sites of an alleged chemical weapons attack in the Ain Tarma neighborhood of Damascus on Aug. 29.
U.N. inspectors tasked with finding out whether poison gas was used in the attack sent their report to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Sunday. Ban is scheduled to brief the Security Council and then reporters at 12:50 p.m. ET. The report will also be released on the United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs’ website, according to the U.N.
On Friday, Ban said he expected "an overwhelming report" that chemical weapons were used.
President Barack Obama defended the agreement that Kerry reached with his Russia, one of Assad's closest allies.
Responding to critics who've said the president had not handled the crisis smoothly, Obama said on Sunday he wasn't worried about "style points" but rather the end result of getting the Syrian regime to stop using chemical weapons.
“If that goal is achieved, then it sounds to me like we did something right,” Obama said on ABC's This Week.
However, Republican Rep. Mike Rogers, chairman of the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, said he was skeptical that the deal would work.
"If the president believes, like I do, that a credible military force helps you get a diplomatic solution, they gave that away in this deal. I'm really concerned about that," Reuters quoted Rogers as saying.
Some of the president's Democratic supporters were also wary.
If Assad scorns his commitments, "We're back to where we started - except Assad has bought more time on the battlefield and has continued to ravage innocent civilians," Sen. Robert Menendez said.
Kerry also defended the deal on Sunday.
The agreement “has the full ability ... to strip all of the chemical weapons from Syria,” he told reporters in Jerusalem after briefing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on the accord reached in Geneva. The "threat of force is real" and "we cannot have hollow words in the conduct of international affairs," he added.
The agreement drew guarded support from Netanyahu.
Obama has said that the U.S. Navy will maintain its increased presence in the eastern Mediterranean Sea to be in position to respond if diplomacy fails.
On Monday, Kerry was in Paris meeting with President Francois Hollande, and the Turkish and Saudi Arabian foreign ministers to bolster support for the deal. All three countries have been strong supporters of the rebels fighting to topple Assad.
Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.
First published September 16 2013, 2:41 AM