WASHINGTON (AP) — 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 that the Syrian regime carried out a chemical attack last month that killed hundreds.
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 regime — were responsible for the Aug. 21 attack.
Speaking at a conference, Putin said, "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 U.S., Britain, France and others believe that 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 that his regime was responsible for the attack.
The U.S., 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 argue that 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."
Kerry's comments in support of the U.N. report followed weeks of U.S. skepticism about whether the U.N. inspectors would be able to make valid determinations, mainly because of the length of time that transpired between the attack and when the inspectors were given access to the site.
The U.S. wants a new 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. The U.S. and Russia are arguing over putting the resolution under Chapter 7 of the U.N. Charter. Chapter 7 deals with threats to international peace and security and has provisions for enforcement by military or nonmilitary means, such as sanctions.
Russia, which already 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 U.S., China, Britain and France.
"We really don't have time today to pretend that anyone can have their own set of facts approaching the issue of chemical weapons in Syria," Kerry said. "This fight about Syria's chemical weapons is not a game. It's real. It's important. It's important to the lives of people in Syria, it's important to the region, it's important to the world that this be enforced — this agreement that we came out of Geneva with."
The U.S., Russia, China, Britain and France met again Thursday to discuss the text of the resolution.
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, which is based in The Hague, Netherlands, is scheduled for Sunday, spokesman Michael Luhan told The Associated Press.
Actions taken by the OPCW are not legally binding, which is why the Security Council will then have to adopt a legally binding resolution enshrining the agreement, and likely referring to consequences if Syria doesn't comply.
AP Diplomatic Writer Mathew Lee in Washington and AP writers Edith M. Lederer at the United Nations and Michael Corder in The Hague, Netherlands, contributed to this report.