- NEW: U.N. says its investigation will be “impartial and credible”
- U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry says blood and hair samples show sarin use
- Syrian opposition: Obama has given false hope to those suffering
- Iran: The U.S. will face consequences if it attacks the Syrian regime
(CNN) — The Obama administration pushed forward Sunday on a new path toward military action in Syria, calling on Congress to support the president’s call.
Announcing that evidence collected independently of a United Nations probe shows Syria used sarin gas in an attack on its people, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said the United States has to act.
“If you don’t do it, you send a message of impunity,” he said in an interview with CNN’s “State of the Union.”
Iran, North Korea, and Hezbollah “will look at the United States and say ‘Nothing means anything’ — that’s what’s at stake here,” he said.
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Syria denies using chemical weapons on its people, and blames rebels. But Kerry called the evidence “overwhelming.”
The United Nations argued Sunday for world leaders to wait until its probe is completed into whether chemical weapons were used.
“The U.N. mission is uniquely capable of establishing in an impartial and credible manner the facts of any use of chemical weapons,” Martin Nesirky, spokesman for Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, said repeatedly at a news conference.
While member states are encouraged to share any relevant information, Nesirky said he didn’t know whether the United States had shared the information Kerry referred to.
The U.N. is giving no timeline as to when results will be ready, Nesirky said. “It’s being done as fast as it is possible to do within the scientific constraints.”
Samples will be delivered to laboratories Monday, he said.
The investigation involves a strict chain of custody and clear guidelines, he said, adding that two Syrian government officials monitored the process.
But even when it’s done, the U.N. will only say whether chemical weapons were used — not who was responsible.
Obama changes course
U.S. military action appeared imminent until Saturday, when Obama announced he would first seek Congress’ approval.
Lawmakers come back from recess September 9.
The president’s decision quickly drew criticism from those who support and those who oppose a strike.
“We can’t understand how you can promise to help those who are being slaughtered every day in the hundreds, giving them false hope, then change your mind and say let’s wait and see,” said the Syrian National Coalition, a key group of Syrian dissidents.
Iran, a staunch supporter of the Syrian regime, warned the United States will pay a price if it strikes Syria.
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Even the slightest attack by the United States against Syria will result in dire consequences, Iranian Brig. Gen. Mohammad Reza Naqdi said, according to the state-run FARS news outlet. The agency did not specify what those consequences would be.
Sarin allegedly used previously in Syrian civil war
World leaders have said previously that sarin has been used in the Syrian civil war.
In April, the United States said it had evidence sarin was used in Syria on a small scale.
In May, a U.N. official said there were strong suspicions that rebel forces used the deadly nerve agent.
In June, France said sarin had been used several times in the war, including at least once by the Syrian regime.
On Saturday, Obama said “well over 1,000 people were murdered.” Kerry on Friday cited a death toll of 1,429, more than 400 of them children.
Obama’s last-minute Syria switch
After signaling he was on the verge of delivering a strike against Syria, Obama made a last-minute decision Friday evening to seek congressional authorization before any military action, senior administration officials told reporters Saturday.
“While I believe I have the authority to carry out this military action without specific congressional authorization, I know that the country will be stronger if we take this course, and our actions will be even more effective,” Obama said Saturday. The 1973 War Powers Act technically allows him to strike without such approval.
U.S. authorities are tightening domestic security measures. The FBI and the Department of Homeland Security are warning of a higher risk of cyberattacks after months of disruptions by hackers known as the Syrian Electronic Army, and authorities say more attacks are likely.
Britain has voted against taking any military action in Syria, and France said it won’t act without the United States as a partner.
“France cannot act alone,” Interior Minister Manuel Valls told Europe Radio 1 on Sunday. “There must be a coalition.”
France’s prime minister will meet with government ministers and other officials Monday to discuss Syria, two days before an open debate on Wednesday, the French government said.
German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle tweeted Sunday that the time gained waiting for U.S. congressional approval “must be used to reach a common position of the international community within the U.N. Security Council.”
In another tweet, Westerwelle said the results from a U.N. inspectors’ visit to Syria “must be sped up.”
Syria on ‘maximum readiness’
Syria’s prime minister appeared unfazed by the threat of foreign intervention.
“The Syrian Army’s status is on maximum readiness and fingers are on the trigger to confront all challenges,” Wael Nader al-Halqi said, according Syrian state-run TV.
The Syrian government has denied that it used chemical weapons in the August 21 attack, saying that jihadists fighting with the rebels used them in an effort to turn global sentiments against the regime.
British intelligence had put the number of people killed in the attack at more than 350.
CNN’s Catherine Shoichet, Khushbu Shah, Evan Perez, Saad Abedine, Mohammed Tawfeeq, Tom Watkins, and Dana Bash contributed to this report.
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