LONDON— U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has offered a passionate case for military action against the Syrian government, saying there is solid proof of its responsibility for the chemical weapons attack last month. He says inaction would send a “congratulatory message” to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and other U.S. adversaries in the Middle East.
Kerry spoke in London where he concluded a series of meetings with European and Middle Eastern leaders.
The U.S. top diplomat said Washington has “powerful” evidence that the Syrian government ordered the chemical weapons attack.
“We have high level regime [officials] that have been caught giving these instructions and engaging in these instructions and engaging in these preparations, with results going directly to President Assad,” said he.
Kerry rejected denials and threats of retaliation from Assad, issued during an interview with CBS News, saying that the Syrian leader has no credibility.
And the secretary warned of serious consequences in Syria and beyond if the international community does not respond.
“If you want to send Iran and Hezbollah and Assad a congratulatory message, 'You guys can do what you want.' You'd say, 'don't do anything.' We believe that's dangerous and we will face this down the road in some more significant way if we're not prepared to take some kind of a stand now,” said the U.S. secretary of state.
Kerry said Syria could avoid an attack by turning over all its chemical weapons to the international community and allowing inspections, but he does not expect that to happen.
Earlier Monday, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem said a U.S. military strike could thwart attempts to convene a peace conference in Geneva to negotiate a resolution to the Syrian conflict.
Speaking at a joint news conference in Moscow with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, the Syrian foreign minister suggested the chemical attack that Washington blames on President Assad was a pretext to encourage military intervention and asked whether U.S. President Barack Obama was backing terrorists.
Al-Moallem said Syria was perfectly entitled to ask a question: what are the true intentions of the United States who want to start aggression siding with the al-Nusra Front and other similar organizations?
Secretary Kerry would not predict whether Obama will order a military strike on Syria if he does not get congressional approval. But he did say a strike that degrades the Syrian government's military capability could help push it into peace talks, which he said is the only way to truly end the country's more than two-year-long civil war.
The secretary said key members of the U.S. Congress have seen some secret evidence that has not been made public in order to protect intelligence gathering methods. And, a former senator himself, Kerry said he understands the reluctance of some members, and many other Americans, not to get involved in another Middle Eastern war.
“But that's not what we're talking about. What we have to do is make clear to people that we're not talking about war, we're not going to war, we will not put people at risk in that way. We will be able to hold Bashar Assad accountable without engaging in troops on the ground or any other prolonged kind of effort, in a very limited, very targeted, very short term kind of effort,” said he.
Kerry has brought that message to European and Middle Eastern leaders during a series of meetings in Europe over the last several days, and said he received support from many of them.
He also had what he called a long, productive and informative meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas Sunday evening. He said he is encouraged by the determination of Palestinian and Israeli negotiators to continue their talks in spite of disputes, and said he hopes the meetings will proceed “thoughtfully” and “quietly” in the coming months.