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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

Secretary Kerry Remarks to the Press on Syria

John Kerry
Secretary of State
Press Briefing Room
Washington, DC
September 19, 2013

SECRETARY KERRY: Good afternoon, everybody.

QUESTION: Good afternoon.

SECRETARY KERRY: Sorry to keep you waiting. We ran over with our friends from China.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

SECRETARY KERRY: Beg your pardon?

QUESTION: Was lunch good?

SECRETARY KERRY: Lunch was good. Thank you, Matt.

As you all know, before I became Secretary, I spent 28 years in the United States Senate and I witnessed some great debates and some of the best senators there produced some of the best debates that I’ve seen – sometimes. And some of the senators, I learned, liked to debate about just about anything. As my pal John McCain was fond of saying, a fight not joined is a fight not enjoyed. But it was also in the Senate where I personally heard former Ambassador of the United Nations-turned-Senator from New York Daniel Patrick Moynihan end more than a few debates with his own bottom-line reminder: “You are entitled to your own opinion, but you are not entitled to your own facts.” And those words are really worth using and focusing on as we head into next week’s General Assembly meeting in New York of the United Nations.

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. 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. And for many weeks, we heard from Russia and from others, “Wait for the UN report. Those are the outside experts.” That’s a quote. “That is the independent gold standard.” That’s a quote.

Well, despite the efforts of some to suggest otherwise, thanks to this week’s long-awaited UN report, the facts in Syria only grew clearer and the case only grew more compelling. The findings in the Sellstrom report were as categorical as they were convincing. Every single data point – the types of munitions and launchers that were used, their origins, their trajectory, their markings, and the confirmation of sarin – every single bit of it confirms what we already knew and what we told America and the world. It confirms what we have brought to the attention of our Congress, the American people, and the rest of the world. The UN report confirms unequivocally that chemical weapons, including the nerve agent sarin, were used in Syria. And despite the regime’s best efforts to shell the area and destroy the evidence, the UN interviewed more than 50 survivors – patients, victims, health workers, first responders. They documented munitions and subcomponents. They assessed symptoms of survivors, analyzed hair, urine, blood samples. And they analyzed 30 soil and environmental samples.

And what did they learn? They returned with several crucial details that confirmed that the Assad regime is guilty of carrying out that attack, even though that was not the mandate of the UN report. But anybody who reads the facts and puts the dots together, which is easy to do – and they made it easy to do – understands what those facts mean.

We, the United States, have associated one of the munitions identified in the UN report, the 122-millimeter improvised rocket, with previous Assad regime attacks. There’s no indication – none – that the opposition is in possession or has launched a CW variant of these rockets such as the kind that was used in the 21st of August attack.

Equally significant, the environmental, chemical, and medical samples that the UN investigators collected provide clear and compelling evidence that the surface-to-surface rockets used in this attack contained the nerve agent sarin. We know the Assad regime possesses sarin and there’s not a shred of evidence, however, that the opposition does.

And rocket components identified in the ground photos taken at the alleged chemical weapons impact location areas are associated with the unique type of rocket launcher that we know the Assad regime has. We have observed these exact type of rocket launchers at the Assad regime facilities in Damascus and in the area around the 21st of August.

So there you have it. Sarin was used. Sarin killed. 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. When we said we know what is true, we meant it. And now, before I head to New York for the UN General Assembly, we have a definitive UN report strengthening the case and solidifying our resolve. Now the test comes. The Security Council must be prepared to act next week. It is vital for the international community to stand up and speak out in the strongest possible terms about the importance of enforceable action to rid the world of Syria’s chemical weapons.

So I would say to the community of nations: Time is short. Let’s not spend time debating what we already know. Instead, we have to recognize that the world is watching to see whether we can avert military action and achieve, through peaceful means, even more than what those military strikes promised. The complete removal of Syria’s chemical weapons is possible here, through peaceful means. And that will be determined by the resolve of the United Nations to follow through on the agreement that Russia and the United States reached in Geneva, an agreement that clearly said this must be enforceable, it must be done as soon as possible, it must be real.

We need everyone’s help in order to see that the Security Council lives up to its founding values and passes a binding resolution that codifies the strongest possible mechanism to achieve the goal and to achieve it rapidly. We need to make the Geneva agreement meaningful and to make it meaningful in order to eliminate Syria’s CW program and to do it with transparency and with the accountability, the full accountability that is demanded here. It is important that we accomplish the goal in New York and accomplish it as rapidly as possible.

Thank you all.

QUESTION: Could you --

QUESTION: Secretary, on a related subject --

SECRETARY KERRY: If you have any questions – Marie’s going to answer some questions.

QUESTION: On a related subject, can we just ask you whether you think the President might meet with President Rouhani to test the seriousness of what Iran has said?

SECRETARY KERRY: I think the White House needs to speak to that at the appropriate time.

QUESTION: Is it a positive sign, coming from Rouhani in these – in this interview?

SECRETARY KERRY: I think Rouhani’s comments have been very positive, but everything needs to be put to the test and we’ll see where we go. And at the right moment, I think the White House and the State Department will make clear where we’re heading.

PRN: 2013/2143

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