The Free Press, Mankato, MN

State, national news

September 1, 2013

Citing sarin use, U.S. seeks Congress' OK for action

WASHINGTON — The Obama administration geared up for the biggest foreign policy vote since the Iraq war by arguing Sunday that new physical evidence shows the Syrian government used sarin gas in a deadly August attack. With its credibility on the line, the United States must respond, the country's top diplomat said.

Members of Congress, deadlocked on just about everything these days and still on summer break, expressed sharply divergent opinions about whether to give President Barack Obama the go-ahead he requested to retaliate with military force against the Assad regime, and what turning down the commander in chief could mean for America's reputation.

Presenting Obama's case for military action, Secretary of State John Kerry gave a series of interviews on Sunday news shows outlining the latest information the administration has received about the Aug. 21 attack in the Damascus suburbs that the U.S. says killed 1,429 civilians, including more than 400 children. He said samples collected by first responders added to the growing body of proof that Syria's government launched a chemical weapons attack.

"Samples of hair and blood have been tested and they have reported positive for signatures of sarin," Kerry said. "Each day that goes by, this case is even stronger. We know that the regime ordered this attack. We know they prepared for it. We know where the rockets came from. We know where they landed. We know the damage that was done afterwards."

Sarin, which affects the nervous system and is toxic in liquid or gas form, can be delivered in missiles, bombs, rockets or artillery shells. The gas is outlawed under international rules of warfare. The reference to hair and blood samples were the first pieces of specific physiological evidence cited by any member of the administration, which previously spoke only about an unnamed nerve agent.

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