Last updated: September 1, 2013 11:35 pm

John Kerry says US tests prove sarin used in Syria attacks

John Kerry, the US secretary of state, on Sunday strengthened the case for military action against Bashar al-Assad’s regime after announcing that tests conducted on gas attacks in Syria had proved positive for the nerve agent sarin.

As he kicked off a week of intense lobbying, Mr Kerry urged Congress to consider the security of US allies Israel and Jordan in the vote next week over whether to authorise force against Syria after Barack Obama unexpectedly delayed air strikes.

US administration map: areas of chemical attacks

US administration map: areas of chemical attacks

The president’s decision on Saturday to ask Congress to support the move caught even his closest advisers by surprise with neither Mr Kerry nor Chuck Hagel, defence secretary, consulted.

The US had indicated that Washington would stick to its timetable for a weekend strike after the UK voted on Thursday to reject involvement in military action.

Mr Kerry’s comments came as George Osborne, the UK chancellor, ruled out trying to persuade MPs to change their mind over British military action, saying: “I think parliament has spoken.”

Mr Osborne admitted there was “a lot of scepticism out there” and said the government would not try to rerun a vote that had rejected British intervention.

Mr Obama’s decision to consult the US Congress on military intervention created a possible window for Prime Minister David Cameron to try to corral a parliamentary majority behind UK participation in strikes on Syria.

But Mr Osborne told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show on Sunday: “I don’t think another UN report – or whatever – would make a difference. Of course, I wanted us to be part of a military response but that’s just not going to be open to us now.”

The head of the Arab League also on Sunday accused the Syrian regime of being behind the chemical weapons attack.

Mr Kerry said that the US would “not lose anything” by going to Capitol Hill but would “gain the legitimacy of the full-throated response of the Congress of the United States and the president acting together”.

“I can’t contemplate that Congress would turn its back on Israel and Jordan and the allies of the region,” Mr Kerry told Fox News Sunday in a series of interviews making the administration’s case.

In depth

Syria crisis

An apparent chemical attack by the regime of Bashar al-Assad on a Damascus suburb has shifted opinion in the west towards possible military intervention

Congress is deeply divided across party lines over authorising US military action overseas in the wake of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, and some Republicans will relish the chance to vote against Mr Obama irrespective of their views on Syria.

The draft resolution to go to Congress says military force should be used to “deter, disrupt, prevent and degrade” the potential for the future use of chemical weapons but stresses the Syrian conflict should be settled through negotiation.

France, the only major military power standing by Washington, accepted it would have to wait for US congressional approval with the US delay raising pressure on President François Hollande to allow a French parliamentary vote.

However, a senior official in France said the Elysee did not intend to sanction a vote in the French national Assembly, despite its confidence that there was majority support from both the Socialist party and those supportive of military action in the centre right UMP opposition.


Timeline on vote

Saturday August 24, 4.30pm Barack Obama telephones David Cameron in Cornwall to say Assad has crossed a “red line” by using chemical weapons and the US wants to launch a punitive military strike the following weekend.

Thursday August 29, 10pm (UK time) After emergency recall of parliament, MPs begin voting at Westminster on military action against Syria. Mr Cameron loses key vote by 285 to 272. He says he “gets it” and that Britain will not participate in any attack.

Friday August 30, 5.30pm (UK time) Mr Cameron explains to Mr Obama the implications of Commons vote. Mr Obama says he is thinking how to manage US public opinion but does not mention Congressional vote.

Friday August 30,1pm (US ET) John Kerry lays out the US case for striking Syria, detailing intelligence dossier that includes precise casualty numbers, with far more detail than UK published before the Commons vote.

Saturday August 31 Mr Cameron told just minutes before Mr Obama’s Rose Garden speech that US president intends to put Syrian military action to Congressional vote.

Sunday September 1 Senior British ministers dispatched to TV studios to play down prospects of a second Commons vote on military action, whatever Congress says. “Parliament has spoken,” says George Osborne, the UK chancellor.

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