“I know they have gotten very rich samples, biomedical and environmental, and they have interviewed victims, doctors and nurses,” a senior Western official said. “It seems they are very happy with the wealth of evidence they got.” The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the secrecy surrounding the investigation, could not identify the specific agents detected by the U.N. team but said that “you can conclude from the type of evidence” the identity of the perpetrator.
Obama’s address Tuesday — in which he said he would test the Russian offer while keeping the threat of a U.S. military strike against Syria alive — left many perplexed.
“I really do think they’ve hurt our credibility around the world just in the muddled way that they have dealt with this Syria issue,” Sen. Bob Corker (Tenn.), the ranking Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee, told CNN.
Before the Russian offer, Obama had scheduled a lunch with Republicans and the Tuesday address to press an increasingly reluctant Congress to approve military action against the Syrian regime.
Most Republicans at the lunch, Corker said, “would have believed last night he was going to make the greater case, the strategic case for us in Syria. I heard no word — not one word of it. . . . He just cannot follow through. He cannot speak to the nation as commander in chief. He cannot speak to the world as commander in chief. He just cannot do it.”
Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) was among those arguing that Obama should change his original appeal to Congress from an authorization to use force to punish Assad for chemical weapons use and deter him from doing it again, to threatening a strike if Syria cheats on an agreement to destroy its chemical weapons.
“Assad and his Russian backers . . . are unlikely to follow through if that threat does not remain credible,” Levin said in a breakfast meeting with reporters. The result, he said, would be to push them closer to an eventual political settlement of Syria’s civil war.
While the administration claimed credit for using the threat of a military strike to force Russia and Syria to the bargaining table over chemical weapons, it does not want that same threat to drive them away before a weapons deal can be tested.
“We are doing the responsible thing here,” White House press secretary Jay Carney said.
Colum Lynch at the United Nations contributed to this report.