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US has 'real evidence' of Syrian chemical attacks, Kerry says

With the US Congress set to reconvene to debate whether to approve US military intervention in Syria, efforts by the White House to garner support at home and abroad are in full swing. But there is much persuading to do.

Visiting London, US Secretary of State Kerry said Monday that the US had "real evidence" pointing to the Syrian regime's involvement in an August 21 chemical attack outside Damascus in which Washington claims 1,429 people died.

Speaking at a news conference held with his British counterpart William Hague, Kerry (right in photo) said he had "evidence that as a former prosecutor in the United States I could take into a courtroom and get admitted."

"We know that his [Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's] regime gave orders to prepare for a chemical attack," he said, adding that the US knows "where the rockets came from and where they landed ... and it was no accident that they all came from regime-controlled territory and all landed" in opposition-held territory.

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US takes Syria case to skeptical public

His remarks came as he was asked about comments made by Assad to CBS television in an interview to be aired on Monday. Assad argued that there was no conclusive evidence about who was to blame for the chemical weapons attack, though he himself blamed rebels.

He also said the US could face reprisals from "Syria's allies" if there were an attack by Western forces.

Hague (pictured left above) said in his remarks that the US had "the full diplomatic support of the United Kingdom," even if London did not intend to take part in any military action, adding that Britain would be "working closely with our closest ally" on Syria.

The British parliament two weeks ago voted against supporting a US-led military strike.

Efforts at persuasion

At home in the United States, President Barack Obama is also scrabbling to get lawmakers and public on side ahead of a first vote by Congress on Wednesday on "limited" US military intervention in Syria.

Obama is to appear in interviews on six television stations on Monday, ahead of an address to the nation on prime-time television on Tuesday. Before the speech, he is to meet with Senate Democrats to seek support, according to Senate Democratic aides.

Opinion polls show that most Americans oppose a strike. A recent Reuters/Ipsos survey showed that 56 per cent of Americans were against US-led military action in Syria and only 19 per cent in favor.

Persuading Congress is also likely to prove difficult, with an AP survey showing House members opposed to, or tendentially against, a military strike by a 6-1 margin.

'Bring back the inspectors'

Meanwhile, the Russian and Syrian foreign ministers said on Monday they planned to push for the return of UN chemical weapons inspectors to Syria to continue their reports.

After talks with his Syrian counterpart, Walid al-Moallem, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that Moscow would continue to promote a peaceful settlement of Syria's 29-month civil war.

A team of UN inspectors is due to report to the world body on its findings at the site of the attack at roughly the same time that Congress holds its vote.

Russia has proven a loyal ally to Syria in recent times, regularly vetoing UN resolutions on Syria together with China.

tj/mkg (AP, dpa, Reuters)

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