The idea that the departure of a United Nations chemical weapons inspection team from Syria opens a window for a U.S. attack is "grotesque," the top U.N spokesman said Saturday.
At a news conference Saturday, spokesman Martin Nesirky said about 1,000 international and U.N. staff remain in Syria, and the United Nations is just as concerned about their welfare as it is about its team of inspectors. He also said the Syrian population would be vulnerable to harm.
Nesirky said Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon will be briefed further by the head of the U.N. chemical weapons team Sunday.
The remarks came as President Obama spoke to the nation Saturday afternoon, hours after U.N. experts — who had been collecting samples from last week's alleged chemical weapons strike outside Damascus — left the country.
The team traveled out of Syria via Lebanon before flying to the Dutch city of Rotterdam aboard a German government-chartered plane, the German Foreign Ministry said. An aircraft believed to have been chartered by the German government landed in Rotterdam on Saturday afternoon.
The chemical weapons experts were working to determine what occurred in the apparent chemical weapons attack near Damascus on Aug. 21, which U.S. intelligence reports say left 1,429 people dead, including 426 children. They have taken blood and urine samples from victims and soil samples from areas where chemical attacks have been reported. The samples will be tested in Europe.
Russian President Vladimir Putin urged President Obama on Saturday not to rush into a decision on striking Syria.
"If there is evidence, it should be presented," Putin said. "If it is not presented, that means it does not exist."
Putin's comments come after Obama said Friday that he is considering a "limited, narrow act" as a military response to Syria's alleged use of chemical weapons against its own citizens.
Calling it "a challenge to the world," Obama said the use of chemical weapons threatens U.S. national security and merits a response.
"We're not considering any open-ended commitment," the president said. "We're not considering any boots-on-the-ground approach."
Secretary of State John Kerry also spoke Friday, detailing the intelligence community's findings and announcing the release of a four-page report summarizing the administration's case against Syrian President Bashar Assad's regime.
"I'm not asking you to take my word for it," Kerry told reporters at the State Department. "Read for yourselves the verdict reached by our intelligence community" that the government of Syria was responsible for the attack.