DAMASCUS - Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has said that he is fully committed to disposing of his chemical arsenal, but denies his forces launched a poison gas attack last month that killed hundreds near Damascus.
In an interview with Fox News, Assad promised to abide by a U.S.-Russia deal aimed at destroying the chemical stockpiles, but described the situation as “complicated,” saying destruction of the weapons would cost about $1 billion and would take a year or “maybe a little more.”
The disarmament plan, which is still being debated by U.N. Security Council envoys, requires Syria’s government to turn over details of its chemical weapons by Saturday. Assad said he is willing to do this “tomorrow” and can provide experts access to the sites where the weapons are stored.
Assad slams UN report
The Syrian leader also slammed a U.N. report issued this week that confirms sarin nerve gas was used in an attack against civilians in the rebel-held suburb of Ghouta on August 21. Although the report did not assign blame, the U.S. and other Western nations said it strongly suggested that government forces, not rebels, were responsible for the attack.
President Assad called the findings “unrealistic.” He also expressed doubt about the authenticity of the large amounts of photos and videos purporting to show the aftermath of the attack, saying “there’s a lot of forgery on the Internet.” He said it is possible rebel forces had access to the sarin gas, a claim his government has repeatedly made.
Assad also insisted his government is not fighting a civil war, but waging a “new kind of war” against an infiltration of Islamist fighters from more than 80 countries. While he acknowledged the two-year uprising against him initially included non-extremists, he said that by the end of 2012 they had become the majority. He said “80 to 90 percent now consist of Al-Qaida and their offshoots.”
The interview, which aired Wednesday, was conducted in Damascus by a Fox correspondent and former U.S. lawmaker Dennis Kucinich, who is now an analyst for the network. It is the second interview this month the Syrian leader has given to a U.S. television network.
Appeal to Obama
During the interview, he appealed to U.S. President Barack Obama to refrain from military threats against his government, urging the U.S. leader to “listen to the common sense of your people.” Those comments appeared aimed at highlighting U.S. opinion polls showing strong public opposition to threatened military strikes to punish the Syrian government for the poison gas attack.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said evidence gathered by U.N. investigators on the ground and released Monday “indisputably” and “overwhelmingly” confirms the use of the nerve agent sarin on a relatively large scale in the attack on Ghouta.
The U.S. says the attack killed killed 1,400 people.
Before the Russian-U.S. deal on Syria emerged, Obama had called for a limited campaign of air strikes against the Syrian government in order to enforce a global ban on chemical weapons.
Meanwhile, the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council continue to hold talks on a draft resolution that would formalize the chemical weapons disarmament plan. The U.S., Britain, and France want to ensure the draft threatens the use of force to ensure Syrian compliance. Russia, Syria’s main ally, has resisted these efforts. It is unclear when a vote will be held.
Source: VOA News