Syrian president says his government will abide by U.S.-Russia plan, but denies responsibility for August 21 attack.
President Bashar Assad said in an interview that aired on the Fox News channel Wednesday that his government would abide by an agreement to dispose of Syria’s chemical weapons and hand them over to whatever nation was willing to take them.
However, Assad insisted that his forces were not responsible for the chemical weapons attack outside Damascus on August 21 that killed over 1,400 Syrians. He said that “no one has verified the credibility of the videos’ of sarin-gas victim.”
Assad said it would cost about $1 billion and take about a year to get rid of Syria’s chemical weapons under the plan agreed to by Russia and the United States last week.
“I think it is a very complicated technically and it needs a lot, a lot of money. Some estimated about a billion for the Syrian stockpile,” he said.
Asked whether he would be willing to hand over chemical weapons to the U.S. government, Assad said: “As I said, it needs a lot of money. It needs about 1 billion. It is very detrimental to the environment. If the American administration is ready to pay this money and take the responsibility of bringing toxic materials to the United States, why don’t they do it?”
Assad also said the majority of rebels fighting his government are now jihadists and that while Syria is not in a civil war, it has been attacked by Al-Qaida.
Kucinich, a liberal Democrat and eight-term congressman who is now a commentator for Fox News, was present for the interview on Tuesday in Damascus along with Fox senior correspondent Greg Palkot, the network said in a statement.
It was Assad’s second question and answer session with an American network this month. In the earlier interview televised by PBS and CBS on September 9, Assad denied he was behind a chemical weapons attack outside Damascus on August 21.
Kucinich, who was a vocal opponent of the Iraq war while he was a member of Congress, more recently has argued against the United States getting involved in Syria’s civil war. He had visited Assad twice before.
“On Saturday, September 7, Fox News contributor Dennis Kucinich advised me that he believed he could secure an interview with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, whom he had met on previous occasions,” Michael Clemente, Fox News’ Executive Vice President, News, said in the statement.
“At the time, it appeared that an American military attack on Syria was imminent, and I decided that Kucinich should pursue the interview, on condition that Fox News journalists would also be included,” Clemente said.
When the interview happened, Palkot “conducted the interview beside Kucinich and I was present in the control room and studio at the Presidential Palace in Damascus for the duration,” Clemente said.
“Kucinich was not there in the capacity of a journalist nor was he representing Fox News in that role,” Clemente added.
Last month, Kucinich was quoted as warning that any U.S. air strikes on Assad’s forces could effectively turn the U.S. military into “al Qaeda’s air force” because al Qaeda-linked groups are among the rebels fighting Assad.
President Barack Obama threatened action against Syria after the August 21 chemical weapons attack. But Obama put military action on indefinite hold after the United States and Russia reached a deal last weekend calling for Syria to account for its chemical weapons and to agree to their destruction by mid-2014.
Kucinich’s 16-year congressional career ended last year when he lost the Democratic primary in his redrawn Ohio district. He also unsuccessfully sought the Democratic presidential nomination in 2004 and 2008.