PRESIDENT Bashar al-Assad has said he agrees with the plan, brokered by the US and the Russian governments, to secure and to eventually destroy Syria’s chemical weapons.
He was asked by Fox News in an interview in Damascus on Wednesday if he is ready to open chemical weapons sites to international inspection.
Assad said: ‘We didn’t say that we are joining partially that agreement or that organisation; we joined fully. We sent the letter, we sent the document, and you are committed to the full requirements of this agreement.’
The interview went on to ask: ‘Can you destroy these chemical weapons quickly, and if not, why not?’
President Assad replied: ‘I think it’s a very complicated operation technically, and it needs a lot of money, some estimated about a billion for the Syrian stockpile. We’re not experts in that regard, but that’s the estimate that we’ve had recently.
‘So, you have to ask the experts what do they mean by “quickly” because this has a certain schedule, it needs a year, maybe a little bit less or a little bit more. So, what do you mean by “quickly”?’
Asked are there any conditions for handing such weapons over, Assad replied: ‘No, we don’t have any conditions.
‘Send it anywhere. In the end, if they’re going to be destroyed, they could be destroyed anywhere. As I said, it’s very detrimental to the environment, so whichever country is ready to take risk of these materials let them take it.’
The interviewer: ‘Do you have a security agreement with the Russian government that, if and when you give up your chemical weapons, that you, in fact, will be protected so that you’re not vulnerable to attacks?
‘Because we know there are other nations which gave up their weapons then they were attacked.’
Assad said: ‘You know, the Russian role, politically, was very efficient during the crisis in Syria, during the last two years and a half, and they vetoed three times in the Security Council, so actually they protected Syria politically.
‘They don’t have to have a security agreement with Syria regarding this. It’s not only about the army and the war; it’s about politics. So, I think they are doing their job without having this agreement.’
The interviewer noted that there was a threat of force coming from the United States, that there’s still discussion of the Chapter Seven resolution being put forward to the UN which allows bodies in the UN to use force if Syria is not complying.
Assad said: ‘There’s a misunderstanding that we agreed upon this agreement because of the American threat.
‘Actually, if you go back before the G20, before the proposal of this Russian initiative, the American threat wasn’t about handing over the chemical arsenal; it was about attacking Syria in order not to use the arsenal again.
‘So, it’s not about the threat. Syria never obeyed any threat.
‘Actually, we responded to the Russian initiative and to our needs and to our conviction. So, whether they have Chapter Seven or don’t have Chapter Seven, this is politics between the great countries.’
He stressed: ‘We obeyed because we want to obey, we have completely different incentives.’
Asked if Syria has to sign on to a time limit to destroy chemical weapons, Assad said: ‘No, no. The only thing we have to do is provide the information, and to make them accessible to our sites, which is not a problem. We can do it tomorrow, we don’t have any problem.’
Pressed, he added: ‘Yes, of course. We don’t have a problem. The problem is how fast they can be in getting rid of any chemical material, because this is a very complicated situation.
‘It’s not about will; it’s about techniques. So, only experts can answer your question.’
The interviewer suggested: ‘Experts say it will be so difficult to get rid of these chemical weapons, especially in a war situation like this. This is indeed buying you a lot of time.’
Assad pointed out: ‘Even if you don’t have war, it is difficult. Even if you have all the requirements afforded by every party, it takes time to get rid of them … As I heard it takes about one year, maybe a little bit less, a little bit more. But at the end we have to see the experts, and they will tell us.’
He was asked about the just-released UN report on the chemical weapon attack last month in the outskirts of Damascus which said ‘there’s clear and convincing evidence that the nerve gas Sarin has been used’.
Assad said: ‘We have to discuss the evidence with them … nobody said that it was not used, because in March, we invited the delegation to Syria because Sarin gas was used in March.’
He agreed the use of Sarin ‘is despicable, and it’s a crime.’
The interviewer referred to ‘the videos that we have seen of the child gagging on the ground, of the people vomiting on the floor.’
Assad hit back: ‘Yes, but no-one has verified the credibility of the videos and the pictures. No one verified them. The only verified things are the samples that the delegation went and took; samples of blood and other things from the soil and so on.’
He insisted: ‘You cannot build a report on videos if they are not verified, especially since we lived in a world of forgery for the last two years and a half regarding Syria. We have a lot of forgery on the internet.’
The interviewer put to Assad that ‘many experts interpreting this report’ say this attack ‘looks firmly like an attack coming from your government, from the Syrian government.’
Assad said: ‘First of all, the Sarin gas is called kitchen gas, do you know why? Because anyone can make Sarin in his house … First of all, any rebel can make Sarin.
‘Second, we know that all those rebels are supported by governments, so any government that would have such chemical material can hand it over to those.’
Assad also pointed out: ‘You cannot use the Sarin beside your troops, this is first. Second, you don’t use WMD while you are advancing, you’ve not been defeated, and you’re not retreating. The whole situation was in favour of the army.
‘Third, we didn’t use it when we had bigger problems last year … So, all what you mentioned is not realistic and not true.
‘Definitely, so far as government, we have evidence that the terrorist groups have used Sarin gas and those evidences have been handed over to the Russians …
‘In one word, we didn’t use any chemical weapons in the Ghouta, because if you want to use it, you would harm your troops, you would have harmed tens of thousands of civilians living in Damascus.’
The interviewer went on to ask is the conflict in Syria a civil war.
Assad replied: ‘No, civil war should start from within the society. Civil war needs clear lines, geographical lines, social lines and sectarian lines, but we don’t have these lines in Syria.
‘Civil war doesn’t mean to have 80 or 83 nationalities coming to fight within your countries supported by foreign countries. What we have is not a civil war; what we have is a war, but it’s a new kind of war …
‘We know that we have tens of thousands of Jihadists, but we are on the ground, we live in this country. What I can tell you is 80, and some say 90 – it is difficult to be precise, you don’t have clear and precise data – 80 to 90 per cent of the rebels or terrorists on the ground are Al Qaeda and their offshoots …
‘At the very beginning, the Jihadists were the minority. In the end of 2012, and during this year they became the majority with the flow of tens of thousands from different countries …
‘We have tens of thousands of Syrians that have died, mainly because of the terrorist attacks, assassinations, and suicide bombers, the majority.’
He said more than 15,000 Syrian soldiers have died too.