In an interview aired on Wednesday, Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad said that he was fully committed to destroying his government’s reserve of chemical weapons, but warned that it would take at least a year and a billion dollars to do so.
Assad, in an interview with Fox News in Syria’s capital city Damascus, again denied that his government was responsible for the fatal chemical attacks on August 21 in Ghouta, outside Damascus, that killed more than 1,400 Syrians and nearly prompted the West to launch a military strike in retaliation. “The whole story doesn’t even hold together. It’s not realistic. So, no, we didn’t. In one word, we didn’t use any chemical weapons in Ghouta,” he said in the interview.
Assad again reiterated his long-stated position that the chemical attack was instead the work of Syrian rebels, a claim that has been backed by Russia. (The BBC reports that Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has said his country has evidence to present to the U.N. Security Council that shows the chemical attack was the work of terrorists.) Assad also told Fox News that he plans to fully cooperate with a disarmament agreement proposed by the U.S. and Russia that would see Syria give up all of its chemical weapons. But, he said, it wouldn’t be an easy operation.
“I think it is a very complicated operation technically and it needs a lot, a lot of money. Some estimated about a billion for the Syrian stockpile,” he said. “It has a certain schedule. It needs a year, or maybe a little bit more.”
When asked whether he would be willing to hand over chemical weapons to the U.S. government, Assad said, “It needs a lot of money. It needs about one 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 offered a message to President Barack Obama, saying “follow the common sense of your people” — an apparent reference to polls that reflect Americans’ wariness of an air strike on Syria and potentially getting involved in another war.