Syrian President Bashar Assad told the German Der Spiegel in an interview to be published Monday that he would continue to cooperate with the United Nations inspectors dismantling his army's chemical weapons stockpile, but continued to deny that his troops had used such weapons against the Syrian people.
"We did not use chemical weapons," Assad told Der Spiegel, a day after the UN inspectors began destroying the stockpiles. "This is a misstatement. So is the picture you paint of me as a man who kills his own people."
The Syrian government would cooperate with the UN inspectors to every extent to prove this, Assad told Der Spiegel: "We're very transparent. The experts can go to every site. They are going to have all the data from our government."
Assad also reiterated his stance that an August 21 Sarin gas attack was carried out by the rebels, and said there was no definitive proof available indicating that his troops ever used chemical weapons. "No one can say with certainty that rockets were used," Assad said, blasting accusations to the contrary by U.S. President Barack Obama and Western allies. "The only thing he [Obama] has is lies."
The Russians, Assad said, are "our real friends," telling Der Spiegel that they "understand the reality here much better."
In the interview, Assad admitted that his troops had cooperated with Hezbollah in the battles near Syria's border with Lebanon, and voiced doubt that any solution could be negotiated with the "militants," referring to rebel forces.
Assad also told Der Spiegel that he was not afraid of losing the conflict: "If I were afraid," he says, "I would have left Syria a long time ago."
Meanwhile, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said Monday following a meeting with his Russian counterpart that Washington and Moscow have agreed to press the United Nations to set a date for a Syria peace conference sometime in the second week of November.
"We will urge a date to be set as soon as possible," Kerry told reporters at a joint news conference with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.
Kerry also said that the start of the destruction of chemical weapons in Syria was a "good beginning" and, in unusual praise for Damascus, said Syria's government should be given credit for complying with a recent UN resolution to destroy its chemical weapons arsenal.
"I am not going to vouch today for what happens months down the road but it is a good beginning, and we should welcome a good beginning," he added.
Want to enjoy 'Zen' reading - with no ads and just the article? Subscribe todaySubscribe now