Assad: Syria needs one year to destroy chemical weapons
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has said he is committed to a plan to destroy his country's chemical weapons, but warned it could take about a year. Mr Assad again denied claims that his forces were responsible for a deadly chemical attack near Damascus on 21 August.
The Syria disarmament plan was unveiled by the US and Russia last weekend. The West wants the deal enshrined in a UN resolution backed by the threat of military force, but Russia objects.
Damascus - backed by Moscow - has insisted that rebel forces carried out last month's attack in the Ghouta area.
Referring to the issue of destroying Syria's stockpiles of chemical weapons, Mr Assad said it was "a very complicated operation, technically. And it needs a lot of money, some estimates say about a billion [dollars]."
"So it depends, you have to ask the experts what they mean by quickly. It has a certain schedule. It needs a year, or maybe a little bit more."
And when asked whether he would be willing to hand over chemical weapons to the US, President Assad said: "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?"
Mr Assad also used the one-hour interview recorded in Damascus to criticize the US stance in the Syrian crisis. Unlike the Russians, he said, Washington had tried to get involved in Syria's leadership and governance. He argued that if there was mutual respect, there would not be any problems.
"Listen to your people. Follow the common sense of your people," he said, in an apparent reference to US President Barack Obama.
Mr Assad's comments come shortly after a senior Russian diplomat said Damascus would fulfil its commitment to eliminate its chemical weapons by mid-2014. After talks in Syria on Wednesday, Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said President Assad was "very serious" about the disarmament plan.
Mr Ryabkov also said that Syrian officials had handed him "material evidence" that showed the rebels were involved in the sarin attack last month, contradicting claims by the US that the regime was responsible. And the Russian diplomat criticized the United Nations for being "one-sided" in its recent report on the attack - a claim the UN denied. The report - prepared for UN weapons experts after a visit to Syria - did not apportion blame for the 21 August attack.
Meanwhile Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel has said in an interview on German television that chemicals exported from Germany to Syria, which were capable of being used to make poison gas, were used for civilian purposes. ( Well of course she would say that. Nobody wants to be the bad guy where poisoning children and innocent civilians is concerned.)
The German government, responding to a request from a member of parliament, said 137 tons of two substances capable of being used to make the poison gas sarin were exported to Syria between 2002 and 2006.
Syria's chemical weapons
- CIA believes Syria's arsenal can be "delivered by aircraft, ballistic missile, and artillery rockets"
- Syria is believed to possess mustard gas, sarin, and tried to develop VX gas
- Syria has agreed to join Chemical Weapons Convention; it signed Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention in 1972 but never ratified their agreement.