As he maneuvers through delicate negotiations, President Obama doesn't have to wonder if he can trust Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Assad himself said so.
“I don’t think that President Obama should trust me,” he said in a Fox News interview Wednesday evening. “The Syrian people should trust me, not President Obama.”
The United States and Russia reached a deal to disarm Syria without military action. Damascus has one week to provide a “comprehensive list” of its chemical weapons and must allow UN weapons inspectors into the country by November.
Assad said he's prepared to surrender the country’s chemical arsenal. The stockpile is “not secret anymore,” he said. “That’s why we joined the international agreement, in order to get rid of them.” He said he planned to “fully cooperate” with the international community.
But the Syrian leader continued to deny his regime was behind the deadly chemical weapons attack outside Damascus on Aug. 21. “We didn’t use any chemical weapons,” he said. “No one has verified the credibility of the videos and the pictures.”
The Syrian presidency Twitter account tweeted;
#Assad to #FoxNews: In one word, we did not use CW. We have evidence that terrorist groups used Sarin. Evidence was handed to the Russians.— Syrian Presidency (@Presidency_Sy) September 19, 2013
He suggested outside forces were to blame: “Sarin gas is called kitchen gas, do you know why? Because anyone can make Sarin in his house.” He added, "You cannot use Sarin beside your own troops."
He raised the specter of terrorists infiltrating Syria.
#Assad to #FoxNews: 80-90% of rebels are from al-Qaeda and its offshoots. We have tens of thousands of jihadists now in #Syria— Syrian Presidency (@Presidency_Sy) September 19, 2013
A United Nations report released Monday found “clear and convincing evidence” that rockets carrying the nerve agent Sarin were used to kill nearly 1,500 civilians, including more than 400 children. The U.N. stopped short of accusing the Syrian government of turning weapons on its own people; President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry have said Assad’s troops are responsible for the deaths.
Assad noted the “complicated operation” of physically destroying these weapons, which takes “a lot of money” and can be “detrimental to the environment.”
“If the American administration is ready to pay this money and to take responsibility of bringing toxic materials to the United States, why don’t they do it?” he asked. “In the end, if you’re going to destroy them, it doesn’t matter where they go.”
Obama has said a U.S. military strike against Syria is still not off the table, but a diplomatic solution remains the goal.
Assad said he'd like to change his relationship with Washington--but, ironically, isn't sure he can trust Obama.
#Assad: A reset of relationships with the US depends on the credibility of US admin. We never looked at US or American people as enemy— Syrian Presidency (@Presidency_Sy) September 19, 2013
“When you talk about agreements and the international relations, you have mechanisms, and those mechanisms should be based on objective criteria, so if you want to trust or not trust, watch this country, see if they obey those mechanisms and those rules or not. This is where you can trust them or not,” Assad said.
The two leaders have never spoken directly, Assad said. Asked if he'd be interested in talking to President Obama, Assad said, "It depends on the content" of the conversation. He laughed and added, “It’s not a chat.”
Former congressman Dennis Kucinich scored the highly-sought-after interview with Assad. The liberal Democrat, who now works as a contributor at Fox News, co-conducted the exchange with Fox News' senior foreign-affairs correspondent Greg Palkot.
Fox News host Bret Baier carefully noted that Kucinich was not a journalist “or representing Fox news in that role.”
The interview itself was shot on Tuesday by a Syrian camera crew. The government promoted the interview on the Syrian president’s Twitter and Facebook feeds.
You can view the full script of President Al-Assad's interview with American Fox News on the following link: http://t.co/IaD1XuniGC— Syrian Presidency (@Presidency_Sy) September 18, 2013
Assad also spoke with American journalist Charlie Rose earlier in the month.