Assad vows to hand over arsenal

Updated: 2013-09-20 16:11

By Dave Clark in Washington (China Daily)

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Syrian president tells US network it will take at least a year and cost $1bn

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad promised on Wednesday that he would surrender Syria's chemical weapons but warned it would take at least a year to do so and would cost $1 billion.

His latest appearance came as UN envoys debated a draft resolution that would enshrine a joint US-Russian plan to secure and neutralize his banned weapons in international law.

In an interview with US network Fox News, Assad insisted that Syria was not gripped by civil war but was the victim of infiltration by foreign-backed al-Qaeda fighters.

He insisted that his forces had not been behind an Aug 21 gas attack on the Damascus suburbs that left hundreds of civilians dead but vowed nevertheless to hand over his deadly arsenal.

It was Assad's second interview this month with US television and one of a series of meetings with Western journalists to counter mounting political pressure from Western capitals.

After last month's barrage of sarin-loaded rockets, which Western capitals say was clearly launched by the regime, US President Barack Obama called for punitive military strikes.

Assad vows to hand over arsenal

But with many US lawmakers and Western public opinion against the airstrikes, Assad's ally Russia seized the opportunity to propose a diplomatic solution. Pushed by President Vladimir Putin, the White House agreed to hold fire while Russia and the international community, with Assad's agreement, drew up a disarmament plan.

Assad reiterated his pledge to cooperate but insisted he had not been forced to do so by US threats of action. "I think it's a very complicated operation, technically. And it needs a lot of money, about a billion," he told Fox. "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."

While Assad pursued his media counterattack, the five UN Security Council powers held new talks on a resolution backing the Russia-US plan to destroy the chemical weapons.

Western nations could seek a Security Council vote this weekend, if Russia agrees. UN envoys from the US, Russia, France, Britain and China held two hours of talks at the US mission. "There is no accord yet. There will be more negotiations," said one UN diplomat.

The disarmament plan will face its first big test on Saturday, the one-week deadline announced by Moscow and Washington for Assad to provide a list of his chemical facilities.

The situation on the ground became still more complex and dangerous, when, according to residents, an al-Qaeda front group overran a Syrian border town. "The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) has seized complete control of Azaz. They control the town's entrances," said an activist inside the town.

The development in Azaz comes amid increasing reports of fighting in northern Syria between ISIS and non-jihadist rebels vying to bring down Assad's regime.

Agence France-Presse

 Assad vows to hand over arsenal

Syria's President Bashar al-Assad speaks during an interview with US network Fox News from Damascus, in a photograph distributed by Syria's national news agency SANA on Thursday. Reuters / Sana / Handout via Reuters

(China Daily USA 09/20/2013 page6)