Syrian President Bashar al-Assad says his government will honor an agreement to dispose of its chemical arsenal, but denies his forces launched a gas attack last month said to have killed more than 1000 people near Damascus.
In an interview with the U.S. network Fox News, Assad promised to abide by a deal reached by U.S. and Russian envoys aimed at liquidating the chemical stockpiles. He said destruction of the weapons would cost $1 billion and would take about a year.
The interview, aired Wednesday, was conducted in Damascus by a Fox correspondent and former U.S. lawmaker Dennis Kucinich, who is now an analyst for the network.
Assad also insisted his government is not fighting a civil war. He described the two-year conflict as "a new kind of war" pitting government forces against Islamist fighters from more than 80 countries. He also said "80 to 90 percent of the underground terrorists are al-Qaida and their offshoots."
Assad urged U.S. President Barack Obama to refrain from military threats against his government, and urged the U.S. leader to, in his words, "listen to the common sense of your people." Those comments appeared aimed at highlighting U.S. opinion polls showing strong public opposition to threatened military strikes to punish the Syrian government for a poison gas attack against civilians on August 21.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said evidence gathered by U.N. investigators "indisputably" and "overwhelmingly" confirms the use of the nerve agent sarin on a relatively large scale.
U.S. President Barack Obama and other Western leaders cite intelligence and witness accounts showing the attack killed 1,400 people in a rebel-held Damascus suburb, Ghouta. They allege Assad's forces launched the attack - a charge Assad denies and Russia and China dispute. The Assad government blames the attack on rebels.