Al-Assad needs a year to eliminate chemical arms


Fri, Sep 20, 2013 - Page 1

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has said it will take at least a year and US$1 billion for Syria to surrender its chemical weapons, as terrorist fighters tightened their grip yesterday on a border town.

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

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.

The plan is to be discussed at a meeting in The Hague today by the world’s chemical weapons watchdog, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.

Al-Assad insisted in the television interview that his forces had not been behind an Aug. 21 gas attack on the Damascus suburbs that killed hundreds of civilians, but vowed nevertheless to hand over his deadly arsenal.

It was his second interview this month with US television, and one of a series of meetings with Western journalists.

Al-Assad reiterated his pledge to cooperate, but insisted he had not been forced to do so by threats of US action.

“I think it’s a very complicated operation, technically. And it needs a lot of money, about a billion [US dollars],” 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,” he said.

Asked why he had used force to repress a popular uprising and triggered a two-and-a-half-year war that has claimed 110,000 lives, he said Syria was a victim of terrorism.

“What we have is not civil war. What we have is war. It’s a new kind of war,” he said, alleging that Islamist guerrillas from more than 80 countries had joined the fight.

Meanwhile, the situation on the ground became still more complex and dangerous, when an al-Qaeda front group overran a Syrian border town on Wednesday, residents said.

“The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant has seized complete control of Azaz. They are in control of the town’s entrances,” an activist inside the town said.

Elsewhere, roadside bombs targeting a convoy of minibuses in the central province of Homs killed nine civilians yesterday, Syrian Observatory for Human Rights director Rami Abdel Rahman said.