Syrian President Bashar al-Assad says he is committed to destroying his country’s chemical weapons but it will take about a year to do so.
In an interview with US Fox News channel President Assad said his government would abide by an agreement reached with US and Russian officials to give up his chemical weapons.
He said he has received estimates that destroying the stockpiles would cost $1bn and would take roughly a year.
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President Assad said: “We didn’t say that we are joining partially… We joined fully. We sent the letter. We sent the document. And we are committed to the full requirement of this agreement.”
He said Syria was ready to talk to experts about the technical aspects of what he said would be a complicated task.
He said Syria was also ready to provide a list of weapons and provide experts access to the sites.
He said: “We can do it tomorrow. It’s not about will… It’s about technique.”
President Assad also denied his government was to blame for the chemical attack on Damascus on 21 August.
He said: “The whole story doesn’t even hold together.
“It’s not realistic. … We didn’t use any chemical weapons in Ghouta.”
While the UN report did not lay blame, many experts interpreting the report said all indications were that the attack was conducted by Assad forces.
While President Assad said the 21 August attack was “despicable” and “a crime,” he argued that no one had verified the credibility of videos or pictures of the victims.
“You cannot build a report on videos,” he said.
“There’s a lot of forgery on the Internet.”
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He contended that opposition forces, which have been joined by extremist jihadists, could have gained access to sarin.
“Sarin gas is called kitchen gas,” he said.
“You know why? Because anybody can make sarin in his house. Any rebel can make sarin. Second, we know that all the rebels are supported by governments. So any government that would have such chemical can hand it over.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has repeatedly blamed the Syrian opposition for the chemical weapons attack on 21 August, on Thursday told reporters that Moscow had strong grounds to believe that the incident had been a “provocation”.
Mr Assad said the balance of opposition forces has shifted during the more than two-year conflict, and he alleged that 80 to 90 per cent were members of al-Qaeda or its affiliates.
“At the very beginning, the jihadists were the minority. At the end of 2012 and during this year, they became the majority with the flow of tens of thousands from additional countries,” he said adding that they were being financed by individuals who shared their extremist ideologies.
President Assad said he had never talked with President Barack Obama.
Asked if he wanted to, he said it would depend on the content of the conversation.
“It’s not a chat,” he said.
He said his message to President Obama would be to “follow the common sense” of the American people.
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Americans have been lukewarm about supporting any military strike on Syria for fear that the US would be embroiled in war.
Meanwhile Nato Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said it was crucial to keep the military option on the table in dealing with the Syria crisis.
He said: “I think it is essential for keeping momentum in the diplomatic and political process that the military option is still on the table.”
“I think, irrespective of the outcome of the deliberations in the UN Security Council, the military option will still be on the table.”