Destroying Syria’s chemical weapons will take one year and cost about 1 billion dollars, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said in an interview broadcast on U.S. television on Wednesday.
It will be a very complicated operation, Mr. Assad told Fox News, adding that his country would completely comply with the international convention on chemical weapons. He also said he would agree to let the weapons be hauled to the United States for destruction if the U.S. were prepared to pay the cost.
Washington and Moscow at the weekend reached an agreement on Syria’s chemical weapons, giving al-Assad’s regime a week to provide full details about its stockpiles and until mid-2014 to dismantle this arsenal.
In the interview Mr. Assad again denied responsibility for last month’s chemical weapons attack that killed more than 1,000 people.
The attack was a violation of international law, he said. “That’s self-evident. This is despicable. It’s a crime.” The interview followed a United Nations statement on Wednesday saying its findings on the use of chemical weapons in Syria were “indisputable.” The findings “speak for themselves and this was a thoroughly objective report on that specific incident,” said U.N. spokesman Martin Nesirky.
U.N. inspectors were due to head back to Syria “within one or two weeks” to continue investigations into the earlier alleged chemical weapons attacks, head of the U.N. team Ake Sellstrom said.
A senior Russian official said on Wednesday that Syria had handed over new evidence showing that rebels had used chemical weapons in a deadly attack near Damascus last month.
Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said details provided by the Syrian government would bolster claims supported by Moscow that Mr. Assad was not responsible for the August 21 attack, which the United States says killed more than 1,400 people.
“We believe that this will strengthen evidence that the rebels were involved in using chemical weapons,” he said in comments carried by Russia’s Itar Tass state news agency.
Mr. Ryabkov, whose country is a major ally of Syria, also accused the United Nations of producing a biased report on the attack.
“To put it mildly, we are disappointed by the approach of the UN Secretariat and the UN inspectors, who compiled their report selectively and incompletely,” Mr. Ryabkov told the RIA Novosti news agency.
He argued that the U.N. report was “politicized and one-sided” as long as it was based solely on the August 21 attack and did not include findings about three other alleged chemical attacks.
Mr. Ryabkov met Mr. Assad in Damascus where the latter praised Moscow’s position on the Syrian crisis, according to the state news agency SANA.
Samantha Power, the U.S. Ambassador to the U.N., told the U.N. General Assembly on Wednesday that “it defies logic” to think that the rebels would have carried out the attack, in an area which they themselves controlled.
Ms. Power called for a “robust, binding” Security Council resolution to implement the U.S.-Russian accord, which plans to put Syria’s chemical weapons under international control, and destroy them.
U.S. President Barack Obama has vowed to keep military options if Syria did not comply.
NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen, meanwhile, said he believed “the credible threat of military action” contributed to push diplomatic efforts on eliminating chemical weapons in Syria.
To “keep momentum in the diplomatic and political process, the military option should still be on the table,” Rasmussen said after talks with British Prime Minister David Cameron in London.
Mr. Rasmussen added it was key that the U.N. Security Council quickly adopts a “firm resolution” to ensure the elimination of Syria’s chemical weapons in line with the U.S.-Russian deal.
Russia, however, insists that the planned resolution will not mention the use of force under Chapter 7 of the U.N. Charter.
Moscow argues that the accord reached with the United States says that such a threat would only be contained in a later resolution, if Syria is found to be not complying with the chemical weapons convention.
Meanwhile, Germany joined other Western nations in blaming Assad’s forces for last month’s chemical attack and called for those responsible to be brought before the International Criminal Court.
“The evidence clearly points to the Assad regime being responsible for breaking this taboo,” said German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle in Berlin.