Assad Demands $1 Billion From US for Chemical Weapons Removal

Wednesday, 18 Sep 2013 07:25 PM

By Greg Richter

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Syrian strongman President Bashar Assad wants the United States to pay $1 billion to help him get rid of the chemical weapons arsenal he built up.

His demand came in the middle of an interview with former Democratic congressman Dennis Kucinich on Fox News.

Assad said removing the chemical weapons would take roughly a year.

"As I said, it needs a lot of money. It needs about $1 billion," Assad said. "It is very detrimental to the environment.

"If the American administration is ready to pay this money and take the responsibility of bringing toxic materials to the United States, why don't they do it?"

During the interview with the former Ohio representative, Assad vowed to provide a list of sites and to allow inspectors in.

"We didn’t say we are joining partially that agreement or that organization. We joined fully ... We are committed to the full requirements of this agreement," he said.

He also said his government would abide by an agreement to dispose of chemical weapons and hand them over to whatever nation was willing to take them.

Story continues below video.



Despite saying he would dispose of his country's deadly chemical weapons, Assad still insisted that his forces were not responsible for the Aug. 21 attack outside Damascus that shocked the world.

He said a U.N. report that found "clear and convincing evidence" of a sarin nerve gas attack in Syria last month is "unrealistic." He denied that his regime orchestrated the attack that killed more than 1,000 people.

Assad also said his country was not in a civil war but had been invaded by jihadists loyal to al-Qaida.

Kucinich and Fox News correspondent Greg Palkot interviewed Assad in the Syrian capital Damascus on Sept. 17. The interview aired Wednesday.

Asked by Kucinich why Syria is agreeing to get rid of its chemical weapons now when it denied even having them earlier, Assad said Syria actually introduced a proposal to make the Middle East a chemical-free and WMD-free zone in 2003, but the United States opposed it.

He called it a "blatant lie" by President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry that Syria ever denied having chemical weapons.

"We never said no, we never said yes. We always say it is classified issue. We don't have to talk about it," Assad said.

Pressed by Kucinich on whether he now admits to having stockpiles of chemical weapons, Assad responded, "When we joined the treaty last week it means that we have, and we said that. And it's not a secret anymore."

He said he isn't using the agreement as a stalling tactic to keep the United States from attacking, saying that Syria must obey the "mechanism" put forth in the agreement.

Kucinich asked if Fox News cameras could go to the sites and show the chemical weapons to the American public. Assad said that was a decision he was not authorized to make, but that they were free to ask the proper authorities about it after the interview was over.

He said that even the United States could have the weapons if it is willing to assume the risk that goes along with them and pay for their destruction. But they would have to go through the "specified organization in the United Nations."

Assad denied that Syria agreed to get rid of its chemical weapons in response to the threat of U.S. military action. It was the Russian proposal that moved them, he said.

"We obey because we want to obey," Assad said. "We have different incentives."

Although he maintained there still isn't evidence that the Syrian government was responsible for the deadly attack on Aug. 21, he did say that the proposal required Syria "not to use the arsenal again."

Assad agreed that if the attack did happen, it would be a war crime and grave violation of international law as U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has said.

But, he added, the videos, showing children and other civilians shaking and gasping for breath as hundreds of them died, has not been verified yet.

"There is a lot of forgery on the Internet," he said.

Assad disagreed that 50 percent or fewer of the rebels fighting his government are members of terrorist groups. He estimated that 80 to 90 percent were affiliated with al-Qaida or other jihadist groups.

Assad said he has never spoken to Obama, but would advise him to listen to the American public, who are largely opposed to military action.

"Follow the common sense of your people," he advised the U.S. president.

Kucinich noted that Assad is a physician and wondered whether he gave up the Hippocratic oath to do no harm when he assumed political office.

"Sometimes [doctors] have to extract the bad member that could kill the patient," Assad answered. Doctors deal with one patient, he said, while politicians deal with the public good.

"It's better if you take the decision that could help everyone," he said. "But sometimes in certain circumstances, in difficult circumstances, you cannot."

Palkot noted how American officials had seen Assad as a reformer when he took over the presidency from his father in 2000.

"I'm still reformer," he said, saying that Syria is more of a democracy than many of its neighbors in the Middle East. He said he accepted demands of more reforms from his people and changed the constitution. He said he also will stand for election in 2014.

Asked whether he would step down for the good of Syria, Assad said that is a decision for the people of Syria to make, not outsiders. Syrian ally Russia has never tried to interfere with his country's affairs, he said.

"Only the American administration, their allies in Europe, and some of their puppets in the Arab world" have called for his ouster, he said.

Reuters contributed to this report.


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