WASHINGTON - Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad Sunday denied he had anything to do with last month’s chemical weapons attack that killed hundreds of Syrians, but would not confirm or deny his regime has chemical weapons, according to Charlie Rose of CBS, the first American television anchor to interview the Syrian leader.
Rose said on Face The Nation news programme that Assad “denied he had anything to do with the attack” and “he denied that he knew in fact” there was a chemical attack. The entire interview will air on Monday evening. The Syrian President reportedly told Rose there is no evidence yet to make a conclusive judgement about whether the attacks in August were even chemical attacks.
He also said he could not “confirm or deny we have chemical weapons” and suggested that the rebels may have had something to do with the attacks. Assad said if in fact he had chemical weapons, though, no one else would have access to them because there is centralized control.
Assad also reportedly told Rose that if President Barack Obama’s administration has evidence that he used chemical weapons, then it should show the evidence and make the case. He insisted there was no evidence that he used chemical weapons against his people. Rose said Assad did not know whether the United States would strike, but he was prepared as he could be. Assad suggested there would be some kind of retaliation if the United States decided to strike militarily.
He had a message to the American people to stay out of the Middle East because Americans have not had good experiences intervening in the region. Assad suggested the American people should communicate to their lawmakers in Congress to not give Obama the authorization to strike Syria.
Rose said Assad was closely watching what was happening in Washington, and granted him the interview because he was cognizant of the political reality on the ground in America.
The interview with President Assad is scheduled to air on “The Charlie Rose Show” on PBS Monday - the same day President Barack Obama is scheduled to sit down with six different television networks, including PBS, to make his case to for a U.S. strike against Syria.
According to CBS News president David Rhodes, Rose interviewed Assad in Damascus and then travelled to Beirut where he spoke with CBS’ Bob Schieffer by phone.
Commenting on President al-Assad’s statement, National Security Council spokeswoman Bernadette Meehan said, “It doesn’t surprise us that someone who would kill thousands of his own people, including hundreds of children with poison gas, would also lie about it.”
Earlier Sunday, White House chief of staff Denis McDonough warned that if Congress refuses to back the president’s plan, it would send a bad signal to the rest of the Middle East.
“Everybody agrees that on August 21st, Assad used chemical weapons against his own people,” McDonough said on ABC’s “This Week With George Stephanopoulos.”
“So the question facing Congress this week is a very simple one - should there be consequences for his having used gases, chemical weapons, to kill more than 1,000 of his own people, including more than 400 children?” he continued. “The answer to that question will be followed closely in Tehran, the answer to that question will be followed closely in Damascus, the answer to that question will be followed very closely by members of Lebanese Hezbollah. So this is a big, big question and a big week for Congress to address that, uh, very fundamental national security issue.”