Syria's Assad: U.S. should 'expect everything' in response to a military strike
WASHINGTON — Syria's foreign minister on Monday accepted a suggestion floated by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to avoid a possible U.S. military attack, agreeing to put the country's chemical weapons under international control even as Washington pressed its case for a strike.
It wasn't clear whether Kerry was making an off-the-cuff remark or a genuine offer that could avert the Obama administration's plans for an air raid, but it could offer a way out of President Barack Obama's foreign policy difficulty in getting support for a strike.
Kerry said during a news conference in London that if Assad wanted to defuse the crisis, "he could turn every single bit of his chemical weapons over to the international community" within a week. But he said that Assad "isn't about to do it."
But Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem quickly agreed, at the urging of Syrian ally Russia.
"Syria welcomes the Russian proposal out of concern for the lives of the Syrian people, the security of our country and because it believes in the wisdom of the Russian leadership that seeks to avert American aggression against our people," Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem said on a visit to Moscow, where he held talks with his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov. Lavrov took Kerry's proposal to al-Moallem.
Al-Moallem, however, wouldn't give any further details in his brief statement and didn't take any questions. It was the first official acknowledgement by Damascus that it possesses chemical weapons.
The Obama administration tried to quickly tamp down the notion Kerry was making an orchestrated effort with the Russians to avoid strikes.
"Secretary Kerry was making a rhetorical argument about the impossibility and unlikelihood of Assad turning over chemical weapons he has denied he used," Kerry spokeswoman Jen Psaki said in a statement. "If he respected the international norms that have been in place for 100 years he would not have used chemical weapons to kill more than 1,000 innocent men, women and children in the first place. His point was that this brutal dictator with a history of playing fast and loose with the facts cannot be trusted to turn over chemical weapons otherwise he would have done so long ago. That's why the world faces this moment."
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged Syria to immediately agree to transfer chemical weapons and chemical precursors to a safe place within the country for international destruction. Ban said he will also propose to the Security Council that it unite and demand an immediate chemical weapons transfer should U.N. inspectors conclude that such weapons were used in an attack Aug. 21 in a suburb of Damascus.
Assad granted an interview to American television journalist Charlie Rose to contradict the Obama administration's accusation that his government used sarin gas in that attack, killing 1,429 people. Obama planned to press the case in a round of six interviews for Monday evening television newscasts.
Assad accused the Obama administration of spreading "lies" and said they have not presented a "single shred of evidence" to the public that his government is behind chemical weapons use. He warned an attack could bring retaliation in the volatile region.
"It's area where everything is on the brink of explosion. You have to expect everything," Assad said in an interview broadcast on "CBS This Morning." Pressed on what those repercussions might include, Assad responded, "I'm not fortune teller."
"If you strike somewhere, you have to expect the repercussions somewhere else in different forms," Assad said.
The White House was unmoved by Assad's denial. "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," said National Security Council spokeswoman Bernadette Meehan.
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