By Jonathan Easley - 09/18/13 11:06 PM EDT
Syrian President Bashar Assad on Wednesday vowed to adhere to the terms of an agreement that requires he destroy his chemical weapons stockpiles.
“Last week we joined the international agreement of preventing the chemical WMD, and part of this agreement, the main part, is not to manufacture these armaments, and not to store and not to use, and of course not to distribute,” Assad said in a rare interview on Fox News’s "Special Report." “And part of it is to get rid of those materials ... so of course when we are part now of this agreement we have to agree to this chapter, to get rid of these armaments, to destroy.”
“We didn’t say that we are joining partially that agreement,” he continued. “We joined fully. We sent the letter. We sent the documents, and are committed to the full requirements of this agreement.”
The U.S. and Russia brokered a deal last week in which Syria would give up its chemical weapons. The United Nations Security Council is now reviewing it.
Assad said his country could comply with the tight deadlines put forth in the agreement, under which Syria must submit a list of weaponry within a week, open its facilities for inspection by November and destroy the weapons by next year.
However, Assad stressed that the destruction of the chemicals was a complicated and expensive procedure that would only unfold as quickly as the removal experts could handle.
The White House remains skeptical that Assad will comply with the deal, and has floated the idea that he is merely buying himself time to avoid a U.S. military strike. Experts have warned that removing chemical weapons stockpiles there will be a difficult and dangerous task that could take years because it's complicated by the war zone where the weapons are stored.
The administration has not taken the threat of force off the table if Assad does not comply the agreed timeline.
On Wednesday, Assad again denied that he used nerve gas against his own people, despite evidence put forward by the U.S. government and a U.N. report that said the Syrian president was responsible for a chemical weapons attack that killed nearly 1,400.
The White House contends that the threat of force ultimately pushed Assad to sign the agreement, but he rejected that notion in the interview with Fox.
“There’s a misunderstanding hat we agreed ... because of the American threat,” he said. “The American threat wasn’t about handing over the chemical weapons arsenal, it was about attacking Syria in order not to use the arsenal again. So it’s not about the threat, Syria never responded to any threat. We only responded to the Russian initiative and to our need and to our conviction.”
Former Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) conducted part of the Fox News interview, and told Assad that President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry had long contended that Assad lied about having chemical weapons. Assad denied that he ever said his country did not have chemical weapons, contending that he had always responded that the information was classified.
“I dare them to say that we said no, once we never said it,” Assad insisted. “We never said no, we never said yes, but we always said it’s classified.
"We said ‘if’ ... so this is a blatant lie.”
The Syrian president said that joining the U.N. agreement was a tacit admission that he possessed the weapons.
“When we joined the treaty last week, it means that we have, and we said that, so it’s not a secret anymore,” he said.
—This post was updated at 7:28 p.m.