Syrian leader says chemical weapons claims are ‘insult to common sense’

Business Day Live — August 26, 2013

SYRIAN President Bashar al-Assad has said Western claims that his regime used chemical weapons are an “insult to common sense” and warned the US it faced failure if it attacked his country, in an interview with a Russian newspaper published on Monday.

Mr Assad told pro-Kremlin daily Izvestia in the extensive interview that Syria would never be a “puppet” of the West and said Washington had never succeeded in reaching its political aims through war.

“The comments (accusing the regime of using chemical weapons) made by politicians in the West and other countries are an insult to common sense … It is nonsense,” Mr Assad said.

He accused the US of first making the accusations that his regime used chemical weapons in an attack outside Damascus that activists say killed hundreds, and only later starting to look for proof.

Mr Assad said the frontline in the area where the incident took place was not clear and the Syrian regime would have risked killing its own army forces if it used chemical weapons.

“This contradicts elementary logic,” he said. “Such accusations are completely political and the reason for them is a number of victories by the government forces against the terrorists.”

With calls mounting for military action against Syria, Mr Assad warned Western states to stop interfering in the affairs of other countries and instead “listen to the opinion of the people”.

“If someone is dreaming of making Syria a puppet of the West, then this will not happen,” he said. “We are an independent state, we will fight against terrorism and we will build relations with whom we want for the good of the Syrian people.”

He warned the US against attacking Syria and argued Washington’s previous military campaigns in recent years had always fallen short of their aims.

“The US faces failure just like in all the previous wars they waged, starting with Vietnam and up to our days,” he said.

“America has taken part in many wars but could not once achieve its political goals for which the wars were started. Yes, it is true, the great powers can wage wars, but can they win them?” he asked.

Turkey speaks out, Russia concerned

Meanwhile, Turkey would join any international coalition against Syria even if a wider consensus on action could not be reached at the United Nations Security Council, Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu was quoted as saying on Monday.

“We always prioritise acting together with the international community, with UN decisions. If such a decision doesn’t emerge from the UN Security Council, other alternatives … would come onto the agenda,” Mr Davutoglu told the Milliyet daily.

“Currently 36-37 countries are discussing these alternatives. If a coalition is formed against Syria in this process, Turkey would take its place in this coalition.”

Turkey has emerged as one of Mr Assad’s most vocal critics during the two-and-a-half-year conflict, sheltering half a million refugees and allowing the opposition to organise on its soil.

Also on Monday, Russia expressed its concern to Washington that the US would respond militarily to a suspected chemical weapons attack by Syrian government forces, and urged restraint, the Russian foreign ministry said.

Referring to a telephone conversation between Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and US Secretary of State John Kerry on Sunday, the ministry said Moscow had also urged Washington to refrain from falling for “provocations”.

“The minister (Mr Lavrov) stressed that the official announcements from Washington in recent days about the readiness of US armed forces to ‘intervene’ in the Syrian conflict have been received in Moscow with deep concern,” the ministry said in a statement.

US remarks that Syria’s agreement to allow the UN to inspect the site of the suspected chemical weapons attack was “too late to be credible” appeared to signal a military response was more likely.

A senior senator said he believed President Barack Obama would ask for authorisation to use force when Congress returned from recess next month.

But Russia, an ally of Mr Assad, has suggested rebels may have been behind the alleged chemical weapons attack.

“In connection with this, the Russian side calls for (Washington to) refrain from the threat of force on Damascus, not to fall for provocations and to try to help create normal conditions to give the UN chemical experts’ mission, which is already in the country, the possibility of conducting a thorough, objective and impartial investigation,” the statement said.

Sapa-AFP, Reuters

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