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Defiant Assad claims government did not use chem weapons, vows to abide by agreement

 

Syrian President Bashar Assad, in an exclusive interview with Fox News, claimed he is fully committed to carrying out a plan to turn over and destroy his government's chemical weapons -- while continuing to deny responsibility for last month's deadly chemical weapons attack despite new evidence that officials say implicates the Assad regime. 

Assad acknowledged that his government has chemical weapons. "It's not a secret anymore," he said, referencing his government's decision to join the international Chemical Weapons Convention. 

Assad also said that the Aug. 21 chemical weapons attack, in which more than 1,000 people reportedly died, was a violation of international law. "That's self-evident," he said. "This is despicable. It's a crime." 

Yet Assad adamantly denied that his government was behind the attack, continuing to push the theory that the opposition was behind the strike. 

"We have evidence that terrorist groups (have) used sarin gas," he said. "The whole story (that the Syrian government used them) doesn't even hold together. ... We didn't use any chemical weapons." 

The interview was conducted Tuesday in Damascus by Fox News' Greg Palkot. In the interview, Assad was confronted with the newly released findings of a United Nations report on the Aug. 21 attack. The report said there is conclusive evidence that the chemical attack occurred. It did not assign blame, but included findings about the type of rocket used which the U.S. and its allies claim point to Syrian government culpability. 

Assad brushed off the allegation, suggesting the sarin gas could have been brought in by an outside government. 

"The sarin gas (is) called kitchen gas. You know why? Because anyone can make sarin in his house," he said. "We know that all those rebels are supported by governments."   

He also brushed off the videos and pictures of victims that have surfaced online, saying "there is a lot of forgery on the Internet." 

The U.S. government and its allies reject these claims, and say it is now clear that Assad's government launched the attack. "The technical details of the U.N. report make clear that only the regime could have carried out this large scale chemical weapons attack," U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Samantha Power said Monday, calling this the "largest chemical weapons attack in 25 years." 

Though Assad will not acknowledge culpability, the question now is whether his government will abide by a U.S.-Russia backed agreement to turn over his government's chemical weapons. The agreement was struck over the weekend, leading President Obama to shelve the threat of military action in retaliation for last month's attack. 

Obama administration officials claim they are not taking the threat of force off the table, but will wait to see if Assad abides by the agreement, which is still being formally drafted at the U.N. level. 

Assad told Fox News his government is "committed to the full requirements of this agreement." 

Asked whether he would send the weapons anywhere to be destroyed, he said there are environmental risks in that task, but any country "ready to take the risk of those materials, let them take it." 

"In general, whenever we join (an) agreement as Syria, we are always committed to those agreements," he said. 

Fox News contributor and former Rep. Dennis Kucinich helped secure the interview with Assad, and was beside Palkot in Damascus while it was being conducted. 

Assad also had a message for Obama, who faced opposition from both Congress and constituents over his initial push for a military strike. "Listen to your people. Follow the common sense of your people," he said. 

Assad continued to downplay the tens of thousands of civilian casualties that have been reported in the country's civil war.  He claims many of the people killed were "terrorists." 

"This is war. You don't have (a) clean war," he said.

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