World leaders to meet at U.N. to discuss Syria
(CNN) — Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has suggested that some outside governments may urge rebels to attack international inspectors sent into war-fractured country to secure its arsenal of chemical weapons.
“There might be countries that might ask the terrorists to attack the inspectors to prevent them from doing their job, and blame the Syrian government,” he said in an interview aired Sunday by Chinese state broadcaster CCTV.
“At this point, this remains just a possibility and we cannot know until the inspectors arrive in Syria,” al-Assad said.
Syria submitted an initial declaration to the world’s chemical weapons watchdog last week outlining its inventory of the munitions. The move was part of a deal forged earlier this month by the United States and Russia to begin Syria’s chemical disarmament.
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The plan then calls for international inspectors in position to secure that arsenal no later than November. Veteran weapons inspectors have said securing and destroying the Syrian stockpile could take huge numbers of people, including hundreds of inspectors and thousands of troops to provide security.
Al-Assad noted that the plan requires his government to ensure the safety of the inspectors.
He said the weapons stockpile is secure, despite the civil war raging in Syria.
“Chemical weapons are safely stored to prevent terrorists or groups from other countries from taking them over,” al-Assad told CCTV.
Asked if it was true that there are more than 1,000 tons of chemical weapons in Syria, he said, “Syria has been producing these weapons for decades, and it is quite natural that there are large quantities of them.
“We are in a state of war, and we have territories that have been occupied for over 40 years,” he continued. “But at any event, the Syrian army was geared toward fighting with conventional weapons.”
The United States and other Western nations blame al-Assad’s regime for an August 21 chemical weapons attack outside Damascus that U.S. officials estimate killed 1,400 people.
Russia and Syria say they think rebels used the weapons.
Citing international norms against the use of chemical weapons, U.S. President Barack Obama called for authorization from Congress to use military force in Syria.
As the United States threatened force to degrade Assad’s ability to carry out chemical weapons attacks, a diplomatic opportunity arose between Russia and the United States to put Syria’s stockpile under international control.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said he and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov hammered out the deal in Geneva, and Syria agreed to it.