Syria's Assad vows compliance with chemical weapons deal, blasts U.S.

Bashar_al-Assad_croppedBy Nabih Bulos, Los Angeles Times

BEIRUT, Lebanon -- Syrian President Bashar Assad promised Monday to comply with international efforts to remove his chemical weapons, even as he sharply criticized the United States and other Western powers for proposing a United Nations resolution that add teeth to the deal.

In an interview in Damascus with Chinese state television, Assad said the U.S., France, and Britain want "to appear victorious in their battles against an imaginary enemy, which they assume is Syria."

He also warned that rebels seeking to overthrow his government would attempt to disrupt the work of international inspectors seeking to catalog and impound Syria's chemical weapons.  But, he said, "there is nothing to worry about" because the weapons -- which Syria only recently acknowledged possessing -- are "in secure sites" under the control of his army.

Under pressure from the United States and Russia, Syria agreed on Sept. 14 to commit to the international Chemical Weapons Convention, which bans the production, storage and use of chemical weapons.

"Since its independence, Syria has been committed to all the treaties it has signed," Assad said in the interview. "We will honor everything that we have agreed to do."

He lauded the role of Russia and China in removing any "justification for an attack on Syria," saying that their cooperation had prevented a "much worse" situation in the country.

He also dismissed the strategic importance of the loss of chemical weapons from his arsenal, because "the Syrian army was built on the basis of conventional weapons ... will not be affected."

Russia and China have so far blocked the efforts by Western powers to invoke Chapter 7 of the U.N. Charter, which would allow the use of force against Syria if it fails to comply with the chemical weapons agreement.

The United States, along with the armed rebels that have battled to overthrow Assad's government for the last 2 1/2 years, has blamed the Syrian government for an Aug. 21 chemical weapons attack on a Damascus suburb. The U.S. says the attack claimed more than 1,400 lives.

Assad has insisted that the rebels carried out the attack. Russia, his most powerful ally, has said that is the most likely scenario.