Syrian president Bashar al-Assad says he sees 'no obstacles' to chemical weapons deal
UN experts arrive in Damascus to resume their investigations into alleged use of chemical weapons
Syria is committed to a deal to hand over its chemical weapons, President Bashar al-Assad said in an interview, as major powers inched closer to a UN resolution enshrining the agreement.
The Syrian president, in the interview with Venezuelan television station Telesur broadcast on Wednesday, said he saw “no obstacles” to a plan under which Damascus will relinquish its chemical arms.
His comments came as UN experts arrived in Damascus to resume their investigations into around 14 incidents in which chemical weapons are alleged to have been used.
Assad told Telesur that his government was committed to the Chemical Weapons Convention, which it signed as part of the US-Russian agreement on the destruction of its chemical arsenal.
“Syria is generally committed to all the agreements that it signs,” he said in the interview, which was published in full by the Syrian state news agency Sana on Thursday.
He said Damascus had begun to send the required details of its chemical arsenal to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons which is overseeing the deal, and that OPCW inspectors were expected to visit Syria.
“Experts (from the OPCW) will come to Syria in the coming period to look into the status of these weapons,” he said.
“As the Syrian government, there are no serious obstacles.
“But there is always the possibility that the terrorists will obstruct the work of the experts by preventing them from accessing certain places,” Assad added.
The Syrian regime calls all those fighting against it “terrorists”.
Syria agreed to turn over its chemical arsenal under a deal thrashed out following an August 21 sarin attack in the suburbs of Damascus, which killed hundreds of people.
The attack, which occurred as UN chemical weapons experts were in Syria investigating previous alleged chemical attacks, was blamed on the Syrian regime by Washington and other international backers of the Syrian opposition.
Assad’s government denies involvement, but agreed to turn over its chemical arsenal in the face of threatened US military action.
‘Possibility of aggression’
The deal halted talk of a US assault, but Assad said it was “the possibility of aggression is always there”.
“This time the pretext is chemical weapons, next time it will be something else,” he said.
At the United Nations, meanwhile, the permanent members of the Security Council made progress on a resolution enshrining the chemical weapons deal.
Some western envoys said important progress has been made on the resolution. One said there was agreement on “the main points” of a text which could be put to the 15-member Security Council.
The envoy said it could result in a resolution that allows for a later vote on sanctions under Chapter VII of the UN Charter if Syria fails to honour the Russia-US plan.
Russian officials denied, however, that there was any agreement on potential sanctions.
A senior State Department official cautioned: “We’re making progress but we’re not done yet.”
US President Barack Obama told the UN General Assembly on Tuesday there had to be a “strong” resolution and French leader Francois Hollande said it must include the threat of eventual “coercive” measures.
But Russia, Assad’s major backer, has fiercely opposed any move to allow eventual sanctions or military force under the UN Charter.
In Syria, a team of UN experts led by Swedish chief Ake Sellstrom were in Damascus for additional investigations into chemical weapons use.
After determining that sarin gas was used in the August 21 attack near Damascus, the team must now try to get to up to 14 sites where allegations of chemical weapons use have been made.
On the rebel side, the armed opposition was left further divided after key members of a Western-backed military command announced they were forming an alliance with the al-Qaeda affiliated al-Nusra Front.
The group of 13 rebel factions, including major battalions, rejected any foreign-based opposition group, including the West-backed Syrian National Coalition, which is based in Turkey.
Louay Muqdad, a spokesman for the rebel Free Syrian Army said that the new alliance was a “gesture of despair”.
He said opposition fighters were disappointed by the US-Russian deal and the lack of weapons flowing to the rebels, but also acknowledged the disillusionment with opposition forces based outside Syria.
He said General Salim Idriss, the nominal head of Syria’s mainstream rebels, would travel “immediately” to Syria to rally his ranks.
At the UN, where the General Assembly is being held, nations pledged new aid to deal with the fallout from the 30-month conflict, which has left more than 110,000 dead, and displaced millions.
Britain on Wednesday pledged an extra 100 million pounds (US$160 million) to the humanitarian effort, a day after Washington announced US$340 million in humanitarian aid for Syrians, bringing the US contribution to US$1.3 billion.