Syria chemical weapons cleanup will cost $1B, says Assad
'Very complicated' job will take about a year, Assad tells Fox News
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said on Wednesday it would cost about $1 billion to get rid of Syria's chemical weapons under a U.S.-Russian deal reached last week.
In an interview on the Fox News television channel, Assad said his government would dispose of its chemical weapons arsenal and it would take about a year, Assad said.
"I think it is a very complicated operation technically and it needs a lot, a lot of money. Some estimated about a billion for the Syrian stockpile," he said.
Asked whether he would be willing to hand over chemical weapons to the U.S. government, Assad said:
"As I said, it needs a lot of money. It needs about one billion. It is very detrimental to the environment. If the American administration is ready to pay this money and take the responsibility of bringing toxic materials to the United States, why don't they do it?"
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Assad denied that his forces were responsible for a chemical weapons attack in Ghouta, outside Damascus, on Aug. 21 that brought the United States close to attacking Syria in response.
He said the Syrian army was advancing in the area at the time and had no need to fire rockets filled with the nerve agent sarin, as the United States says it did.
"The whole story doesn't even hold together. It's not realistic. So, no, we didn't. In one word, we didn't use any chemical weapons in Ghouta," he said, speaking English.
UN chemical investigators confirmed on Monday the use of sarin in the attack in a long-awaited report that the United States, Britain and France said proved government forces were responsible
Assad said it was too early to make a definitive comment on the UN report.
"We have to look at it. We have to discuss it before saying if we agree or disagree. It was only yesterday evening," he said.
Asked whether he had a message for U.S. President Barack Obama, Assad said: "Listen to your people. Follow the common sense of your people. That's enough," in an apparent reference to opinion polls that show Americans oppose any U.S. strike on Syria.
Former U.S. Representative Dennis Kucinich, a liberal Democrat and eight-term congressman from Ohio who is now a commentator for Fox News, took part in the interview on Tuesday in Damascus along with Fox senior correspondent Greg Palkot.
Kucinich has visited Assad twice before, most recently in June 2011, after the uprising against the Syrian president began. Syrian media quoted Kucinich as saying on that trip that Assad was "highly loved" by Syrians. The congressman said he had been misquoted.
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The United Nations, meanwhile, defended on Wednesday a report by its chemical weapons experts that Russia has criticized as "one-sided," saying its conclusion that rockets loaded with sarin gas were used in an Aug. 21 attack should not be questioned.
"The findings in that report are indisputable," UN spokesman Martin Nesirky told reporters. "They speak for themselves, and this was a thoroughly objective report on that specific incident."
Earlier, Russia denounced the UN findings as preconceived and tainted by politics, stepping up its criticism of a report Western nations said proved President Bashar al-Assad's forces were responsible.
Russia, which holds veto power in the UN Security Council, could cite doubts about proof of culpability in opposing future efforts by the United States, Britain and France to punish Syria for any violations of a deal to abandon chemical weapons.