Syria's Assad vows to comply with UN resolution
Bashar al-Assad talks to Italian TV about joining chemical weapons convention
Syria's president vowed Sunday to abide by last week's UN resolution calling for the country's chemical weapons stockpile to be dismantled and destroyed.
The United Nations Security Council unanimously voted last week to purge Syria of its chemical weapons program in a move that marked a major breakthrough in the paralysis that has plagued the council since the Syrian uprising began in March 2011.
Speaking to Italy's RAI News 24 TV, President Bashar al-Assad said that his government agreed to join the chemical weapons convention, approved of a U.S.-Russian plan to eliminate Syria's chemical program and will respect its commitments.
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"Of course we have to comply. This is our history to comply with every treaty we sign," he said. "According to every chapter in the agreement, we don't have any reservation. That's why we decided to join the agreement."
A video of the interview was posted on the Syrian presidency's official Facebook page.
The UN resolution, which was passed Friday after two weeks of intense negotiations, allows the start of a mission to rid Syria's regime of its estimated 1,000-ton chemical arsenal by mid-2014. It also calls for consequences if Assad's regime fails to comply, although those will depend on the council passing another resolution in the event of non-compliance.
For the first time, the Security Council also endorsed a roadmap for a political transition in Syria adopted by key nations in June 2012 and called for an international conference to be convened "as soon as possible" to implement it. UN chief Ban Ki-moon has set mid-November as a target date for a new peace conference in Geneva.
Assad's role in a transition peace plan has been a major point of contention. The government says it will not accept any plan that excludes Assad, while the opposition has repeatedly said it will not take part in a transitional government that includes the president.
Assad brushed aside a question about whether he would personally attend the proposed peace talks in Geneva, saying the framework of the negotiations is still unclear. He said he's willing to hold talks with the political opposition to try to resolve the crisis, but not with armed groups trying to overthrow his government.
"Regarding the militants," he said, wagging his finger as he spoke, "if they give in their arms we'll be ready to discuss with them anything like with any other citizen."
"We cannot discuss with al-Qaeda offshoots and organizations that are affiliated with al-Qaeda," he added. "We cannot negotiate with the people who ask for foreign intervention and military intervention in Syria."
He also welcomed the recent diplomatic developments between the United States and Iran, a close ally of Syria that has provided it with weapons and cash to help Assad weather the war.
"For the Iranians to move closer to the Americans is not just a naive move, it's a well-studied step that's based on the experience of the Iranians with the United States since the revolution in 1979," he said. "If the Americans are, let's say, honest about this rapprochement, I think the results will be positive regarding the different issues, not just the Syrian crisis."
The diplomatic deal that calls for the elimination of Syria's chemical weapons is rooted in the Aug. 21 poison gas attack that killed hundreds of civilians in a Damascus suburb. The U.S. blamed the Assad regime for the attack, and threatened to launch punitive missile strikes. The Syrian government denied responsibility and blamed the rebels.
But the threat of a U.S. attack set in motion a diplomatic manoeuvring that eventually led to Friday's Security Council resolution.
While pace of diplomatic events quickened over the past few weeks, the bloody war on the ground inside Syria continued.
Regime strike kills students, rights group says
On Sunday, a Syrian government air raid struck a high school in a rebel-held city in the country's north, killing at least 12 people, most of them students, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights activist group said.
The airstrike took place in the city of Raqqa, which is located on the Euphrates River and is the only provincial capital under rebel control in Syria's civil war, according to the Observatory. Assad's regime has relied heavily on its air force to strike opposition-held areas, including Raqqa.
The attack appeared to hit the yard in front of the school early Sunday morning, which is the first day of the work week at public schools in Syria.
Observatory director Rami Abdul-Rahman said at least eight of the dead were students, and that the death toll is likely to rise because many of the wounded are in critical condition.
Amateur videos posted online showed at least nine bodies, some of them missing limbs, lying on pockmarked pavement strewn with rubble. At least four of the bodies appeared to be of young people. Another video shows pools of blood on the ground and a concrete-block wall destroyed in the bombing.
The videos appeared genuine and corresponded to other AP reporting of the events depicted.