President Bashar al-Assad is willing to get rid of Syria's chemical weapons arsenal, but says it will cost $1-billion and take a year.
It will cost about $1-billion (R9.6-billion) to get rid of Syria's chemical weapons under a US-Russian deal reached last week, said Syria's President Bashar al-Assad on Wednesday.
Assad said during an interview on US Fox News television channel that his government would dispose of its chemical weapons arsenal and that it would take about a year.
"I think it is a very complicated operation technically and it needs a lot, a lot of money. Some estimated about $1-billion for the Syrian stockpile," he said.
When asked if he would be willing to hand over chemical weapons to the US government, Assad said: "As I said, it needs a lot of money. It needs about $1-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?"
Assad denied that his forces were responsible for the chemical weapons attack in Ghouta outside Damascus on August 21 that brought the US 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 US 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.
UN chemical investigators confirmed on Monday the use of sarin in the attack in a long-awaited report that the US, UK 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.
When asked if he had a message for US President Barack Obama, Assad said in an apparent reference to opinion polls that show US citizens oppose a US strike on Syria: "Listen to your people. Follow the common sense of your people. That's enough."
Former US 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. – Reuters