Syria's al-Assad warns against strike in television interview
POSTED: Monday, September 9, 2013 - 8:37am
UPDATED: Monday, September 9, 2013 - 10:25am
CNN — Syrian President Bashar al-Assad took his case against a U.S. military strike to the American people Monday, arguing in a CBS television interview that such an attack would only benefit al Qaeda-linked terrorists.
"So the question they should ask themselves, what do wars give America? Nothing. No political gain. No economic gain. No good reputation. The credibility is at an all-time low. So this war is against the interests of the United States," he told CBS.
"Why? This is the war that's going to support al Qaeda and the same people that kill Americans on the 11th of September," he said.
He also threatened retaliation for any international attack on Syria.
President Barack Obama has been at the forefront of calls for a military response to Syria's alleged use of chemical weapons in an August 21 attack that U.S. officials estimate killed more than 1,400 people.
French intelligence believes al-Assad ordered the strike because he feared a major rebel attack from the suburbs that could have endangered his control of Damascus and the route leading to the city's airport, according to a French Defense Ministry official who brief reporters on background Monday.
Al-Assad denied responsibility for the attack in Monday's CBS interview.
French President Francois Hollande also supports a military response, but widespread support for an attack has been lacking. British lawmakers voted to preclude their military from participating in any strike, and polls in France and the United States reveal little enthusiasm for military action.
U.S. British and French leaders have argued that failing to respond to such an attack, which violates international conventions, would invite more use of chemical weapons and weaken international resolve against the use of chemicals on the battlefield.
"And the question for all of us is, what are we going to do about it?" U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said Monday from London. "Turn our backs? Have a moment of silence? Where a dictator can with impunity threaten the rest of the world that he's going to retaliate for his own criminal activity because he's being held accountable?"
"We live in a dangerous world as it is, folks. And that kind of threat is nothing different from the kind of threat we face every single day," he said. "And if we don't stand up to it, we'll face it more, and they will think they can intimidate anybody."
Who ordered strike?
Syrian and Russian officials have blamed rebel forces for the attack.
On Sunday, the German Bild am Sonntag newspaper reported that communications intercepted by German intelligence aboard a ship off the Syrian coast suggest al-Assad may not have approved chemical attacks.
Citing unidentified high-level security sources, the newspaper said German intelligence had intercepted communications indicating Syrian military commanders had asked al-Assad for permission to use chemical weapons on nine separate occasions.
He denied those requests, according to Bild am Sonntag.
The German intelligence service, BND, declined to comment when contacted Monday by CNN regarding the account.
Russians calls for talks
Russia's foreign minister called Monday for international talks in Moscow to avert a military strike and end Syria's two-year-old conflict.
Sergey Lavrov, speaking in Moscow alongside his Syrian counterpart, blamed U.S.-backed rebels in Syria for preventing a peace conference in Geneva.
Kerry argued al-Assad won't negotiate without a strong international response.
"If one party believes he can rub out countless numbers of his own citizens with impunity ... he will never come to a negotiating table," Kerry said in London.
But Lavrov told reporters in Moscow that Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moallem "said quite clearly Damascus is ready to participate in a positive way" in negotiations.
Lavrov said the Russian government would work with other nations to promote negotiations, "and if we can understand these contacts will help, then we can invite all those interested in the world to Moscow."
Kerry: Strike or no, political solution required
Kerry rejected arguments that rebels could have launched the attack, saying those groups don't have the scientific or military capability to deliver such weapons.
He also repeated American claims that the rockets used in the August 21 attack near Damascus were launched from regime-controlled territory.
Despite the need for a military response, Kerry said U.S. officials believe arms aren't the answer to the Syrian conflict, which the United Nations estimates has left more than 100,000 people dead.
Kerry said the United States still supports a future round of talks in Geneva.
"The end to the conflict in Syria requires a political solution." he said. "There is no military solution."